Former US Secy of State sidesteps historically rooted definition and examination of fascism in her book, which doesn’t offer compelling arguments.
In 1939, Madeleine Albright the toddler had barely learned to walk when Nazi Germans invaded her homeland Czechoslovakia, forcing the young Albright and her family to escape to London whilst many others among her Jewish relatives perished under the Holocaust. The toddler grew onto becoming a child who gradually found a home on American shores, ultimately serving as the country’s first woman Secretary of State.
It is with these glimpses into her own personal life experiences that Albright talks of the idea of fascism. Quoting from Primo Levi that “Every age has its own fascism,” her latest book Fascism: A Warning appears to be grounded in the belief that there was, and will be a fascist for each era and generation. Albright’s use of the quote is further supplemented with her historical examples of 20th century Italy under Benito Mussolini, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, and chapters dedicated to characterizations of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, Turkey under Erdogan and so on. Her message is clear: there is a ‘timelessness’ of fascism as if it exists across each era, each place and across a social, geographical spectrum.
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But while Albright glides through these varied examples, her work does precious little to critically locate how fascism institutionalised itself in the United States.
The rise of Trumpism
“The shadow looming over these pages is, of course, that of Donald Trump,” Albright writes emphatically. Yet, despite devoting the final pages to his presidency and going onto claim that Trump is “the first antidemocratic president in modern US history,” there is little scholarly or in-depth investigative analysis that she provides to substantiate this arguments.
Many have written about Trump’s autocratic tendencies, or his enabling fascism — but backed with citing examples, such as a look at his policies on immigration or policing reforms or refusal to disavow neo-Nazis. In this book, the author surmises that Trump’s step-by-step erosion of democracy follows what Mussolini called “plucking a chicken one feather at a time,” without actually looking at any one particular domestic or foreign policy issue at a given point in time to add value to this quote. There is no real insight or introspection provided at any particular US policy, or indigenous circumstances, homegrown American racism, slavery models and the post 20th century capitalist economic policies of the country that paved the ground for a Donald Trump to emerge.
Albright remains uncritical of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with only a few sentences to be said about Bush or former Republican leaders either. Trump didn’t emerge out of a vacuum, but from a country with a past that was always xenophobic, neo-conservative and neoliberal in policy. The Iraq War or housing bubble crisis didn’t come out of nothing, it was the culmination of social and economic anxieties. The policies and anxieties fomenting for long gave way to a Trump too.
Albright’s dismissal of Communism and classification of post-Tito Yugoslavia, Venezuela under Hugo Chávez and North Korea under Kim-Jong Un as if all the same rug simply because of the authoritarianism each actor possesses is another issue. In putting all of them in the same box-set of examples to highlight, she avoids room for nuances between regimes and simultaneously clubs Left-leaning autocrats with dictators and Nazis. But this only belies the fact that Albright herself has sidestepped the historically rooted definition and examination of fascism.
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In her book, had the author chosen to explore Mussolini’s text, The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism, there would be less room for false equivalencies. Moreover, at times, the contradictions in her own theses catch up. On the one hand, she writes tersely how “Communism doesn’t work,” but then on another she stresses that “elites may need to revisit some of their prevailing assumptions” even as neither suggestion is properly explored. The book’s fundamental problem is that it doesn’t even try to offer compelling arguments or explorations, it simply accepts or observes.
Save your time and money to go read one of Albright’s recent interviews to see her statements on Trump instead, or for more nuanced understanding of the despots against democracy that Albright barely hints at, go back to Hannah Arendt or Juan Linz on totalitarianism and authoritarianism instead.