In How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Jason Stanley explains fascist ideologies, how it spreads, and why democratic societies are vulnerable to it.
I’ve delayed this review for quite a while, because I didn’t know how to go about writing it. I’m still not sure how to go about it, but I’ll share some thoughts I had while reading.
The book consists of ten chapters: The Mythic Past, Propaganda, Anti-Intellectual, Unreality, Hierarchy, Victimhood, Law and Order, Sexual Anxiety, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Arbeit Macht Frei (German, meaning “work shall make you free”). With each chapter, one feeling was consistent—familiarity. Each fascist ideology discussed was all-too-familiar, because I’ve seen or heard it so many times before…
- The mythic past: “Make America Great Again.”
- Propaganda: “Drain the swamp!””America First!”
- Anti-Intellectual: “Intellectual elitism.”
- Unreality: False conspiracy theories, such as “Obama is Kenyan Muslim!”
- Hierarchy: White supremacy.
- Victimhood: “Christians are the most persecuted religion in America!”
- Law and Order: Taking away the children of asylum seekers and putting them in cages.
- Sexual anxiety: “Mexicans are rapists.”
- Sodom and Gomorrah: “Gay marriage is wrong!”
- Arbeit Macht Frei/work shall make you free: “Poor people are lazy and I don’t want MY tax dollars being used to support them!”
(These are simplistic examples, of course, but these are the types of things that came to mind as I read through the chapters.)
Overall, I consider this book to be a well-written, timely warning against the embrace and normalization of fascist ideologies. My review cannot begin to touch on all the things covered in this book, so I urge you to read it for yourself if you’re interested in being informed about such things.
About the Book
Fascist politics are running rampant in America today—and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history.
As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don’t have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism’s roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics—the language and beliefs that separate people into an “us” and a “them.” He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations.
He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation’s past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership.
By uncovering disturbing patterns that are as prevalent today as ever, Stanley reveals that the stuff of politics—charged by rhetoric and myth—can quickly become policy and reality. Only by recognizing fascists politics, he argues, may we resist its most harmful effects and return to democratic ideals.
“With unsettling insight and disturbing clarity, How Fascism Works is an essential guidebook to our current national dilemma of democracy vs. authoritarianism.”—William Jelani Cobb, author of The Substance of Hope
About the Author
JASON STANLEY is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Before coming to Yale in 2013, he was Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He has also been a Professor at the University of Michigan (2000-4) and Cornell University (1995-2000). His PhD was earned in 1995 at the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT (Robert Stalnaker, chair), and he received his BA from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1990.