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What Fascism Really Is
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.: