Philip Jenkins’ book is a gold mine of information on pro-fascist and pro- Nazi groups in Pennsylvania during the 1930’s. Jenkins makes informative distinctions among the various bearers of Camicie fasciste, differentiating silver, khaki, black, and brown shirts and explaining the significance of each. He is also careful not to exaggerate the importance of any of the groups he studies—including the Pennsylvania Ku Klux Klan—explaining that these groups, singly or collectively, were never in a position to influence significantly the national government, and that even within Pennsylvania, they exercised only limited regional power. What they did do, according to Jenkins, was to strengthen a conspiratorial view of political life that Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid style” of American politics, beginning with the Populists. According to Jenkins, this same quest for hidden enemies, which Hofstadter identified with rural and small-town America a century ago, characterized the right-wing extremism found in interwar Pennsylvania and supposedly left its imprint on the anticommunist politics of the postwar era, where Jenkins’ study breaks off. “After 1946 fanatical anti-Communism became a sine qua non of the participation in American public life.” Moreover, “the far Right tradition should not be dismissed too lightly, if only because many of its basic assumptions became political orthodoxy after 1946.” “With the crucial exception of anti-Semitism,” these assumptions “were firmly rooted in the mainstream by 1956.”

Jenkins offers reasons, however, why the American interwar right never amounted to much by itself. For one thing, the pro-fascist right in the United States, as typified by its activities in Pennsylvania, was divided by religious, cultural, and political differences. While its members could agree on disliking communists and, in some cases, blaming Marxism and capitalist greed on the Jews, they also revealed profound cleavages: e.g., between Protestant nativist anti-Catholic Klansmen and the predominantly Catholic National Union for Social Justice and the Order of the Sons of Italy, or between the anti-New Dealers and Christian corporatist followers of Father Charles Coughlin.

Though such intense differences could be papered over by appeals to shared European models, or by calls for a Christian America, Jenkins’ survey of the far right in this particular place and time makes one wonder how much real unity existed among its components. He suggests that countervailing forces were always stronger than the pro-fascist attitudes he describes, from general support for the American regime to anti-Nazi Catholic prelates, and in Philadelphia to the operations of a conservative, anticommunist newspaper owned by the Jewish Annenberg family. Throughout the late 1930’s and into the 50’s, The Inquirer opposed the anti-Semitic right, from right of center. Most importantly, unlike in Eastern and Central Europe, anti-Semitism was never a major cultural or political force in the United States, and certainly it was not something around which a national party could be built. But even in Europe—and this is a point not noted by Jenkins—what lent weight to the anti-Semitic right and the anti-Semitic left was the rise and expansion of Nazi Germany. Latin fascism was not intrinsically anti-Semitic, and anti- Semitism in Eastern Europe would not have become disastrous without Nazi armies and Nazi influence. Neither of these factors counted for much in the United States, despite the FBI-infiltrated German-American Bund and other pro-Nazi groups discussed in Jenkins’ book.

Two critical points need to be made about this work, for a balanced assessment. One, Jenkins does not contextualize his subject sufficiently. While he considers historical circumstances bearing on the political culture of interwar Pennsylvania, he does not examine those circumstances closely enough. The anticapitalist, anti-Semitic, and anticommunist views that came together on the interwar revolutionary right belong to a particular place and epoch. The convergence of these views was characteristic of a certain phase of European politics and marked the struggle between communists and anticommunists from the Bolshevik Revolution through World War II. Anti-Semitism was a critical aspect of the anticommunist side, at least in Eastern and Central Europe. There it was possible to tap older sources of an already ingrained prejudice by emphasizing the role played by Jewish socialists in establishing and securing Bolshevik rule. The prominence of other Jews in international finance and industrialization created the chance to blame world Jewry for capitalist, as well as communist, oppression. This was foundational, as the Israeli Francophone historian Zeev Sternhelle showed, for forming a right-left coalition based on dislike for Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists. It also gave rise to an anticapitalist and often fervently nationalist politics that was directed against Jews and communists alike. On the other side, there were—and still are—conflicted Jewish capitalists with leftist sympathies like Armand Hammer, Robert Maxwell, and Felix Rohatyn. This continued presence of wealthy Jews on the anticapitalist left may be partly a reaction to interwar anti-Semitism, which treated as a single foe Jewish communism and Jewish capitalism.

Jenkins should have done more with the interwar political confrontation of which the Pennsylvania scene was only a small and passing reflection. And he makes too much of the supposed link between interwar rightist movements and postwar anticommunism. As far as I can tell, this connection was minimal. Most American anticommunists of the 50’s had never been pro-fascist, and the complaints they raised about insufficient attention being paid to wartime communist infiltration of the United States government had more than a grain of truth.

Moreover, Jenkins’ occasional expression of the view of Kenneth Stern and Richard Dinnerstein, that Christian anti-Semitism has cast a long, ominous shadow on American history and the Christian right, is incompatible with evidence that Jenkins himself presents: that explicit anti-Semitism after 1945 had become limited to an isolated fringe, however important anticommunism thereafter loomed; that by the early 1940’s membership in Klan lodges in Pennsylvania had dwindled to about 250; and that anti-Catholic sentiment was at least as strong as was dislike for Jews on the nativist ultra-right. (The Klan, by the way, supported the communist-anarchist left in the Spanish Civil War against the Catholic nationalist side.) Moreover, much of what Jenkins describes as the interwar ultra-right in Pennsylvania was not specifically rightist: e.g., Italian parish and civic organizations that expressed solidarity with the Italian national revolution (a stance also taken in the 20’s and early 30’s by non-Italians and by some socialists, most notably at the New Republic). It is likewise hard to find deep ideological significance in the fact that at least some Pennsylvanians of German descent, who had their ancestral culture and libraries destroyed before and during Mr. Wilson’s war, initially showed ignorant sympathy for Hitler’s Germany. Their sentiment did not survive the war, nor can I discern the slightest trace of German national consciousness in the once predominantly German region of the state where I live. Professor Jenkins has produced a readable and well-researched monograph, but one with questionable conclusions that are certainly less solid than the research and prose.


[Hoods and Saints: The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925-1950, by Philip Jenkins (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press) 323 pp., $29.95]