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Robert O Paxton

Extended Book Review

As a distinct form of dictatorship in implementation, Fascism has much in common with other totalitarian forms. Unlike most other total dictatorships, Fascism begins as a movement. It originated in France prior to WWI and found its first national expression in Italy soon after the war ended. In both Italy and Germany, fascists came to power by legitimate means, a key distinction. They only showed their true colors after taking power. Paxton does an admirable job in defining classical Fascism as practiced in Italy and Germany. He did that by describing the conditions that brought the movements into being followed by gaining and wielding power. That process is best understood as proceeded through five steps, quoting Paxton:

  • “The creation of movements.
  • Their rooting in the political system.
  • Their seizure of power.
  • Their exercise of power.
  • The long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.”

Fascism is never static, it moves and changes form and substance as it moves from one stage to another as well as from one venue to another. There is no rule that fits each stage, except perhaps opportunism. Most scholars label each regime by its given name, Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany. It is to Paxton’s credit that after long study, he developed a core of behaviors-in-common that describe accurately not only how fascism worked in Italy and Germany but why it failed in many other nations, principally in Europe.

The creation of mass politics is a precondition, and it comes about in rough proportion to the degree of dissatisfaction of the masses. There were plenty of each in both Italy and Germany. Paxton lists the many factors paraphrased, or rephrased on occasion, in terms used on this web site in the bullets below. Modern conditions that currently exist to a more or less degree are appended in [italics].

  • A sense of great crisis that is not dealt with.
    [Long recessionary periods with attending joblessness is nearly endemic in many advanced countries. Many regional local governments are nearly bankrupt in America.]
  • Prevalence of rigidly Authoritarian-inclined individual personalities willing, if not eager, band together in a hierarchy of power and subordination.
    [This one is in our genes! See: Adorno, Milgram, and and Zimbardo for more here.]
  • The feeling that one’s group has been victimized and that that justifies any action without limit whatsoever against both external and internal enemies.
    [While not universally true, many Americans and Europeans proclaim immigration is victimizing citizens. In America, immigration is now at a trickle level, but the hue and cry has not diminished. Why?]
  • The dread that one’s group is declining under the effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences.
    [The far right preaches these, and so do a few others. Class conflict is increasing, so far relatively peacefully as expressed by citizen rallies, political recalls, sit-ins and the OWS movement.]
  • The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary.
    [To some extent, this one feasts on our inborn instinct for herding, and is exploited by the extremists among us. The religious right is weighing here as well.]
  • The need for male, national leaders with a national chief in charge who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny.
    [Sexism is one expression of our inborn traits for dominance and obedience.]
  • The superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason.
    [Our desire for a god-like figure to take care of us in the future fosters this one as well as monotheism. Believing is easier than knowing: The latter takes dedication and an open mind that too few of us have sufficiently.]
  • The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success.
    [Infantile sociopathy is contributing here. Only a small fraction of all of us are like this, but when those who are achieve power, their attitude is leveraged far beyond its genetic importance. Violence is then condoned, even encouraged.]
  • The right of the chosen people to dominate others without any restraints by secular or moral law where “right” is determined solely by the groups prowess in the Darwinian struggle. [This is quasi-religion. And most of Hitler’s Germans let go of all restraints. See in particular Zimbardo, where the system that created Abu Ghraib was foretold by a controlled experiment that provided an accurate template for the awful developments at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The membrane between our violent and nurturing selves is paper thin when one has permission to behave badly.]

Parsing Paxton’s “emotional lava of fascism’s foundations” as we have, is both gratifying in its congruence with our studies and frightening in that our animal selves are basically fascist in their political expressions. That one party seems to see this better than the other gives cause for concern. Fascism is not a political philosophy; it is merely, but terrifyingly, a genetic expression. And it infects democracies and dictatorships alike. See: Altemeyer for further details.

Paxton comes to much the same conclusion on the same page, 41. He states:

    “Even scholars who specialize in the quest for fascism’s intellectual and cultural origins, such a George Moose, declare that establishment of mood is more important than ‘the search for some individual precursors.’ In that sense too, fascism is more plausibly likened to a set of ‘mobilizing passions’ that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulate philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism.”

Fascism is all about appealing to the baser human emotions. Sound familiar? Rush Limbaugh can fill you in. So can Hermann Georing.
Elsewhere we discuss the future possibility of Fascism in America. Paxton’s classic work provided the basis for how it may come about anywhere—given the preconditions. He also finds historic evidence that Fascism is widely spread. We agree, but from another angle, our genes agree. We don’t like it any more than our readers do, but the evidence we have generated is consistent with what Paxton has to say. Our evidence, simplified in “The Five Pillars” being genetic, also fits the despotisms of Francisco Franco, Spain Joseph Stalin, Soviet Union Mao Tse- Tung, China Pol Pot, Cambodia Idi Amin, Uganda, and Bagasora, Rwanda along with the many other examples.

We strongly recommend that a copy of Paxton’s book, the Anatomy of Fascism, reside on every American’s book shelf. By describing Fascism, truly does forewarn humanity of the dangers. The next fascist will surely have not only nukes, but remotely piloted weaponized drones. He might already have begun his quest for power. What then? Of course other types of dictators could do the same thing.

There is Hope none the less. Four avenues are evident—all can be travelled at once. Together, they can markedly reduce our violent tendencies and safety.

  • Alert child development that develops the synaptic brain patterns that are both peaceful with strong balance between internal and external loci of control followed by broad-front education that develops thinking ability, insight, and trusting in what we know instead of focusing on our fear of the unknowable while fostering emotional responses to problems that give rise to conflict without resolution—fascism and the like in other words.
  • Working the international scene to eliminate nuclear weaponry altogether, reserving just a few to divert the very occasional errant bolide on collision course with earth.
  • Population growth must stop with a world population small enough to survive droughts and famines to come, not to mention bolide impact.
  • Renewable energy capacity will ultimately be limiting. The sooner we get on with developing it to its ultimate expression, the sooner we can reach a stable equilibrium that planet earth is capable of. The same is true of raw materials, where recycling replaces drilling, pumping, and mining. The sooner these problems are assessed, the less the ultimate cost and the more likely effective solutions will be in hand as needed.

Truth is stronger than fiction. Truth has a shot at setting us free of our violent impulses. Fiction? Fiction hasn’t worked in three millennia; why could it work now. Of all the nations on earth, America is most capable of leading this parade. Why aren’t we? Capturing solar energy is much more common in the coastal provinces of China today than it is in America.

For further commentary and research see:

Authoritarian Specter, The
Authoritarianism: Features of
Browser’s Hub
Cooperation: Is it possible?
Education – Mythos vs Logos
Even a Child Can Do It
External Locus of Control
Family Planning
Five Pillars
Hitler's Inside View
Hope Provided by Nature
Internal Locus of Control
Links for Finding Pathways to Peace
Little Boy Saved
Lucifer Effect: Bringing it under Control
Monotheism and Violence.
Nationalism and it Alternatives
Nature / Nurture and Violence With Antidote
Propaganda Age
Research into causes of violence
Road Map to Find Peace
Solution? In A Capsule
Terror in the Name of God Violence and Means to Prevent
What Else Can We Do?
Zionism: The Crisis of


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