Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, a Yale philosophy professor identifies 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."
The book provides a fascinating breakdown of the fascist ideology, nimbly interweaving examples from Germany, Italy and Hungary, from Rwanda and Myanmar to Serbia and, yes, the U.S. As he proceeds through his framework of the broadest features of his subject, Stanley includes smaller observations that may for some readers land bracingly close to home ... Stanley’s acute awareness of the power of the term, and the subtlety of his argument here, must contribute to the fact that he does not explicitly brand Trump a 'fascist.' Nor does he harp on 'Make America great again.' It is a misfortune of yet-unknown dimensions that he does not have to.
Stanley’s a lumper. And that leaves him vulnerable to 'splitters,' who would object to cramming together Trump, Victor Orban, Hitler, the Confederacy, the Rwandan genocidaires and the current government of Myanmar, among others, into a one-sentence definition of fascism: 'ultranationalism of some variety (ethnic, religious, cultural) with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.' Stanley’s approach has its costs. He emphasizes the similarities between myriad 'fascist' parties and regimes without adequately acknowledging their differences. Nor does he adequately distinguish between conservative or right-wing politics and fascism ... But if Stanley’s lumping is sometimes a weakness, it also accounts for his book’s conceptual power. By placing Trump in transnational and transhistorical perspective, Stanley sees patterns that others miss ... By calling Trump a 'fascist'—a word that strikes many Americans as alien and extreme—Stanley is trying to spark public alarm. He doesn’t want Americans to respond to Trump’s racist, authoritarian offensives by moving their moral goal posts. The greater danger, he suggests, isn’t hyperbole, it’s normalization. And 20 months into Trump’s presidency, the evidence is mounting that he’s right.
Stressing the violent side of fascism is important also when addressing an audience that hasn’t the slightest sympathy for the political actors that Stanley describes as fascist. Some of these readers may find a book like Stanley’s useful, in that it shows that some current politicians are not acting at random but pursuing strategies that may help dismantle democracy. Yet presenting fascism as a mere rhetoric might also create the impression that understanding and recognizing the mechanisms of such a rhetoric is sufficient to protect democracy. If all there is to fascism is a scam-building narrative, figuring out the scam should suffice for one not to fall for it. Treating fascism as a rhetoric risks not only making fascism appear acceptable to some, but also making complacency too easy for others ... It might be more effective not to lump much of current politics under 'fascism' after all.