Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism

The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton- now out in Hebrew!
The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton- now out in Hebrew!

I just came back from a two-week vacation. (I mention this almost completely irrelevant fact because in the field of activism we don’t seem to talk about the perfectly natural human need for rest.) In the throes of contemplating whether to flip over to my backside, or give my ass a bit more quality sun-time, I managed to complete a task I’ve been working at for months (yes, months! That’s how much I needed a vacation): Reading Robert O. Paxton’s ‘The Anatomy of Fascism.’

The Anatomy of Fascism – Mini Book Review

There’s a lot of historical data in The Anatomy of Fascism. Numbers, names- things I’ll never remember because they’re not much use to me, and frankly, they make for a very boring read (with respect to the author’s obvious hard work, dedication and love of his profession). Another thing that makes The Anatomy of Fascism a boring read is that pitfall of most history books: The empire point of view. I couldn’t care less about the Fuhrer and Duce’s political contortions into power, just like I don’t care about the in-house bickering of the Likud and Kadima. Telling me of the empire without any moral stance (except for some small, simplified statement near the end of the book that all this is something we should be repulsed about) is not only uninteresting, it’s also as unethical as the third monkey.

In reading non-fiction theoretical books, the writer is very exposed, having no tall tale, pretty words, or imaginary people to divert my attention from themselves. I couldn’t find too much information on Paxton, but I pride myself on my ability to read people (one of my greatest successes was when one of my highly self-important and depressed art professors made us read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, and in a moment of unamused frustration I yelled into the empty room: “so why don’t you just fucken kill yourself already!”) and in Paxton’s case, what most stood out, as I mentioned above, was a politically-centrist point of view. While this would have an Anarchist like myself ranting and raving between the lines about how you can’t separate Fascism from politics, as if it was a separate social phenomena from conservatism and authoritarianism, and not an organic evolution of unchecked power (this thesis starts at the very first sentence of Chapter I and is riddled throughout the book), I found many fascinating statements, which made for some eery comparisons:

Although many of them [conservatives] might find fascists useful, or even essential, in their struggle for survival against dominant liberals and the rising Left, some were keenly aware of the different agenda of their fascist allies and felt fastidious distaste for these uncouth outsiders.

So if Netanyahu wants a greater Israel, he’s going to have to break some Palestinians. What better tool than those uncouth religious settlers? Of course by today’s standards it’s a bit hard to identify the fastidiously distasted from the uncouth outsiders, when a group of pseudo-intellectuals, friends of Ehud Barak, calling themselves “The National Left” lament the “loss of their flag to the Right” [“The National Left (First Draft)”, sec. 4] and issue a call (on “Independence Day” for one Shekel with a free plastic Israeli flag on the side):

“…one occasionally has to get out of the armchair and go onto the street in order to force the government to achieve the goal. And the goal is, as we have said, a model society… With an Israeli flag in one hand and a truncheon in the other…”

Sounds uncouth? Well, these exemplary men (the manifesto is overtly macho and seems to have left the feminism for those on the Left “that forgot what it means to be Jewish”) know exactly who’s the useful uncouth outsider to their fastidious distaste [sec. 33]:

It involves telling the settlers that their pioneering messianic mission has ended, and saying nicely to them: Thank you and come back home; evacuate to the large blocs and leave the army in the territory until the world comes and takes the area — as a mandate. In the same way that we were until 1948. Until peace comes, if it comes.

Then, the Jews will remain a huge, absolute majority between the Green Line and the sea — there the State of Israel will extend — forever and ever.

Illusions of superiority? Check. Separatism? Check. Violent tendencies? Check. Chauvinism? Check. Nationalism? Check. Messianism? Check. Wow! All this from one sentence! So while there’s a lot of technical details and a disturbing lack of moral judgement (not to mention a general air that seems to tolerate “other totalitarianisms”, though don’t get me wrong, I’m only accusing the man of centrism) in The Anatomy of Fascism, there’s also many subtleties that allow for the above comparative history, which is always a fascinating exercise.

Is Israel a Fascist State?

