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The Anatomy of Fascism (original 2004; edition 2005)
by Robert O. Paxton (Author)
The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton (2004)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Very readable analysis of Fascism, both the “successful” regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, and also the wide variety of fascist movements throughout the 20th century all through Europe and many other parts of the world. Good explanations of the “process” where fascism took over in Germany and Italy. Also, explanations of how fascism differs from ‘normal’ dictatorships, military juntas, etc. ( )
What's really depressing is reading a book on fascism published in 2004 and finding that almost 20 years later, it's an event more relevant and resonant book than it was on first publication.
Fascism. It's one of those words that you understand viscerally. Hearing it calls up certain images: mass rallies of group affirmation, armed thugs in colored shirts violently assaulting ethnic minorities, gaunt, skeletal faces behind barbed wire fences, NFL games. But examples aren't definitions. And it turns out that it's easier to give examples of fascism than to define it. It's so hard to define, in fact, that Robert O. Paxton, a man who, at least based on the detailed bibliographical essay at the end of this book, is probably the most learned person on earth on this particular topic, only offers his final definition of the concept on page 218 of 220. He does so after a lengthy study of fascist movements as they actually occurred, focusing mostly on Italy and Germany.
For Paxton, what fascist regimes did is more important than what they said, because political movements are fundamentally about gaining and exercising power. In addition, Paxton constantly urges us to remember that environmental factors are just as important as the qualities of a particular movement; fascism can only arise under specific historical circumstances. He even goes so far as to question whether fascism was a phenomenon specific to Europe in the early 20th century, despite the existence of many regimes since in other places that display fascist characteristics or utilize fascist imagery. He doesn't conclude that it is, but even the hypothetical made me wonder if his definition was too narrow. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that various near-fascist regimes--Imperial Japan, Peron's Argentina, Milosevic's Serbia--weren't the genuine article for this or that reason (never downplaying any regime's murderousness in the process to be sure).
Certain themes recurred over and over in his historical accounts of fascist regimes. One of them is that fascism gains power when traditional conservatives ally with the fascist movement as a way to harness populist energy without ceding any power to the Left. Neither Hitler nor Mussolini won an election to become head of state; they were each invited into power by an entrenched figure--President Hindenburg and King Victor Immanuel III respectively, when their political legitimacy was under threat. It's one of the dangers of a parliamentary system that an extreme right-wing minority party (maybe a fascist one) can grab the reins of power by earning the good graces of traditional conservatives the moment they feel heat from the Left. He also shows that it is characteristic of a fascist movement to build legitimacy and simultaneously delegitimize the state-in-crisis by building parallel institutions to gain the trust of the people. I have a hard time imagining a situation politically fluid enough for this to take place in the United States in 2019, where, after years of political and economic globalization, and as the center of a globally hegemonic empire, political institutions are incredibly calcified. As we have seen, right wing populism in the U.S. in 2019 doesn't need parallel institutions to thrive.
I was interested to see how Paxton would characterize the Holocaust. He links its development to the improvisational quality of fascist regimes. Hitler's underlings, often in competition with one another to please the Fuhrer, offered more and more extreme plans for the murder of undesirables. This view somewhat contradicts the popular notion of the Nazi genocide as a carefully planned operation. In Paxton's telling, it is actually the somewhat more haphazard result of the "demonic energy" unleashed by fascist movements. And fascism, in the end, is about sustaining mass popular energy, if possible at frothing-at-the-mouth, ready-to-die-for-my-nation's-historical-destiny levels. This must be maintained even after the movement has gained power. Hence the need for infinite imperial expansion (the stoppage of which spelled the end for Mussolini) and an infinity of death. It is politics as sheer magnitude.
You may have noticed that I have not said what Fascism is. Well, I'm not going to. You have to read the book. Get it from one of our few working public institutions, the library. I did.
What are the defining characteristics of fascism? This book argues that the question is difficult because fascism has different stages, including stages of cooperation with other right movements and then stages where it peels away. It was fine, though I’m not sure I advanced my understanding a lot.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (7)
What is fascism? By focusing on the concrete: what the fascists did, rather than what they said, the esteemed historian Robert O. Paxton answers this question. From the first violent uniformed bands beating up "enemies of the state," through Mussolini's rise to power, to Germany's fascist radicalization in World War II, Paxton shows clearly why fascists came to power in some countries and not others, and explores whether fascism could exist outside the early-twentieth-century European setting in which it emerged. "A deeply intelligent and very readable book. . . . Historical analysis at its best." -The Economist The Anatomy of Fascism will have a lasting impact on our understanding of modern European history, just as Paxton's classic Vichy France redefined our vision of World War II. Based on a lifetime of research, this compelling and important book transforms our knowledge of fascism-"the major political innovation of the twentieth century, and the source of much of its pain."
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)321.533Social sciences Political Science Political Systems Aristocracy
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