August 19, 1933 - Article - "What This Country Needs Is......", by Dorothy Thompson
In happier days it was a good five-cent cigar. Along about the time it got to be a good five-cent nickel it also got to be a Mussolini. "What this country needs is a man like Mussolini." Give the Germans and our President time! If the New Deal does not satisfy the hopes of those who have come to believe that one strong man can manage the state, we shall, I predict, hear in a few months that "What this country needs is a Hitler." Indeed, and from some quarters, we are already beginning to hear it.
The passion for dictatorships is as old as national crises. National crises are as old as national states.
At this time X was a leading world power. But she was suffering from a terrible internal crisis..... The rise in the standard of living had forced the ruling classes into strange shifts for a livelihood..... The glaring contrast between ill-gotten gains of the few and the penury of the many excited unrest. A new line of cleavage was appearing in society. One the one side was a great host of men who had lost all they had to lose in the world, bankrupt industrialists and ruined landowners. On the other was a small and grasping clique of parvenu speculators and millionaires. The moderate incomes which might have bridges the gap were disappearing. Meanwhile the treasury was empty..... Fraud and violence, extortion and bribery, were familiar incidents in public life..... Money was the sole goal of ambition and the supreme measure of worth..... Yet there were many who had left a secure, though modest, existence on the land to risk their fortunes on some business adventure, and many more who had reduced themselves to bankruptcy to educate their children..... Crime was connived at and fomented by the authorities. The home no longer fulfilled its disciplinary functions.
The wild and disordered conflict of material interests found its reflection in the world of ideas. It was the fashion for men to consult philosophers to find out their political bearings, and every educated man had his own standpoint, from which to look down upon the stress of his time. The theories thus evolved marked the final extinction of the ancient and definite doctrines which still survived. There were interminable discussions of the diseases from which the country was suffering. Men frittered away their energies in morbid inertia or childishly appealed for some heaven-sent deliverer.
No, this is not 1933 in the United States with bankrupt middle classes, the collapse of agriculture, graduated students with no jobs, Al Capone and the Brain Trust. It is Prof. Guglielmo Ferrero's description of Rome of 100 B.C. And at that time people undoubtedly said: "What this country needs is......"
Sulla was another kind of dictator. Indeed, Professor Ferrero insists that he - and his historical counterparts, from Cæsar to Adolf Hitler - were not dictators at all. They were tyrants. They ruled by force, they used the implements of the state to perpetuate their own power, they depended for success, not on their legitimacy or their right to rule but upon the success or popularity of their programs. (pg. 8)
All dictators systematically work, before and after the accession to power, to undermine confidence in what has gone before them. It is absolutely essential that they do so, for without this collapse of confidence there is no excuse for a usurper.
And yet, one of the essential circumstances of being a successful dictator is to come to power at the right moment - to have, in other words, luck - and, above all, to be able to profit not only by the mistakes of predecessors but to be able to cash in on their achievements. Where the achievements have been considerable - where, in other words, the dictator gets a considerable inheritance - he often manages to make a very fine showing. Where the inheritance is small, he has a hard time making a show. (pg. 60)
Comments: When FDR took office in 1933, the Congress unconstitutionally handed him one of the greatest inheritances in history. The United States by this time had accumulated enormous wealth and had a large national income. This allowed him, as Ms. Thompson put it, "to make a very fine showing." We shall also see the massive propaganda campaign in future articles that continually attacked the prior free economic system that was being destroyed. It should be remembered though that the economic base that allowed the United States to overwhelm their enemies in war production during World War II was the product of the very system that FDR and his followers were attacking as the people's enemy.