How Fascism Works

Last night I started reading my first book “for pleasure” since writing my master’s thesis on far-right and white supremacist violent extremism. It’s about fascism, because clearly I’m a masochist. This has been a delightful book. Written by a professor of Philosophy at Yale, Jason Stanley, this has to be the most “readable” book by a philosopher I’ve ever consumed. Stanley groked the message that philosophy doesn’t have to be Byzantine to be useful. Each chapter is a twenty-ish page overview of the topic, qua fascism. He doesn’t mince words in those short chapters either. Over the next few days while I burn through these pages, I’ll be posting my top three takeaways for each chapter.

1. The Mythic Past

The first major point is the emphasis fascist ideologies place on patriarchal family structures as a means of enforcing both gendered social structures and the dictator as a paternal figure for the state. This section is no so much concerned with upsetting gender roles as it is with highlighting the fascist’s obsession with them.

The use of the Mythic Past as a means for whitewashing the attrocities of the real past, such as America’s genocide of Native Americans, the Confederate South’s treatment of slaves, or Poland’s disavowal of their involvement in the Nazi holocaust or Turkey’s Armenian genocide denial.

The creation of a Mythical Past also establishes an “us” and “them” historically. Psychological studies show when Americans think of the treatment of Native Americans in terms of atrocities committed by Europeans rather than Americans, they are more likely to assign blame to the Europeans. In-group sentiments can be stoked by the Mythical Past to push away national guilt, and to pave the way for calling another group of citizens “the other” because they were not part of the Mythic Past.

2. Propaganda

Mask problematic goals with virtuous ones. Examples, Nixon’s notes showing he wanted to target black Americans with the “War on Crime,” or “Draining the Swamp” as a stand in for purging the unwanted.

To the fascist, corruption is not about the law, but about “purity.” There is a dovetail here with Moral Foundation Theory, something I’ll be writing more about in the future. The short version is, the fascist doesn’t actually mean corruption of legal processes but their perception of the “natural order of things” in adherence with the Purity Moral Foundation. When a fascist opposes “corruption” what they mean is opposing “people being out of their place.”

The third major point in this section gets to Plato’s Republic 8, which discusses how demagogues use the functions of democracy to undermine it, tying into recent efforts by the alt-right to use claims of “free speech” being stifled to prevent legitimate arguments against their validity as being suppressive rather than oppositional.

3. Anti-Intellectual

4. Unreality

5. Hierarchy

6. Victimhood

7. Law and Order

8. Sexual Anxiety

9. Sodom and Gomorrah

10. Arbeit Macht Frei

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