In This Review

The Anatomy of Fascism
The Anatomy of Fascism
By Robert O. Paxton
336 pp, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004

The term "fascism" originated with Mussolini in 1919 and has since often been stretched to apply to almost any political group to the right of the person using it. Paxton, a historian, sets out to rescue the term from such sloppy usage, even as he acknowledges that a narrow definition is impossible. In his quest for understanding, Paxton surveys how a broad array of fascist movements has sought out followers, formed alliances, and seized and exercised power. The comparisons show great variety over time and place but also reveal characteristics that distinguish fascism from other kinds of authoritarian rule. Fascists, he concludes, were identifiable most of all by a style of political behavior that emphasized historical grievances, worshiped the cult of leadership, relied on a mass-based movement of national militants, repressed democratic liberties, and used violence as a political tool. Paxton's first book, "Vichy France," has become the standard work in the field despite its once-controversial thesis (that the Vichy regime was not merely imposed by Nazis but had domestic roots); "The Anatomy of Fascism," based on decades of research and teaching, is likely to prove just as authoritative. The in-depth bibliographical essay alone will guide scholars and graduate students for years to come.