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A Warning

By Madeleine Albright
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Fascism by Madeleine Albright

Fascism (2018) examines fascism, both as a historical phenomenon and a present-day threat. It explores the factors that lead to fascist governments as well as the common threads connecting them, while also cautioning citizens against complacency. Even today, there are many reasons to fear for the health of democracy.

Key idea 1 of 10

Fascism is not a political ideology but rather an approach to seizing and holding power.

“Fascism.” The word gets thrown around a lot. In this online forum, you’ll hear it applied to police officers; in that newspaper column, it’s used to describe feminists. Elsewhere, the people referred to might be vegans or bureaucrats.

So what does the word really mean? What is a “fascist”?

Fascism is ideologically vague and can involve the politics of the right and the left.

In 1920s Italy, an early hotbed of fascism, there were fascists on the left arguing for dictatorial rule in the interests of the working class, and fascists on the right who argued for an authoritarian government in which state and companies work closely together.  

In Germany, the National Socialists, or Nazis, combined promises of higher pensions and better education with their anti-Semitic propaganda.

Today, governments exhibiting fascist tendencies range across the ideological spectrum, from socialism in Venezuela to conservative nationalism in Hungary.

So what a fascist is isn’t the most revealing question. It’s far more informative to ask which characteristics fascism displays.

Fascism draws strength from an upset or angry public – whether that anger results from a lost war or lost territory, a loss of national pride or a loss of jobs, or any combination of these factors. The most successful fascist leaders have a charisma that enables them to connect emotionally with the crowd, converting public anger into a sense of public solidarity and purpose.

Once in power, fascists consolidate authority by controlling information. Hitler’s regime ruthlessly propagandized – Mein Kampf, Hitler’s own book, was studied like the Bible, while radio addresses enabled the Führer to broadcast his hate-fuelled oratory to 80 million people at once. Today, authoritarian governments such as Russia and Turkey spread disinformation online and seek to quash media outlets that criticize them.

A fascist normally claims to act and speak on behalf of a whole nation, or an entire group, and draws a dividing line between that group and outsiders, such as the Jews in Nazi Germany or the class traitors in Soviet Russia.

Finally, fascist leaders expect the crowd to back them up. Unlike other tyrants, they are not wary of the population and don’t try to calm the crowd; rather, they strive to stir it up.

Next, let’s take a look at how fascists come to power.

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