The Coming American Fascism

by Lawrence Dennis
[Harpers, $2.50]
THIS is a book that will worry both those who deplore the rise of what is popularly known as ‘fascism’ in the United States and those who are inclined, for one reason or another, to deprecate its emergent significance. For in The Coming American Fascism Mr. Dennis has posed a question which, in other than vague generalities, takes a lot of answering. Quite simply it is this: since we have rationalized all our important schemes of organization, with the exception of government, why not make it unanimous?
After all, he argues, ‘there is nothing un-American about centralization. No country has carried national integration, coördination of authority, centralization of power, standardization, and rationalization further than the United States.’ He mentions as cases in point the great trusts and corporations, the holding companies, and the various legal devices for centralizing control, indicating that in the interests of efficiency the next logical step would be to carry over such existing principles into government, integrating Federal and state agencies for continuity of achievement. This, the author obviously believes, would bring consistency and order and gradually general and permanent improvement, impossible under liberal capitalism.
Mr. Dennis is neither the prophet of a new social panacea nor the apostle of that bundle of theories parading generally under the cloak of ‘fascism’ as Europe knows it. He is convinced, however, that impending social changes will turn the tide of public sentiment in this country toward further centralization of economic power, entailing a vigorous assertion of economic nationalism and an aggressive unified leadership. He is at pains, to point out that he is merely attempting to rationalize fascism before it becomes an accomplished fact. If one accepts his premise that liberal capitalism is doomed, his conclusion that its successor will be largely the work of angry and frustrated men with a will to power seems inescapable.
The author is apparently willing to toss out of the window our Federal system. State’s rights, and ‘the fictions of a functional separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers,’claiming that the rationale of the Federal system, with its forty-eight states and one Federal State, is not that of fitness to any logical scheme of present-day ends of administration and popular representation, or to any real or strong present-day feeling of the people.
Mr. Dennis’s work is remarkably free from slogans and catch phrases, although he likes to link Communism with Chaos and liberalism with the Lost Holy War of 1914-1918. ‘Only the fascization of the now liberal great powers call save us from another holy war to make the world safe for liberalism, or, rather, to hand it over to the Red Army of Russia,’he asserts. But in the next breath be admits that, in the larger essentials of social control, fascism and communism (or socialism, which he uses in loose connotation) have many similarities. One of Mr. Dennis’s chief reasons for passing over the applicability of communism to the American scene seems to be that it would involve wasteful class warfare, with less favorable results for the people as a whole than a régime (such as fascism!) which would require fewer human sacrifices to get started.
The author departs, unhappily, from his declared purpose to indicate only the philosophy and general outline of fascism as it might flourish in this country, when he undertakes to show, in far from convincing fashion, how easy it is to convert large corporations into State-controlled enterprises ’the present owners and creditors of which will receive income bonds or shares in a government investment company and never know any practical difference between their present capitalistic relationship to the property and the relationship which a fascist State will define and maintain for them.‘
To the question, how might an American fascist party, called by another name, arise, the author attempts no precise reply. He does mention, in passing, a point that seems worth considering: namely, that we may well get a fascism through a party making and breaking innumerable promises. To dismiss that contingency merely by indicating that the major political parties have consistently made and broken promises is to evade the cumulative effect of such a course, particularly in a period when dissatisfaction with the parties is on the increase.
Mr. Dennis’s book is wordy, he repeats himself over and over, often in redefinition of such terms as rationalization, and many of his generalizations are made on insufficient evidence, with complete disregard of those unforecastable factors which sometimes pass for imponderables. But those who feel disposed to argue against ‘the hell it can’t’ conclusion of Sinclair Lewis’s fascist novel, It Can’t Happen Here, should read Mr. Dennis’s book. Its arraignment of liberal leadership is unanswerable, whether or not one agrees with the author that ‘no country has been better prepared for political and social standardization than the United States.’