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on August 20, 2014
"Fascist" and "fascism" are words that people throw around loosely these days. Many use them as synonyms for "authoritarian," "racist," or "anti-Semitic." In reality, however, "fascist" is a technical term that refers to a rather specific political phenomenon. Using it loosely obscures genuine fascism, making it hard to recognize and fight it.

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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on January 23, 2014
“The Anatomy of Fascism”
by Robert O. Paxton
So what exactly is Fascism ? Some claim “Same as Communism”, British Socialist and politician John Strachey in his post WW2 book “The Coming Struggle for Power” claims it to be “Any system dedicated to the suppression of the Working Class.” Paxton shows how neither claim has much validity nor does it apply to alleged Fascist dictators such as Franco, Salazar, and Pèron. Why ? Read the book and learn for yourself.
I spent some years in Ghana, West Africa, where Kwame N’krumah flirted with both Fascism and Communism. He seemed to be trying to combine them using Russians and Hannah Reitsch, a devoted ex Nazi, as advisers. It may have been Hannah’s influence that made him launch a referendum similar to that which gave Hitler absolute power. His Convention People’s Party was made the sole party in Ghana and even the flag was changed to the Party colours. Party hacks also began laws unto themselves in the best Fascist style.
Under Hannah’s guidance he started a Future Leaders’ course but the participants did not respond well to 6am calisthenics. They also dismissed her attempts to teach them aerodynamics by having them make flying model aircraft as “Playing with toys”. Luckily a coup de état ended whatever N’krumah had planned. Hannah left sadly shaking her had. The Russians were deported.
Emeritus Professor Paxton of the Department of Social Sciences at Columbia University takes us through Fascism’s historical background, rise, collapse, recent attempts to re-impose it and future dangers.
How then may Fascism be defined ? The reader must be patient as it is only toward the end of this book that Paxton gives a valid definition after several highly readable chapters delineating its development from WW1 onwards. He reaches his conclusions after analysing those factors in detail.
Unlike so many academics Prof Paxton writes clearly. He explains why only two men have succeeded in establishing truly Fascist states. Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler never won any elections but we learn the chain of circumstances which led to their gaining power. Those included supporting Conservative parties, uniforms, mass rallies, violence and murder. Mosley in Britain gets passing mention but his organisation never gained a seat in any election.
Part of the Fascist strategy is to try and unite the population against a common internal enemy. In Italy Socialists and Communists were targeted, same in Germany plus its small Jewish minority. I am concerned at the fact that Islam is currently the target in much of our Western World with the Internet being a great source of lying propaganda.
When you reach the final Chapter in this book you will have completed a dramatic historical journey and the realisation it could happen again. Prof Paxton delineates several stages in the development of this aggressive system of Nationalism. Some European nations are already at the first stage, I pray it goes no further.
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on April 2, 2017
If you were able to answer that question immediately, off the top of your head, without taking several minutes to think about it, then chances are your answer is wrong, or at least woefully incomplete. Fascism is a far more complex political phenomenon than most people realize, and it is not at all easy to define. Part of the problem is that the word "fascism" has come, in recent decades, to be used as little more than an epithet—a label that people attach to any political viewpoint they vehemently disagree with. Even for those conscientious people who try not to use the word "fascism" quite so loosely, it is easy to conflate fascism with other forms of authoritarianism. But even those scholars who study fascism can't seem to agree about how to define it. Much of the problem is due to the diversity and inconsistency within fascism itself. Italian Fascism under Mussolini was not quite the same thing as German National Socialism under Hitler, and fascist movements in other countries differed in crucial ways from both Italian and German forms of fascism. But even within a single country, a fascist movement would change quite a bit over time. A nascent fascist movement that is trying to attract new followers differs in many ways from an organized fascist party that is trying to gain political power, which differs in many ways from a newly formed fascist government that is trying to consolidate its power, which differs in many ways from an established fascist regime that is trying to govern and carry out its policy agenda. Even fascist leaders and political thinkers couldn't agree on what fascism was all about. It’s no wonder that there is so much misunderstanding and confusion about how fascism ought to be defined.

In this excellent book, Robert O. Paxton takes on the vexing question of how to define fascism. But rather than come up with a proposed theoretical definition of fascism at the beginning and then trying to defend it, Paxton starts by examining what fascism looks like in the real world—how fascist movements actually began, how they took root and attracted a mass following, how fascist parties then rose to power and took control of the machinery of government, how they governed, etc.—and only after thoroughly considering all of these things does he finally, in the last few pages of the book, draw conclusions about what fascism really is.

