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How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them
by Jason Stanley
No current Talk conversations about this book.
I found this book a clear description of fascism. Scanning the table of contents summarizes the book's points, and I recommend that everyone read at least that much. The book's body, with its constant references to the politics of the day, scared the bejeezus out of me. I worry the references to current events may make the book quickly seem dated. That would be a shame.
For a short book, it drug on and on often lost in quotes and repeating itself. It could have been better.
The Publisher Says: NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS’ CHOICE • With a new preface • Fascist politics are running rampant in America today—and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history.
As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don’t have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism’s roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics—the language and beliefs that separate people into an “us” and a “them.” He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations. He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation’s past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership.
I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.
My Review: The reason I want to review this right now is the 14 May Buffalo mass shooting and its root cause, the idiotic and racist replacement theory. It is a pernicious and evil set of beliefs demanding that white people remain in power forever because it's theirs by right. Colonialism and racism and fascism are in lock step, and their grip on the unintelligent, badly educated, and ill-informed is only strengthening.
I make no apologies for my opinions, or for expressing them in strong and probably insulting terms, as those who subscribe to these idiotic beliefs make no apologies for theirs or their own method of expressing them. I oppose these views. I oppose their open, uncontested expression. I oppose people who make their own need to control others, body, mind, and soul, their purpose for public action. And no, demanding that these True Believers NOT be allowed to dictate the continued lives, personal liberties, and rise to political power of those who are not them, is not at all the same thing.
This book is a compendium of pithily expressed, carefully researched, and very well-sourced conclusions that are not readily dismissable based on modern evidence. I cede the floor to Author Stanley:
Fascist politics does not necessarily lead to an explicitly fascist state, but it is dangerous nonetheless. Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.
On fascism's roots:
In book 8 of Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues that people are not naturally led to self-governance but rather seek a strong leader to follow. Democracy, by permitting freedom of speech, opens the door for a demagogue to exploit the people’s need for a strongman; the strongman will use this freedom to prey on the people’s resentments and fears. Once the strongman seizes power, he will end democracy, replacing it with tyranny. In short, book 8 of The Republic argues that democracy is a self-undermining system whose very ideals lead to its own demise. Fascists have always been well acquainted with this recipe for using democracy’s liberties against itself; Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once declared, “This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.” Today is no different from the past. Again, we find the enemies of liberal democracy employing this strategy, pushing the freedom of speech to its limits and ultimately using it to subvert others’ speech.
On racism's roots and branches:
“Check your privilege” is a call to whites to recognize the insulated social reality they navigate daily.
See also my review of [Cockroaches] for extra and personal information about the racist roots of Rwanda's genocide. See my review of [The Man Who Lived Underground] for a prescient prefiguring of the Othering that racism relies on's horrific costs.
Author Stanley doesn't, I think I've shown, pull punches. He also sources his claims with admirable clarity. There are dozens of notes in each chapter; there are dozens of reputable scholars cited. In his Epilogue, Author Stanley considers the hazards and risks we're running simply by normalizing (or really continuing to normalize) the ongoing fascist politicizations we see around us now.
Pratap Mehta wrote: 'The targeting of enemies—minorities, liberals, secularists, leftists, urban naxals, intellectuals, assorted protestors—is not driven by a calculus of ordinary politics….When you legitimize yourself entirely by inventing enemies, the truth ceases to matter, normal restraints of civilization and decency cease to matter, the checks and balances of normal politics cease to matter.'
What's happening now is not the Will of the People. It's not the inevitable outcome of "them" becoming a threat. This is proof of "...a growing body of social psychological evidence substantiates the phenomenon of dominant group feelings of victimization at the prospect of sharing power equally with members of minority groups. A great deal of recent attention has been paid in the United States to the fact that around 2050, the United States will become a 'majority-minority' country, meaning that whites will no longer be a majority of Americans," threatening “...the lengthy history of ranking Americans into a hierarchy of worth by race, the “deserving” versus the “undeserving.” And I feel confident I need not say directly that deserving = white for you to get the full, appalling picture. If you're up for more, there's [On Tyranny], which I've reviewed; it's another, and shorter, work of synthesis and explication.
