“For Christianity and the Constitution!” Silver Legion of America leader William Dudley Pelley and his program for a ‘Christian Commonwealth’
Fringe movements, whether in politics or religion, tend to attract fringe individuals. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, once made the observation that: “Creativity IS fanaticism. Every creative genius has had to be a fanatic. Many of them have been burned at the stake… In between the Communists and the Nazis is the great mass of non-fanatics, the TV watchers and the comic book readers.” He might have had a point. It is hard to be a revolutionary or a radical without being a fanatic to some degree – and fanaticism of any kind is, by definition, not exactly “normal.” William Dudley Pelley, who led the fascistic Silver Legion of America (the ‘Silver Shirts’) during the interwar era, was almost the quintessential example of the kinds of fringe individuals who frequently find their way into radical politics. A successful journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had been radicalized through his time covering the Russian Revolution and by his experiences with Jewish film executives, Pelley in the mid-1920s began experiencing divine ‘visions’ which led him into a career as a best-selling spiritualist teacher and writer. Pelley believed that his visions were sent by Christ and that he had been chosen for a great purpose, and it was these visions which inspired him to found the Silver Legion in 1933 with a goal of bringing about the renewal of the United States on both a spiritual and a material level. The USA’s rebirth under the Silver Legion would see it become a “Christian Commonwealth” – a society still fundamentally based on the American Constitution, but made both more equitable and more efficient through application of the principles of ‘Christian Economics’ revealed to Pelley in his mystical and clairvoyant visions. Pelley spelled out the essence of his ideas in a number of works; his overview of the ‘Christian Commonwealth’ and its economic precepts, excerpted below, is taken from his book No More Hunger! This book was first published in 1933, but the text below is taken from a revised edition published after WWII (my copy is from 1961). So far as I am aware, the only significant difference between the original and revised editions is the removal of a chapter in which Pelley calls for blacks, Mexicans, and “improvident backwoods whites” to be made wards of the state and put onto Native American-style reservations where they can be tapped for domestic labor; Pelley, for all his eccentricities (he also became a UFO enthusiast in the 1950s), was apparently down-to-earth enough to know which way the post-War wind was blowing.
The Program for a Christian Commonwealth
From William Dudley Pelley’s
“No More Hunger”
Unfortunately, when the average man hears the words “new system” uttered or when some enthusiastic person begins to prate about a “better economic order”, the immediate conclusion is drawn that some sort of violent revolution is being recommended or promoted, or that the sponsor is indulging in philosophical day-dreams because he had lost his business or can’t find a job.
Furthermore, a Wise Teacher has aptly remarked: “Tell men not too great truths with suddenness, lest they turn and rend you, or call you addled in your wits.”
Over the years we have had every sort of makeshift plan to cure our economic ills: the Townsend Plan, the Upton Sinclair Plan, the Utopian Plan, and others.
The trouble with most of these palliatives has been that they were not advanced by practical economists who would take into account the country’s actual plight of lost buying power that cannot be restored along the old profit-making and profit-taking lines.
Some of these Plans contained commendable recommendations for redistributing wealth on a more equitable basis but did not get down to brass tacks and face the staggering truth that there is precious little unborrowed or unpledged wealth let to be distributed. Furthermore, such wealth as they would redistribute would have to be seized by confiscatory methods. To loot the present rich, or soak the fortunate that the unfortunate may benefit, is equally deplorable with making the poor man of the present face his fate and like it.
What most of the economic strategists have been and are really trying to do, whether they are honest enough to admit it or not, is to find some plan that will jump all of us out of poverty in a day and a night while at the same time being careful not to alter any of the fallacious methods that have always been employed for accumulating wealth, and that in the hands of master manipulators have resulted in exactly the evils that have beggared us today.
They want to retain all the old evils while at the same time abolishing them. They want to go right along taking profits on the predatory basis while at the same time curbing the activities of all individuals who seem to do it successfully.
