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The Anatomy of Fascism

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What is fascism? Many authors have proposed definitions, but most fail to move beyond the abstract. The esteemed historian Robert O. Paxton answers this question for the first time by focusing on the concrete: what the fascists did, rather than what they said. From the first violent uniformed bands beating up “enemies of the state,” through Mussolini’s rise to power, to Germany’s fascist radicalization in World War II, Paxton shows clearly why fascists came to power in some countries and not others, and explores whether fascism could exist outside the early-twentieth-century European setting in which it emerged.

The Anatomy of Fascism will have a lasting impact on our understanding of modern European history, just as Paxton’s classic Vichy France redefined our vision of World War II. Based on a lifetime of research, this compelling and important book transforms our knowledge of fascism–“the major political innovation of the twentieth century, and the source of much of its pain.”

336 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Robert O. Paxton

29 books116 followers
Robert Owen Paxton is an American political scientist and historian specializing in Vichy France, fascism, and Europe during the World War II era. After attending secondary school in New England, he received a B.A. from Washington and Lee University in 1954. Later, he won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two years earning an M.A. at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied under historians including James Joll and John Roberts. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1963. Paxton taught at the University of California, Berkeley and the State University of New York at Stony Brook before joining the faculty of Columbia University in 1969. He served there for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1997. He remains a professor emeritus. He has contributed more than twenty reviews to The New York Review of Books, beginning in 1978 and continuing through 2017.

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Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,493 followers
July 26, 2011
Sure, calling people ‘fascist’ is lots of fun. There’s no denying that. Whether you’re a teenager revolting against the ruthless Gestapo comprised of teachers, parents, and Denny’s night shift managers or you’re a fussbudget Berkeley yippie who detects a whiff of the counterrevolutionary even in the most innocuous conventions (‘I will not have a nice day! Fuck you, Big Brother!’), the exaggeration of one’s own paranoid sense of victimization by glibly appropriating the suffering of millions and millions of innocent people during World War II is always good for a larf, right?

Well, maybe not. Because when you get right down to it, how many of us really know what we’re talking about when we casually refer to police officers as ‘fascist pigs’? Why fascist? And why pigs? Is it the uniforms—the authority—the right wing implications of issuing a traffic citation? Maybe. But is this really accurate? Or does it further diminish and trivialize the historical sense of fascism?

I am not ‘most people,’ but I am going to guess, in a very half-assed way, that when most people refer to fascists or fascism (with respect not to history, but to contemporary events or persons), they generally intend an accusation (exaggerated or not) of the abuse of authority and power, a contempt for individual rights and liberties, and an irrational fealty to a very particular and narrow view of the way the world should be. Sometimes, when we freely toss the word ‘fascist’ around, we are referring to only one of these, but I think this gets us in the proverbial ballpark of the degraded, contemporary meaning of ‘fascism.’

Enter Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism, a needful corrective to the popular conception of fascism—not merely in the service of historical accuracy, but also as a important reminder that the ghosts of fascism, as a viable electoral current, haunt global politics even to this day. Don’t forget Slobodan Milošević, for example, who in the 1990s embarked upon a bloody policy of national aggrandizement and ethnic cleansing. Although his style differed in some critical ways from that of classical fascism, it is surely strongly indebted both to Mussolini, fascism’s unofficial founder, and to Hitler, whose regime marked its fullest expression.

One of the most significant assertions of Paxton’s intellectually fascinating—but occasionally stiff—book on the subject is that fascism lacks a firm ideology. There is no single or authoritative political agenda that best defines fascism. Ideology is entirely changeable to suit the needs of the ‘system.’ Notice that I said ‘system’ rather than the leader or the party—because it is very much a mistake (or at least a gross simplification) to attribute the course of fascism wholly to the will of its leaders.

One important distinction between fascism and traditional dictatorships or authoritarian regimes is that fascism is a mass movement. This fact is often neglected in a rush to blame the leader or the fascist party alone for its moral transgressions. Fascism, in both Italy and Germany, was a popular movement; it was not inflicted from above but was empowered from below, initially by legal electoral means. Here lies its true insidiousness: the German and Italian people, empowered democratically, eventually renounced their rights and their free institutions in order to be subsumed by a totalizing government which (supposedly) expressed the true national will. It is this renunciation of a liberal democracy in crisis which problematizes the usual notion of fascism as an expressly extreme-right movement. The populism, the revolution ‘from below,’ and the vilification of bourgeois individualism are borrowed from the repertoire of leftist movements. This is why fascism is sometimes categorized as ‘neither left nor right’—an aberrant ‘other’ that is not easily situated in our neat political spectrum.

Although Paxton leaves open some avenues for interpretation, he implies that the only two political regimes sufficiently realized to be considered fascist are Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. This leaves out some other regimes that are often or occasionally considered fascist, such as Franco’s Spain, Vichy France, Imperial Japan, interwar Portugal, and Peron’s Venezuela, to name a few. Paxton describes how these latter regimes all fail to meet some of the criteria of fascism—such as a failing democratic tradition, national humiliation, demonization of the ‘other’ which must be purged in order to purify the nation, mass politics, the excitement of public passions, national aggrandizement, and a commitment to violence and war. Franco, for example, was allied with fascists during the Spanish Civil War, but he ruled ‘from above’—preferring isolationism and a passive, satiated populace to warfare and inflamed crowds.

All in all, Paxton’s book is an intriguing analysis because it scrupulously resists the urge to simplify ‘fascism’ or to serve up a tidy definition. His treatment of the dynamics (if not the particulars) of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany are thoroughgoing and compelling, even if his writing isn’t quite as lively as it could be. Also, he is occasionally allusive, to the detriment of readers who might not familiar with all of the historical people and events to which he is referring. But on the whole, it’s an engrossing read for anyone interested in understanding the nuts and bolts of fascism and distinguishing it from its popular, often simplified representation.
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
216 reviews495 followers
June 3, 2016
UPDATE: At last some journalists are beginning to get it. Trump is not a fascist but an old fashioned, right wing authoritarian of the type that could be found in many a banana republic in the days of the Cold War. A couple of articles have pointed this out and Vox's The rise of American authoritarianism is very interesting. The worrying implication of this article is that while Trump may not win the election he may well not be the last we see of his type.

It’s December 2015 and all around the world observers of American politics are asking themselves the two leading questions of the year:

(1) How could a wealthy, advanced democratic state chose as presidential candidate an individual who believes (or even just pretends to believe) that the earth is only six thousand years old? and

(2) Who is the biggest fascist, Trump or Cruz?

This book won’t help much with the first question but I read it to get to grips with the second one. The approach the book takes is excellent, looking at what fascists actually did rather than spending time on abstract discussion about what fascism might or might not be. As a result the work is full of interesting historical detail and the comparison between regimes described as fascist but which are better described as totalitarian against those of the genuinely fascist Nazis is very illuminating.

Those unschooled in the subtle varieties of totalitarian rule may be surprised to find that Trump is not a fascist. He is a plain, old-fashioned, right-wing authoritarian populist. Trump’s type has been President of any number of cold-war, tin-pot dictatorships and banana republics in South America, Africa or South East Asia. He is a fundamentally conservative figure, wanting to “Make America Great Again” with the emphasis on “Again”. He does not want to radically remake American societal order as he has done very well out of it, thank you.