I highly recommend that you read the entire book for yourself before considering Paxton's definition of fascism—it's the only real way to do justice to his approach to the subject. But for those of you who don't mind spoilers, here is how Paxton ultimately defines fascism, on the antepenultimate page of his book:

"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 traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

That is a long and complex definition, and it will probably make little or no sense to anyone who has not read Paxton's book. But after reading the book, I feel that it is probably the best definition anyone is likely to come up with.
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on April 6, 2017
trying to understand what is happening in America in 2017 I bought this book to more deeply understand fascism. It really is a well thought out deeply researched, well foot noted exposition on a term that is being thrown out alot recently as the explanation for the current state of affairs. personally, it has helped my to begin to think about politics as usual v. authoritarianism v. fascism. I do not have a conclusion , and may never have one. but my ability to think about the issue, communicate my thoughts to others, and find other books that deal with fascism has been vastly increased
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on June 5, 2013
This book has solid history on fascism, including the little known parties that grew in the UK and of all places Iceland. I originally read this book many years ago. I loaned it to a history professor I had in college and I never got it back. It deserved to be on my WW2 history shelf, so I bought a second copy. Those who think they understand what fascism is from survey history courses or the media (even documentaries) will be shocked when they read this book!
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on December 4, 2016
History DOES repeat itself! In additional to providing a great understanding of what fascism consists of, it gives a clear window to the facets of today's political environment which resemble those of the past that led to fascist movements. Have a pen or highlighter handy because you'll find yourself wanting to underline or mark nearly every page in some way and saying, "OMG, that's just like X, Y or Z today!"
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on February 6, 2017
Read this book. You owe it to yourself and to your children, your great grandchildren ,and their children, and so on.

We live in very dangerous times. Unless the people bother to inform themselves (and get OFF the television habit) things are likely to go wrong in a way that has not happened in the western world since the early-mid 20th century.

This book is well researched. It includes footnotes and is a legitmate source of history--important when we live in an age of distorted media (aka "alternative facts"; you'll read about this very topic in this book).

This is a scholarly read, but it is not out of for those who are not experts in this field.
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on February 5, 2017
Have not finished, but so far exceeding expections. More detailed than other sources, Reading slowly to digest the material. Highly recommend!
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on July 19, 2016
A careful and intelligent analysis of this 20th century political phenomenon. Relevant reading for our times.
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on October 10, 2009
As one of the few American scholars of the Vichy regime, it is perhaps fitting that at the end of his career, eminent historian Robert Paxton tackles the political-philosophical question of "what" fascism "is." What he produces is a slim, eminently readable work about fascist movements in Europe and beyond, seeking those tropes and similitudes that herald a fascist movement in action. This builds to a chapter in the work that details what he thinks fascism "is" (even though the word, he freely admits, can be slippery and still hotly contested in academic circles).

Paxton's conclusions are too detailed to present here, but the book is neatly organized around a set of key questions. They are, in brief, how fascist movements create themselves, how they take root, how they acquire some form of "power," how they deploy that power, and what the long term prospects of a fascist regime are (Paxton suggesting that fascism is, fundamentally, a "zero-sum game"). He then devotes a brief chapter to fascist and quasi-fascist movements outside of Europe by way of solid historical comparison, and concludes with his "definition" of what fascism is, ably summed up in other reviews in this thread. At the end is a superior bibliographic essay on the major works concerning fascism and the differences between them. Any college student writing a paper on fascism would do well to pick up the book for the bibliographic essay alone.

Paxton eschews theoretical language and uses a writing style that is not "easy" given the weight of the topic, but accessible to academic and non-academic readers. While many have bemoaned what they see as omissions (and rightfully so), I do not see this as a fair criticism given Paxton's obvious desire to reach as broad an audience as possible with his cautionary analysis. He supports his arguments well with the most eminent and credible authorities, and the book's precise endnotes amply reflect the deadly seriousness of the work and his command of the subject.

Some have criticized Paxton, I notice, for giving Stalin's Russia the short-shrift, or neglecting other fascist thought systems woven in to certain nations. I think the latter point is a function of editorial choice for the sake of clarity. I suppose my only response to the former point is that the book is "The Anatomy of Fascism," not "The Anatomy of Stalinism." Indeed, on pages 209-211 of his book, Paxton addresses this very point succinctly. Stalin qua Hitler (who are only two players on a much grander stage) is a distinction with a difference, and in rejecting the sometimes too-monolithic word "totalitarianism" as an analytical mode, Paxton is able to stay with his subject without veering off into comparing once-competing "totalitarian" systems, which would only confuse the reader and reduce his central hypotheses to hash. Or, as he puts it, avoiding the default debate of "Which monster was more monstrous?" a fundamentally meaningless question in the context of this book and what it seeks to achieve, namely "fascism parsed to its essence." I also notice that many seem to think that this book is somehow "far left," or something along those lines. For myself, I found it very apolitical, which was not only refreshing but allowed for a crisp clarity in presentation untroubled by a pre-determined set of assumptions.

I suppose the most chilling conclusion Paxton reaches is that "fascism" is, at one of its hearts, a "creeping" phenomenon, more organic than, to use one example, "Marxist-mechanical," a movement "from below" in many of its manifestations as opposed to "from above." While a proposition that culturally driven is difficult to prove, I think Paxton makes a compelling case. I do not wish to say more for fear of ruining the book for a prospective reader.

A sober, accessible, readable work from a master historian performing at his absolute best. Highly recommend.
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