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One reason why millions of “hard-headed” persons believe that a type of economic and political system wherein the masses are not under the hunger-compulsion system will not work is because they have before them the records of a mass of socialistic experiments wherein men have immediately become lethargic and turned to pursuits of idle pleasure when they have tried to organize on the common-wealth principle.
Time and time again certain groups have been known to break away from the hunger-duress system and set up colonies wherein each was expected to perform his share of the common labor. But in actual practice it was discovered that a few enterprising persons quickly came to the fore, the drones proved an insupportable burden, and the Utopian scheme went to pieces because all men were not alike in their willingness to labor, or to recognize their social responsibilities toward the community as a whole.
All of this is quite true.
No one is making any attempt to ignore these socialistic experiments or the enlightenments which they produced in regard to human nature.
But this sort of thing is not true Christian economics!
Furthermore, it is only fair to recognize the basic faults in the principles at work behind such experiments and see that it was not the full belly that wrought their failures but something of quite another character.
It was the fact that all such experiments have been conducted on the assumption that humanity is willing to share and share alike in such communal life. And humanity is far from being willing to share and share alike.
Such experiments have been conducted on the policy of all goods and possessions being owned and dispensed in common, with no stipulations for ownership of private property, nor for the differences in human temperaments, nor for compensations determined by varying individual talent and industry.
Right there they went to pieces. Filling the belly had nothing to do with it whatever. Removing the necessity of labor in order to ward off death by starvation was not remotely concerned in their falling apart.
If men actually ceased to labor when they had their bellies filled, we should have no civilization or advancement of any kind even today under the competitive method, or the economic duress system – since the workman immediately on satisfying the needs of his stomach would lose all further interest in social affairs.
The truth of the matter is that men continue to labor because they want to enjoy all the increments of labor which the common run of humanity is enjoying. Or they want the personal power that comes with direction over great amounts of goods, to compel the services of the improvident or unfortunate who do not possess them.
Christian Economics recognizes all these aspects of human nature and provides for their wholesome exercise within the framework of a workable and equitable economic structure.
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The program embodied in the Christian Commonwealth is not basically political but economic. So it does not require installation by physical violence to be successful. Nor does it require that our political institutions need be structurally changed. The United States should continue to have its Chief Executive elected every four years by mandate of its citizens, its Senate and House of Representatives, its Supreme Court and Secretaries over governmental departments.
But in our ways of doing business, earning money, handling trade and commerce, building and owning homes, providing against unemployment and old-age dependency, utilizing to the fullest our technological know-how and automation, some startling discoveries are in store for this nation as a whole – startling, that is in, a sense of the ease and sanity with which our present national headaches can be stopped or lessened.
Let us get it into our minds at once just how, by lawful Constitutional Amendment, approved and passed by a majority of our State legislatures, the American people can forever cure the appalling ills of present-day society constructed on the archaic principles of Predatory Hunger, by envisioning the following measures and economic stipulations:
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH under which the entire nation is freed of its present load of killing debt – federal, state, and municipal – by turning itself into a gigantic Corporation, its present morass of obligations properly funded by stocks instead of bonds – stocks that can lie forever in the status quo, and represent permanent values, without ever having to be redeemed – with our native-born and naturalized citizens its only Common Stockholders, voting and controlling the Great Corporation by right of such nativity or naturalization.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which these Common Stockholders – as one of their inalienable rights as citizens of the United States – each arbitrarily and permanently receive a basic annual dividend from such ownership of Common Stock payable to them in twelve monthly allotments or “credits” of sufficient size to supply them with the crude necessities of life and forever remove the Hunger Duress from their habits of economic thinking. This Common Stock dividend shall come to them, regardless of sex or marital status, determination of the amount to be based relatively on the Gross National Product.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which, in addition to the above, variable sums of the Great Corporation’s dividend-paying Preferred Stock are to be issued to its citizens to reward their initiative, ambition, industry, and thrift – such stock to pay dividends in addition to the dividend on the Common Citizenship Stock – which cannot be bought, sold, or exchanged or otherwise manipulated or endangered by predatory individuals or rapacious groups of public exploiters.