Cruz seems more than happy to lurk in the shadows around Trump seeing which of his outrageous ideas are popular with the voters, but is he a fascist?

Robert Paxton’s book describes the “mobilizing passions” that shape fascist action:
“…At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as the battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, unassimilable minorities, spoiled rentiers, and rationalist thinkers…these ‘mobilizing passions’…form the emotional lava that set fascism’s foundation…”.

American exceptionalism; the Tea Party’s hatred of federal government; the Christian fundamentalist view of right or wrong; persecution of gays and Muslims; rejection of rational scientific debate (climate change being the prime example). I don’t know about you, but to me Cruz’s platform seems to share many of the “mobilizing passions” of fascism.

How about this as a scenario: Rubio wins the nomination choosing Cruz as VP; Clinton is assassinated by a gun-rights terrorist leaving the Democratic nomination to Sanders. US electors face a stark choice between “socialism” and whatever a Rubio/Cruz ticket represents. Decades of anti-socialist propaganda, massive corporate spending on the election and a media "Swift Boating" of Sanders gives victory to Rubio/Cruz. This is when Cruz finally begins to get his way, becoming Cheney to Rubio’s Bush.

In this scenario the corporate backers of Rubio and Cruz would be making the same mistake that the conservatives in Germany or Italy made when they backed their fascist candidates – elevating to power the radical populist who in truth wants to overthrow the existing order in the mistaken belief that they could control him.

Is this a credible path to a fascist America? I would say yes, and not the only path as well.
Update: After watching the Republican primaries for a while I have come up with a more believable scenario that could put Cruz in as President:

Rubio drops out of the running after a chip pre-programmed with Sheldon Adelson talking points embedded under his skin is discovered by Anonymous and hacked to have Rubio sing “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” every time Chris Christie’s name is mentioned.

At the final Republican debate Cruz continues to goad Trump about the size of his manhood, provoking Trump to such an extent that he tries to prove his doubters wrong indisputably, once and for all, on air. Unfortunately this move backfires for Trump, as subsequent close analysis of the live footage suggests much of his campaign talk must have been the product of a narcissistic imagination. Cruz wins the Republican nomination at the convention. Meanwhile super delegates give Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination despite Bernie Sanders winning the primaries in a late rush.

The election campaign progresses with Hillary well ahead of Cruz. But remember that email server?

Two weeks before the election date the Republicans get hold of Hillary's private emails with shocking evidence that blows the campaign wide open: Hillary has been having an extra-marital affair. The Democratic party desperately make the case about her private life being her own affair, modern times and so on; Bill Clinton stands right beside her. But a picture of Hillary holding hands with Lloyd Blankfein is too much for the public to stomach. Cruz wins.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews302 followers
September 16, 2017
Most people have trouble defining fascism. Now I know there is a reason for it. Author Robert O. Paxton notes that unlike the other “isms” fascism has no manifesto, no treatise and no doctrine.

It is a feeling of resentment and the desire to impede or destroy the resented group. It glorifies its own state or ethnicity and accepts violence as a Darwinian prerogative. A few days ago I saw a Facebook post that brought this home. A simply dressed and groomed young women sitting in a rural area with her two toddlers says that there has to be “the genocide” for her children to have a chance.

A condition for the rise of fascism is a failing democracy. Italy and Germany as newly united countries with weak young democracies provided the opening for fascists to begin their push to power with violence that went mostly unprosecuted. Both countries were polararized. Conservatives would not work with liberals and joined with the fascists whom they thought they could use to enact their agenda. As it turned out, fascists used the conservatives. Germany eliminated them and Mussolini marginalized them except for spurts when he made attempts to govern (normalize). In neither country did the fascists ever receive 50% of any vote. Their shares were usually in the high 30s and low 40s.

Paxton gives a short survey of fascism across history and the globe. Most fascist movements have occurred in the west, since they grow from failed democracies. The devastation of WWI spawned movements across Europe, but the first fascists may have been the KKK in the US.

Fascism can be distinguished from authoritarianism in that authoritarian governments care little about citizen consent and fascism stokes a base of popular support. Fascism takes nationalism beyond its borders in wars of conquest. Dictatorships (some propped up by outside forces in countries that never had democracies) mostly stay within their borders. The lack of conquest is one factor that makes Franco (Spain) and Peron (Argentina) authoritarians more than fascists.

Towards the end this 2005 book there is a chapter on whether or not fascism is still possible. Paxton notes that in every democracy there is a small percentage of fascists, it takes the right conditions to create the opening.

This is an excellent book. It clarified fascism for me. Readers will need some background in 19th and 20th century European history.
Profile Image for howl of minerva.
81 reviews428 followers
April 15, 2016
See the excellent reviews by Sologdin and Szplug.

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behaviour 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." p218

"I believe that the ideas that underlie fascist actions are best deduced from those actions, for some of them remain unstated and implicit in fascist public language. Many of them belong more to the realm of visceral feelings than to the realm of reasoned propositions... I call them "mobilizing passions":

- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;

- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;

- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;

- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict and alien influences;

- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent of possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;

- the need for authority by natural chiefs (always male), culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's historical destiny;

- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;

- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;

- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

Fascism according to this definition, as well as behavior in keeping with these feelings, is still visible today. Fascism exists... within all democratic countries - not excluding the United States. "Giving up free institutions" especially the freedoms of unpopular groups, is recurrently attractive to citizens of Western democracies, including some Americans. We know from tracing its path that fascism does not require a spectacular march on some capital to take root; seemingly anodyne decisions to tolerate lawless treatment of national "enemies" are enough. Something very close to classical fascism has reached Stage Two in a few deeply troubled societies. Its further progress is not inevitable however. Further fascist advances towards power depend in part upon the severity of a crisis, but also very largely upon human choices, especially the choices of those holding economic, social and political power. Determining the appropriate responses to fascist gains is not easy, since its cycle is not likely to repeat itself blindly. We stand a much better chance of responding wisely, however, if we understand how fascism succeeded in the past." p219-20

Profile Image for Andrew.
656 reviews193 followers
July 30, 2019
The Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert O. Paxton, is an interesting examination of the political concept of Fascism from both an intellectual and practical perspective. Paxton breaks down Fascism into a few components; Fascism and its intellectual roots, Fascism in ascendance, and Fascism in power. Paxton generally avoids trying to define Fascism. Instead, he uses a comparative model to examine the two successful Fascisms - Italy and Germany in the 1930's/1940's - as well as other regimes that have been called Fascist (Spain under Franco, Portugal under Salazar, Argentina and Brazil in the 1930's and 1940's, as well as unsuccessful Fascist movements in Belgium, France, the UK and so on). These comparisons show that many regimes accused of Fascism were more akin to authoritarian systems or outright dictatorships, but not Fascist. Although Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini were also dictatorships, they had different characteristics that set them apart from traditional authoritarian governments.

