The Anatomy of Fascism Reprint Edition
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"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
From the Inside Flap
What is fascism? Many authors have proposed succinct but abstract definitions. Robert O. Paxton prefers to start with concrete historical experience. He focuses more on what fascists did than on what they said. Their first uniformed bands beat up enemies of the nation, such as communists and foreign immigrants, during the tense days after 1918 when the liberal democracies of Europe were struggling with the aftershocks of World War I. Fascist parties could not approach power, however, without the complicity of conservatives willing to sacrifice the rule of law for security.
Paxton makes clear the sequence of steps by which fascists and conservatives together formed regimes in Italy and Germany, and why fascists remained out of power elsewhere. Fascist regimes were strained alliances. While fascist parties had broad political leeway, conservatives preserved many social and economic privileges. Goals of forced national unity, purity, and expansion, accompanied by propaganda-driven public excitement, held the mixture together. War opened opportunities for fascist extremists to pursue these goals to the point of genocide. Paxton shows how these opportunities manifested themselves differently in France, in Britain, in the Low Countries, and in Eastern Europeand yet failed to achieve supreme power. He goes on to examine whether fascism can exist outside the specific early-twentieth-century European setting in which it emerged, and whether it can reappear today. This groundbreaking book, based on a lifetime of research, will have a lasting impact on our understanding of twentieth-century history.
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It seems to me there were two basic problem. The first is that the author refuses to start with theory and sets out instead to infer the nature of fascism simply from fascist behavior. It is a commonplace that all science must start with theory, with the consensus of a body of experts that defines the object of study and the how to study it. This is why students go to school. In philosophical terms, one cannot infer the nature of something simply from a observing it. All this does is to describe the properties of a particular society and its trajectory in time.
I suspect this adoption of a radical empiricism at the expense of theory may be ideological, for it warrants a neglect of fascism's function in relation to wider capitalist society. The problem is hinted by the book's title, for an anatomy breaks up a whole into parts, which in this case are factors that Paxton assumes determine fascism because of their association with it. One cannot infer from an association that the factor is a cause or necessary condition.
The other problem is that Paxton's argument appears to be circular. His inference of fascist behavior depends on his first being able to distinguish a society as being fascist. That may be easy in the case of Italy, for it embraced the word. However, one cannot discuss fascist behaviors without first defining fascism in order to identify fascist societies.
I suspect the way around this is to come to an understanding of (capitalist) society first, and if there turns out to be the need to label a type or behavior as fascist, then do it. That is, an understanding of fascism must arise from an understanding of the underlying capitalist society. The identification of a type of that society must follow after this understanding.
In "The Anatomy of Fascism," Robert O. Paxton seeks both to identify the key features of fascism and to describe five stages that a fascist movement may pass through. Arguing that fascism cannot easily be located on the traditional left-right political continuum, Paxton argues that its most salient features are: opposition to both the Left and the bourgeoisie; heavy reliance on emotion-filled mass politics; the idea that it represents a chosen nation/race/people; and a willingness to use violence to advance its ends.
Much of the book is devoted to a discussion of the five stages fascism may pass through, illustrated by copious examples, not only from Nazism and Italian fascism--the only fascist movements that have passed through all five stages--but also from unsuccessful fascist movements in such countries as France, the United Kingdom, Norway, Hungary, and Romania. He also discusses fascist movements outside Europe, including in the United States.
According to Paxton, the seeds of fascism exist in every developed or semi-developed country, for it is an outgrowth of modernity. Fascism does not have to display the swastika, use the Nazi salute, or be anti-Semitic.(It does, however, always identify one or more internal enemies which are supposedly preventing the chosen nation/race/people from fulfilling their destiny.) Most fascist movements fail; that is, they never achieve political power. History suggests that they come to power in a severe crisis, when asked to join a political coalition that is already in power.
I strongly recommend "The Anatomy of Fascism" to anyone who is interested in political science or early twentieth century European history. It is quite readable and should be accessible to a fairly broad audience.:
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More importantly, Paxton's viewpoint differs markedly from many other writers on the subject in that he suggest that fascism should not be studied in isolation from other factors. He stresses that fascism should not be just viewed as a tool of a particular interest group and at the same time this tends to be a popular movement. Paxton concentrates on examining the development of fascism through five stages: "creating fascist movements; taking root; getting power; exercising power and the long-term (radicalisation or entropy)". In a sense, he (Paxton) argues that fascist movements tend to develop autonomously and they do get support from some of the existing liberal and conservatives elite at times of social, economic and political upheaval or crisis and when many of the democratic institutions within the state are unable to resolve the crisis. However, Paxton makes very brief references to the Marxist school of thought and which clearly offers the most sharpest analysis of fascism through the writings of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) - who had lived through it from its height in Italy and Germany from 1919 to 1940s.
