"the war . . . made possible for us the solution of a whole series of problems that could never have been solved in normal times."- Adolf Hitler
"War is to men as maternity is to women."Benito Mussolini
Fascist is a very common word used nowadays to denote anyone whom we don't like. A government head is accused of being a fascist by the opposition, an employer by the disgruntled employee, and a father by the child who feels his individuality is not acknowledged. In the present context, to be termed a fascist, one needs only to do something unpleasant enough for another to perceive that his personal freedom is compromised. It is very common to find any dictatorship rule labelled as fascist. This over-simplification of the moniker only results in the dilution of all the horrors contributed by the movement to the world. It also severely hampers our capacity to identify any recurrence of the phenomenon.
The Anatomy of Fascism is a book by the acclaimed political scientist and historian Robert O. Paxton that tries to redefine the term fascism. Paxton tries to use a holistic interpretation of the subject for this purpose, analysing different fascist movements, both successful and failed ones, and finding out what exactly they did during their lifespan that made them different from other contemporary movements and regimes. Instead of defining fascism at the outset and then elaborating on it, he looks at fascist movements from all angles, in different stages of their development, and finally comes up with a definition in the last chapter. He also steers clear of aligning with any other ideology while defining fascism.
Personally, the book shattered many of my illusions about Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. I always imagined them to be led from the top down, with the leader micromanaging everything according to his personal whims. I was shocked to know that Hitler had a laid-back and langourous side to him, which wasn't evident from his demeanour in the snippets of speeches available now. Nazi Germany always gave off the air of the ruthless efficiency of a well-oiled system, but the book disposed of that notion of mine. Another of my beliefs about fascist ideology being a properly formulated doctrine went for a toss after reading about the several adjustments and reversals of policy that its leaders made along the path of its evolution. So reading The Anatomy of Fascism was a revelatory experience.
The book studies fascism by breaking down the lifespan of a movement into five parts: germination, taking root, seizure of power, exercise of power, and radicalization. Though several organisations arose in many countries in and out of Europe, a lot of them failed in their initial phases. Only two were successful in reaching the fourth stage of exercising power, and Nazi Germany was the only one that fully radicalised itself before exterminating itself. The book follows different fascist movements through these stages and analyses the changes they undertook in order to survive and climb to the next stage.
The Anatomy of Fascism is a book that gives a very detailed and thorough analysis of fascism and different fascist regimes. The book looks at the interaction of the four elements—the leader, the party, the normative government, and the public—between each other, resulting in their ascend and their sudden decline. It describes how the conservative elements gave legitimacy to fascist movements by forming alliances with them to keep the left at bay and failed to repress these elements when they turned destructive. It describes the ill effects that fascists unleashed on the world and tries to answer if there is a possibility of the horror of fascism being discharged again.
The Anatomy of Fascism reads like an investigative thriller for the history aficionado, providing deep insights into every aspect of fascism. There are enough twists, turns, and surprises by the time Paxton comes up with a definition for the term at the book's end. I will refrain from revealing it here, as I don't want to spoil the book for you.