Fascism requires many components to make it Fascist. A charismatic leader needs to exploit group fears about loss of status or tradition, utilizing this energy to revitalize the state under a central party. Fascism is also revolutionary in its ascendance phase; it seeks to disrupt entrenched actors, is anti-democratic and anti-liberalism, and promotes racial/cultural purity, manliness, and the use of violence as a method of purifying the chosen people in a state against internal and external forces. In power, Fascists are forced to make some political sacrifices and reach common ground with some other actors - usually traditional authoritarian and far right conservatives. Indeed, this is how both Mussolini (pact with King Emmanuel III and Italian conservatives) and Hitler (pact with von Papen, Schleicher, and Hindenburg, all right wing, conservative authoritarians) achieved power. Paxton notes the populist side of Fascism, as well as its appeal to conservatives as a counterbalance to militant or electorally successful Socialists and Communists - both also revolutionary in nature.

Paxton notes the evolution of Fascism from intellectual beginning to its realpolitik. Fascism is often founded on radical roots. Early Fascists joined militant groups such as Mussolini's Squadrismo or the Nazi SA. These groups often formed countervailing forces within the early moments as they developed into the ruling party, and often challenged the leadership directly. While overtly holding up the leaders as supreme, these groups often promoted the more radical side of Fascism, and utilized violence to get there way, and challenge authority. The Fascist movements organized themselves to mirror the state; for example, the party often had "ministries" of foreign affairs, of the interior, economy, culture etc. while the state had the same - the difference being the state was staffed by bureaucrats, and the party by militants. These two were often merged, both the remove latent protest from the state bureaucracy, and to curb the enthusiasm of more militant party members. Fascism in power often developed a careerist bend, and promoted a centralized bureaucracy subordinate to the leader. However, the party organizations and their mirrored state bureaucracies often overlapped in authority, giving the Fascist regimes an inefficient and chaotic process to develop policies. Usually the leader would give the nod to decisions that were made by subordinates that they agreed with or were favourable, and punished those that were not.

Paxton examines the differences between traditional authoritarian dictatorships and Fascist dictatorships as well. Both utilized traditional conservative elements when in power; both Germany and Italy were overtly copratist in economic policy making, and both utilized traditional authoritarian and conservative policymakers while in power - Italy more so, as Germany eventually purged its conservatives in the Night of the Long Knives. Italian Fascism was quite extreme in its outset, but tempered rapidly when in power to ensure a maintenance of economic and political stability. Paxton notes Italy degraded over time into a more traditional authoritarian state, only reviving Fascism during the Ethiopian invasion and later in the German puppet state of Salo. Paxton notes that traditional autocrats are often accused of Fascism, although he thinks these are largely misnomers, or dictators adapting some of the trappings of Fascism. Spain, for example, utilized violence to target socialists, republicans and ethnically distinct groups in the colonies. However, Franco ruled by promoting the interests of landowners, the church, and traditional aristocrats, and did not implement radical programs to mobilize the state to serve the purpose of his party. He also cracked down heavily on the Spanish Falange - their homegrown Fascist movement. Ditto in Portugal, where Salazar was even more hands off with how his government interacted with spheres of the state, only becoming involved when his power was threatened.

Paxton goes on to theorize whether Fascism is possible in modern times - something more relevant now possibly than in 2005 when this book was published. Modern Western democracies have seen the rise of Populist style right wing governments, of note in the US (Trump), the UK (Brexit), and in countries like Hungary (Orban) and Poland, among many others. These movements have the Populist elements of Fascism, as well as being supported by groups with ideas of cultural superiority (ie. white supremacists and nationalists). Even so, the above examples were all popularly elected, do not have an armed and sponsored militant wing that they use to disrupt institutions, and mostly work within the legal framework of the state (Poland and Hungary do not, although they are moving into a more autocratic sphere, not Fascist). What is missing from these regimes is the overt appeal to violence, and the use of violence as a means to disrupt existing state institutions. Love them or hate them, Paxton would probably disagree that they were Fascist, although they may be in an early incubation stage. That being said, their is always the possibility that they could develop further. White Supremacists and the radical right in the United States are much more vocal than they have been for many decades, and if they are able to organize and receive popular support they may start looking more Fascist. Paxton warns against the trend of left leaning political groups and activists to brand every right wing movement Fascist; although Fascism as it has historically existed is mercurial, the use of the term too frequently risks numbing the power of the word; remember that the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini were extremely violent. Hitler and the Nazi's killed millions of Slavs, Jews, and Germans of alternative political, cultural, religious and sexual persuasions. Mussolini took power in a bloodbath of street violence in which many hundreds if not thousands were killed, and forcibly annexed territories in Africa, subjecting native populations to extreme violence. Trump and Brexit are not good comparisons, nor are isolated skirmishes between Antifa protesters and radical white supremacists, although these are getting closer to the nub. The makeup and characteristics of these movements lack the overt appeal to violence, radical racial cleansing, expansionist warfare, and totalitarian appeals to party control over the state, that Fascist regimes have historically been characterized by.

All in all, a very interesting read. Informative, concise and vert well researched (the bibliography here is fantastic), this book is worthy of a read both to understand Fascism better, and as a book that well chronicles some ideas that were becoming more mainstream in modern times. It gives us a good idea of what Fascism as an idea, and Fascism as a system look like. Worth a read for political junkies, WWII buffs, and those interested in modern Populism.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,717 reviews642 followers
July 24, 2016
Very effective. Attempts a wittgensteinian, as opposed to a platonist, definition of fascism, drawing its operative principles from the laboratory of history, rather than penciling out starry-eyed presuppositions ab initio.

Definition seeks to analyze five stages of a fascist organization: movement formation, obtaining legitimacy, obtaining state power, exercising same, and terminal radicalization. Analysis is well presented and sharp, looking at the available historical samples under these respective lenses. It is therefore not an anatomy in Northrop Frye’s meaning (though that’d be a cool misreading).

Suffers from two hiccoughs: a) wants very much to distinguish itself from determinist arguments: “Having assembled a catalogue of preconditions, intellectual roots, and longer-term structural preconditions, we might be tempted to believe we can foresee exactly where fascism is likely to appear, grow, and take power. But that would mean falling into a determinist trap. There remains the element of human choice” (86). The “human choice” refrain reiterates on several occasions (e.g., “it ignored human choice” (207)), and it is woefully untheorized at all instances, suggesting that there is some inexplicable, causeless will behind these events.

Second hiccough is rooted in one of the strengths of the argument: the definition has both formal and substantial components. The substantial components are the normal roll call of policy preferences that fascists have: contempt for liberalism, contempt for socialism, contempt for internationalism, pro-racism, pro-nationalism, pro-mysticism, and so on (he lists them out specifically (218-19)). The book really shines in laying out the formal components of the definition: fascism arises out of crisis, after liberalism has been installed and failed, but where such failure occurred after successful mobilization of mass politics, and where one facet of the crisis is the threat of bolshevism, and wherein fascists only achieve power with the assistance of non-fascist rightwing groups, and so on. It’s very slick. But it has the side effect of cutting a lot of movements out of the definition. Lengthy chapter on other rightwing movements effectively removes the Franco and Salazar regimes, for instance, from consideration, even though they are affirmed as nasty rightwingers (in the language of Hearts of Iron, they are paternal autocrat regimes, which seek to demobilize public opinion and rule through traditional channels of power, such as church, army, bureaucracy). Ultimately, the number of bona fide fascist movements that exercise state power is very limited in this conception. Overall it’s good, but there are some conceptual difficulties.

