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Woodrow Wilson and the�Birth of Liberal Fascism�The liberty cabbage, the

statesanctioned bmtality, the stifling of dissent, the loyalty�oaths�and enemies


lists#all of these things not only happened in America but�happened at the hands
of liberals. Self-described progressives#as�well as the majority of American
socialists#were at the forefront of�the push for a truly totalitarian state. They
applauded every crackdown and questioned�the patriotism, intelligence, and
decency�of�every pacifist and classically liberal dissenter.�Fascism, at its core,
is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work�together in
spiritual union toward the same goals�overseen by the state. '�Mussolini coined
the word "totalitarian" to describe not a tyrannical society but�a humane one
in�which everyone is taken care of and contributes equally. It was an organic
concept�where every class, every individual, was part of the�larger whole. The
r�The militarization of society and politics was considered simply the best
available�means toward this end. Call it what�you like#progressivism, fascism,
communism, or totalitarianism#�the first tme enterprise of this kind was
established not in Russia or�Italy or Germany but in the United States, and
Woodrow Wilson was�the twentieth century's first fascist dictator.�More dissidents
were arrested or jailed in a few years under�Wilson than under Mussolini during
the entire 1920s. Wilson arguably did as much�if not more violence to civil
liberties in his�last�three years in office than Mussolini did in his first
twelve. Wilson�created a better and more effective propaganda ministry
than�Mussolini ever had. In 1�n the 1920s Mussolini's critics
harangued�him#rightly#for using his semiofficial Fascisti to bully the opposition
and for his�harassment of the press. Just a few years earlier,�Wilson had
unleashed literally hundreds of thousands of badgecarrying goons on the�American
people and prosecuted a vicious�campaign against the press that would have made
Mussolini envious.�/ilson didn't act alone. Like Mussolini and Hitler, he had an
activist ideological�movement at his disposal. In Italy they were called�Fascists.
In Germany they were called National Socialists. In�America we called them
progressives.�The progressives were the real social Darwinists as we think of�the
term today#though they reserved the term for their enemies (see�Fhe progressives
viewed the traditional�system of constitutional checks and balances as an outdated
impediment to progress�because such horse-and-buggy institutions were a�barrier to
their own ambitions. Dogmatic attachment to constitutions, democratic�practices,
and antiquated laws was the enemy�of�progress for tascists and progressives alike.
Indeed, fascists and progressives shared�the same intellectual heroes and quoted
the�same�philosophers.�Today, liberals remember the progressives as do-gooders
who�cleaned up the food supply and agitated for a more generous social�welfare
state and better working conditions. Fine, the progressives�did that. But so did
the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. And they did�it for the same reasons and in
loyalty to roughly the same principles.�Historically, fascism is the product of
democracy gone mad. In�America we've chosen not to discuss the madness our
Republic endured at Wilson's�hands#even though we live with the consequences of it
to this day. Like a family�that pretends the father�never�The motivation for this
selective amnesia is equal parts shame,�laziness, and ideology. In a society where
Joe McCarthy must be the�greatest devil of American history, it would not be
convenient to�mention that the George Washington of modem liberalism was the�far
greater inquisitor and that the other founding fathers of American�liberalism were
far cmeler jingoists and warmongers than modem�conservatives have ever been.�THE
IDEALISM OF POWER WORSHIP�Wilson himself�is widely credited with having launched
the academic study of public administration,�a fancy term for how to modemize and
professionalize the state according to one's�own personal biases.�High among his
regular themes was the advocacy of�progressive imperialism in order to subjugate,
and thereby elevate,�lesser races. He applauded the annexation of Puerto Rico and
the�Philippines#"they are children and we are men in these deep matters of
govemment�and justice"#and regularly denounced what he�called "the anti-
imperialist weepings and wailings that came out of�Boston"4 It's a sign of how
carefully he cultivated his political profile that four�years before he
"reluctantly" accepted the "unsolicited"�Indeed, from his earliest days as an
undergraduate the meek,�homeschooled Wilson was infatuated with political power.
