I have known about Fascism for quite a while. When I opened this book I realized that I did not quite understand what it was, where it came from or its dangers to democratic society. Fortunately, Albright answered all these questions for me including her caution about the implications of Fascism for our future.
She described it as a form of authoritarian rule which includes total control by the leader of a country, appeal to ultranationalism, and power being centered in the leader rather than lying with the citizens. She described Mussolini as taking large sums of money from banks and corporations while feigning concern about the working class. He put on a show for people, distributed and sold personal products under his name, was a good politician but had very little understanding of diplomacy, rejected input from his advisors and saw his own judgment as the only correct one. She also described Hitler as answering questions with lies meant to reassure the public, thinking and saying that being a Barbarian was honorable, removing civil servants he saw as not loyal, taking control of the arts and journalism, using mass media (radio in those days) to capture attention of the masses and making persecution of those who could not defend themselves seem like national self defense.
Albright also discussed the nature and exploits of a variety of other Fascist leaning leaders including Chavez, Erdogan, Putin, and the Kim dynasty. Last but not least comes Trump who has showed most of the characteristics and antics previously used by Mussolini and Hitler. Trump accepts bullying, autocracy and civil rights violations by autocratic leaders without comment. He appears more comfortable with them than with our traditional allies with whom he tends to pick fights.
Albright sees Fascists and Fascist leaning leaders as invoking “America (or any other country) First” as a way of justifying their tendency to do whatever they please. They feel entitled to do what they want for no legitimate reason or just make one up with no foundation. She sees their unpredictability as a personality trait rather than as a strategy to accomplish anything productive.
How do they gain power? Fascist leaders appeal emotionally to people who feel disenfranchised from what they feel is owed them or those who feel afraid of others, often ethnic or political groups differing from theirs. Although this fervor is fanned by social media, it existed long before computers and spread through personal appearances and the use of more traditional media.
What can we do? We can learn to ask pointed questions of those who claim to be acting in our best interest. We also need to reconnect with each other, understand each other’s fears and sense of loss as well as starting to work together as individuals and society to address these concerns. Once we ask them the right questions, we can elect leaders who will act responsibly.
I highly recommend this book as a way to understand the real challenges which face us and to help us learn to listen to each other to find mutually acceptable ways of approaching our challenges.
Review by Joseph G. Langen, Ph.D., author of From Violence to Peace