Much thoughtful commentary on the significance of parallel state and party apparatuses. Cool to know that there were Icelandic Greyshirts, Irish Blueshirts, French Greenshirts. Very much identifies fascism as a movement of the far right, and notes that despite its claims about being revolutionary, it does not upset property or state in the manner that the French Revolution thought of revolutions. My marginalia are full of “cf. teabaggers” notes, which indicates that, while the historical trivia are great, it has continuing relevance.

Good stuff overall. Recommended!
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,259 followers
February 27, 2011
It is difficult to imagine how this book could have been improved upon—Paxton, after opening with the hard-to-argue proposition that Fascism was the major political innovation of the twentieth century, and the source of much of its pain, avoids any manner of definition of his thematic prey, preferring to avoid painting himself into a corner before tackling the various elements and stages that comprise this elusive interwar upstart. Paxton notes the surprising adaptability of fascism during the course of its wayward road to power, and that any analysis of its anatomy will be better served by taking note not just of what fascist proponents said, but what they actually did. We have two fascist systems that survived to full maturity—Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, of course—as well as several other (principally European) varieties that were either stillborn, snuffed out while still in the process of taking root, allowed to languish, stagnant, under the thumb of one of the other main political isms, or propped up by one of the two principal variations (almost always that of Germany) and thus prevented from exercising power under their own individual head of steam.

Paxton has separated fascism into five stages, in each of which it generally adhered to certain basic rules of development and manners of operating—basic enough that studying each individual stage can yield rewarding results in attempting to discover exactly what fascism comprises, and how it achieved its remarkable growth in such a short period of time and against all likelihood of actually grasping the opportunity to do so.

Creating Fascist Movements examines the cultural, societal, political and ideological origins of fascism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, culminating in the aftermath of World War One, which show Italy and Germany as young advanced industrial countries and new to mass democratic politics, harbouring deep resentments to perceived betrayals by the liberal elites during the war, anger towards an influx of non-assimilating immigrants and ethnic minorities, a sense of decline and decay of a once vibrant and superior culture and community, and a terrible fear of succumbing to a communist or socialist revolution under the auspices of Russian Bolshevism. Paxton adeptly frames how the early fascist pioneers, although initially wielding ideological armaments against a failed and corrupt liberalism—where they boasted of being neither of the Right nor of the Left, but rather assemblers piecemeal from each side in the shaping of their aggressive nationalist demagoguery—as manipulators of the masses held intellectual theorizing and ideology in contempt.

Taking Root describes the methods the Nazis and Fascists undertook to stake their claim on their nation's political turf—the uniformed militias for street fighting, the gradual acceptance by conservatives of their fascist juniors—and their enthusiasm for violence—as a lesser-of-two-evils against the perceived socialist threat. With the older established elites struggling to retool their parties to the new mass democratic system, those of the Right began attempting to co-opt the fascists for their own uses. The latter here prove their pliability and adaptability, morphing and maneuvering to fit themselves into the political spaces made available by liberal parliaments deadlocked between bickering socialist parties and ultra-cautious conservatives, while making great use of propaganda, pageantry, and the mesmerizing charisma of their demagogue leaders in inspiring and growing their base with a vision of national destiny and greatness.

Getting Power explodes many of the myths surrounding the fascists' elevation into dominating governmental positions—in all cases, though buttressed by the violent and disruptive behavior of their party militias, they rode a momentum-fueled expanding vote into coalitions with those same conservative parties that, whatever their distaste for the fascist 'thugs', sought to use them to further authoritarian and orderly ends (as did the business elites, preferring anything to socialism). Paxton here masterfully outlines the seesaw struggles between the leaders and their own parties, as well as the right-wing colleagues who sought to constrain them, taking note of the marked acuity and adaptability they displayed in a fluctuating environment. Realizing that fascist momentum was a fragile thing, they maximized capitalizing upon resentment populism and economic devastation in expanding their parliamentary representation until they were in a position to take tactical advantage of sudden developing opportunities to elevate themselves, again with conservative assistance, into the position of chief minister of the realm; from there, there would be no looking back. In both cases the fascists, despite radical and revolutionary rhetoric to select portions of the masses they played to, used legal methods to put themselves into the position to use illegal ones to establish charismatic dictatorships.

Exercising Power and The Long Term delve into the manner in which fascist systems conducted themselves after seizing all the reins of power, and how, in maturity, they corkscrewed into a destructive radicalism after unleashing upon the world their wars to crush rival ethnicities and exalt their own nationalist fervor. Although the Nazi and Fascist systems differed from each other, Paxton details general trends and similarities: the establishment of a dual state, with party apparatus operating parallel to, and in rivalry with, normative state functions; the tug-of-war between the triangulation of Leader, Party, and Conservative and Business elites, all pivoted around the masses who consent (preferably voluntarily, but forcibly if necessary) to subsume individual goals and freedoms to the all-devouring needs of the national community; the tendency for the Leader to operate on inspired instinct guided by historical destiny, even if at the expense of rationality, and the willingness of the leader to sacrifice the radical element in his party in an effort to appease the normative state apparatus; the use of both terror to crush opposition to the national state and rid it of unwanted ethnic interlopers, and accommodation for youth, workers, and neighbors, each instilled with enthusiasm through manipulation by party agencies that organized, cajoled, and intruded upon every aspect of the private lives of the citizenry in order to achieve fascist goals of rearmament, national cohesiveness, and full employment. However, flush with the ecstasies of victory from the inevitable warmongering, Paxton's analysis draws out the devolution into a frenzied radicalism (in the case of Germany) under the fervent, demonic shift into the top gear of Total War, as well as the Italian entropy as Mussolini, proven a hollow leader, presides despondently over a fascism that melts away once the King has the Duce removed from power and the authoritarian right put in charge of a nation under siege. Paxton points out the problems in achieving longevity inherent to fascism—dependant as it is upon the leader's charisma and an ever accelerating need to drive the nation onward and upward towards its destiny as King of the Darwinian Hill, the violent and excited energies that once made fascism such a dynamic success in an otherwise suffering Europe will, of necessity, turn inwards upon itself in a final paroxysm of destructive and annihilative fury.

