Sure, We’ll Have Fascism in This Country, and We’ll Call It Anti-Fascism
Huey Long? Winston Churchill? Bruce Bliven? H. L. Mencken? Jimmy Street? Robert Cantwell? Lawrence Dennis?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous populist Huey Long and British leader Winston Churchill have both been credited with a bold prediction about political deception. Here are two versions:
- When the United States gets fascism, it will call it anti-fascism.
- The fascists of the future will be called anti-fascists.
Would you please investigate?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Winston Churchill.
Huey Long died on September 10, 1935. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an article with the byline “J. F. McD.” published on February 22, 1936 in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Norman Thomas said recently in a speech made in Cincinnati “Fascism is coming in the United States most probably, but it will not come under that name.” In this statement he was repeating the words of the late Huey Long, but Huey added: “Of course we’ll have it. We’ll have it under the guise of anti-fascism.”
The ascription to Long is popular but the phrasing has been highly-variable, Also, QI has not yet found direct instances in Long’s writings, speeches, or interviews. This article presents a snapshot of current incomplete knowledge.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
On June 22, 1937 an editorial in “The Daily Herald” of Provo, Utah ascribed the notion to Bruce Bliven: 2
Bruce Bliven, editor of the New Republic, sagely remarked not long ago that if or when Fascism ever makes any headway in America, it will probably be known as “Anti-Fascism.”
In October 1938 an editorial in “The Daily Tribune” of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin attributed the thought to Long. 3 The same editorial text appeared in other newspapers such as The Owosso Argus-Press” of Owosso, Michigan: 4
Huey Long once remarked that America probably would have Fascism some day; but, he added, “when we get it we won’t call it Fascism—we’ll call it anti-Fascism.” And Huey’s wise-crack is much more worth remembering than are the revelations of the Dies committee.
In November 1938 the prominent commentator H. L. Mencken writing in “The Baltimore Sun” of Baltimore, Maryland propounded the same provocative thesis: 5
My own belief, more than once set afloat from this spot, is that it will take us, soon or late, into the stormy waters of Fascism. To be sure, that Fascism is not likely to be identical with the kinds on tap in Germany, Italy and Russia; indeed, it is very apt to come in under the name of anti-Fascism. And its first Duce, whether the Hon. Mr. Roosevelt or another, will not call himself a dictator, but a scotcher of dictators.
In 1939 “LIFE” magazine ascribed the saying to Huey Long: 6
The late Huey P. Long, who knew all the tricks of the dissembling demagog, was once asked: “Do you think we will ever have Fascism in America?” Said the Kingfish: “Sure, only we’ll call it anti-Fascism.”
In March 1939 the “Akron Beacon Journal” of Akron, Ohio printed the following instance: 7
Anti-democracy is hydra-headed; it takes a thousand forms, many of them impossible to detect without close examination. They are part of what the late Huey Long meant when he said, “Sure, we’ll have Fascism in this country and we’ll call it anti-Fascism.”
In June 1939 Lillian Symes writing in “Harper’s Magazine” attributed the remark to Long: 8
If a fascist movement ever triumphs in America it will undoubtedly triumph in the name of our most popular slogan—Democracy, and under the leadership of some such “friend of the common people” as the late Huey Long. (It was Huey who prophesied that Fascism would come to America in the name of “anti-Fascism.”) Whoever its angels and whatever their purpose, it will speak the language of a populist Left.
In June 1941 Willson Whitman writing in “The New Republic” ascribed the notion to Long: 9
It was Huey Long who warned that fascism in this country would come in the guise of anti-fascism; and before Huey was cold in his grave his Texas neighbor was attacking the wages-and-hours law on the ground that it would “establish a fascist bureaucracy.”
In July 1943 syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler wrote the following: 10
Huey Long never made a shrewder observation than his remark that if Fascism came to the United States it would come disguised as anti-Fascism.
In December 1943 columnist Leonard Lyons in the “New York Post” made an intriguing claim. Lyons asserted that Long spoke the much-repeated saying to his press agent Jimmy Street. The ellipses below were in the original text: 11
Jimmy Street, the novelist screenwriter, once was Huey Long’s press agent, when Long was Railroad Commissioner of Louisiana. “Huey,” Street asked him, “do you think Fascism ever will come to America?” . . . “Yes, I do,” said Long . . . “How?” asked Street . . . “It will come,” said Long, “in the guise of anti-Fascism.”
In 1944 the industrious publisher and quotation collector Bennett Cerf included the following instance in his compilation “Try and Stop Me”: 12
Somebody once asked the late Huey Long if he thought we would ever have fascism in the United States. “Sure we will,” predicted Long, “only we’ll call it anti-fascism!”
In February 1944 Malcolm Cowley writing in “The New Republic” asserted that Long delivered the line to the novelist Robert Cantwell during a 1933 interview. However, contradictory evidence is presented further below: 13
Huey Long had a somewhat similar idea. He is supposed to have said (it was in 1933, when he was interviewed by Robert Cantwell), “Of course we’ll have fascism in this country-under the guise of anti-fascism.” The remark has been quoted and misquoted at least a hundred times and always with implied praise for Huey Long’s sagacity.
In 1951 historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. contacted Robert Cantwell and asked about the saying. Cantwell told Schlesinger that he had not heard the quotation from Huey Long. Schlesinger published this information in 1960: 14
In 1935 some people wondered whether Long was the first serious American fascist . . . He had no ideological preoccupations; he never said, “When the United States gets fascism it will call it anti-fascism,” nor was he likely to think in such terms. [Footnote 7]
[Footnote 7] He is supposed to have said this to Robert Cantwell; but Mr. Cantwell informs me (June 6, 1951), “It is not what Long said in his talk with me; but it is not basically opposed to what he said.” Actually the epigram ascribed to Long would be much more characteristic of someone like Lawrence Dennis. Indeed, Dennis said very much the same thing: “Nothing could be more logical or in the best political tradition than for a type of fascism to be ushered into this country by leaders who are now vigorously denouncing fascism” (Coming American Fascism, New York, 1936, ix). . .
The ascription to Winston Churchill was circulating in the newsgroup be.politics by 2008: 15
> “The fascists of the future will be called
> anti-fascists.” (Winston Churchill)
In conclusion, the linkage to Winston Churchill was spurious. QI does not know whether Huey Long made this remark. The first ascription to him appeared in 1936 after his death in 1935. H. L. Mencken did write a similar statement in 1938 although the notion was already in circulation. Perhaps future researchers will locate superior evidence.
Image Notes: Picture of Huey Long circa August 1935 from the Harris & Ewing collection at the Library of Congress; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to David A. Daniel and Bonnie Taylor-Blake whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to discussants and researchers Fred Shapiro, Victor Steinbok, Dan Goncharoff, Stephen Goranson, and Peter Reitan who identified valuable citations.)