And as is�so common to intellectuals, he let his power worship infect
his�analysis.�Lord Acton's famous observation that "power tends to corrupt
and�absolute power cormpts absolutely" has long been misunderstood.�Wilson was a
champion debater, so it's telling that he believed the best debaters�should�have
the�most power.�Wilson's view of politics could be summarized by the word
"statolatry," or state�worship (the same sin with which the Vatican�charged
Mussolini).�Govemmental "experimentation," the watchword of pragmatic liberals
from Dewey and�Wilson to FDR, was the social analogue to evolutionary adaptation.
Constitutional�democracy, as the�founders understood it, was a momentary phase in
this progression.�Now it was time for the state to ascend to the next
plateau.�"Govemment," Wilson wrote approvingly in The State, "does now�whatever
exDerience permits or the times demand"8 Wilson was the i�first president to speak
disparagingly of the Constitution.�America is today in the midst of an obscene
moral panic over the�role of Christians in public life. There is a profound irony
in the fact�that such protests issue most loudly from self-professed
"progressives" when the�real progressives were dedicated in the most�fundamental
way to the Christianization of American life. Progressivism,�as the title of
Washington Gladden's book suggested, was "applied�Christianity." The Social Gospel
held that the state was the right arm�of God and was the means by which the whole
nation and world�would be redeemed. But while Christianity was being made into
a�true state religion, its transcendent and theological elements
became�cormpted.�These two visions#Darwinian organicism and Christian
messianism#seem contradictory�today because they reside on�different�sides of the
culture war. But in the Progressive Era, these visions�complemented each other
perfectly. And Wilson embodied this synthesis. The toti�The totalitarian flavor of
such a worldview should be obvious.�Unlike classical liberalism, which saw the
govemment as a necessary evil, or simply�a benign but voluntary social contract
for�free�men to enter into willingly, the belief that the entire society was
one�organic whole left no room for those who didn't want to behave, let�alone
"evolve." Your home, your private thoughts, everything was�part of the organic
body politic, which the state was charged with redeeming.�Hence a phalanx of
progressive reformers saw the home as the�front line in the war to transform men
into compliant social organs.�Often the answer was to get children out of the home
as quickly as�possible. An archipelago of agencies, commissions, and
bureaus�sprang up ovemight to take the place of the anti-organic,
contraevolutionary influences�of the family. The home could no longer be�John
Dewey helped create kindergartens in America for precisely�this purpose#to shape
the apples before they fell from the tree#�On the campaign trail in 1912, Wilson
explained�that "living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure�and
in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws�of Life ... it
must develop." Hence "all that progressives ask or desire is permission#in�an era
when 'development,' 'evolution,'�is the�scientific word#to interpret the
Constitution according to the�Darwinian principle."12 As we've seen, this
hterpretation leads to a�system where the Constitution means whatever the reigning
interpreters of "evolution"�say it means.�'b this end, the masses had to be
subservient to�the will of the leader. In his unintentionally chilling 1890
essay,�Leaders of Men, Wilson explained that the "tme leader" uses the�masses like
"tools." He must not traffic in subtleties and nuance, as�literary men do. Rather,
he must speak to stir their passions, not their�intellects. In short, he must be a
skillful demagogue.�"Only a very gross substance of concrete conception can
make�any impression on the minds of the masses," Wilson wrote. "They�must get
their ideas very absolutely put, and are much readier to receive a half�truth
which they can promptly understand than a whole�tmth which has too many sides to
be seen all at once. The competent�Indeed, it must be understood that imperialism
was as central to Progressivism as�efforts to clean up the food supply or make
factories�safe.17�"The New Nationalism," Roosevelt proclaimed,�"rightly maintains
that every man holds his property subject to the�general right of the community to
regulate its use to whatever degree�the public welfare may require it." This sort
of rhetoric conjured�fears among classical liberals (again, increasingly called
conservatives) that Teddy�would ride roughshod over American liberties.�Bismarck's
motive was to forestall demands for more democracy�by giving the people the sort
of thing they might ask for at the polls.�His top-down socialism was a
Machiavellian masterstroke because it�made the middle class dependent upon the
state. The middle class�took away from this the lesson that enlightened govemment
was not�the product of democracy but an alternative to it. Such logic proved�As
Wilson put it, the essence�of Progressivism was that the individual
"marry his interests to the�state"28�When reading about Herbert Croly, one often
finds phrases such�as "Croly was no fascist, but..." Yet few make the effort to
explain�why he was not a fascist. Most seem to think it is simply self-evident�In
reality, however, almost every single item on a�standard checklist of fascist
characteristics can be found in The�Promise of American Life. The need to mobilize
society like an�
anny? Check! Call for spiritual rebirth? Check! Need for "great"�revolutionary
leaders? Check! Reliance on manufactured, unifying,�national "myths"? Check!
