A philosopher examines political tactics that give rise to fascism.
The son of immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, Stanley (Philosophy/Yale Univ.; How Propaganda Works, 2015, etc.) has directly observed the consequences of fascism. Troubled that fascist politics is on the rise throughout the world, he offers an analysis of the many strategies that fascist regimes employ: publicizing the idea of a mythic past, use of propaganda and conspiracy theories, anti-intellectualism, the replacement of “reasoned debate with fear and anger,” casting doubt on the media, denial of equality and insistence on a hierarchy legitimized by nature (e.g., whites being superior to nonwhites), propagation of a culture of victimhood, campaigns based on law and order, incitement of male sexual anxiety, appeals to rural voters and suspicion of cosmopolitan urban dwellers, and perpetuation of a national conflict between “us” and “them,” based on ethnic, religious, and racial identities. Like Madeleine Albright and Timothy Snyder in their recent books, Stanley sees fascism threatening democracies, not least in the United States, where Donald Trump has all the earmarks of a fascist leader. Drawing on research by sociologists, philosophers, and other scholars—as well as sources such as his grandmother’s memoir of Nazi Germany and Mein Kampf—Stanley argues convincingly that fascists employ “legitimation myths” to promote their ideas, exploiting, for example, “a human tendency to organize society hierarchically” to justify the idea that “the principle of equality is a denial of natural law.” Fascists foment the distinction between “us” and “them” by using specific coded language, which psychologists call Linguistic Intergroup Bias, to describe individuals’ actions. Using the term “criminal” to describe murder, traffic violations, and political protest “changes attitudes and shapes policy.” Fascists stir up suspicion of intellectuals by presenting “liberal tolerance” as synonymous with “elite privilege.” Stanley also rightly worries about complacency: Many of his grandmother’s friends and neighbors refused to acknowledge the Nazi threat until it was too late; today, the “normalization of extreme policies” poses an urgent challenge.
A potent call for democracies to resist the insidious encroachment of fascism.