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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars


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on 7 September 2017
An essential introduction to the history and mechanics of Fascism. Hard to find a better book that's actually about Fascism as opposed to a specific movement.
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on 18 July 2017
An excellent book anyone who thinks they understand Fascism needs to read. It is the continuing scourge of our times and we need to understand why.
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on 24 June 2013
This book certainly provides a brilliant, scholarly and highly perceptive analysis of fascism. The book clearly mentions the origins of fascism from its nineteenth century roots to the 'real' fascism in Italy and Germany from 1919-45. Generally speaking, most writers define their subject matter at the beginning: Robert O. Paxton leaves this to the end of the book - although he defines the word fascism as being taken from Italian: 'fascio', literally a bundle of sheaf, as I remember from my student days and I also can recall that this was taken from Latin meaning Fasces, an axe encased in a bundle of rods.

More importantly, Paxton's viewpoint differs markedly from many other writers on the subject in that he suggest that fascism should not be studied in isolation from other factors. He stresses that fascism should not be just viewed as a tool of a particular interest group and at the same time this tends to be a popular movement. Paxton concentrates on examining the development of fascism through five stages: "creating fascist movements; taking root; getting power; exercising power and the long-term (radicalisation or entropy)". In a sense, he (Paxton) argues that fascist movements tend to develop autonomously and they do get support from some of the existing liberal and conservatives elite at times of social, economic and political upheaval or crisis and when many of the democratic institutions within the state are unable to resolve the crisis. However, Paxton makes very brief references to the Marxist school of thought and which clearly offers the most sharpest analysis of fascism through the writings of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) - who had lived through it from its height in Italy and Germany from 1919 to 1940s.

Overall, Paxton'ss analysis of fascism takes account of some of the more recent developments in Britain like the rise of the British National Party (BNP) 'wannabe' fascist groups as arising from other forces through which Emile Durkheim termed "Organic Solidarity" (dominant in more advanced societies) and "Mechanical Solidarity" (dominant in more traditional societies) as the original Italian fascist movements did. Interestingly, the recent rise in the neo-fascist movements like the English Defence League (EDL) (not mentioned in the book) have branded Islamic Fundamental movements like Al-Qaeda and Taliban as fascist. Paxton's answer to this, as according to the book: "... they are not reactions against a malfunctioning democracy. Arising in traditional hierarchical societies, their unity is, in terms of Emile Durkheim's famous distinction, more mechanical than organic. Above all, they have not "given up free institutions, since they never had any." On the question of what is Fascism? The answer in the book, clearly states that "Fascist actions are best from those actions for some of them remain unstated and implicit in fascist public language" which Paxton terms as "Mobilising Passions".

Finally, Paxton concludes: "...that when fascist are close to power when conservatives begin to borrow their techniques, appeal to their "mobilising passions" and try to co-opt the fascist following..." It is due to "having the historical knowledge" that we may be able to separate the 'wannabe' fascists "...with their shaved heads and swastika tattoos, from authentic functional equivalents in the form of a mature fascist-conservative alliance..." A must buy and read book!
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on 15 July 2011
Paxton's "Anatomy of Fascism" is, in fact, more than an overview or introduction. It is focused on real Fascism in Italy and Germany from c. 1919-45 (but with adequate consideration of later developments and possible 'Fascisms' elsewhere). It is a scholarly and highly perceptive analysis of Fascism - by far the best that I've encountered so far anywhere. In a word, it is brilliant.
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on 28 March 2008
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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on 24 July 2017
This is a good book about the beginning of fascism but it fails in many aspects. The first is that is quite repetitive and there is not a good structure. The second is that the definition of fascism is quite basic and uninspiring and finally that it is a complete lack of deep analysis in relation to social and economics. It fails, for example, to identify the fundamental characteristic of fascism that is the control of the state over the economy and society and that is just a reactionary expression of socialism but that at the end is just one of the many expression of socialism.
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on 17 January 2011
Absolutely fantastic book on fascism. In depth, detailed and covers all kinds of fascism in Europe. If your studying fascism this will definately be useful.
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on 14 September 2016
The terms fascist or fascism are often hurled around by people, but what exactly is fascism?. In this excellent book Paxton, by using examples from history shows the reader what fasism is and what its background is. Its well written and very informative. The left wing often use the above mentioned terms about their opponents, but given the examples used in this book i would say that the terms can also be applied equally to communist societies. If you are interested in history or politics this book is worth reading.
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on 18 May 2011
Paxton's work on fascism serves as an excellent and well-written introduction to the subject, and therefore is a great starting point for anyone studying the subject or merely exploring an interest.
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on 2 September 2015
Robert Paxton is an emeritus (retired) social sciences professor of Columbia University. He contends that some books on fascism have given disproportionate weight to the words of fascists. His thoughtful, but not always entirely clear, analysis of the subject focuses more closely on the actions of fascists, and also pays close attention to their allies and accomplices. Indeed, he contends that fascism in action looks less like a fixed essence than a network of relationships (p. 207).

Writers and commentators often differ in how they use the words ‘fascist’ and ‘fascism’. For some, any sort of authoritarian, right-wing regime (such as the one headed by the Spanish dictator Franco after his country’s civil war) could be described as ‘fascist’. For others, the term has somewhat different meanings. However, probably all historians, social scientists and informed commentators would agree that the regimes of Mussolini, in Italy, and Hitler, in Germany, could be described as fascist. But words have the meanings we give them, and when we’re referring to abstract concepts rather than physical things, there will always be scope for ambiguity and disagreement.

For Paxton (p. 218), fascism is characterized by:

- An obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood.
- Compensatory cults of ‘unity’, ‘energy’ and ‘purity’.
- A mass-based party of militant nationalists working in collaboration with traditional elites.
- An abandonment of democratic freedom.
- Violent action (directed at both ‘internal cleansing’ and external expansion).

The third of these components means that when fascists attain power, any leftist, anti-capitalist sentiments that they previously articulated will probably see little or no expression. For example, although the word ‘Socialist’ appeared in the full name of the German Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers' Party), Hitler’s regime didn’t attempt to nationalize the country’s private industry, and left-wing elements in the party were suppressed.

Paxton’s text contains a sprinkling of unusual expressions that aren’t always clearly explained. And in places, he uses foreign expressions, without providing translations, thereby giving his text a whiff of literary pretentiousness. For instance, on p. 205, he refers to “European fin de siècle culture”, for which he could have simply referred to “European end-of-century culture”. The last two paragraphs on p. 85 seem to contradict each other, and in at least one or two other places, I found the meaning of his text unclear. The book contains a mass of endnotes, some of which seem unnecessary. For example, on p. 209, there’s a superscript number (20) referring to an endnote that might have been better included (in brackets) in the main text, since it simply says: “See the discussion in chapter 3, pp. 68-73”.
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