Whew—all of this, and I've not even touched upon all that Paxton has covered. In writing this review and trying to organize my thoughts about what I learned, I have realized that I haven't communicated well the depth of information, the thorough investigation, from all angles and with impressive impartiality, that Paxton has managed to provide. Whenever a question, doubt, or countering argument would arise as I finished a section—and many times when I fully concurred with what I had read—Paxton would approach the topic from another angle of interpretation, and such questions would either wind up answered, or a settled belief be stirred and shaken by being forced to view its foundational core in another light. Furthermore, there is still much that remains of the text: an overview of postwar fascist systems and how they fit into its malleable strictures, covering the globe and extending through to just after 9/11, as well as a brief pondering of the viability of describing Islamic (or other religious) Fundamentalism as comprising a fascist system—Paxton makes the case but expresses enough reservations to leave its suitability still in doubt. Finally, after two hundred pages of masterful and instructive investigation, the author assembles the various actions and developments of mid-century fascism, weighs it against the early foundational rhetoric of its innovative originators, and molds it down to a sterling and pithy handle:

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 constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Paxton has littered the text with an abundance of documentary notes, which often provide brief-but-informative insights into the subject under discussion; there is also a superbly developed bibliographic essay at the end that points towards a wealth of further reading material—overwhelming in its comprehensiveness, but immensely helpful in steering the reader along further avenues of interest sparked by Paxton's guidance. I've marked off enough titles to augment my despair over ever cleaning up my must-read shelf—but them's the chances you take when you read the first-tier scholarship of a complex, popular and fascinating subject. The Anatomy of Fascism was recommended to me as being the perfect modern introductory text to ground oneself in what comprises fascism both as it existed and as it survives today—and Paxton proved to deliver the goods nigh-on perfectly in every way.
Profile Image for John Anthony.
764 reviews97 followers
March 14, 2019
1. Introduction
2. Creating Fascist Movements
3. Taking Root
4. Getting Power
5. Exercising Power
6. The Long Term: Radicalization or Entropy
7. Other Times, Other Places
8. What is Fascism?

Biographical Essay


Hugely and interestingly informative and a very useful addition to my library. It is measured and reasonably balanced and the author doesn’t use words lightly. If Robert Paxton calls you a fascist – well, you really are one! He has little time for people who label indiscriminately potential political foes (as seems all too frequent practice now) as “fascist”. Likewise he is very clear in identifying fascist governments. In essence, only Italy and Germany fully fitted the pattern. He looks at the experiences in many other countries, outlying elements of fascism and why they did not succeed in becoming fully fledged. He further casts a careful eye over political movements worldwide post 1945.

He is clear that there is no one size fits all: the fascist model will tailor itself to the individual country, its national characteristics, culture etc. Paxton illustrates this clearly when he looks at the styles of leadership of Mussolini and Hitler. Mussolini, more at ease in working within the apparatus of the Italian state compared with Hitler in Germany. But, then, Mussolini found it almost impossible to delegate whilst Hitler was a master of delegation.

Paxton argues that fascism needs the existence of a developed leftist socialism which has participated in government and been compromised by it. The Fascist should then successfully exploit the disillusioned – including the traditional working class and intellectuals.

His definition of Fascism: “A form of political behaviour marked by an 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”.

The 'biographical essay' is an immense bibliography and it is thoroughly useful for anyone wishing to read further in this area.
Profile Image for Murtaza .
669 reviews3,399 followers
October 23, 2017
The word "fascist" gets tossed around quite a lot, so I was interested in reading this book in order to add some rigor to what that term actually means. The answer is actually quite complex, but Paxton manages to define a baseline for identifying fascist movements and ideologies. His summary points for a fascist ideology are: 1) a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of traditional solutions, 2) belief in the supremacy of one's group or race (as well as a corresponding belief that the group has been victimized and that any means are justified in rectifying its victimhood), 3) widespread hatred of individualistic liberalism, 4) xenophobia and a call for arms against internal and external enemies, 5) a call for "purification" of the group, 6) belief in a transcendent leader who embodies the collective will, 7) a sense of historic destiny for one's community 8) an aestheticization of both politics and violence undertaken in defense of the group.

Reading the book, I was thinking through the following questions related to contemporary politics: Is Islamic State a fascist group? Is Arab Ba'athism fascist? Is Donald Trump's America latently fascist? One of the interesting points that Paxton raises in the book is that fascism might well have been a unique condition of failed liberal governance amid the rapid modernization of 20th century Europe. While there have been many tyrannical governments in history and tyrannies continue to exist today, "fascism" is a unique condition that requires a conscious abandonment of liberal institutions, a mass abandonment of political individuality as such, and the embrace of collective irrationality and passion.

Islamic State certainly evinced a supremacist ethos, aestheticized their violence and conducted a foreign policy of limitless aggression. Its aggression in particular corresponds to what Paxton describes as fascism's "permanent revolution" - the state of constant war needed to keep the frenzy of fascist politics going. Arab nationalist ideology also has many supremacist qualities, but with the exception of Saddam Hussein's Iraq none of the Arab nationalist states ever blindly lashed out at their neighbors. Within Arab nationalist states there doesn't seem to be much genuine enthusiasm left for subsuming individuality within a collective will. Whatever conformity remains has to be either bribed or brutally enforced. Of these two ideological movements I think its possible to say that ISIS is truly fascist, whereas the Arab nationalist regimes are the product of a once-virile fascism that has burnt itself out and settled into a cold, unremarkable tyranny. Unlike Ba'athism, ISIS actually has some true believers and is not merely a facade for the exercise of power by certain groups.

Regarding the United States, Paxton identifies several early-stage symptoms of fascism that I believe are in evidence in Trump's America. The increase in street violence and mobilization in recent years is the first troubling sign. While it seems like a peripheral phenomenon today, in the event of an economic crash or major terrorist attack the existence of organized militias and hate groups could quickly become very consequential, as it did in 20th century Europe. Also like Trump, its notable that European fascists never won a majority of the vote in the countries they took over, but had to rely on the acquiescence of traditional conservative elites to help open the door to power. The same thing has happened in America with craven Republicans of making deals with fascists as a way of keeping office. The limitless enthusiasm that Trump has inspired in at least a third of the electorate, which is apparently willing to back him no matter what, is also troubling. It reflects an abandonment of reason on the part of millions of Americans, replaced instead with a desire to submit blindly to an individual leader.

This is an academic book that takes a very "Occam's Razor"-style approach towards fascism rather than a philosophical one. That makes it a little less fun to read, but its still an important work to help understand how movements and groups on the right can be radicalized, as well as what that radicalization foretells. As an aside Paxton does a pretty reasonable job of responding to horseshoe theory, pointing out that while the USSR and Nazism may have felt quite similar to their victims, the biology-centric genocidal beliefs driving the Nazis (which led to them justify the murder of even children) were categorically worse and more dangerous than the paranoid Soviet repression, which was directed against class enemies mainly perceived as security threats.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,860 reviews1,358 followers
December 15, 2022
What's really depressing is reading a book on fascism published in 2004 and finding that almost 20 years later, it's an event more relevant and resonant book than it was on first publication.
Profile Image for Tanima.
77 reviews11 followers
January 12, 2017
The Anatomy of Fascism is probably one of the most insightful books out there to study the underpinnings of fascist movements. Robert O. Paxton argues that what most books on fascism fail to analyze is the internal and external conditions necessary for the success of 20th century movements, because without these basic tools we cannot analyze how unsuccessful ones across Europe failed to gain the same kind of momentum. He does a thoughtful job of detailing the important conditions and allies necessary for Mussolini and Hitler’s eventual rise to power, their hold on power, and how successful long-term radicalization would have been given the political circumstances of a battered post-WWI Italy and Germany.

