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(RNS) We seem a long way from the conditions that spawned Hitler and Nazism. But even the sturdiest democracy can lose its footing.


  1. The closest time the US ever came to embracing dictatorship was the Great Depression. Fascism and Communism both appeared to offer alternatives to the economic woes of the world (Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR did a lot to hide their weakness in this department). Military expansion was giving new jobs to people.

    The system has always been messy, prone to corruption and not as free as it should be. Politics of the previous 2 centuries were a helluva lot nastier, divisive and corrupt than they are today. There is a greater awareness of this sort of thing nowadays. It is far easier to organize, disseminate information and get one’s views expressed than it has in the past. The more we are connected to one another, the harder it is for information to be restricted by a single source. Its harder to be a dictator these days than it ever was.

    The US toys with autocratic policies now and then like a pendulum but one rather limited in its movements. For ex. Alien and Sedition Acts, political censorship of Socialism during WWI, Internment of Japanese Americans, J Edgar Hoover’s secret files, Watergate…but it always swings back eventually. We have a system which is remarkably resilient.

    Germany never had much faith in its democratic system under Weimar. They were quick to betray such principles when the Spartacist Revolt was put down by proro-fascist Freikorps.

    Not having a distinct military social class helps the US a lot. It prevents coups and creating a group of politicized well armed cadres which can be thrown into support of a given dictator. Germany had an aristocratic military class from the nation’s inception until the beginning of WWII. They had no problem climbing into bed with anyone who promised rearmament and a new war settle scores from the previous one.