Overall, Paxton'ss analysis of fascism takes account of some of the more recent developments in Britain like the rise of the British National Party (BNP) 'wannabe' fascist groups as arising from other forces through which Emile Durkheim termed "Organic Solidarity" (dominant in more advanced societies) and "Mechanical Solidarity" (dominant in more traditional societies) as the original Italian fascist movements did. Interestingly, the recent rise in the neo-fascist movements like the English Defence League (EDL) (not mentioned in the book) have branded Islamic Fundamental movements like Al-Qaeda and Taliban as fascist. Paxton's answer to this, as according to the book: "... they are not reactions against a malfunctioning democracy. Arising in traditional hierarchical societies, their unity is, in terms of Emile Durkheim's famous distinction, more mechanical than organic. Above all, they have not "given up free institutions, since they never had any." On the question of what is Fascism? The answer in the book, clearly states that "Fascist actions are best from those actions for some of them remain unstated and implicit in fascist public language" which Paxton terms as "Mobilising Passions".
Finally, Paxton concludes: "...that when fascist are close to power when conservatives begin to borrow their techniques, appeal to their "mobilising passions" and try to co-opt the fascist following..." It is due to "having the historical knowledge" that we may be able to separate the 'wannabe' fascists "...with their shaved heads and swastika tattoos, from authentic functional equivalents in the form of a mature fascist-conservative alliance..." A must buy and read book!
This confusion, some of it willfully induced in my opinion, has, in turn, led to further multiple confusions to the extent that, today, we have commentators who seriously suggest that people like Fini, Griffin, Le Pen and Haidar do not stand in a fascist political tradition but that Islamists, to pick one of the more obvious examples, do stand in the fascist tradition.
How did we get into this pickle and, more importantly, how do we get out of it?
Robert Paxton's 'Anatomy of Fascism' goes a long way to helping guide us out of the fog.
Firstly, Paxton deals with recent writers on fascism such as Sternhell, Payne, de Felice and Roger Griffin to understand why they are not quite adequate in their analysis. Paxton also directs his fire on the more commonly understood 'totalitarian' analysis of the Cold War era which sought to equate fascism and communism.
Paxton rejects the way some historians have offered separate definitions of fascism and Nazism, arguing that this leads to the study of fascism in isolation from other factors. Analyses which reduce fascism to a tool of a particular interest group, meanwhile, ignore the fact that the movement won independent popular backing. Instead Paxton proposes to examine the development of fascism through five stages: the creation of a movement; its rooting in the political system; the seizure of power; the exercise of power; its fate in the long term (radicalisation or entropy).
Paxton is quite clear that fascist movements are autonomous movements that come to power with the aid of the existing liberal/conservative elite at time of social, economic and political crisis and where the democratic institutions of the state seem unable to resolve such a crisis.
I do have one quibble with Paxton. He fails to adequately address the analyses of fascism related to social class. He does not mention, and perhaps is unaware of, the analyses of the rise of fascism offered in the writings of Leon Trotsky which remain the sharpest analysis from the era of the height of fascism.
But that's a small quibble compared to the plusses that Paxton offers. Paxton is astute enough to realise that the rise of fascism today may not necessarily come from the wannabes of the likes of the BNP but might also arise from other forces in much the same 'organic' fashion that the original Italian fascism did. One can't help thinking here of the former left/liberal members of the commentariat who are rushing politically Rightwards.
He also gives short shrift to the politically illiterate, yet fashionable, notion of Islamo-fascism.
As Paxton finishes: `Armed by historical knowledge, we may be able to distinguish today's ugly but isolated imitations, with their shaved heads and swastika tattoos, from authentic functional equivalents in the form of a mature fascist-conservative alliance. Forewarned, we may be able to detect the real thing when it comes along'.
Sein Werk ist Standard aller Studenten in Seminaren zu Faschismus und hat einen recht breiten Fokus ohne sich auf einzelne Aspekte zu fixieren.
Aus diesem Grund fällt es ihm auch schwer eine knappe Definition für Faschismus zu liefern. Dies sollte aber eher positiv gewertet werden, da er im Gegenzug Reduktionen weitgehend vermeidet. Zudem schafft er es sehr gut lesbar selbst für den Laien einen umfassenden Einblick zu verschaffen. Der beste Einstieg für den Studenten der Zeitgeschichte, der sich mit Faschismus im Allgemeinen befassen möchte.
Der Begriff des Faschismus wird ja für alles möglich verwendet. Hier verschafft der Autor dem Leser eine Grundlage über die aktuellen politischen Entwicklungen differenzierter nachzudenken.