The ‘F’ Word

Democracy in Danger / Episode 13

Nazi Party members salute Adolph Hitler at Berlin’s Kroll Opera, during a fundraising rally held on Oct. 9, 1935. This week’s guest notes that Hitler found much to admire in the segregationist and eugenicist policies of early 20th-century America.

From the Everett Collection via

As the son of Holocaust survivors, philosopher Jason Stanley came to know the past horrors of state fascism in Europe all too well. And now he sees many of the same elements of fascism creeping into democracies around the world: in places like Hungary, India, even the United States. Not only that; he argues that democracies are especially susceptible to fascist ideology, precisely because they allow for a such a wide range of political debate.

Dismayed by rampant racism, xenophobia and patriarchy, Stanley sees a parallel enthusiasm for authoritarian leaders who promote their cult of personality among disaffected citizens. But he also says that — with checks on class divisions and a robust historical perspective — democracy can win the day.



About our guest

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. His father’s focus on the sociology of fascism inspired Stanley to study ideology and language. His latest book, out this past May in paperback from Penguin Random House, is How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Stanley is a member of the Prison Policy Initiative and has written about propaganda, mass incarceration and authoritarianism for the New York Times, Washington Post and others. Follow him on Twitter @jasonintrator.

This episode was recorded in September and posted on Oct. 14, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

How Fascism Works (Random House, 2018) explores the kinds of language and propaganda that drive fascist politics. Focusing on elements of fascist discourse and practice right here the United States, Stanley’s research traces the deep history of totalitarianism and its many ideological pillars.

Last year, Stanley gave some thought to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that the United States is headed toward fascism. He argues in this op-ed that ICE is not America’s answer to the SS — but does have some concerning similarities.

And on CNN, he recently compared President Trump’s politics directly to fascist tactics.

Stanley is also the author of How Propaganda Works (Princeton, 2015), where he considers the surprising pitfalls of liberal democracy.

From around the web

The Washington Post reported earlier this month on how India has pushed out Amnesty International in a continuing slide toward authoritarian rule under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The organization drew Modi’s ire for exposing human rights and free speech abuses.

Twitter temporarily suspended Hungarian government accounts last month — on the same day the European Union released a report on the state of democracy among its members.

Far right-wing neo-Nazis and ultranationalists are gaining a foothold in Germany once again. Read what’s going on there in this story from Katrin Bennhold of The New York Times.

Sarah Churchwell recently wrote about “American Fascism” in The New York Review of Books.

And if you’re interested in more on the work of social theorist Theodor W. Adorno and its current-day relevance — check out this 2017 roundtable held at The New School.

Or... go really deep. If you’ve listened to this episode, you probably noticed that the touchstones for Stanley’s scholarship run far and wide. Here are some of the key sources he mentions: Book Two of Plato’s Republic; Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism; Victor Klemperer, Language of the Third Reich; Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism; W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880; James Whitman, Hitler’s American Model; Charu Gupta on the politics of gender in Nazi Germany; Toni Morrison’s “Racism and Fascism” speech, delivered at Howard University in 1995 and reprinted in the Journal of Negro Education; and Ross Douthat’s recent column on how, win or lose, Trump will remain a force to be reckoned with in the GOP.


A transcript of this episode is available here

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