Contempt for parliamentary democracy?�Check! Non-Marxist Socialism? Check!
Nationalism? Check! A�spiritual calling for military expansion? Check! The need to
make�politics into a religion? Hostility to individualism? Check! Check!�Check! To
paraphrase Whittaker Chambers: from almost any page of�a individual," Crolv�wrote,
sounding very much like Wilson, "has no meaning apart from�the society in which
his individuality has been formed." Echoing�both Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt,
Croly argued that "national�life" should be like a "school," and good schooling
frequently demands "severe coercive�measures."33�Like Roosevelt, Croly and his
colleagues looked forward tn many�more wars because war was the midwife of
progress. Indeed, Croly�believed that the Spanish-American War's greatest
significance lay�in the fact that it gave birth to Progressivism. In Europe wars
would�Industrialization, economic upheaval, social�"disintegration," materialistic
aecaucucc, ana worship of money�were tearing America apart, or so he#and the vast
majority of projressives_believed.�The remedy for the "chaotic individualism
of�our political and economic organization" was a "regeneration" led�by a hero-
saint who could overthrow the tired doctrines of liberal�democracy in favor of a
restored and heroic nation. The similarities�with conventional fascist theory
should be obvious.35�There were of�course significant differences between fascism
and Progressivism,�but these are mainly attributable to the cultural differences
between�Europe and America, and between national cultures in general.�There was a
religious awakening�afoot in the West as progressives of all stripes saw man
snatching the�reins of history from God's hands. Science#or what they believed�to
be science#was the new scripture, and one could only perform�science by
"experimenting." And, just as important, only scientists�He noted that for a
generation progressive liberals believed�that a "better future would derive from
the beneficent activities of expert social�engineers who would bring to the
service of social ideals�all the technical resources which research could discover
and ingenuity could devise"�Five years earlier, Croly noted in the New�Republic
that the practitioners of the "scientific method" would need�to join with the
"ideologists" of Christ, in order to "plan and effect a�tOJOin Wlin Uic
lucuiuglSlSi Ul ^iuioi, 111 uiuci lu piaii u�*^ ^^^,
to join with the "ideologists" of Christ, in order to "plan and effect a�redeeming
transformation" of society whereby men would look for�"deliverance from choice
between unredeemed capitalism and revolutionary salvation."36�;. Many proBolshevik
liberals simply refused to concede that the Red Terror�yolstieviK iioerais smipi^
^iuo^ ^ ^unv^u^ ujiu. .
Bolshevik liberals simply refused to concede that the Red Terror�erate lies and
useful idiocy on the American left.�even transpired. This was the beginning of
nearly a century of deliberate lies and�useful idiocy on the American left.�DuBois
offers a good illustration of how fascism and communism�appealed to the same
progressive impulses and aspirations. Like�The�heroic success of fascism,
according to Steffens, made Westem�democracy#mn by "petty persons with petty
purposes"#look patiietic by comparison.�For Steffens and countless other
liberals,�Mussolini, Lenin, and Stalin were all doing the same thing: transfomiing
cormpt,�outdated societies. Tugwell praised Lenin as a praginning an "experiment."