There was a reason why I couldn’t wait for this book to arrive in the mail (I’m sure some of you may be cracking an ironic little smirk as we speak). I wanted to do what all self-proclaimed intellectuals do, in their honest pursuit of knowledge- I wanted to prove to myself that I’m right. So, to that question that every article of mine strives to match an affirmative answer to (and for my sexy Carrie Bradshaw moment): Is Israel a Fascist State?

Here’s what Paxton had to say about Israel way back in 2004 (my edition of the book):

If religious fascisms are possible, one must address the potential-supreme irony- for fascism in Israel. Israeli reactions to the first and second intifada have been mixed. Israeli national identity has been powerfully associated with an affirmation of the human rights that were long denied to Jews in the Diaspora. This democratic tradition forms a barrier against “giving up free institutions” in the fight against Palestinian nationalism. It has been weakened, however, by two trends- the inevitable hardening of attitudes in the face of Palestinian intransigence, and a shift of weight within the Israeli population away from European Jews, the principal bearers of the democratic tradition, in favor of Jews from North Africa and elsewhere in the Near East who are indifferent to it. The suicide bombings of the second intifada after 2001 radicalized even many Israeli democrats to the right. By 2002, it was possible to hear language within the right wing of the Likud Party and some of the small religious parties that comes close to a functional equivalent to fascism. The chosen people begins to sound like Master Race that claims a unique “mission in the world,” demands its “vital space,” demonizes an enemy that obstructs the realization of the people’s destiny, and accepts the necessity of force to obtain these ends. [p. 204]

Let’s chuck to the wind what this little Anarchist thinks about the possibility of religious fascism, and stick to the main points:

  • Paxton seems to believe there’s only a “potential fascism” in Israel.
  • He seems to think it has something to do with religion.
  • He seems to blame it on a Palestinian security threat.
  • He seems to ignore the 62 year-old occupation.
  • He seems not to have an understanding of structural violence.
  • He seems to have misplaced that line about ethnic cleansing.
  • He seems not to be aware of an ideology called Zionism.
  • He seems to have missed the local iconic leaders (Ben Gurion, Hertzel, Kehana, Rabin…etc and even Netanyahu and Lieberman to some extent).
  • He seems to believe separatist racism and Master Race illusions are a right-winged phenomena in Israel.
  • He seems to have some strange social understandings about people of Middle-Eastern origin.
  • He seems not to have studied the social climate in Israel.

All in all, Everything Paxton had to say about Israel is in that one paragraph I quoted above. Since I obviously believe the cross-referencing of Fascism and Israel could fill up numerous books, I’d like to leave the book-review behind and use the book as a tool to prove my thesis.

A Question of Style

When Zionists are compared to Nazis, or the word Fascism is thrown around, they quickly revert to questions of style:

Did I put anyone in an oven?!

While I’d argue about the use of chemical gas for example, generally I tend to believe (as ranted above) that authoritarianism/fascism or whatever colorful word you might want to use for a violent and racist (by “racist” I mean hate for the “other” because of ethnicity/religion/sex/gender and so on) regime/society (they can’t exist without each other) has always existed and continues to exist everywhere in the world, it’s just a matter of style (and what stage of socially acceptable violence we’re at), that’s dictated by geography, culture and recent history. This is the real reason I bought The Anatomy of Fascism: When we clear out all the Jewish supremacy, Arian mythology and American democracy, what are we left with?

Many of us are familiar with Dr. Lawrence Britt’s “14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism.” This brilliant YouTube video shows, for example, the American styled fascism:

Similarly to this video, I’d like to make an Israeli styled fascism checklist (I remind the reader that these links, videos and images are single examples, and in no way even begin to cover the whole):

  1. It’s all blue&white with the “Independence Day collections” by Israel children’s fashion brands. (Click image for the full article (Hebrew) and more images)
    It’s all blue&white with the “Independence Day collections” by Israel children’s fashion brands. (Click image for the full article (Hebrew) and more images)

    Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

    This is such a common phenomena In Israel that I didn’t really know where to begin. From tiny flag-decorated chocolate balls of my kindergarten years to people “spontaneously” hanging flags on their terraces or sides of their cars. (I put “spontaneously” in quotes because, someone is manufacturing, dispersing and selling these things for very little.) The music industry has also been a big contributor; From military bands to patriotic song-writing, to the latest outbursts of fascist propaganda from renowned artists.

