by Robert O Paxton

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An excellent book that uses comparison between fascist groups and regimes to attempt to understand how to define fascism itself. Naturally there is a focus on Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, but Paxton does look further afield at other (typically quite unsuccessful) fascist movements, and also regimes that might be called fascist but over which there are questions.

It’s really a very considered and useful study. Paxton shies away from offering a definition until right at the end, spending most of the book tracing different stages of fascist development — for which there is really only one example of the final stage. In light of this, and the quite clear comparisons he draws and explanations he offers, I think his final defintion makes a lot of sense. If you’re in a hurry you could read only the final chapter, as Paxton recapitulates the main conclusions of his findings and comparisons, though you’d really be missing out.

In Paxton’s definition,

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

He is exceedingly cautious about offering this defintion, stating immediately beforehand “that it encompasses its subject no better than a snapshot encompasses a person.” If you read the book this will be very clear from the preceding chapters.

At the end is a bibliographical essay with lots of relevant other works listed and some commentary. Highly recommended.

I started reading this on a recommendation by a friend, after a work colleague recommended Madeleine Albright’s recent Fascism: A Warning. Albright has done and said some terrible things, so there was no chance I was going to spend my time reading her book. One flattering review reveals it to be a pretty typical liberal mess — Hugo Chávez makes an appearance in another example of the “horseshoe” nonsense — with Donald Trump being uniquely bad rather than just a fairly standard US president.