How the CIA Helped Shape the Creative Writing Scene in America

Image by Arielle Fragassi, via Flickr Commons

In May of 1967,” writes Patrick Iber at The Awl, “a former CIA officer named Tom Braden published a confession in the Saturday Evening Post under the headline, ‘I’m glad the CIA is ‘immoral.’” With the hard-boiled tone one might expect from a spy, but the candor one may not, Braden revealed the Agency’s funding and support of all kinds of individuals and activities, including, perhaps most controversially, in the arts. Against objections that so many artists and writers were socialists, Braden writes, “in much of Europe in the 1950’s [socialists] were about the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.”

Whatever truth there is to the statement, its seeming wisdom has popped up again in a recent Washington Post op-ed by Sonny Bunch, editor and film critic of the conservative Washington Free Beacon. The CIA should once again fund “a culture war against communism,” Bunch argues. The export (to China) he offers as an example? Boots Riley’s hip, anti-neoliberal, satirical film Sorry to Bother You, a movie made by a self-described Communist.




Proud declarations in support of CIA funding for "socialists" may seem to take the sting out of moral outrage over covert cultural tactics. But they fail to answer the question: what is their effect on artists themselves, and on intellectual culture more generally? The answer has been ventured by writers like Joel Whitney, whose book Finks looks deeply into the relationship between dozens of famed mid-century writers and literary magazines—especially The Paris Review—and the agency best known for toppling elected governments abroad.

In an interview with The Nation, Whitney calls the CIA’s containment strategies “the inversion of influence. It’s the instrumentalization of writing.… It’s the feeling of fear dictating the rules of culture, and, of course, therefore, of journalism.” According to Eric Bennett, writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education and in his book Workshops of Empire, the Agency instrumentalized not only the literary publishing world, but also the institution that became its primary training ground, the writing program at the University of Iowa.

The Iowa Writer’s Workshop “emerged in the 1930s and powerfully influenced the creative-writing programs that followed,” Bennett explains. “More than half of the second-wave programs, about 50 of which appeared by 1970, were founded by Iowa graduates.” The program “attained national eminence by capitalizing on the fears and hopes of the Cold War”—at first through its director, self-appointed cold warrior Paul Engle, with funding from CIA front groups, the Rockefeller Foundation, and major corporations. (Kurt Vonnegut, an Iowa alum, described Engle as "a hayseed clown, a foxy grandpa, a terrific promoter, who, if you listened closely, talks like a man with a paper asshole.")

Under Engle writers like Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman went through the program. In the literary world, its dominance is at times lamented for the imposition of a narrow range of styles on American writing. And many a writer has felt shut out of the publishing world and its coteries of MFA program alums. When it comes to certain kinds of writing at least, some of them may be right—the system has been informally rigged in ways that date back to a time when the CIA and conservative funders approved and sponsored the high modernist fiction beloved by the New Critics, witty realism akin to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (and later John Cheever), and magical realism (part of the agency's attempt to control Latin American literary culture.)

These categories, it so happens, roughly correspond to those Bennett identifies as acceptable in his experience at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and to the writing one finds filling the pages of The Best American Short Stories annual anthologies and the fiction section of The New Yorker and The Paris Review. (Exceptions often follow the path of James Baldwin, who refused to work with the agency, and whom Paris Review co-founder and CIA agent Peter Matthiessen subsequently derided as “polemical.”)

Bennett’s personal experiences are merely anecdotal, but his history of the relationships between the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the explosion of MFA programs in the last 40 years under its influence, and the CIA and other groups’ active sponsorship are well-researched and substantiated. What he finds, as Timothy Aubry summarizes at The New York Times, is that “writing programs during the postwar period” imposed a discipline instituted by Engle, “teaching aspiring authors certain rules of propriety."

"Good literature, students learned, contains ‘sensations, not doctrines; experiences, not dogmas; memories, not philosophies.’” These rules have become so embedded in the aesthetic canons that govern literary fiction that they almost go without question, even if we encounter thousands of examples in history that break them and still manage to meet the bar of “good literature.” What is meant by the phrase is a kind of currency—literature that will be supported, published, marketed, and celebrated. Much of it is very good, and much happens to have sufficiently satisfied the gatekeepers' requirements.