The same�was tme�of Mussolini, he explained.�s. How, a correspondent asked,�could
the magazine think Mussolini's bmtality was a "good thing"?�. But some�times a
nation drifts into a predicament from which it can be rescue<�
only by the adoption of a violent remedy."43�The key concept for rationalizing
progressive utopianism was�ixperimentation," justified in the language of
Nietzschean authenticity, Darwinian�evolution, and Hegelian historicism and
explained�in the argot of William James's pragmatism. Sicientific
knowledge�advanced by trial and error. 1-luman evoiution advanced by trial
and�error. History, according to Hegel, progressed tnrough the interplay�The
outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 distracted Wilson and the�country from domestic
concems. It also proved a boon to the�erican economy, cutting off the flow of
cheap immigrant labor�
and increasing the demand for American exports#something to�keep in mind the next
time someone tells you that the Wilson era�proves progressive policies and
prosperity go hand in hand.�Even for ostensibly secular progressives the war
served as a divine�call to arms. They were desperate to get their hands on the
levers of�power and use the war to reshape society. The capital was so
thick�WILSON'S FASCIST POLICE STATE�Today we unreflectively associate fascism with
militarism. But it '�should be remembered that fascism was militaristic because
mili"essive" at the beginning�of the twentieth century.�
Across the intellectual landscape, technocrats and poets alike saw�for organizing
and mobilizing society.�
' One group that did recognize the social possi
bilities of war were the early feminists who, in the words of Harriot�Stanton
Blatch, looked forward to new economic opportunities for�women as "the usual, and
happy, accompaniment of war" Richard�' Hitler couldn't have agreed more. As�he
told Joseph Goebbels, "The war ... made possible for us the solution of a
whole�series of problems that could never have�been�solved in normal times."50�We
should not forget how the demands of war fed the arguments�for socialism. Dewey
was giddy that the war might force Americans�"to give up much of our economic
freedom ... We shall have to lay�by our good-natured individualism and march in
step." If the war�went well, it would constrain "the individualistic tradition"
and convince Americans�of "the supremacy of public need over private possessions."
Another progressive put�it more succinctly: "Laissez-faire�is dead. Long live
social control"51�To fight for an ideal, perhaps, must be coupled with thoughts�of
self-preservation."5�The schools, of course, were drenched in nationalist
propaganda.�Secondary schools and colleges quickly added "war studies courses"�e
curriculum. And always and everywhere the progressives�i the patriotism of anybody
who didn't act "100 percent�American."�Arthur�Bullardd. In 1917 he
published�Mobilising America, in which he argued that the state must
"electrify�'ublic opinion" because "the effectiveness of our warfare will de�1 the
ardour we throw into it" Any citizen who did not put the�needs of the state ahead
of his own was merely "dead weight."�Bullard's ideas were eerily similar to the
Sorelian doctrines of the�"vital lie." "Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms
... there are lifeless truths�and vital lies ... The force of an idea lies in its
inspirational value. It matters�very little if it's tme or false."59�The radical
lawyer and supposed civil libertarian Clarence�Darrow#today a hero to the left for
his defense of evolution in the�Scopes "Monkey" trial#both stumped for the CPI and
defended the�govemment's censorship efforts. "When I hear a man advising�). Once
the bullets fly, citizens lose the right even to discuss the�issue, publicly or
privately; "acquiescence on the part of the citizen�becomes a duty."60 (It's
ironic that the ACLU made its name supporting Darrow at�the Scopes trial.)�Even as
the govemment was chuming out propaganda, it was silencing dissent.
Wilson's�Sedition Act banned "uttering, printing,�writing, or publishing any
disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive�language about the United States
govemment or the military." The�Tt#?n there was the inevitable progressive
crackdown on individual civil liberties.�Today's liberals tend to complain about
the�McCarthy period as if it were the darkest moment in American history after
slavery.�It's tme: under McCarthyism a few Hollywood�writers who'd supported
Stalin and then lied about it lost their jot�in the 1950s. Others were unfairly
intimidated. But nothing that happened under the�mad reign ofJoe McCarthy remotely
compares with�what Wilson and his fellow progressives foisted on America.
Under�American Legion�. Although it is today a fine organization with a proud
history,�lot ignore the fact that it was founded as an essentially fascist
organization. In�1923 the national commander of the legion declared, "If ever
needed, the American�Legion stands ready to protect�our country's institutions and
ideals as the fascisti dealt with the�ists who menaced Italy."67 FDR would later
try to use the�legion as a newfangled American Protective League to spy on
domestic dissidents and�harass potential foreign agents.�Vigilantism was often
encouraged and rarely dissuaded under�Wilson's 100 percent Americanism. How could
it be otherwise�' In 1915, in�his third annual message to Congress, he declared,
"The grav<�threats against our national peace and safety have been uttered�within
our own borders. There are citizens of the United States�blush to admit, bom under
other flags ... who have poured the pi�son of disloyalty into the very arteries of
our national life; who ha�sought to bring the authority and good name of our
Govemment into�contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it
effecti�for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our
politics to the�uses of foreign intrigue." Four years later the president�was
still convinced that perhaps America's greatest threat came from�Tie Republican
antiwar progressive Robert La Follette spent a year fighting an effort�to�have him
expelled from the Senate for disloyalty because ne'd given�a speech opposing the
war to the Non-Partisan League. The�German authors were purged from libraries,
families of German�extraction were harassed and taunted, sauerkraut became
"liberty�cabbage," and#as Sinclair Lewis halt-jokingly recalled#there was�talk of
renaming German measles "liberty measles." Socialists and�Hai-d numbers are
difficult to come by, but it has been estimated�that some 175,000 Americans were
arrested for failing to demon�strate their patriotism in one way or another. All
were punished,�many went to jail.�For the most part, the progressives looked upon
what they had created and said, "This�is good" The "great European war ... is
stri]�ing down individualism and building up collectivism," rejoiced
the�Progressive financier and J. P. Morgan partner George Perkins.�In America the
socialists and progressives voted in favor of the war. This didn't�make them
rightwingers; it made them shockingly bloodthirsty and jingoistic�left-wingers.�In
the liberal telling ofAmerica's story, there are only two perpetrators of
official�misdeeds: conservatives and "America" writ large.�progressives, or modem
liberals, are never bigots or tyrants, but conservatives often�are. For example,
one will virtually never hear that�!. For example, one will virtually never hear
that�the Palmer Raids, Prohibition, or American eugenics were thoroughly
progressive phenomena.�These are sins America itself must�atone for. Meanwhile,
real or alleged "conservative" misdeeds#say,�McCarthyism#are always the exclusive
fault of conservatives and a�sign of the policies they would repeat if given
power. The only culpable mistake�that liberals make is failing 10 nght
"hard�enough" for�their principles. Liberals are never responsible for historic
misdeeds,�because they feel no compulsion to defend the inherent goodness
of�America. Conservatives, meanwhile, not only take the blame for�events not of
their own making that they often worked the most assiduously against,�but find
themselves defending liberal misdeeds�in�order to defend America herself.�War
socialism under Wilson was an entirely progressive project,�and long after the war
it remained the liberal ideal. To this day liberals instinctively�and
automatically see war as an excuse to expand�govemmental control of vast swaths of
the economy. If we are to believe that "classic"�fascism is first and foremost the
elevation of�martial values and the militarization of govemment and society under
the banner of�nationalism, it is very difficult to understand why�the Progressive
Era was not also the Fascist Era.�Indeed, it is very difficult not to notice how
the progressives fit the�objective criteria for a fascist movement set forth by so
many students of the field.�Progressivism was largely a middle-class movement
equally opposed to mnaway capitalism�above and Marxist�radicalism below.
Progressives hoped to find a middle course between the two, what�the fascists
called the "Third Way" or what�Richard Ely, mentor to both Wilson and Roosevelt,
called the�"golden mean" between laissez-faire individualism and Marxist
socialism. Their chief�desire was to impose a unifying, totalitarian�moral order
that regulated the individual inside his home and out�The progressives also shared
with the fascists and Nazis a buming�desire to transcend class differences within
the national communit^�and create a new order. George Creel declared this aim
succinctly:�"No dividing line between the rich and poor, and no class distinctions
to breed mean�envies."73�This was precisely the social mission and appeal of
fascism and�Nazism. In speech after speech, Hitler made it clear that his goal
was�to have no dividing lines between rich and poor. "What a difference�. "The
[Nazi] party�was intending to change the whole concept of labour relations,
based�on the principle of co-determination and shared responsibility 1:�tween
management and workers. I knew it was Utopian but I believed in it with all�my
heart ... Hitler's promises of a caring but disciplined socialism fell on
very�receptive ears."74�Of course, such utopian dreams would have to come at the
price�of personal liberty. But progressives and fascists alike were glad to�pay
it. "Individualism," proclaimed Lyman Abbott, the editor of the�Outlook, "is the
characteristic of simple barbarism, not ofrepublican�civilization."75 The
Wilsonian-Crolyite progressive conception of