Ever since learning about fascism back in high school history class, I’ve been intrigued by the power of these mass movements. I always assumed fascism was a fancier term for dictatorship, and in some ways it is, but it is also much more complicated than that. There isn’t a unifying consensus on its origins because it takes on various forms, but it’s generally agreed that it is not a political ideology as much as it is a political tool for rallying mass crowds behind a nationalistic agenda. Some interesting points from Paxton’s characterization of fascism:

*A major crises that the traditionalists cannot solve
*The belief of a victimized group against its enemies
*The leader’s superiority over reason
*Violence as a means devoted to the group’s success
*Domination of a chosen people over others without constraint from laws

Paxton makes it a point to emphasize that "[f]ascism is never an inevitable outcome." The conditions necessary for its success are as important as the leader and movement. But, Paxton does observe that “fascist rule is more nakedly dependent on charisma than any other kind, which may help explain why no fascist regime has so far managed to pass power to a successor.”
Profile Image for hayatem.
687 reviews169 followers
September 30, 2019
بنى هتلر النازية بحلول تموز/ يوليو 1932م ليكون أول حزب شامل في التاريخ الألماني وأكبر حزب شوهد هناك حتى ذلك الحين.
…………ورسمياً، ولدت الفاشية في ميلانو، الأحد الذي وافق الثالث والعشرين من آذار/ مارس 1919م.

ماهي الفاشية؛ تعريفها، مفهومها، وماهيتها؟
عن أهم الحركات الفاشية، ومساراتها التاريخية التي بدت كسلسلة من ال��مليات التي اعتملت مع الوقت، عوض ما يقتضيه الجوهر المثبت. والاستيراتيجيات، والسياسات التي اتبعتها.

كما يطرح ويجيب الكتاب على :كيف وصل موسيليني وهتلر إلى السلطة؟ بأسلوب آخر، كيف استطاعت الأنظمة النازية والفاشية الوصول إلى عرش السلطة و الاستحواذ عليها؟ ومالذي مهد وساعدها على ذلك؟
ما أهم السمات التي تجمع الفاشيين؟( يقدم الكتاب بعض الرؤى النفسية التحليلية.)،وما هي أوجه الشبه، والاختلاف بين نظام هتلر ونظام موسيليني؟( كان القالب الفاشي الإيطالي معاكساً للقالب النازي. أراق موسيليني دماءً أكثر مما راق هتلر للوصول إلى السلطة، بحسب ما تقره الوقائع التاريخية.)
…أصبحت معاملة هتلر وستالين معاً على أنهما شموليان ممارسة في الحكم الأخلاقي المقارن: أي وحش كان أكثر وحشية؟-هل كان نموذجا ستالين من جرائم القتل الجماعية( وحشية حملات موسيليني الإفريقية-استخدام الغاز السام في عمليات ابادة في أثيوبيا وليبيا.)- التجربة الإقتصادية المتهورة والاضطهاد المذعور لل أعداء- المقابل الأخلاقي لمحاولة هتلر في تطهير شعبه بإبادة الملوثين طبياً وعرقياً. ص371
نظام ستالين اختلف بوضوح عن نطام هتلر في الديناميات الاجتماعية والأهداف أيضاً. قاد ستالين مجتمعاً مدنياً بسطته جذرياً الثورة البلشفية، ولذا لم يعبأ بالسلطة الاقتصادية والاجتماعية الموروثة لعمليات التركيز المستقلة. هتلر أتى إلى مدراج السلطة باتفاق ومساعدة النخبة التقليدية وحكم في اتحاد متوتر مجهد لكنه فعال إلى جانبهم. كما اختلفت الهتلرية والستالينية بوضوح بائن في أهدافهما النهائية المعلنة( مركزية العنصرية البيولوجية في الاشتراكية القومية وضعفها في الفاشية.)- أحدهما الأفضلية لعرق السيد، والأخرى مساواة كونية- إلا أن انحرافات ستالين البربرية والفظيعة جنحت لجعل اتصال نظامه مع نظام هتلر مواداً إجرامية. وبالتركيز على السلطة المركزية، فإن النموذج الشمولي يتغافل عن الهيجان الإجرامي الذي بدأ يغلي في أعماق الفاشية. ص370
،…والكثير الكثير عن ألمانيا النازية وإيطاليا الفاشية.

كما يناقش الكتاب العلاقة الغريبة بين الفاشية وإيديولوجيتها- "بشكل متزامن- ترى على أنها مركزية، لكنها معدلة ومنتهكة على أنها ملائمة." + يناقش الكتاب أن جميع الفاشيات تجيّش ضد عدو ما، داخلياً وخارجياً، لكن الثقافة القومية هي التي تشكل هوية ذلك العدو.
كما تحدث الكتاب عن أوجه الفاشية خارج أوروبا- منها:اليابان،جنوب أفريقيا، أمريكا اللاتينية في ثلاثينات القرن الماضي وأوائل خمسيناته. كما تطرق لوجه أو نظام الفاشيات الدينية.

حقيقة كتاب مرعب، موجع، ثقيل، وخانق للنفس، بل هو كابوس واعي يسمم يقظتك، ويمزقك من الداخل دون شفقة! وهو يؤكد وبشدة، على أنه لايوجد حيوان في العالم أكثر وحشية من الإنسان !
Profile Image for Mackey.
1,073 reviews363 followers
November 4, 2020
The Anatomy of Fascism is, by far, one of the best books that I've read on the subject of Fascism. Robert O Paxton is considered one of the leading experts in the field. That knowledge and his marvelous writing aility will keep the readers' attention from beginning to end.

Rather than focusing on what is generally already known or even the lies that we have been told, Paxton concentrates on the actions of those leaders known to be true Fascists - either through party or deed. What is utterly amazing is how often the cycle repeats itself, regardless of how much we say "we will never forget," we DO forget or ignore the very obvious signs of Fascism on the rise. The current US situation is an excellent case in point. So few Americans know enough facts about Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and more, that they fail to see the similarities that Trump, Bolsonaro et al have in common with the Fascists of the 20th century, yet the proof is in the facts and the actions taken by these men.

I think The Anatomy of Fascism should be on every high school student's must read list and the TBR list of everyone today! KNOW what is happening in your world before it is too late!
Profile Image for AC.
1,721 reviews
May 21, 2023
The starting point for the topic.

[Still an excellent introduction. But, published in 2006, even Paxton could not see Trump and Trumpism coming.]
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
September 8, 2023
Very interesting and thorough study of fascism. Paxton's view is very pragmatic, not only looking at theory, but more to what fascism was in practice. Striking gap: the Flemish nationalist collaboration in World War 2.
Profile Image for Ade Bailey.
298 reviews175 followers
June 12, 2011
This is an extremely lucid exposition which examines and cuts through various inadequate 'definitions' of fascism. It looks at five stages of fascism proper - essentially, Italian and German - with each stage necessarily building on the preceding (though allowing for concurrence). Rather than what a manifesto or explicit project stated, Paxton looks at how fascism actually behaved during its rise to power, and at the vital contribution of (usually conservative) other parties, all in the context of specific national historical contours. He rejects the thesis that fascism developed 'naturally' either as the result of some peculiarity of certain nations or of a crisis of capitalism: he is adamant in insisting that choice was a crucial element.

It is always of interest to me, about as non-historian as you can get, to become engaged with the methodologies and approaches of the likes of Paxton. Often, as here, I come away feeling that besides developing an understanding of the subject matter, I have also gained something at least towards developing my own way of approaching subjects.

