Robert O. Paxton taught at Columbia University. His other books include Vichy France, Vichy France and the Jews (with Michael Marrus), Europe in the Twentieth Century, and French Peasant Fascism. He lives in New York City.
Paxton, the author of seminal works on Vichy France, now sums up a lifelong reflection on fascism's myriad forms. Paxton writes in his introduction that fascism was "the most self-consciously visual of all political forms," yet many of those indelible images (Mussolini haranguing a crowd from a balcony; the perfect choreography of totalitarianism in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will) can "induce facile errors" about the omnipotent leader or the supposed unanimity of the crowd. Rather than begin with a definition of fascism, Paxton prefers to give concrete examples of it in action in various countries, from Italy and Germany to France, Holland and Eastern Europe; in particular, he examines its "mobilizing passions," such as a sense of overwhelming crisis and dread of a native group's decline. This study has several virtues (and few defects): the writing is free of some of the theoretical jargon that threatens our understanding of a defining political movement of the 20th century. This is a study of both the intellectual origins of fascism and how it played out in the streets of Berlin, Rome, Paris and other locales. In addition, Paxton examines such important topics as images of fascism and what we might call "the future of fascism" (in a quick aside on a current controversy, Paxton notes that Islamic fundamentalism is not fascist). Although Paxton doesn't address present or future forms of fascism, his list of its "mobilizing passions" will sound to some readers frighteningly similar to aspects of contemporary America. This is sure to take its place among classics in the field by Stanley Payne and Roger Griffith. (Mar. 26) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Paxton (Mellon Professor Emeritus of the Social Sciences, Columbia Univ.; Vichy France) dissects a historical phenomenon that unleashed the deadliest epoch in world history. It is well known that fascism consumed the passions of Germany and Italy, but Paxton reminds readers that the fascist impulse found expression throughout the globe and still poses a threat to international stability. His goal is to find generic characteristics that shape the dynamics of fascism-not the product of a well-defined ideology, Paxton emphasizes, but rather a visceral response to national crises that defy conventional solutions. Paxton stresses that all fascist movements sanctify violence and view life as a Darwinian struggle; beleaguered constituencies turn toward a leader who revitalizes nationalistic sentiments by demonizing perceived internal and external enemies. The culmination of a lifetime's study, this work is based on a thorough analysis of just about every secondary work on fascism and includes a superb bibliographic essay that will guide students and historians for many years to come. While there are countless studies on fascism, readers will be hard pressed to find anything more in-depth from a scholar with Paxton's credentials. Recommended for all academic libraries and for public libraries with strong political science collections.-Jim Doyle, Marconi P.L., GA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"So fair, so thorough and, in the end, so convincing, it may well become the most authoritative . . . study of the subject. . . . A splendid book." -The New York Times Book Review
"Useful and timely. . . . Mussolini and Hitler were the prototypical fascist leaders, and Paxton chronicles their rise to power--and their global influence and ultimate fall--with a brilliant economy." -San Francisco Chronicle "A deeply intelligent and very readable book. . . . Historical analysis at its best." -The Economist "[A] helpful contribution, thoughtfully mapping out the descent of a civilized people -- first the Italians, then the Germans -- into a primal state (and state of being) ruled by mythology, symbol and emotion. . . . Serves as a reminder of our power and responsibility." -The Washington Post Book World "Until now there has been no satisfying account of fascism that includes a convincing diagnostic kit for identifying its symptoms. . . . Robert Paxton steps in to restore sanity, with his view that fascism is not what was believed but what was done." -Los Angeles Times Book Review