Monday, January 30, 2017

From the Archives: Fascism's First Steps: Heywood Broun's Warning From the Past

by Nomad


In June 2012, Nomadic Politics took a moment to honor an old-school reporter in the post entitled "Fascism's First Steps: Heywood Broun's Warning From the Past."

If you've never heard of the name, you are in good company. Before there was Walter Cronkite, before there was Edward R. Murrow, there was Heywood Broun. While probably not exactly in the same league, he was certainly the kind reporter that later great journalists would admire.

Broun worked at some of the most respected newspapers of the day. It was not always a happy relationship. His ideas often rubbed newspapers owners the wrong way.  Early in his career, he was described as "an extraordinary mixture of sophistication and naïveté."  
Like many of the celebrity writers of his day,  Broun was for ten years, (1919 - 1929) a member of the much-celebrated Algonquin Round Table.
That, no doubt, shaped his later witty kind of cynicism. With a professional aplomb, Broun could skewer the pompous egos in the arts and in politics.  

Sadly, one has to hunt high and low even to find a few of his quotes. But here are a few notables.
Write the news as if your very life depended on it. It does!
On people who ignore warnings:
Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will become a vegetarian.

On the power of a censor:
In some respects, the life of a censor is more exhilarating that of an emperor. The best the emperor can do is to snip off the heads of men and women, who are mere mortals. The censor can decapitate ideas which but for him might have lived forever."
On the morality of censorship:
To us the whole theory of censorship is immoral. If its functions were administered by the wisest man in the world, it would still be wrong. But, of course, the wisest man in the world would have too much sense to be a censor.
Time has, fortunately, not censored all of Broun's life work.  Several of his books can both be found online and provide us with excellent samples of his witty writing style.

Sadly for us, his life was cut short at a critical date in world history, at the apex of fascism which would challenge world order. Very poor timing indeed and a loss for all of us. Judging by Broun's remarks, he clearly knew where fascism would take the world.

When the post was written, the threat of the rise of fascism in the US was more or less theoretical. It is much less so today. I will leave you with one final Broun quote which he made shortly before his death in December 1939 when the world stood on the brink of self-destruction.
The mere presence of a Supreme Court, a House of Representatives, a Senate and a President would not be sufficient protection against the utter centralization of power in the hands of a few men who might hold no office at all.
That's a warning that cannot be ignored, made from a man the world has all but forgotten.


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