How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley

7 Nov

As the child of Holocaust survivors, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley grew up with an interest in how functioning democracies could turn toward fascism. While many students have held on to the post-World War II consensus that fascism was defeated and relegated to the history books, Stanley wrote How Fascism Works in response to the rise of fascist movements around the globe over the past several years. Using a blend of history, economics, psychology, and sociology, Stanley explains in a clear and concise terms how fascism is able to take hold of a society and why people living in democracies should be concerned about it. This is an important piece of scholarship for anyone with an interest in how we got to the point where we currently are in world history.

Stanley begins by acknowledging that “fascism” is an often over and imprecisely used term, but that there are tactics that are similar between fascist states such as the use of propaganda, the creation of a mythical past, extreme nationalism, and calls for “law and order.” From the Armenian Genocide to the rise of authoritarian figures like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Viktor Orban in Hungary, fascist regimes use economic crises to foment hatred by the majority against the minority. Fascism works when different racial, religious, and social groups are unable to build solidarity with each other and are instead divided and isolated from each other. That is why Labor unions, where workers of different backgrounds are most like to come together to support common goals, are often the most fiercely attacked under fascist regimes.

Stanley’s book may seem bleak, but understanding the conditions under which fascism arises can also feel empowering by providing the reader with the tools necessary to navigate the global politics of today. What I enjoyed most about Stanley’s book is how his writing remains accessible when explaining a topic that is incredibly complex and volatile. Stanley is also hesitant to make any conclusions about whether contemporary societies should be considered fascist or not. Rather, his strength lies in explaining fascist tactics that are being used in even the healthiest of democracies. By adding this level of nuance, Stanley creates a work that is more compelling and expansive than it would have been if he had only analyzed the fascist states of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy that most American students are familiar with.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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