In a reductive, but interesting analogy, Motherboard’s Brian Merchant describes “the American MFA system, spearheaded by the infamous Iowa Writers' Workshop” as a “content farm” first designed to optimize for “the spread of anti-Communist propaganda through highbrow literature.” Its algorithm: “More Hemingway, less Dos Passos.” As Aubry notes, quoting from Bennett's book:

Frank Conroy, Engle's longest-serving successor, who taught Bennett, "wanted literary craft to be a pyramid." At the base was syntax and grammar, or "Meaning, Sense, Clarity," and the higher levels tapered off into abstraction. "Then came character, then metaphor ... everything above metaphor Conroy referred to as 'the fancy stuff.' At the top was symbolism, the fanciest of all. You worked from the broad and basic to the rarefied and abstract."

The direct influence of the CIA on the country’s preeminent literary institutions may have waned, or faded entirely, who can say—and in any case, the institutions Whitney and Bennett write about have less cultural valence than they once did. But even so, we can see the effect on American creative writing, which continues to occupy a fairly narrow range and show some hostility to work deemed too abstract, argumentative, experimental, or "postmodern." One result may be that writers who want to get funded and published have to conform to rules designed to co-opt and corral literary writing.

Related Content:

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How the CIA Secretly Funded Abstract Expressionism During the Cold War

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Thoughtful Note That George H.W. Bush Left on Bill Clinton’s Desk Before Leaving the White House (1993)

With the passing of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton reflected on the life and legacy of his political predecessor, and particularly the thoughtful note that Bush 41 left on his desk, right before leaving the White House. Dated January 20, 1993, it read:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

George

It's hard not to see this letter as a relic of an irretrievable age in American politics. But Clinton won't quite buy that. He writes today in the Washington Post: "Given what politics looks like in America and around the world today, it’s easy to sigh and say George H.W. Bush belonged to an era that is gone and never coming back — where our opponents are not our enemies, where we are open to different ideas and changing our minds, where facts matter and where our devotion to our children’s future leads to honest compromise and shared progress. I know what he would say: 'Nonsense. It’s your duty to get that America back.'" Soon enough, after enough sturm and drang, the majority of Americans (Electoral College included) may be ready to sign up for that.

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When South Africa Banned Pink Floyd’s The Wall After Students Chanted “We Don’t Need No Education” to Protest the Apartheid School System (1980)

When Apartheid states get the blessing of powerful nations, lobbies, and corporations, they seem to feel empowered to do whatever they want. Such was the case, for a time, in South Africa, the country that coined the term when it put its version of racial segregation in place in 1948. The Apartheid system finally collapsed in 1991, decades after its counterpart in the U.S.—its undoing the accumulated weight of global condemnation, UN sanction, boycotts, and growing pressure from citizens in wealthy countries.

Of course, central to Apartheid’s demise were the outcries and actions of celebrity musicians. One such celebrity, Roger Waters, hasn’t stopped using his fame to lobby for change, a characteristic that can sometimes make him seem sanctimonious, but which also gave his most compelling Pink Floyd songs an urgency and bite that holds many decades later, even though the circumstances are much changed (or not). Lines like "we don't need no thought control" have as much currency now as they did forty years ago.




No doubt, some of the most strident, personal, and powerful music Waters wrote for the band comes from The Wall. The rock opera to beat all rock operas, it turned out, provided a rallying cry for South African students, who chanted the notorious lyrics sung by a children's chorus in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” to protest racial inequalities in the school system. “We don’t need no education,” they sang in unison, and the song “held the top spot on the local charts for almost three months,” writes Nick Deriso at Ultimate Classic Rock, “a total of seven weeks longer than it did in America.”

Threatened by the phenomenon, the South African government banned the song, then the whole album, in 1980, imposing what Waters called “a cultural blockade… on certain songs.” Deriso explains that “South Africa’s Directorate of Publications held sweeping power in that era to ban books, movies, plays, posters, articles of clothing and, yes, music that it deemed ‘political or morally undesirable.’” The censors were not the only people to interpret the song as a threat. “People were really driven to frenzies of rage by it,” Waters remembers.

He has since played the song all over the world, including Berlin in 1990, and he spray painted its lyrics on the wall in the West Bank in 2006. “Twenty-five years later,” he writes at The GuardianThe Wall still resonated, this time with Palestinian children, who “used the song to protest Israel’s wall around the West Bank. They sang: ‘We don’t need no occupation! We don’t need no racist wall!” Waters compares the current boycott campaign to the refusal of major stars in the 80s to play South Africa’s Sun City resort “until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights.”

