Reactions to the Reactionary – The New Scholarship on Fascism, 1

Stanley argues that singling out minorities who challenge traditional sexual and gender norms is efficacious for the fascist, as it both moves to eliminate archetypes for social relationships alternative to the patriarchal model favored by fascists, and enables the first of many oblique attacks on the principle of free expression without directly assailing democratic platitudes. Stanley also manages to tie this to the fascist tendency to decry cities, usually hubs of the attacked minorities, as dens of iniquity, and the rhetorical correlation of the out group with rape and the destruction of mythical purity. Having done this, Stanley is able to identify attacks on sexual minorities as “perhaps the most vivid” of the canaries to eye as leaders draw us further and further into the proverbial coal mine.

The book also offers some interesting discussion of the fascist relationship to truth. In addition to the commonplace insight that fascists lie about the past to create a triumphant nationalist mythology, Stanley argues that the fascist, having spread lies about the laziness and treacherousness of their chosen enemy, also seeks to use policy to so brutalize their victims that the malnourished and abused minority population comes to resemble the abject figures of fascist propaganda, reducing reality to the “truth” that fascists had all along maintained; that the fascist first produces lies to debase the certainty of anything, and then manufactures their “truths”.

It is a book at once enlightening and useful to those looking for some through-line to the news of the day. Learning, per the BBC, that Citizenship and Immigration Services’ acting head has defended an administration move to cut public aid to legal migrants by saying “No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American” unless they can “be self-sufficient […] as in the American tradition”, a reader of Stanley’s book might take pause and recall a passage that runs “In fascism, the state is an enemy; it is to be replaced by the nation, which consists of self-sufficient individuals who collectively choose to sacrifice for a common goal of ethnic or religious glorification.”

Having seen such an article, and taken such a moment of reflection, the reader may decide they see nothing ominous in this correlation. Even so, how salutary many such reflective pauses could prove to be to the national character, and how much easier they become when so able a teacher has given us an idea of when to take them. And in providing ways of recognizing and describing fascist politics, Stanley’s book sharpens the usefulness of other books tackling similar projects.

It might be said that the interplay of those tactics Stanley has described in his book, and the effective responses Stanley’s Yale colleague Timothy Snyder enumerated in his book, On Tyranny, are the two forces that animate the events in perhaps the most ambitious of these other recent works: Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom (to which I will to return). But, even if not taken as a mandatory supplement to either of Snyder’s works, Stanley’s book substantially enhances and reinforces the lessons of the other two, and vice versa.

Together, they may provide the confidence necessary to uncertain voters, especially among the young, to discard what Mark Fisher called “reflexive impotence” (and the cynicism that guards it) and become educated participants in our politics. If these authors manage it, they will deserve credit and status alongside those offered to the analysts and thinkers to whom they refer in their own work, and those of us so armed may just find ourselves alive to solutions beyond simple concession.

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2 comments on this post.
  1. Michael J. Lotus:

    Noted also that Communist butcher Leon Trotsky’s analysis of fascism is considered helpful. Alfred Rosenberg’s comments on communism should be the topic of the next post, by this standard.

    Helpful to know that the family consisting of a husband, wife and children is the foundation of fascism.

    By God the whole world was fascist once, and not that long ago!

    Also interesting to see that opposing letting foreigners who will become a public charge become citizens is also fascism.

    Who knew?

    So many things are fascism!

  2. Grurray:

    Stanley seems to missing something. While propaganda and traditions and identifying enemies ostensibly factor into fascist ideology, of course they aren’t themselves fascist. It’s what fascists do with them that is important, and it’s what separates them from other ideologies. Marxists (and other Old Leftists) believed history unfolds in a dialectical, cyclic process. Fascists, particularly the German variety, believed history progressed with a purpose towards a goal. Fascists were progressives, in other words. The volk, the volkgeist, and other associated myths were to be restored in order to restore the locomotive of history back onto the proper track.
    The state did indeed have a prominent place in 20th century fascism. Carl Schmitt the top jurist in Nazi Germany was a major proponent of their totalitarian power structure and strong police state.
    What Schmitt did believe was that the rule of law was often the enemy. It tended to degenerate into indirect rule by political factions, so it needed to be bypassed occasionally by hegemonic rulers for the common good. When Schmitt first came up with the idea during the Weimer Republic he did have a dictator in mind, but when the Nazis came to power he revised it to include the party. This may have been somewhat self-serving in order to defend his previous theories because the Nazis came to power not by going outside the rule law but by exploiting the current parliamentary laws.
    Remember Hitler wasn’t elected. He was appointed after the party was elected and suspended the constitution. This informs another of Schmitt’s ideas that perhaps Stanley was getting close to. That is, democracy can only function when it is homogeneous (in Schmitt’s view). Liberalism, because of its universality, is incompatible with democracy. Once democracy is suitably purified then the political system would be based on extreme equality. No one would be better than anyone else under the social and political order imposed by the hegemony of the state. After that, the nation and the state would be united to continue the march onward towards its fateful destination.