Where do we go from here? How do the majority of US citizens resist this ever-worsening attack on our bodies, our minds, our freedoms and rights?
First, VOTE. Second, read and learn from the folks farther along the trail through the thickets of trouble and outrage meant to scare and dishearten you. Nothing about the fascism threatening reason and freedom in the US is inevitable or unstoppable or, most importantly, right and correct. You've watched [The Handmaid's Tale] and read [Christian Nation]...you know what's at stake for women, and every single one of you knows a woman; also for QUILTBAG folks, and if you're reading this you know at least one of those (me). Act like this is an emergency.
Because it very much is.
Hit like a brick to the chest.
It's short, plainly written, easy to understand and that it is as relevant as it is really tell you how terrified to be.
But it may be the book of our age. Read it.
"A vital read for a nation under Trump."--The Guardian "No single book is as relevant to the present moment."--Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen "One of the defining books of the decade."--Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE * With a new preface * Fascist politics are running rampant in America today--and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history. As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don't have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism's roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics--the language and beliefs that separate people into an "us" and a "them." He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations. He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation's past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership. By uncovering disturbing patterns that are as prevalent today as ever, Stanley reveals that the stuff of politics--charged by rhetoric and myth--can quickly become policy and reality. Only by recognizing fascists politics, he argues, may we resist its most harmful effects and return to democratic ideals. "With unsettling insight and disturbing clarity, How Fascism Works is an essential guidebook to our current national dilemma of democracy vs. authoritarianism."--William Jelani Cobb, author of The Substance of Hope
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)321.9 — Social sciences Political Science Political Systems Totalitarianism
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On page xiv, the author writes "I have chosen the label 'fascism' for ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural), with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf." He continues later on the same page "My interest in this book is in fascist politics. Specifically my interest is in fascist tactics as a mechanism to achieve power. ... Fascist politics does not necessarily lead to an explicitly fascist state, but it is dangerous nonetheless."
His chapter titles provide a list of what he presents as fascist political tactics/stances/myths:
1. The Mythic Past
7. Law and Order
8. Sexual Anxiety
9. Sodom and Gomorrah
10. Arbeit Macht Frei
His evidence for the list is simple - he finds authors he can label fascist who wrote something of the kind. Or failing that, he finds historians who attribute such beliefs to one or other of the fascist states of the world war II era. He never looks for non-fascists doing the same thing. And as the book progresses, it becomes clear that not supporting various American left wing political beliefs (presumably those shared by the author), is adequate evidence for fascism, though he prefers to pick fascist examples at least associated with a political party or candidate labelled "right wing".
Worse, I routinely caught him using tactics similar to those he attributes to "fascist politics". Given my cynicism about political writing in general, this failed to surprise me - many of these are things politicians routinely do, regardless of affiliation. But I can surely use this book as an existence proof for several of these tactics not being limited to fascists - unless you want to argue that this book consists of "fascist politics" in support of modern American left wing causes.
This list might be useful to someone unfamiliar with what I'd prefer to call right wing preoccupations and shibboleths. Many of these do, in my opinion, turn up more frequently among right than left wing political tracts, platforms, shibboleths, etc. (I note, of course, that there's no clear definition of "right wing" to be had, particularly if you don't limit yourself to the last few decades of history in a single country.) Even fewer are the exclusive domain of the "right wing" - or "fascists", for that matter, unless you use a circular definition ("fascists are people who use any of these tactics").
And as for the politics of "us and them", well this author clearly sees fascists/populists/right wingers as very much "them". Whereas his book is addressed to an "us" that takes various mostly US left wing positions as self evident truths.
The best use of this book is for it to be read by "true believers" to who want to be confirmed in their beliefs, reinforce their negative views of their opponents, enhance their sense that those opponents' goals are catastrophically bad, all while adding a veneer of intellectualism and system to their chanting of The Political Truths (TM).
Sadly, this author is my political "ally", in the US two party system. I wish my allies would show some sign of bring better, on average, than my opponents, but it's all too easy to find gems like this that bring their average down - easier, for me, than finding similar rubbish among my opponents, where I can't as easily distinguish my own biases from reality. And to be fair, while this book is very disappointing, the average person-in-the-street I encounter regularly emits worse. ( )