Review: “How Fascism Works” By Jason Stanley

May 2, 2021

I really appreciate when an author can boil complex ideas down to easily understandable concepts.
“How Fascism Works – The Politics of Us and Them” by Professor Jason Stanley is just such a book.
Stanley, a Yale professor has produced an examination of fascism that is reflected in the current state of American affairs. Fascism didn’t begin with Donald Trump, obviously. We have Mussolini and Hitler as historical examples, but one does not have to look far to find that – perhaps due to economic inequality- fascism is going global. Authoritarian governments are everywhere, and Professor Stanley points out clear examples in current politics and how they stack up to historical examples.

In this simple little volume, Professor Stanley packs a punch. My edition is a hardcover, compact and nearly pocketbook size, running some 200 pages. It’s an easy read, as Stanley introduces various complicated manipulative techniques fascists use to pit a society against itself – with examples ripped from the news headlines of today.

Fascism in America goes far back, perhaps to our genocidal founding. As far as the modern era, the KKK is recognized as the first organized American fascist movement. This theme is carried on through the “America First” policies in the early 1900’s to today’s MAGA nonsense. “Make America Great Again” steers disaffected, formerly privileged, mostly white people back to a mythical past.

Professor Stanley provides us with ten chapters which demonstrate “How Fascism Works”. They are:

1. The Mythic Past
2. Propaganda
3. Anti-intellectual
4. Unreality
5. Hierarchy
6. Victimhood
7. Law and Order
8. Sexual Anxiety
9. Sodom and Gomorrah
10. Arbeit Macht Frei

Perhaps the best way to channel the brilliance of this short book is to refer to a few quotes from various chapters. I have bookmarked, underlined and margin-noted nearly every page, way too much to cover here, but these are some sample quotes:

“The fascist mythic past exists to aid in changing the present”.

“Fascist movements have been “draining swamps” for generations. -.. anticorruption campaigns are frequently at the heart of fascist movements”.

“Making corruption under the guise of anticorruption is a hallmark strategy in fascist propaganda”.

“In fascist ideology, there is only one legitimate viewpoint, that of the dominant nation. Schools introduce students to the dominant culture and it’s mythic past”.

“By giving voice to shocking sentiments that were presumed to be unsuitable for public discourse, Trump was taken to be speaking his mind. This is how, by exhibiting classic demagogic behavior, a politician can come to be seen as the more authentic candidate, even when he is manifestly dishonest”.

Professor Stanley gives us many historical, as well as real-time examples that demonstrate how traditional fascist techniques are in operation today.
You can pretty much open any chapter for the powerful information to reach out and grab you. I don’t know if it’s more of a light bulb going off in our heads, or a brisk wake-up slap.

Either way, Jason Stanley’s “How Fascism Works” will focus our attention on the trademark elements of fascism, truly a global phenomenon, and how we can spot them and debunk them.
It’s a great, informative and understandable read.

-John Titus

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