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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brushing Away the Cobwebs of Confusion, 28 Mar. 2008
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This review is from: The Anatomy of Fascism (Paperback)
Fascism is the most misunderstood and abused political term around. It's almost as if no two people have the same understanding.

This confusion, some of it willfully induced in my opinion, has, in turn, led to further multiple confusions to the extent that, today, we have commentators who seriously suggest that people like Fini, Griffin, Le Pen and Haidar do not stand in a fascist political tradition but that Islamists, to pick one of the more obvious examples, do stand in the fascist tradition.

How did we get into this pickle and, more importantly, how do we get out of it?

Robert Paxton's 'Anatomy of Fascism' goes a long way to helping guide us out of the fog.

Firstly, Paxton deals with recent writers on fascism such as Sternhell, Payne, de Felice and Roger Griffin to understand why they are not quite adequate in their analysis. Paxton also directs his fire on the more commonly understood 'totalitarian' analysis of the Cold War era which sought to equate fascism and communism.

Paxton rejects the way some historians have offered separate definitions of fascism and Nazism, arguing that this leads to the study of fascism in isolation from other factors. Analyses which reduce fascism to a tool of a particular interest group, meanwhile, ignore the fact that the movement won independent popular backing. Instead Paxton proposes to examine the development of fascism through five stages: the creation of a movement; its rooting in the political system; the seizure of power; the exercise of power; its fate in the long term (radicalisation or entropy).

Paxton is quite clear that fascist movements are autonomous movements that come to power with the aid of the existing liberal/conservative elite at time of social, economic and political crisis and where the democratic institutions of the state seem unable to resolve such a crisis.

I do have one quibble with Paxton. He fails to adequately address the analyses of fascism related to social class. He does not mention, and perhaps is unaware of, the analyses of the rise of fascism offered in the writings of Leon Trotsky which remain the sharpest analysis from the era of the height of fascism.

But that's a small quibble compared to the plusses that Paxton offers. Paxton is astute enough to realise that the rise of fascism today may not necessarily come from the wannabes of the likes of the BNP but might also arise from other forces in much the same 'organic' fashion that the original Italian fascism did. One can't help thinking here of the former left/liberal members of the commentariat who are rushing politically Rightwards.

He also gives short shrift to the politically illiterate, yet fashionable, notion of Islamo-fascism.

As Paxton finishes: `Armed by historical knowledge, we may be able to distinguish today's ugly but isolated imitations, with their shaved heads and swastika tattoos, from authentic functional equivalents in the form of a mature fascist-conservative alliance. Forewarned, we may be able to detect the real thing when it comes along'.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Jan 2011 21:15:50 GMT
D'Israeli says:
Thanks for this review, it's definitely put me off reading this book. If Paxton thinks the likes of Griffin and Le Pen are Fascists, and that the organisations they represent are fascistic then I'm not interested - intellectually lazy in the extreme. Misuse of 'Fascism' most definitely, shame Paxton, according to you, seems unable to contextualise.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2011 11:00:09 GMT
Germinal says:
Actually, Paxton does not label Griffin and Le Pen as classic fascists. Nor did I say in my review that he did so. If anything Paxton is too circumspect in labelling movements as fascist - a label that most definitely can be applied to the BNP and FN.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jan 2012 22:45:33 GMT
K. N. Crosby says:
Paxton is right about fascist movements-parties being autonomous but is disingenuous about the use to which they are put by the traditional boss class. Perhaps this is because he's a liberal and thinks that there is a qualitative difference between liberalism and fascism? Fascism and Stalinism are bourgeois liberalism's bastard children.
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