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Fascism: A Very Short Introduction

by Kevin Passmore

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250576,685 (3.66)5
What is fascism? Is it revolutionary? Or is it reactionary? Can it be both?Fascism is notoriously hard to define. How do we make sense of an ideology that appeals to streetfighters and intellectuals alike? That is overtly macho in style, yet attracts many women? That calls for a return to tradition while maintaining a fascination with technology? And that preaches violencein the name of an ordered society?In the new edition of this Very Short Introduction, Kevin Passmore brilliantly unravels the paradoxes of one of the most important phenomena in the modern world - tracing its origins in the intellectual, political, and social crises of the late nineteenth century, the rise of fascism following WorldWar I, including fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, and the fortunes of "failed" fascist movements in Eastern Europe, Spain, and the Americas. He also considers fascism in culture, the new interest in transnational research, and the progress of the far right since 2002.ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, andenthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.… (more)



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This is clearly a book aimed particularly at students, and seems to achieve its brevity by compressing its contents rather than thinning them out, so it wasn't the easiest thing to listen to as an audiobook whilst busy with other activities. But it overlaps quite heavily with other things I've been reading over the last couple of months, so I think I was able to grasp the essentials...

Passmore spends quite a while dealing with the problem of definitions. The two clear historical examples, Italian Fascism and German Nazism, differed in important ways from each other, and both also changed considerably over the course of time. Other right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the inter-war period often borrowed language, labels and ideas from the successful Italian and German movements, but differed considerably on things like the way they came to power (if they did), the extent to which they worked together with church, army, monarchy and mainstream conservatives, and even on whether or not their ultranationalism was based on racism (and if so, against which groups). Since World War II, the label "fascist" has been so tainted that no serious political movement (except the Italian Neo-fascists) has used it to define itself, whilst the rest of us have been happy to attach it to just about any political movement we didn't like. (Since the book was written in 2002 and only partly updated in 2014, it doesn't have much to say in detail about the current crop of far-right parties.)

Academic political scientists also use the term in conflicting and confusing ways. Passmore urges us to separate this essentially historical problem of definitions from the more important question of what we find morally repugnant in the programmes of far-right/nationalist/populist parties, which seems a helpful way of looking at things.

The other interesting point I took from the book is his identification of the common element between the ways Mussolini and Hitler came to power. In both cases a relatively modest electoral success was backed up by the (perceived) threat of large-scale civil disorder from the party's paramilitary organisations, which was enough to intimidate established parties into putting the extremists in power, and once in power the existing mobilisation of activists allowed the party to eliminate effective opposition very rapidly. None of the other movements of the 20s and 30s achieved this combination, and — so far — most of the modern far-right parties have shown no sign of trying to lock up their opponents and impose a single-party state. As Passmore says, this doesn't make their xenophobic rhetoric any less offensive, but it does mean that it probably isn't helpful to use their perceived similarity to Hitler and Mussolini as the core of our strategy for opposing them.

Probably a good book to read if you want to get the historical background clear in your mind, but rather superficial in its treatment of 21st century movements. ( )
  thorold | Mar 5, 2020 |

"Fascism has an enigmatic countenance because in it appears the most counterpoised contents. It asserts authoritarianism and organises rebellion. It fights against contemporary democracy and, on the other hand, does not believe in the restoration of any past rule. It seems to pose itself as the forge of a strong State, and uses means most conducive to its dissolution, as if it were a destructive faction or a secret society. Whichever way we approach fascism we find that it is simultaneously one thing and the contrary, it is Eh?/! and not Eh?/!"

-- José Ortega y Gasset, Sobre el Fascismo ( )
  KidSisyphus | Apr 5, 2013 |
From the Burning Ashes - The Phoenix Rises !!!: ......and I think it is carrying a bundle of rods with an axe in the middle.

Oh, this guy is good. Now he has some weird quirks in his writing. He contradicts himself, has some flawed statements and weirdly connects the feminine and racial issues on an elementary level. Some jargon in this book is also incomprehensible. And, I bet $100 this guys a romanticist (far above his other personality levelers of realist and classicist creativity stabilizers - the three are balanced out in one way or another) - like for example Jean-Jacque Rousseau. I must also highly disagree with Steven Tooley (below) .... However, that of course is my opinion.

All right, all the above does not matter. ALL the time that I see crap like this, I automatically throw it out. Nevertheless, this guy comes up with some incredible insights and very original outlook and reasoning beyond even the above average humanities writer (he is a history lecturer at Cardiff - with some good horse sense of politics and philosophy). He also injects parts of history that other authors have not made of certain unique connections. He has totally analyzed this subject - Fascism - and gives you different and in-depth angles to look through. He takes you a cross "paths" that have never been crossed before.

Read this with tongue-in-check mentality. You can easily see and discard this nonsense. There is highly valuable information here. This person has made a (small) book of only 158 pages, but he jams it full of Great information on Fascism. I would have sworn, after reading this, that I had just finished a large book. There is no real filler here (except for the quirks mentioned above).

Oxford Press does it again - but the other "very short introductions" series are not as high of caliber as this is.

These three books will give you THE best insight on Fascism. No others come close to the brilliance of the material.

1) Fascism by Roger Griffin (edited by Roger Griffin) This is the best book on Fascism. There is no better way to truly understand something unless to go to the SOURCE(S).
2) Fascism A Very Short Introduction by Kevin Passmore
3) The Nature of Fascism edited by S.J. Woolf (NOT the book by R. Griffin on the same title)

In conclusion, Oxford University Press (UK) and the University of Chicago (USA) crank out some great books on political philosophy etc. Although, some of them are out of print. Alibris will get them for ya!
  euang | Sep 1, 2008 |
In his noted 1944 essay, George Orwell argued that the term "fascism" lacked precise usage, and mainly was used as a term of abuse. Over 60 years later, "fascist" has become an epithet that is applied across the political spectrum, to Islamic theocrats, fundamentalist Christians, and the GW Bush presidency, not to mention Nazis, Marxists, and denizens of the KKK.

In this short but weighty contribution, historian Kevin Passmore explores the concept of fascism from the standpoints of history and political philosophy. He proposes an elaborate definition that distinguishes fascism from features of which it is often composed, including ultra-nationalism, anti-democratic populism, and authoritarian conservativism. Passmore then traces manifestations of fascism historically, in book chapters on Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, Franco's Spain, and Eastern Europe. He stops short of applying the term to contemporary right wing movements, for which he prefers the term “national populism.” Subsequent chapters focus on the relationship of fascism to race, gender, and social class, and finally, to the current political scene.

Although carefully defined, Passmore’s criteria for recognizing fascism seem unduly restrictive. Even historically “fascist” Italy, Spain, and Eastern Europe do not quite meet his criteria. Likewise, his book does not consider extreme rightwing movements in Italy, France, the US, and Russia as fascist, on the grounds that they accept free market economy, and seek to exploit democracy for ethnic and ultra-nationalistic agendas rather than to overthrow it. Thus, a “national populist” movement would not be “fascist” until it succeeds at taking power, eliminating other political parties. However, radical rightwing movements that have not gained the power to impose their will on the public at large are hardly going to announce their anti-democratic objectives. After all, even the National Socialists in Germany used democratic election to gain power.

Passmore’s book essentially restricts “fascism” to established states with state-run economies, ultra-nationalist agendas, and one-party rule. Yet in reality, a radical statist movement that has taken control of a government benefits from retaining the trappings of democracy, as a way to mollify its citizenry, if not the international community. Existence of more than one political party does not imply either a sharing of power, or a diversity of views and goals. (As an example, consider the many authoritarian states with opposition parties that are tolerated because they have no actual power). Likewise, no need exists for "paramilitary violence" (another of Passmore's criteria) when the government itself has assumed power to suspend habeas corpus, spy on its own citizenry without warrant, imprison them without trial, and have them tortured and executed. Nor is there any need for such a government to take control over a capitalist economy, when that economy serves a powerful military-industrial complex that lies under direct control of the state.

Finally, Passmore’s restricted focus on nation states seems anachronistic, given that transnational movements and multinational institutions now pose some of the greatest threats to democratic values and governments. If the concept “fascism” is to have continued utility, surely it must be flexible enough to recognize changing times. Otherwise, we simply coin new terms like “neo-fascism” and “national populism” in a pedantic attempt at linguistic purity.

Clearly, Kevin Passmore’s “Fascism” is thought-provoking, and offers much material for consideration. As a scholarly work, it takes a conservative approach to its subject, and succeeds more at explaining patterns of the past than at mapping concepts to serve our dangerous present and unpredictable future.

This book is fairly accessible to the general reader; as one of the “Very Short Introduction” series, it is meant for the lay public. It includes 12 gray-scale illustrations, and two useful maps. ( )
10 vote danielx | Jan 11, 2008 |
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In the late 19th century, the saltworks of Mediterranean France were largely unmechanized, and the task of lifting salt was an exceptionally exhausting form of labour.
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