Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights and a slight revision to my simple definition of fascism

Pandemic

Megan Guza, “Beaver County among 12 more moving to Pennsylvania’s yellow phase,” TribLive, May 15, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/beaver-county-among-12-more-moving-to-pennsylvanias-yellow-phase/


Fascism

There is a rather substantive update to “A simple definition of fascism.” The change to the definition itself is almost, but not quite, trivial, and I draw it from the State of the Union Address in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out his Economic Bill of Rights.[1] The relevant portion of that speech is worth excerpting:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.[2]

For those whom Roosevelt is yet one more name in a fog of history, Roosevelt got us into World War II, against Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan, immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This is the war to which he refers. And “the so-called ‘normalcy’ of the 1920’s” precedes the New Deal which has been eviscerated under neoliberalism. Charles Reich wrote of the capitalist libertarian impulse that became neoliberalism once in power:

Every step the New Deal took encountered the massive, bitter opposition of Consciousness I people. They found their world changing beyond recognition, and instead of blaming the primary forces behind that change, they blamed the efforts at solving problems. They totally lacked the sophistication necessary to see that a measure such as the Wagner Act might be redressing an existing oppression rather than creating oppression. The businessmen who were the most vocal in their opposition had a pathological hatred of the New Deal, a hatred so intense and personal as to defy analysis. Why this hatred, when the New Deal, in retrospect, seems to have saved the capitalist system? Perhaps because the New Deal intruded irrevocably upon their make-believe, problem-free world in which the pursuit of business gain and self-interest was imagined to be automatically beneficial to all of mankind, requiring of them no additional responsibility whatever. In any event, there was a large and politically powerful number of Americans who never accepted the New Deal even when it benefited them, and used their power whenever they could to cut it back.[3]

In Roosevelt’s day, this opposition was so extreme as to lead to an attempt to organize a coup against him.[4] It is also worth noting that the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, adopted and, to this day, ratified by all but a very small number of countries (the U.S. has signed but not ratified this treaty), in the immediate post-war period goes even further.[5]
The revised definition is this:

Fascism is an ideology that seeks to institutionalize structural and physical violence against some or many subaltern groups on the grounds of bigotry and to increase its own public support through the exploitation of such violence and bigotry. This bigotry may take several forms including nationalism, scapegoating, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. To the extent that it succeeds, it acts as a self-reinforcing feedback as public support enables further and more extreme violence.[6]

The change is in the addition of a single word, classism, to the examples of bigotry listed. The idea really remains the same.


  1. [1]Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944,” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, n.d., http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/address_text.html
  2. [2]Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message to Congress, January 11, 1944,” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, n.d., http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/address_text.html
  3. [3]Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970), 56-57.
  4. [4]George Seldes, 1000 Americans: The Real Rulers of the U.S.A. (New York: Boni and Gaer, 1948; Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive, 2009).
  5. [5]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx; United Nations, “Ratification Status: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” January 15, 2019, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-3&chapter=4&lang=en
  6. [6]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, May 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/

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