Fascism and the Philadelphia Eagles

Living for many years in Dallas, including the three-Superbowl period in the mid-eighties, it was nearly impossible not to jump on the Dallas Cowboy bandwagon.  And, part and parcel (Parcell?) of being a Cowboys fan was hating those NFL east franchises the Giants, Redskins, and the Eagles (the Cardinals were also in the division, but were such a joke that they were not even worth hating, which is ironic since they are now my team here in Phoenix).

When we were driving up to Princeton reunions from Washington DC, my old roommate Brink Lindsey pointed out to me, as we passed the new Philadelphia stadium, that the Eagles were named in the 1930's after the blue eagle of the National Recovery Administration, or NRA.

I found this hard to believe, that anyone would name a sports franchise after one of the worst pieces of legislation in American history, but it seems to be true.  Apparently, naming the team the eagles was part of a larger soviet-style propaganda program:

For a while, there was no escaping the bird. Towns all over the country got on the Blue Eagle bandwagon. A hundred thousand schoolchildren clustered on Boston Common and were led in an oath administered by Mayor James Michael Curley: "I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies." In San Francisco, 8,000 schoolchildren were dragooned into showing their
allegiance by forming themselves into a human Blue Eagle on the outfield in Seals Stadium. In Cleveland, 35,000 enthusiasts gathered in the public square to cheer the unveiling of the Blue Eagle flag while city officials proclaimed the "end of the depression." In Memphis, 125,000 people watched another 50,000 march in the city's traditional Christmas parade; on the final float Santa Claus sat resplendent upon a big Blue Eagle, from which perch he threw candy to children. In a New
Orleans park, NRA celebrants erected an enormous pyramid on which were inscribed the names of more than 7,000 people and businesses who had taken the pledge; on top of the pyramid was a nine-foot eagle made of blue lights, while red and white bulbs spelled out "We Do Our Part." In Philadelphia, citizens were soon cheering for a new professional football team whose name was inspired by the general's icon: the Philadelphia Eagles. In Roanoke, North Carolina, "Shanghai Mickey" offered Blue Eagle tattoos for a mere 50 cents. In Atlantic City, beauty contestants had the Blue Eagle stamped on their thighs.

What's next?  Should we rename the Red Sox the Boston Alien and Sedition Acts?  How about having the Chicago Smoot-Hawley Tariffs?

By the way, for those who are not familiar, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 that formed the NRA was the centerpiece of Roosevelt's New Deal, and was modeled on Mussolini's fascism in Italy (via Sheldon Richman of the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics):

The image of a strong leader taking direct charge of an economy during hard times fascinated observers abroad. Italy was one of the places that Franklin Roosevelt looked to for ideas in 1933. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA) attempted to cartelize the American economy just as Mussolini had cartelized Italy's. Under the NRA Roosevelt established industry-wide boards with the power to set and enforce prices, wages, and other terms of employment, production, and distribution for all companies in an industry. Through the Agricultural Adjustment Act the government exercised similar control over farmers. Interestingly, Mussolini viewed Roosevelt's New Deal as "boldly... interventionist in the field of economics." Hitler's nazism also shared many features with Italian fascism, including the syndicalist front. Nazism, too, featured complete government control of industry, agriculture, finance, and investment.

And further, from John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth via Anthony Gregory:

[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti-trust laws forbade such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to combine.

If you are not familiar with the NRA, you need to be if you are going to come to a conclusion about the New Deal and just how statist FDR's aspirations were.  Henry Hazlitt has a long evaluation here. In the end, the NRA was struck down by the Supreme Court, and never revived in large part because it was a disaster for the economy.  Many blame the NRA for strangling the recovery that began in 1933-34 and thus extending the depression. Parts of the law (collective bargaining, minimum wage) were incorporated in other later legislation, but the core concept of organizing industrial cartels with government backing to run industries and set prices, wages, and production levels died, fortunately.

By the way, the countries today that I know of that most closely adhere to the assumptions of the NRA are France and Germany, who expelled the fascists in the forties only to eventually adopt most of their corporatist economics.


  1. Matt:

    Jeez. You weren't kidding about Soviet-style propaganda. It's downright creepy.

  2. dearieme:

    How brave of you: when I commented cryptically on another website that FDR was "a man of the thirties" I got quite a bit of abuse. "France and Germany, who expelled the fascists in the forties": well, the Nazis - the distinction is well worth making. (It was originally Soviet propaganda to call the Nazis "fascists".)

    "....only to eventually adopt most of their corporatist economics": yep - the EU, in particular, is just Vichy France by other means.

  3. NovaNardis:

    Hey, no dissing my Birds.

    But seriously, I wouldn't consider the NRA the worst piece of legislation in American History, or even one of them.

    Whatever you think of Mussolini, you have to agree his authoritarianism was good for the Italian economy. Now, what Mussolini and Hitler went on to do was deplorable, but you can't fault FDR for trying to be the big leader taking of the Depression. Would you in the GD have wanted a leader like Hoover who just closed his eyes and waited for it to go away? Remember that most of the New Deal was throwing out ideas and seeing what stuck / was constitutional.

    Although the propoganda is kind of creepy...

  4. Taylor:

    Sucks that you're pissing on the Birds, man.

  5. Bonchamps:

    Mussolini's suppression of the labor unions was good for the economy, and that was only because they'd gotten out of control. Everything else, well, let's just say the old saw "at least the trains ran on time," well, no, they didn't.

    As for Hitler, most economists agree that Nazi Germany would have gone under by 1940 or 1941 if he hadn't gone to war and looted the entire capital base of Europe. Heck, half the reason Himmler and Goebbels incited Kristallnacht was to get an excuse to seize Jewish property to paper over the yawning German deficit. It would really be comical if it weren't so tragic.

    And Hoover? You're aware he was the progressive Republican par excellence for the time, aren't you? Jawboning industry into artificially propping up wages and production instead of letting things play out normally, and pioneering proto-New Deal programs to the point that Roosevelt's 1932 campaign against him explicitly called him a "socialist." It wasn't until after he lost that he did his bizarre pirouette into Liberty League activism.

    The one point on which you're right is that people wanted a big leader to "do something." That's the great flaw of modern progressive democracy - the uncritical impulse for government to "do something." And yes, FDR filled that niche, and took us down the less-evil road out compared to all-out communist revolution. For that, we can be grateful. But it was still objectively bad economic policy - a way out, not a way forward.