In the 1930s, to be famous in Europe was to be famous enough. The educated classes of Europe still looked down on America as a kind of kindergarten. The 1929 Wall Street stock market crash had led to a worldwide Depression that made capitalism look like a failure. Economic upheaval was an American export, but no solutions were forthcoming from the site of the catastrophe. The real politics were in Europe, where various competing ideologies were heading forward to Socialism, back to Nationalism, sideways to National Socialism. It would take a strong man to stave off chaos. A superman. There were various supermen available. The daddy of them all was Benito Mussolini, il Duce – the Leader.
Stalin applauded warmly from the wings. For the moment Franco hung back, but how long would he be content to remain merely the biggest man in Spain? Unless they started fighting among themselves, it looked as if the supermen were due to run the world. Each supreme being had made himself famous for the one supreme quality: leadership. That his people might be following him only because they had no realistic alternative was a possibility that the leader tended to discount. Fame changed reality even for the man who possessed it. Hitler, in particular, grew more and more convinced as time went on that a master race was destined to follow where he led. The evidence was before his eyes. He had started to forget that he was the author of the show that was carrying him away. It failed to occur to him that there might be a more experienced showman with a better script and more convincing, because less histrionic, props: a bowler hat, a cigar and two extended fingers that meant victory viewed from one direction and rude defiance viewed from the other.