Fascism was the major political invention of the twentieth century and the source of much of its pain. How can we try to comprehend its allure and its horror? Is it a philosophy, a movement, an aesthetic experience? What makes states and nations become fascist?
Acclaimed historian Robert O. Paxton shows that in order to understand fascism we must look at it in action - at what it did, as much as what it said it was about. He explores its falsehoods and common threads; the social and political base that allowed it to prosper; its leaders and internal struggles; how it manifested itself differently in each country - France, Britain, the low countries, Eastern Europe, even Latin America as well as Italy and Germany; how fascists viewed the Holocaust; and, finally, whether fascism is still possible in today's world.
Offering a bold new interpretation of the fascist phenomenon, this groundbreaking book will overturn our understanding of twentieth-century history.
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.