  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
    “Our fathers said - Principles aren’t to be conceded - BEITAR (football team) pure forever - No Arabs”
    “Our fathers said - Principles aren’t to be conceded - BEITAR (football team) pure forever - No Arabs”

    "We’re all united: Not Flying to Turkey!"
  4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

    The song quotes “He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalms, 121, 4)
  5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined [#1]– Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked. The linked article (literally translates “Morality Pimps”) has been written by the highly respected (in Israel) intellectual, Ben Dror Yemini- note the personal note at the end of the article. One should note that there’s a place for intellectuals and the arts, as long as it doesn’t clash with the Zionist narrative. Some “pro-Arab” material gets through, as long as it goes along the line of a “good Arab” (i.e. one that serves in the “security” forces or says the words “I love Israel”).
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Israeli Fascism According to Paxton

If you’re a Paxton fan, you may not be convinced yet in the idea that Israel is a fascist state and society. Early on (and then repeated again near the end), in The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton makes his own list (which made for satirical reading, when I first read it while waiting to be interrogated and printed, after being arrested by the army, in a demonstration in Bil’in). The list leans more to the complex realm of underlying ideology rather than the practical expressions of fascism, and completes a ying to the yang of Britt’s list, in my thesis. Interestingly enough, you’ll find a strict correlation between each item in the list and classic Israeli Hasbara (once again, these are just single examples in a sea of everyday life):

  • A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;

    Draft dodging is a betrayal. The draft dodger betrays the society he lives in, that raised him, and that took care of his needs. Avoiding doing the general duty is like stealing from a joint fund, like puncturing a hole in a boat at sea.

    The relationship of 18-year-olds is not with the army but with the society that surrounds them. The system of national service should provide an answer to the delicate, the spiritual, artists, athletes, and models. You find it hard to handle orders?  It’s hard for everyone. You’re not cut out for it? No one is. The smell of grease gets you down?  Go and clean the homes of the elderly in nursing homes. The question that the draft dodger should ask himself is simple: Would you want everyone to act like you, you shit?  That everyone should act like you?  That IDF posts should empty out, planes be abandoned, and tanks left to rust?  We assume not. We assume that you are comfortable with someone doing the work instead of you. We assume that you choose to dodge not due to ideology. You’re just a parasite. [“The National Left (First Draft)”, sec. 8]

  • The belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;
  • Dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

    Regrettably, in recent years, anti-Zionist trends have been proliferating in Israeli universities, which have gradually displaced, marginalized and excluded the Zionist discourse, preventing Zionists from making their voices heard… This proliferation of post-Zionist trends is not unique to the universities. The Israeli public discourse as reflected in the media and in politics and culture has for a long time been characterized by a sense of loss of both purpose and values. Regrettably, Israel’s difficult circumstances on the international arena stem mainly from activities of Israeli organizations and persons who have spearheaded anti-Israeli propaganda… [Im Tirtzu website]

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the recent “flood of illegal workers infiltrating from Africa” into Israel was “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country. [Ha’aretz]

  • The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • The need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
    “In the War of Independence; In the national education;  In the Sinai Operation; In the Aliyah (immigration to Israel) of masses; He said it and did it” (David Ben-Gurion)
    “In the War of Independence; In the national education; In the Sinai Operation; In the Aliyah (immigration to Israel) of masses; He said it and did it” (David Ben-Gurion)
    Only Netanyahu. A strong leader for a strong people
    “Only Netanyahu. A strong leader for a strong people”

    We will try to describe the qualities and skills required of a leader of the National Left. We will try to create a template, a glass shoe of Cinderella, and try to match it to a suitable candidate.