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which annual production is gauged by the general and normal consuming capacities of the whole citizenry, taken by groups of years, and not by inhibited buying-power of the public, nor yet by unnatural legislative decree.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which inventive genius, technological know-how, and automation is utilized to the fullest, thus employing most efficient methods and expending minimum effort to create an Economy of Abundance for all its citizenry.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which money assumes its true function of financial measurement or evaluation-unit of goods and services, and in which the citizenry does its commercial business wholly by the employment of bank checks – where, in short, every citizen in the land has a checking account based on his earned share of the Gross National Product and uses it universally for all legitimate transactions.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which all rights to private property and homestead premises are made so inviolate and inalienable that it shall be as unlawful as it is unthinkable to foreclose on either for debt.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which there are no more taxes of any nature levied on the citizens because the need of taxes to finance the operation of government shall have been forever abolished, taxes becoming as archaic as currency.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which there is no more commercial interest levied or paid in borrowings, because men shall no longer have occasion to supplement purchasing power, or to transact business by paying for the renting of money. Thus interest and usury are dispensed with, and with interest and usury will go three-quarters of the evils attendant on the issuance of mortgages and bonds – all liens upon men’s futures.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which there are no rents paid for the occupancy of premises which men occupy as homes, but a system of purchase substituted, no matter how small the payment, no matter how transient the residence, the sum-total of moneys so applied going to pay for the ownership of Realty Stock which may be negotiated for homestead occupancy anywhere within the United States with no loss ever suffered in any such real estate transaction.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which all citizens have the opportunity to labor at vocations of their own choice, compensations and rewards for labor being premised solely on efficiency and talent, and promotions achieved according to diligence and worth.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which major legislation cannot be announced as law to be obeyed until it has been approved by commendatory votes of 51 percent of those citizens expected to obey it.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which incompetent or dishonest officials can be quickly and effectively removed by impeachment or recall votes of 51 percent of the citizenry of the districts effected.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which all votes so cast, for or against a man or a measure, are published and then preserved as public property, thus abolishing dishonest tallying of returns, and eliminating the present cumbersome and corrupt polling-place that now has to be operated for the production of the secret ballot, secret because men are economically obligated to other men and any hostile votings might make them the objects of reprisals.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which educational facilities and opportunities on all levels are available to each and every child – limited only by the individual’s inability to qualify for higher learning, with special vocational training to be offered to those who are unable to qualify for, or lack the desire to achieve, high school and college diplomas.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which all medical and hospital needs are assumed by a Christian society recognizing its moral obligation to lift financial burdens from the unfortunate who suffer injury or are afflicted with costly and debilitating illness.
A CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH in which the cultural and artistic facets of life are nurtured and augmented so that the highest mental and spiritual consciousness possible may be attained by each citizen.
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This, in brief, is the program that can be consummated. How these various features can be brought about, their soundness, what evils they remedy and what quandaries of the present they swiftly solve, must be left to detailed exposition in the pages that follow.
The point to be impressed here is that none of the foregoing, strictly speaking, is either Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism, or Communism, but an entirely different concept in human relations: that Government is created to serve its citizens and not to exploit them.
It is no apportioning of property among all classes, no whittling down of rugged individualism to a common mean, no slave-driving, workhouse method in productive or creative industry, but an opportunity for the simple, bloodless rebirth of the American pioneering spirit, a state of Common Wealth indeed, in which a sovereign people take their affairs permanently out of the hands of monopolists in human life.
It is a time for clear thinking and unobstructed seeing.
Can we get over our timidity and skepticism against anything different from what we have always known, and consider this truly Christian plan for economic government on its merits?