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How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley- The Politics of "us" and "them"

The world is now going through a cycle of right-wing politics. To the far end of the Right-wing, lay political ideologies such as Fascism and Nazism which may also include racial supremacism. In modern-day political terminologies, it is called as Neo-fascism and Neo-Nazism. Extreme right-wing politics have some general traits like support for traditional gender roles, emphasis on nationalism, totally free market, anti-communism, and when it comes to the extreme variants, homophobia, transphobia, anti-immigration, xenophobia can be attributed to them. Right-wing or Left-wing, themselves are not as terrifying as they are portrayed by their opposers. It’s the extreme variants that usually portray the demonized traits that are thrust upon their liberal colleagues.

The book ‘How fascism works’ is an examination of the dynamics of the political tools of the far-right ideology of Fascism. Divided into ten chapters, each chapter examines a trait/tool of fascist politics. Mainly centered in the U.S.A., the book draws parallels with cases in Europe, Asia, and including India. When it comes to Nazism and fascism, one would think of a charismatic leader who has the power to rally people behind him like the pied piper of Hamelin. With Mussolini and Hitler, that is the case but with the majority is not. As it is said in the blurb of the book, fascism has been rooted in US politics for more than a century now but we have seen the US as the front-runner of Liberal Democracy as it portrayed itself in the past century. We can also see that there was and still is fascist nature to US politics. In the US, being an African American is still a nightmare. The racial superiority of a sizable white population makes it so. The book talks about the attempt by far right-wingers to bring in the notion of African Americans as being criminals genetically, which is in a way, similar to the Criminal tribes' act of 1871 of British India.

In the first chapter, we can see how fascist politics uses a mythical past to incite a feeling of coherence amongst the majority population of the country. Like Hitler, who used the theory of Aryan superiority to incite the feeling of belonging and used the same as a political tool against blacks and Jews. The mythical past is also used to construct a hierarchy in the society, like women fulfilling the role to deliver healthy sons to serve the country, which was the narrative of Hitler and also of far-right religious extremists. They give women just two responsibilities. One, to bear children for the country; two, to keep out of politics and activism. In a liberal democracy, history must be as truthful as it can be, but fascist ideologies do not adhere to this notion. Their sole concern is to build a narrative that would suit their purpose. Like the recent move of Erdogan, the president of Turkey, to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque, can be seen as a move to ease away the Christian past of the Country. The real problem with this manufactured history is that it doesn’t lay the ground for fair play in a democracy. The established history is turned upside down, according to the policies of the fascist ideologies, which others are unaware of. This causes a conundrum where the ones who followed the established history are invalidated by the opposite party through the systemic establishment of the mythic past. In other words, fascist politics uses the mythical national heritage as a weapon for political gain.

But how is this ‘mythical past’ intertwined into the actual history? The second chapter of the book operates into the depth of this issue. The answer to it is ‘propaganda’. Propaganda is not a new political tool. It has been there ever since human beings transformed into political beings. Propaganda, in simple terms, is spreading information –truths, half-truths, myths, rumors, lies- to the public. In the past, religion was the main tool for propaganda. This allowed the Egyptians to build the huge pyramids or the huge temples in India. Propaganda, if effectively used, can bring out extreme convictions in the public to support a cause. When it comes to fascism, the propaganda is also used in a contemporary narrative, like to make a problematic goal into a virtuous one. An example given in the book is U.S. president Richard Nixon’s “war on crime” narrative. Unsurprisingly, this narrative effectively concealed racism. The same mechanism of propaganda was used by the Nazis for demonizing Jews, by portraying them as having an ulterior motive of taking over the world. The inherent feature of fascist propaganda is to induce fear in the majority, by saying that they are under threat from (usually) the minority, to make them support the fascist policies.

In this manner, Jason Stanley points out the tools and traits of fascist politics in 10 chapters with examples from current and the past international as well as domestic politics of different nations. It uncovers patterns that focus us to see the impending shift of world politics to the far right, from a world of liberal politics but this does not mean that another Hitler or Mussolini would be appearing on the face of the Earth. The world has gone through too much for that to happen again. This shows us to be wary of every information that comes to us. To dissect them and make sure that it is not a farce.

Finally, I’d suggest anyone interested in knowing the dynamics of the current politics in the world as well as domestic politics, to read this book. However, they should also be aware that extremism that makes dissenters suffer is not just a characteristic of right-wing extremism, it is also a feature of left-wing extremism. You can see it in the USSR, today’s China, and North Korea.

How Fascism Works is published by Random House. To order a copy go here.


Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of five books, including How Propaganda Works, winner of the Prose Award in Philosophy from the Association of American Publishers, and How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, about which Citizens author Claudia Rankine says: “No single book is as relevant to the present moment.” Stanley serves on the board of the Prison Policy Initiative and writes frequently about propaganda, free speech, mass incarceration, democracy, and authoritarianism for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Guardian. _Goodreads.

About the Writer

Vishnuprasad (He/Him/His) is a 26-year-old law graduate from Kerala who is a voracious reader. An introvert by nature, Vishnu is interested in non-fiction books, especially in history and International Relations. He is a fan of logic and reality but doesn't mind some fiction once in a while. For him, reading is like a conversation with his best buddy. After all, books are the best friends that anyone could ever get.

Reach him out here on Instagram

All the views about the book, author, and everything else in the article belong solely to the writer.

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