As for the durability of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” as a rallying cry for young activists, the best comment may come from an unlikely source—the Archbishop of Canterbury, who “went on record,” Waters writes, “saying that if it’s very popular with school kids, then it must in some way be expressing some feelings that they have themselves. If one doesn’t like it, or however one feels about it, one should take the opportunity of using it as a starting point for discussion—which was exactly how I felt about it.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Archive of 800+ Imaginative Propaganda Maps Designed to Shape Opinions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Persuasive Maps Collection

We tend to take a very special interest in archives and maps on this site—and especially in archives of maps. Yet it is rare, if not unheard of, to discover a map archive in which every single entry repays attention. The PJ Mode Persuasive Cartography Collection at Cornell University Library is such an archive. Each map in the collection, from the most simplified to the most elaborate, tells not only one story, but several, overlapping ones about its creators, their intended audience, their antagonists, the conscious and unconscious processes at work in their political psyches, the geo-political view from where they stood.

Maps drawn as propaganda must be broad and bold, casting aside precision for the pressing matter at hand. Even when finely detailed or laden with statistics, such maps press their meaning upon us with unsubtle force.




One especially resonant example of persuasive cartography, for example, at the top shows us an early version of a widely-used motif—the “Cartographic Land Octopus,” or CLO, as Frank Jacobs dubs it at Big Think. The CLO has never gone out of style since its likely origin in J.J. van Brederode’s "Humorous War Map" of 1870, which depicts Russia as a monstrous mollusk. Later, Caricaturist Fred W. Rose printed a reprise, the “Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877.”

A full twenty-seven years later, a Japanese student used the very same design for his satirical map of Russia-as-Octopus, the occasion this time the Russo-Japanese War. Titled “A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia,” the Japanese map cites Rose, or “a certain prominent Englishman,” as its inspiration. Its text reads, in part:

The black octopus is so avaricious, that he stretches out his eight arms in all directions, and seizes up every thing that comes within his reach. But as it sometimes happens he gets wounded seriously even by a small fish, owing to his too much covetousness.

No doubt Russian persuasive cartographers had a different view of who was or wasn’t an octopus. Many years after his octopus map, Fred Rose dropped sea creatures for fishing in another of his serio-comic maps, "Angling in Troubled Waters," above, this one from 1899, and showing Russia as a massive incarnation of the tsar, his boots posed to walk all over Europe. After the revolution, the Russian octopus returned, bearing different names but no less menacing a beast.

Many maps in the collection show contradictory views of Russia, or Great Britain, or whatever world power at the time threatened to overrun everyone else. It’s interesting to see the continuity of such depictions over decades, and centuries (Jacobs shows examples of Russian octopi from 1938 and 2008). The map above from 1938 reflects “Nazi expansionist goals,” notes Cornell’s digital collections, by showing the supposed "German" populations scattered all over Europe and the need, as Hitler argued in the quoted speech, to protect and liberate “national comrades” by means of annexation, bombing, and invasion.

Where the blood red of the German map represents the “blood” of the volk, in the map above, from 1917, it stands in for the blood of everyone else if the “leaders of German thought” get what they want. Where the Reich map took aim at Europe, the quoted “former generals,” notes Cornell, “and well-known Pangermanists” in the WWI-era map above wanted to colonize most of the world, a particular affront to the British, who were well on their way to doing so, and to a lesser degree, the French, who wanted to. These two world powers had been at it far longer, however, and not without fierce opposition at home as well as in the colonies.

The famous eighteenth century British caricaturist James Gillray’s most famous print, from 1805, shows William Pitt and Napoleon seated at table, carving up the world between them to consume it.

A steaming ‘plum-pudding’ globe, both intent on carving themselves a substantial portion…. Pitt appears calm, meticulous and confident, spearing the pudding with a trident indicative of British naval supremacy. He lays claim to the oceans and the West Indies. In contrast Napoleon Bonaparte reaches from this chair with covetous, twitching eyes fixed on the prize of Europe and cuts away France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the Mediterranean.

Gillray’s cartoon hardly counts as a “map” but it deserves inclusion in this fine collection. Other notable maps featured include the 1904 “Distribution of Crime & Drunkenness in England and Wales,”a study in the persuasive use of correlation; the 1856 “Reynold’s Political Map of the United States,” illustrating the “stakes involved in the potential spread of slavery to the Western States” in support of the Republican Presidential candidate John Fremont; and the French Communist Party’s 1951 “Who is the Aggressor?” which shows American military bases around the world, their guns—or big black arrows—pointed at China and the U.S.S.R.

