During his campaign, California’s governor-elect, Arnold Schwarzenegger, got himself into hot water with his praise of Adolf Hitler’s oratorical skills. Maybe he should have reminded people of a dark secret that went down the public-school memory hole long ago, for obvious reasons: the mutual admiration society that existed between Hitler and other Western leaders during the 1930s.
In his book Adolf Hitler, John Toland points out,
Churchill had once paid a grudging compliment to the Führer in a letter to the Times: “I have always said that I hoped if Great Britain were beaten in a war we should find a Hitler who would lead us back to our rightful place among nations.”
In his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer wrote,
A foreigner, no matter how anti-Nazi, could come to Germany [from 1933 to 1937] and see and study what he liked — with the exception of the concentration camps and, as in all countries, the military installations. And many did. And many returned who if they were not converted were at least rendered tolerant of the “new Germany” and believed that they had seen, as they said, “positive achievements.” Even a man as perspicacious as Lloyd George, who had led England to victory over Germany in 1918, and who in that year had campaigned with an election slogan of “Hang the Kaiser,” could visit Hitler at Obersalzberg in 1936 and go away enchanted with the Fuehrer and praise him publicly as “a great man” who had the vision and the will to solve a modern nation’s social problems — above all, unemployment.
A reminder of this dark secret recently surfaced on the Internet in the form of a nice review of Hitler’s mountaintop home, published as late as 1938 by a prominent British magazine named Homes & Gardens.
So why were people so enamored with Hitler? The major reason is that the 1930s were the period when capitalist countries were abandoning the philosophy of the free market and adopting the same socialist and interventionist economic policies that Hitler and his fellow socialists embraced.
One of the best examples was Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which in large part mirrored the economic policies that Hitler was implementing to get Germany out of the Depression. That’s why it’s not a coincidence that the photograph of the man with the pointy helmet on the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website is not Thomas Jefferson but rather Otto von Bismarck, the “iron chancellor” of Germany. Social Security, which the Roosevelt administration enacted in the 1930s, had originated with Bismarck, who himself had gotten the idea from German socialists in the late 1800s. Social Security was also a key part of Hitler’s economic program.
Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Hitler, as a National Socialist, also embraced such other governmental measures as public (i.e., government) schooling, national health care, public works, national service, a national youth corps, conscription, government spending to achieve “full employment,” government-business partnerships, wage and price controls, government regulation of private businesses, national highways, financial subsidies to private businesses, and a strong military-industrial complex to combat communism and terrorism.
Toland quotes American economist John Kenneth Galbraith:
Hitler also anticipated modern economic policy … by recognizing that a rapid approach to full employment was only possible if it was combined with wage and price controls. That a nation oppressed by economic fear would respond to Hitler as Americans did to F.D.R. is not surprising.
In fact, given that FDR and Hitler shared much of the same economic philosophy and were implementing many of the same economic policies, it’s not too surprising that Hitler sent the following letter to U.S. Ambassador Thomas Dodd on March 14, 1934:
The Reich chancellor requests Mr. Dodd to present his greetings to President Roosevelt. He congratulates the president upon his heroic effort in the interest of the American people. The president’s successful struggle against economic distress is being followed by the entire German people with interest and admiration. The Reich chancellor is in accord with the president that the virtues of sense of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline must be the supreme rule of the whole nation. This moral demand, which the president is addressing to every single citizen, is only the quintessence of German philosophy of the state, expressed in the motto “The public weal before the private gain.”
Toland reminds us of the high esteem in which Hitler held President Roosevelt:
Hitler had genuine admiration for the decisive manner in which the President had taken over the reins of government. “I have sympathy for Mr. Roosevelt,” he told a correspondent of the New York Times two months later, “because he marches straight toward his objectives over Congress, lobbies and bureaucracy.” Hitler went on to note that he was the sole leader in Europe who expressed “understanding of the methods and motives of President Roosevelt.”
Hitler was not Roosevelt’s only admirer. Benito Mussolini, who had led Italy into fascism, an economic philosophy that called for government control over economic activity, including government-business partnerships, said that he admired FDR because he, like Mussolini, was a “social fascist.” As Srdja Trifkovic put it in his article “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,”
Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust,” the architects of the New Deal, were fascinated by Italy’s fascism — a term which was not perjorative at the time. In America, it was seen as a form of economic nationalism built around consensus planning by the established elites in government, business, and labor.
Perhaps we also shouldn’t forget that the largest public-works project in U.S. history — the Interstate Highway System — was due to the inspiration that President Dwight Eisenhower received from seeing Hitler’s National Socialist autobahn system.
At the risk of sounding trite, every cloud has its silver lining. Maybe the dark secret that Schwarzenegger’s praise of Hitler’s oratorical skills has reminded us of will help show Americans how far our nation has strayed from its heritage of economic liberty and free markets in favor of socialism and interventionism.