FATHER COUGHLIN: The Tumultous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower by Sheldon Marcus

FATHER COUGHLIN: The Tumultous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Marcus' writing seems to be motivated by a certain sentimentality toward the swashbuckling radio populist cum anti-Semite and pro-fascist of the '30's; but the book succeeds in describing some political dynamics with pronounced similarity to the present. Decentralization, equalization of wealth, dosing tax loopholes, a guaranteed annual income, and public works for the unemployed are all found in the Sixteen Points of Coughlin's National Union for Social Justice. Until his star crashed in the 1936 elections, Coughlin was the nation's leading populist: this fact provides the most interesting parts of the biography -- and is the most perplexing to the author. How could the assailant of plutocrats and international moneychangers count among his best friends two prominent international exchange brokers? Conversely, why did some leading bankers and industrialists support Coughlin and his pungent anti-capitalist rhetoric, and why was the champion of ""the right of the laboring man to organize in unions"" financed by General Motors executives who were fighting the UAW? Marcus avoids dealing with the many paradoxes of populism, a necessary undertaking if he is to answer these questions; instead he suggests deceitfulness, perhaps unconscious, on Coughlin's part. Failing to recognize that Coughlin, like Mussolini, deemed contradictoriness a virtue, Marcus dwells on the inconsistent aspects of Coughlin's anti-Semitism and pro-fascism after 1936. Despite its analytic weakness the book offers a great deal of valuable material and should be called to the attention of students of the period, of populism, and 20th-century American politics in general.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1972
Publisher: Little, Brown