The Charlotte News



Dorothy Thompson's Dicta:

Primer Political Guide

--A Review, by W. J. Cash

Site ed. note: For another review of one of Ms. Thompson's books, comprising her editorial columns on foreign affairs, for which Cash lauds her highly for her perspicacity, read "Dorothy Thompson Hits the Nail on the Head on Foreign Affairs" - August 27, 1939.

TOMORROW there will be published in New York a new book by Dorothy Thompson, the lady journalist who customarily appears on the editorial page of the Charlotte News three times a week, and who will appear there again when she comes back (this month) from a sojourn in Europe. The book is called "Dorothy Thompson's Political Guide," made up in part from articles originally published in Good Housekeeping and the Ladies' Home Journal, and runs to 120 pages. The publisher is Stackpole Sons, and the volume will sell for $1.25.

I have just finished reading it, and emerge from it feeling, as I usually feel after reading one of her newspaper articles, that the lady is quite as confused a mixture of brilliant lucidity, fumbling vagueness, and sentimentality as Sinclair Lewis, whose wife she is. Her book is essentially a sort of primer for the exposition of her favorite ideas--primarily addressed to women. And accordingly, it begins by attempting to lay down definitions for Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Collectivism, Democracy, and Liberalism.

And so far as the first four go, she is magnificently successful. The three collectivist States, she points out, are all of a piece. And in everyone of them, property has no real existence. And in everyone of them a citizen has become merely the subject of the State. His will and personality count for nothing. All that counts is the purpose which the politicians who have command of the State have laid down for it. And every human activity, including those highly personal ones of love and marriage, must be regimented and subordinated to serve the master purpose. It follows, therefore, that no deviation from the common pattern can be tolerated, that free speech, etc., must be abolished. The State may still grant privileges, as the Italian Fascist state still grants freedom of worship, but there are not "inalienable rights" at all but mere condescensions of power. There are no rights save those of the State itself.

OSTENSIBLY, all this is done to the end of serving the people themselves. In Russia it is supposed to be directed to securing an Utopia in which each shall contribute in proportion to his capacity and receive in proportion to his need. And in Italy and Germany, it is supposed to build a nation so powerful that they'll be able to hog a large part of the world's wealth and eventually make every Italian and German rolling rich with the swag. The State, that is, is supposed to be a sort of mystical incarnation of people's will. But in reality, what it is simply is an incarnation of the will of the politicians who have it in hand, and its ideas are not the people's ideas but those of these politicians.

The dictator States have ideologies, moreover, which are thought of as international in scope. Or at least two of them have. Mussolini seems content merely to drive toward making Italy all powerful. But Berlin with its race theories carries on active international propaganda, and so, of course, does Red Russia. But Italy and Germany are the immediate menaces so far as war goes. Russia has territory enough to satisfy her, and her only interest in war is ideological. Yet she expects it to come shortly, and, with an eye on the prospect is busily pretending sympathy for the liberalism and democracy she has always hated, believing that the democratic front will win the war, and that in the resulting chaos all of them will turn Red on their own account. Our own attitude of hands off in the squabble is foolish. The fascist powers have to be dealt with, and we may as well face it.

Miss Thompson is fairly successful with her definitions of democracy and liberalism, too. Certainly, I think her right when she argues that democracy is not the unrestricted rule of the majority, but a rule of the majority which always regards the rights of the minority. Otherwise, you simply have the rule of force, which is the rule of the ape and tiger. And I'll agree, too, that the essence of liberalism--as it has come down in a true liberal tradition--is an exquisite respect for the individual and personality: a position which inevitably requires the humane outlook and a highly developed social conscience.

But, having said this, Miss Thompson flails into the New Deal, and charges it with two things (1) making inevitably toward a dictatorship, and (2) having failed miserably to accomplish anything.

PERHAPS there is considerable truth in both charges. I don't believe it can be reasonably said that the Roosevelt administration has accomplished nothing. True, it hasn't solved the great primary questions, such as that of unemployment. And certainly it has largely replaced the abuses of private enterprise with the abuses of politicians, which is a mere swap of the witch for the devil. Again, it is quite possible that you can't have a system, half collectivist and half private, as Miss Thompson says. But I doubt that the New Deal has really gone very far toward collectivism in any of its methods. Most of the devices it uses seem to me to be regulatory rather than totalitarian.

What does Miss Thompson propose to do about it? She is far from arguing that our system as it stood in 1929 wasn't a mess. And she seems convinced that many of the evils of private capitalism under democracy are totally intolerable. But all she suggests in the way of a substitute for the New Deal is a mystical revival of the early spirit of liberalism, in which to be something was held to be superior to getting something, and that women are the natural people to bring that revival about. It sounds about as realistic to me as though she had proposed to save us by converting us all to Yogi.

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