Paxton looks at many cases of fascism which 'failed'; that is, often they had the initial formation through ideology, even some political success but failed to take root, or insofar as they did, failed to win power. In his later section, he considers modern fascism, what I'd call the fascist impulse or pre-fascist or embryonic fascist. Certainly the vicious brutality of the Nazis is not confined to fascism, but in terms of whether a fascism 'proper' could arise again one would have to look at the political opportunities for taking root and taking power. A crisis in economic collapse would certainly offer the potential rejection for a perceived as weak liberalism, and an inadequate conservatism. Paxton considers the far right movements at street level in Europe mainly, how these are winked at by those far right political parties such as the British National Party, and how issues such as immigration are allowed onto the traditional political agenda with an increasingly populist appeal.

Across Europe now, the far right is increasing at street level and parliamentary level. A common attack upon Islam and immigration does not predict fascism, although as a factor in a more than likely collapse of global order the future is bleak. Fascism could still, in Europe, make an attempt at popular appeal: until their fall-out last year Silvio Berlusconi's deputy,Gianfranco Fini, leader of Freedom and Future, had openly flirted with fascist ideas.
Profile Image for Nancy.
945 reviews39 followers
October 5, 2017
Fascism is ritual while fanning the flames of rhetoric and manipulating the mass numbers of voters.
It is not a fight for policy....it is a fight for the soul.
Don't let the title of this book scare you off.
It was interesting, well structured and most importantly accessible
for every reader.
I learned so much that had been missing from my other
history books about the period 1919 (start of fascism) up until the present.
Paxton's book stops at 2005...but I know that parties as FN in France has
gained strength (34% in last election) and the far-right party AFD (Alternative for Germay) has entered the German parliament for the first time since the Second World War.
This must convince you to take the time to learn about what is happening around you!
That audio book (released 04-06-2017) is excellently narrated by A. Morey.
I could read the book over the course of a few train rides.
Profile Image for John Nelson.
350 reviews4 followers
November 20, 2017
It is common for left-wingers to toss around the word "fascist" without knowing what it means. Virtually every conservative and libertarian has been accused of being a "fascist" by someone who wouldn't know a real fascist if one bit them in the a--.

Robert O. Paxton endeavors to answer the question "what is a fascist?" by examing the actual traits of fascist regimes. In brief, Paxton states that fascism is a political movement motivated by a sense of national decline and humiliation. A mythic, or at least semi-mythic, version of the nation's history is adopted to buttress the movement, and the nation's enemies are clearly identified and sometimes marked for extermination. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, individualism and individual rights are repudiated; the nation's entire population must be yoked together to achieve national goals.

This understanding is useful, insofar as it goes. However, it is subject to serious limitations. Given that a fascist movement inevitably is shaped by the national experience of the country that gives rise to it, a generalized overview of fascism is inherently limited.

Moreover, Paxton overlooks the similarities between the fascist movements he describes and their historical contemporary, Marxism-Leninism. The methods employed by fascist and soviet dictators were similar, and both murdered millions of their own citizens. Not even the most ardent apologist for communism bothers to dispute that any longer. However, there also were marked similarities between the goals and beliefs underlying the two systems, especially after the Soviet Union adopted "socialism in one country" as its mantra in the 1930s and later pursued its aggressively militaristic policies of WWII and the cold war era. Paxton fails to consider the extent to which the Soviet Union and its satellites properly could be considered "fascist" under his understanding of the term. Such an examination no doubt would have been enlightening.

Like many academics, Paxton also offers little more than a cartoon caricature of conservatism. This failure stunts his consideration of the interplay and opposition between the two, and of the rise of fascism during the 1920s and 1930s. It also prevents him from realizing how utterly ridiculous it is to label our rights-oriented conservatism as "fascist," as often happens today.

Still, on the whole, The Anatomy of Fascism is worth reading and a worthwhile addition to one's bookshelf.
Profile Image for Cav.
702 reviews101 followers
March 10, 2020
This one was a mixed bag for me. While it wasn't that bad, I didn't find it to be exemplary, either.
One criticism is the book's somewhat jumbled formatting. Although the material of the book does follow in line with the titles of each chapter, I felt like the writing bounced around a lot. He switches from talking about Mussolini, to Hitler, and back again often... I feel like he should have formatted the book a little better.
Also, while I am certainly no expert on the fascist ideology, and/or the respective governments that instituted it, I didn't learn anything in this book that I had not already heard elsewhere. Which is probably my biggest criticism of "The Anatomy of Fascism".
3 stars.
Profile Image for Robert Maisey.
151 reviews58 followers
March 25, 2021
Excellent book which brings together a lot of the existing literature on fascism in a - relatively - easy to digest narrative.

Paxton focuses on the development of fascism as a process, rather than creating "bestiary" of far right organisations and their vulgarities. The book's main concern is the relation of fascist movements to their wider social and political conditions, in particular during those periods when fascists have become politically significant, not to mention all-powerful.

One of the most useful questions this book asks, and successfully answers, is how we can differentiate between genuine fascists and other forms of right wing dictatorship, as well as how to identity the dividing line between fascists and the social elites that have facilitated fascism.

This is, fundamentally, a book about Italian Fascism and German Nazism, and although it makes thoughtful and interesting reflections on Imperial Japan, Franquist Spain and Vichy France, it is to distinguish them from what Paxton considers the "authentic" fascism of Italy and Germany.

The final chapter explores how well his methodology for understanding fascism stands up in the post-WWII era. This section offers much interesting speculation and could, easily, be the subject of a book in its own right.

All in all, The Anatomy of Fascism gives the reader much to think about, and offers a set of useful analytical tools for doing so.
January 2, 2021

หนังสือน่าสนใจและชวนคิดตลอดเล่ม ถึงแม้ภาษาจะ "แห้ง" และเป็นทางการอยู่บ้าง ฉายภาพประวัติศาสตร์ของ "ระบอบฟาสซิสต์" ทั่วโลกและให้นิยามที่ชัดเจนแจ่มแจ้ง ผู้เขียนคือ Robert Paxton เป็นนักประวัติศาสตร์ที่ทำงานวิจัยและสอนหนังสือเรื่องระบอบนี้มาหลายสิบปี เขาอธิบายว่า "ฟาสซิสต์" ไม่เหมือนกับระบอบการเมืองอื่นๆ ตรงที่มันไม่ได้ตั้งอยู่บนฐานคิดที่เป็นระบบหรืออุดมการณ์ทางการเมืองอะไรในตัวเอง แต่เป็น "ปฏิกิริยา" ต่อกลุ่มที่ตัวเองต่อต้าน (คอมมิวนิสต์ ฯลฯ)

จุดที่ชอบที่สุดคือการที่ Paxton ตีกรอบนิยามฟาสซิสต์ว่าแตกต่างจากระบอบอำนาจนิยมอื่นๆ ตรงที่มันเน้นพฤติกรรมทางการเมืองที่มีองค์ประกอบสำคัญห้าอย่าง

1. ความแค้นเคืองที่มีรากในประวัติศาสตร์
2. ใช้ลัทธิบูชาผู้นำ (เน้นตัวบุคคล)
3. ปลุกระดมมวลชนให้กระหายความรุนแรง (militants) ด้วยลัทธิคลั่งชาติ
4. กดขี่ปิดกั้นเสรีภาพด้านต่างๆ (ที่เป็นปกติในระบอบประชาธิปไตย)
5. ใช้ความรุนแรงเป็นเครื่องมือทางการเมือง

อ่านจบแล้วเห็นภาพชัดขึ้นว่าเยอรมนีและอิตาลีช่วงก่อนสงครามโลกครั้งที่สองถูกครอบงำโดยผู้นำฟาสซิสต์ได้อย่างไร (ส่วนหนึ่งเพราะประชาธิปไตยในสองประเทศนี้อ่อนแอ) และคิดว่าระบอบเผด็จการในคราบประชาธิปไตยของไทย ณ ปี 2020 ก็ใกล้เคียงมากๆ แล้วกับคำว่า ฟาสซิสต์ :/
Profile Image for Mark.
1,007 reviews102 followers
November 14, 2018
Over the past few years, the word "fascist" has been deployed increasingly to describe modern-day political movements in the United States, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, to name a few places. The word brings with it some of the most odious associations from the 20th century, namely Nazi Germany and the most devastating war in human history. Yet to what degree is the label appropriate and to what extent is it more melodramatic epithet than an appropriate description?

