I packed uncharacteristically heavy for this trip. Along with a cruise-ship wardrobe, I flew to Europe with a copy of “Mein Kampf” and a homemade fasces (the bundle of sticks with an ax in it that Mussolini used as his symbol of a fascist state) in my luggage. These were props for our new “Fascism in Europe” TV special, which will air across the USA next September.
Ever since the Patriot Act was hastily passed in the days after 9/11, I’ve wanted to make a one-hour TV special helping Americans understand how and why fascism rose after World War I in Italy and Germany — and how, by the outbreak of World War II, only a handful of democracies survived in Europe (primarily in Britain, France, and Scandinavia). Those were wild times. And today, Western democracies from the USA to Poland, Hungary, and Turkey are navigating choppy waters.
Things change incrementally, and the societies that suffered through periods of fascism between the world wars had some surprises in common: that it could happen to them, that losses of freedom snowball, and that it can all happen so quickly.
The more you study this history, the more you see that autocrats and wannabe dictators all follow the same playbook. I’m a big proponent of the notion that you can learn from history and you can learn from travel. For this important topic, we’ll learn from both. Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing insights gleaned from filming in Rome, Berlin, Nürnberg, and Munich. Here’s a little clip from Rome.