    Our leader must have done full military service. The designated leader must possess management skills. The designated leader must be an educated man, a man of the world and of the little man. He must be able to open a Siddur prayer book, be called to the reading of the Torah without getting confused, and quote Solomon Ibn Gevirol, Natan Alterman, Jabotinsky, and Karl Marx. The designated leader must be a subscriber to Twitter and Facebook, be an indefatigable SMS-er, and a permanent resident of Internet society. He does not need to be lead guitarist or a plastic artist, but he must have his finger on the pulse of the era. The designated leader must be a human being — the old lady lying in the corridor should not star in his campaign slogans — it should prey on his conscience. The leader could be a well-established and successful person, but not a pig.” [“The National Left (First Draft)”, sec. 76 “Leader Required”]

  • The superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason; I’m bit at a loss with this specific category. Universal reason is one of those “modern,  western” ideas and “abstract reason” is a term I’m completely unfamiliar with (looking it up I found it’s a name of a band on MySpace). Also, I’m not entirely sure what “the leaders instincts” refers to- maybe it’s one of those abstract reasonings?.. Nevertheless, if the point is that said leader may contradict with “common sense” or what’s known as “international values” and the people still follow- then we got both in abundance. That said, an Israeli elected leader (or an elected leader most anywhere else for that matter) can’t act outside the social norms of his electing society and still be seen as having “superior instincts” (whatever the hell that means). This brings us back to the fact that fascism is a vicious circle of social climate, recent history, and local politics. I doubt Paxton would disagree with me on that point.
  • The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;

    That’s the beauty of Gaza. You see a man walking, he doesn’t have to have a weapon, and you can shoot him… [The Sunday Times]

    But of course this isn’t the end of the interest in the brand name “Entebbe”. The story was too big, too dramatic, and too Holywood. And Holywood itself began to show interest in an operation that looked as if it came out of one of its movies strong, fast, elegant and with almost no fallen… [Limited by my translation]

    A much less heroic action that would have been executed in broad daylight and big forces- mostly policemen and prison servicemen- would have participated, that would have stood in an upfront and deterring manner on civilian seacrafts leased for them. The photographs would have been bad for us but the end result better than an elegant operation that complicated because it was executed in circumstances in which a naval commando had no advantage. [Ynet, limited by my translation]

  • The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

    We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel… Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours. [Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces – Gad Becker, Yediot Ahronot 13 April 1983, New York Times 14 April 1983.]

    There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument:…the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish…with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary. [Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department. From Israel: an Apartheid State by Uri Davis, p.5.]

    One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail. [Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994 Source: N.Y. Times, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 1]

All three quotes are taken from this page and are repeatedly cited with the same references on more or less reliable sites. Their truthfulness or accuracy are vehemently debated. If I were trying to pose as the only democracy anywhere, I’d try to deny it as well.

I’m sure Paxton, in 2004, just missed the above quotes and many others that happen here daily, about the Jewish right to the land and being a light onto the nations. It seems to me almost negligent that a historian, who’s such a meticulous and committed stickler for details and who’s focus is Fascism, would overlook such a blatantly colorful, prime candidate for his research. Maybe he’s waiting for Israeli fascism to be history in order to write his next book. I can’t wait.

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2 thoughts on “Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism”

  1. I know (or knew) Paxton fairly well, he was my dissertation advisor many years ago. He is a centrist. He’s also a mainstream Ivy League intellectual who had done his most important work on Nazism and French fascism, both obviously very anti-semitic. For him to write as he did about Israel must have taken great courage, and he would have done it with great hesitation and caution knowing it would possibly end long term friendships with close colleagues. He’s of a different generation, and probably won’t publish another major book–he’s about eighty. It’s too bad, because I think what he wrote was the opening of door, and were he younger he would keep pushing at it.

    1. Hey CUgrad,
      Thanks for this. It seems to pretty much confirm my understanding of Paxton. I hope it’s clear that it isn’t a personal matter for me (even though, personally, centrists infuriate me), but I believe it’s important to know the motives behind the writings, especially when it’s about history. it’s also a mirror of a society; As you said: This man belongs to a certain time, a certain place. Without a doubt it takes courage to attack the empire- Paxton just isn’t that type- he attacks dead empires. It IS a shame however that he’ll be doing no more writing. But as I said, if he holds on a little longer, maybe he’ll make it just in time to write about the fascist Zionist regime.

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