It was in part to answer that question that I picked up a copy of Robert O. Paxton's book. As a longtime historian of 20th century France and author of a seminal work on the Vichy regime, he brings a perspective to the question that is not predominantly Italian or German. This shows in the narrative, as his work uses fascist movements in nearly every European country to draw out commonalities that explain the fascist phenomenon. As he demonstrates, fascism can be traced as far back as the 1880s, with elements of it proposed by authors and politicians across Europe in order to mobilize the growing population of voters (thanks to new measures of enfranchisement) to causes other than communism. Until then, it was assumed by nearly everyone that such voters would be automatic supporters for socialist movements. Fascism proposed a different appeal, one based around nationalist elements which socialism ostensibly rejected.

Despite this, fascism remained undeveloped until it emerged in Italy in the aftermath of the First World War. This gave Benito Mussolini and his comrades a flexibility in crafting an appeal that won over the established elites in Italian politics and society. From this emerged a pattern that Paxton identifies in the emergence of fascism in both Italy and later in Germany, which was their acceptance by existing leaders as a precondition for power. Contrary to the myth of Mussolini's "March on Rome," nowhere did fascism take over by seizing power; instead they were offered it by conservative politicians as a solution to political turmoil and the threatened emergence of a radical left-wing alternative. It was the absence of an alternative on the right which led to the acceptance of fascism; where such alternatives (of a more traditional right-authoritarian variety) existed, fascism remained on the fringes. The nature of their ascent into power also defined the regimes that emerged, which were characterized by tension between fascists and more traditional conservatives, and often proved to be far less revolutionary in practice than their rhetoric promised.

Paxton's analysis is buttressed by a sure command of his subject. He ranges widely over the era, comparing and contrasting national groups in a way that allows him to come up an overarching analysis of it as a movement. All of this leads him to this final definition:

"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." (p. 218)

While elements of this are certainly present today, they are hardly unique to fascism and exist in various forms across the political spectrum. Just as important, as Paxton demonstrates, is the context: one in which existing institutions are so distrusted or discredited that the broader population is willing to sit by and watch as they are compromised, bypassed, or dismantled in the name of achieving fascism's goals. Paxton's arguments here, made a decade before Donald Trump first embarked on his candidacy, are as true now as they were then. Reading them helped me to appreciate better the challenge of fascism, both in interwar Europe and in our world today. Everyone seeking to understand it would do well to start with this perceptive and well-argued book.
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 7 books125 followers
June 2, 2017
Right-wingers like to define fascism so narrowly that they don't fit the label, then mock leftists for using the word in a hysterical fashion. This transparently self-serving tendency reaches such heights of absurdity that even ur-fascists like Franco and Mussolini are said to be merely "right-wing authoritarians with fascist tendencies" and only Hitler makes the final cut. Of course there are those on the far left who use the term indiscriminately to mean tyrannical, which is un-helpful and stupid. To remedy this lamentable state of affairs, everyone should read this book. Paxton offers a pretty good analysis of what fascism actually looks like in practice (even if he does tend to define it too narrowly), all the way from its origins in the 1920s up through the close of the 20th century. I call his analysis "pretty good" rather than "great" because, despite his impressive breadth of knowledge, he favors the sort of dry, flavorless academic prose that kills meaning on contact. (Note to academia: style and flair are not signs of intellectual feebleness, but the very opposite!)

Anyone reading this book in 2017 will of course be thinking about America's current regime. While Paxton is very cautious about assigning the label, he also reminds readers that every nation's fascism is dependent on its history and culture and thus unique. Whether Trump and Trumpism qualify as fascist is a matter of opinion (mine being "yes, absolutely"), but anyone who reads The Anatomy of Fascism will have to admit there are several deeply disturbing historical parallels.
Profile Image for James.
Author 11 books91 followers
June 29, 2010
Excellent - a bit slow at first as the author described the early history of Italian fascism and German Nazism in detail, but very good once he got to analysis.

Paxton's basic point, which he makes convincingly, is that fascism is better defined by what fascist movements do than by what they say. They may make any number of ideological pronouncements, but they tend to ignore or change them as is convenient (for example, Mussolini at first advocated equal rights for women and Hitler was silent on gender issues, but both later tried to enforce values confining women to stereotypical pre-industrial societal roles) and there are no clear philosophical stances common to all fascist movements (e.g. some collaborated with religious powers, others attacked them) or to all the stages of any one in particular. He offers a five-stage process mapping the life of a fascist movement and gives a number of distinguishing traits such as a sense of racial or cultural victimization; the subordination of all aspects of individuality and privacy to the mass movement; a cultivation of a sense of impending disaster; the demonization of vulnerable internal minorities and external enemies; the setting aside of the rule of law; a messianic leader as ultimate authority; the glorification of passion over reason; and a predilection for violence and militarism. He also draws useful distinctions dividing fascism from authoritarianism in general (of which fascism is a subset) and other "isms".

Excellent as an antidote to the modern trend on the left to label any right-wing movement as fascist (matched by an equal trend on the right to label the left as socialist or communist.) If I was teaching a course on political science, this book would be assigned reading.
Profile Image for Quique Castillo Aguilera.
290 reviews37 followers
May 14, 2020
Muy completo, bien informado y detallado estudio sobre el fascismo, que si peca de algo es de exceso de información (aunque bastante digerible para el lego que se aproxime sin muchas nociones al respecto). Lleva a cabo un exhaustivo análisis de la evolución del fascismo de Italia y Alemania desde sus orígenes programáticos e intelectuales hasta su caída en desgracia pasando, claro, por su toma y uso del poder. El estudio aborda otras formas adoptadas por el fascismo, o intentos frustrados a lo largo de la historia, así como se aproxima a su evolución en la segunda mitad del siglo XX. Después de este, en algún momento, abordaré también "Facha" de Jason Stanley (publicado en España por Blackie Books), a ver qué tal resulta después de este.
2 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2022
A book that feels definitive in mapping out what fascism is and what fascism does. It sheds light on the growth of neo-fascist movements within American GOP ultranationalism and the nihilistic, imperialist fever dream of Putin’s Russia. Highly recommended to understand the darker trends of modern international politics.
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