Book Review: How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Source: Borrowed

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.

If I’m being completely honest, I have absolutely no idea how to review this book. I added it to my library wish list — where I track books I want to read, just not immediately — shortly after it came out. I happened to be scrolling through Overdrive one day when I saw it was available as an audiobook, so I figured I might as well listen.

And the book is fine. Really, it is.

But is it good?

I’m not sure.

As I was listening, I was reminded of both Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, both of which I read last year. I even thought of Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, which touches on the same topics (sort of), but in a much more engaging way. What I’m getting at, I guess, is that this book wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

As a primer for fascist politics, it’s fine, if a little… dramatic. I understand what Stanley is getting at, but it seems that any political ideology that he doesn’t agree with could be considered “fascist,” and although I am in agreement with his politics, it still didn’t sit right with me. I don’t think that conservative politics are inherently fascist. They’re just conservative.

In the end, if you want a pretty basic introduction to fascism, check out this book. If you’re looking for something deeper, you can probably give it a pass.

Have you read How Fascism Works? Do you like political nonfiction?
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