What is fascism? By focusing on the concrete: what the fascists did, rather than what they said, the esteemed historian Robert O. Paxton answers this question.
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.
"A deeply intelligent and very readable book. . . . Historical analysis at its best." –The Economist
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.”
Paxton, the author of seminal works on Vichy France, now sums up a lifelong reflection on fascism's myriad forms. Paxton writes in his introduction that fascism was "the most self-consciously visual of all political forms," yet many of those indelible images (Mussolini haranguing a crowd from a balcony; the perfect choreography of totalitarianism in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will) can "induce facile errors" about the omnipotent leader or the supposed unanimity of the crowd. Rather than begin with a definition of fascism, Paxton prefers to give concrete examples of it in action in various countries, from Italy and Germany to France, Holland and Eastern Europe; in particular, he examines its "mobilizing passions," such as a sense of overwhelming crisis and dread of a native group's decline. This study has several virtues (and few defects): the writing is free of some of the theoretical jargon that threatens our understanding of a defining political movement of the 20th century. This is a study of both the intellectual origins of fascism and how it played out in the streets of Berlin, Rome, Paris and other locales. In addition, Paxton examines such important topics as images of fascism and what we might call "the future of fascism" (in a quick aside on a current controversy, Paxton notes that Islamic fundamentalism is not fascist). Although Paxton doesn't address present or future forms of fascism, his list of its "mobilizing passions" will sound to some readers frighteningly similar to aspects of contemporary America. This is sure to take its place among classics in the field by Stanley Payne and Roger Griffith.