There are hundreds more persuasive maps, illustrating views theological, political, social, mechanical, and otherwise, dating from the 15th century to the 2000s. You can browse the whole collection or by date, creator, subject, repository, and format. All of the maps are annotated with catalog information and collector’s notes explaining their context. And all of them, from the frivolous to the world-historical, tell us far more than they intended with their peculiar ways of spatializing prejudices, fears, desires, beliefs, obsessions, and overt biases.

“Every map has a Who, What, Where and When about it,” as collector PJ Mode writes on the Cornell site. “But these maps had another element: Why? Since they were primarily ‘about’ something other than geography, understanding the map required finding the reasoning behind it.” The most recent entry in the archive, Christopher Neiman’s 2011 “World Map of Useless Stereotypes” from The New York Times Magazine turns the persuasive map in on itself, using its satirical devices to poke fun at propaganda’s reductive effects.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Journal of Controversial Ideas, Co-Founded by Philosopher Peter Singer, Will Publish & Defend Pseudonymous Articles, Regardless of the Backlash

Photo of Peter Singer by Mat Vickers, via Wikimedia Commons

Australian bioethicist Peter Singer has made headlines as few philosophers do with claims about the moral status of animals and the “Singer solution to world poverty,” and with far more controversial positions on abortion and disability. Many of his claims have placed him outside the pale for students at Princeton, his current employer, where he has faced protests and calls for his termination. “I favor the ability to put new ideas out there for discussion,” he has said in response to what he views as a hostile academic climate, “and I see an atmosphere in which some people may be intimated from doing that.”

For those who, like him, make controversial arguments such as those for euthanizing “defective infants," for example, as he wrote about in his 1979 Practical Ethics, Singer has decided to launch a new venue, The Journal of Controversial Ideas. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the journal aims to be “an annual, peer-reviewed, open-access publication that will print worthy papers, and stand behind them, regardless of the backlash.” The idea, says Singer, “is to establish a journal where it’s clear from the name and object that controversial ideas are welcome.”




Is it true that “controversial ideas” have been denied a hearing elsewhere in academia? The widely-covered tactics of “no-platforming” practiced by some campus activists have created the impression that censorship or illiberalism in colleges and universities has become an epidemic problem. No so, argues Princeton’s Eddie Glaude, Jr., who points out that figures who have been disinvited to speak at certain institutions have been welcomed on dozens of other campuses “without it becoming a national spectacle.” Sensationalized campus protests are “not the norm,” as many would have us believe, he writes.

But the question Singer and his co-founders pose isn’t whether controversial ideas get aired in debates or lecture forums, but whether scholars have been censored, or have censored themselves, in the specialized forums of their fields, the academic journals. Singer’s co-founder/editor Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, believes so, as he told the BBC in a Radio 4 documentary called “University Unchallenged.” The new journal, said McMahan, “would enable people whose ideas might get them in trouble either with the left or with the right or with their own university administration, to publish under a pseudonym.”

Those who feel certain positions might put their career in jeopardy will have cover, but McMahan declares that “the screening procedure” for publication “will be as rigorous as those for other academic journals. The level of quality will be maintained.” Some skepticism may be warranted given the journal’s intent to publish work from every discipline. The editors of specialist journals bring networks of reviewers and specialized knowledge themselves to the usual vetting process. In this case, the core founding team are all philosophers: Singer, McMahan, and Francesca Minerva, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ghent.

One might reasonably ask how that process can be “as rigorous” on this wholesale scale. Though the BBC reports that there will be an “intellectually diverse international editorial board," board members are rarely very involved in the editorial operations of an academic journal. Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous has some other questions, including whether the degree, or existence, of academic censorship even warrants the journal’s creation. “No evidence was cited,” he writes “to support the claim that ‘a culture of fear and self-censorship’ is preventing articles that would pass a review process” from seeing publication.

Furthermore, Weinberg says, the journal’s putative founders have given no argument “to allay what seems to be a reasonable concern that the creation of such a journal will foster more of a ‘culture of fear and self-censorship’ compared to other options, or that it plays into and reinforces expertise-undermining misconceptions about academia bandied about in popular media that may have negative effects…. Given that the founding team is comprised of people noted for views that emphasize empirical facts and consequences, one might reasonably hope for a public discussion of such evidence and arguments.”

Should scholars publish pseudonymously in peer-reviewed journals? Shouldn’t they be willing to defend their ideas on the merits without hiding their identity? