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The Anatomy of Fascism Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400033911
ISBN-10: 1400033918
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A scholar of Vichy France, Paxton focuses here on the literature about fascism. The term is used with abandon in contemporary political discourse, reflecting scholarly disagreement about how to define it. His historical source material predominantly emanates from Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, an obvious but necessary observation since the "fascist" status of other authoritarian regimes is contentious. Paxton does integrate biographies of the two ur-fascists into his dissection, but he comments frequently that a researcher's fixation on the leader obscures rather than clarifies the rise of his party, as does a propensity to focus on the party's ideology instead of its actions, and he follows the significantly different trajectories of radicalism taken by the Fascists and the Nazis. Formulating a five-stage life cycle of fascism from birth in "mobilizing passions" provoked by World War I to its destructiveness in power, Paxton wants his intricate but readable work to "rescue the concept [of fascism] for meaningful use," a laudable goal largely achieved. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"So fair, so thorough and, in the end, so convincing, it may well become the most authoritative . . . study of the subject. . . . A splendid book." –The New York Times Book Review

"Useful and timely. . . . Mussolini and Hitler were the prototypical fascist leaders, and Paxton chronicles their rise to power--and their global influence and ultimate fall--with a brilliant economy." –San Francisco Chronicle

"A deeply intelligent and very readable book. . . . Historical analysis at its best." –The Economist

“[A] helpful contribution, thoughtfully mapping out the descent of a civilized people — first the Italians, then the Germans — into a primal state (and state of being) ruled by mythology, symbol and emotion. . . . Serves as a reminder of our power and responsibility.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Until now there has been no satisfying account of fascism that includes a convincing diagnostic kit for identifying its symptoms. . . . Robert Paxton steps in to restore sanity, with his view that fascism is not what was believed but what was done.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033911
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
The Marquis de Morés, returning to 1890s Paris after his cattle ranching venture in North Dakota failed, recruited a gang of men from the Parisian cattle yards as muscle for his "national socialism" project -- a term Paxton credits Morés' contemporary Maurice Barres, a French nationalist author, with coining. Morés' project was potent and prophetic: his national socialism was a mixture of anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism. He clothed his men in what must have been the first fascist uniform in Europe -- ten-gallon hats and cowboy garb, frontier clothes he'd taken a shine to in the American West. (Author Paxton suggests the first ever fascist get-up was the KKKs white sheet and pointy hat). Morés killed a French Jewish officer in a duel during the Dreyfus affair and later was killed in the Sahara by his guides during his quest to unite France to Islam to Spain. Morés had earlier proclaimed: "Life is valuable only through action. So much the worse if the action is mortal."
Here assembled together are all of the elements of what Paxton would classify as first stage fascism: "the creation of a movement." Most fascist movements stall in this first stage he notes -- think, for instance, of the skinheads, the American Nazi Party and Posse Comitatus. Paxton's other stages are 2) the rooting of the movement in the political system; 3) the seizure of power; 4) the exercise of power; and 5) the duration of power, during which the regime chooses either radicalization or entropy. He notes that although each stage "is a prerequisite for the next, nothing requires a fascist movement to complete all of them, or even to move in only one direction. The five stages permit plausible comparison between movements and regimes at equivalent degrees of development.
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By Buce on September 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Think of this admirable book as a victory lap by a distinguished scholar. Or, from the standpoint of the reader, as an aged brandy, subtle and nuanced with a smooth aftertaste. Robert O. Paxton has spent his career trying to make sense the dark hours in the middle of the 20rth Century. He's enjoyed-and earned-the privilege of working with challenging colleagues, and with bright, informed students. Now nearing the end of his career, he gets to deliver his informed judgment.

Paxton does a commendable job of treading a fine line here. One the one hand, he is alert to recognize that fascism doesn't lend itself to facile copybook definition: not every kind of evil is fascism, and not every evil state exhibits the same complex of pathologies. But fascism does not escape definition altogether. There is (argues Paxton) a set of characteristics that are noteworthy and distinctive. Caution, plot spoiler ahead:

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with trditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraint goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." (Paxton, 218)

Paxton says that his own definition (if that is what it is) "encompasses its subject no better than a snapshot encompasses a person." Fair enough, But Paxton's own insistence on this point is just one more reason to take pleasure in this remarkable summa from an important scholar.
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Format: Hardcover
This very thoughtful book is aimed at understanding the basic features of fascism. Paxton is very concerned with rescuing the term from its present status as a convenient insult. As Paxton points out, though not until relatively late in the book, all modern democracies contain nascent fascist elements. Given the incredibly destructive consequences of successful or even partially successful fascist movements, we should have a good understanding of fascism so as to be able to recognize fascist threats. Paxton departs somewhat from prior literature in that he does not concentrate on fascist ideology. Paxton is careful also to look at a broad spectrum of facsist movements, both successful and unsuccessful, rather than falling into the trap of using Nazism as an archetype. Looking at other features of fascism than ideology makes considerable sense. Fascist movements had important differences in ideology and fascism in general, with its appeal to intense nationalism and exclusionary sense of identity, shouldn't be expected to have a uniform ideology. Italian fascism, at least in its original form, lacked the virulent anti-semitism of Nazism, while the fascist movement in Romania was aggessively Christian in ideological content. Paxton provides instead a structural analysis and definition of fascism by pursuing a careful examination of how fascist movements functioned. Some of Paxton's important points are Fascism appears in failed or highly stressed democracies, that fascism involves mass politics, that fascism emerges as a reaction to perceived threats from socialism, that fascism depends on charismatic leadership, and that fascism always contains a cult of violent action.Read more ›
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