From the very start of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, there were unmistakable indications that his “New Deal” would be moving in the statist direction. Frances Perkins, FDR’s secretary of labor, recounted, decades later, a telling occurrence at the first FDR Cabinet meeting. She recalled:
At the first meeting of the Cabinet after the President took office in 1933, the financier and adviser to Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, and Baruch’s friend General Hugh Johnson, who was to become the head of the National Recovery Administration, came in with a copy of a book by Gentile, the Italian Fascist theoretician, for each member of the Cabinet, and we all read it with great care.
Perkins related the Cabinet story to George Rawick, a socialist historian and professor, who published the quote above in an essay he wrote in 1969 for Radical America, the journal of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
The “Brain Trust” that was guiding FDR’s new experiment in governance was composed of collectivists of various ideologies — fascist, socialist, and communist — who were all afire with zeal to “transform” and “restructure” America. Collectivism was in the air; the intellectuals and political classes were enthralled with the supposed wonders of central planning that were being reported in Italy under the fascist system of Benito Mussolini (Il Duce, “The Leader”) and in Soviet Russia under the Communist Party leadership of Josef Stalin. “Scientific” control and management of all aspects of society by “highly qualified” administrators was all the rage.
Even Adolf Hitler, who had just been installed as Chancellor of Germany a month before Roosevelt’s inauguration, was in vogue with many “liberals” and “progressives.”
Harold Ickes, FDR’s secretary of the interior, admitted years later that “what we were doing in this country were some of the things that were being done in Russia and even some of the things that were being done in Germany. But we were doing them in an orderly way.” Roosevelt himself extolled Mussolini as “that admirable Italian gentleman” and told U.S. Ambassador to Italy Breckenridge Long, “I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.”
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Photo of FDR: AP Images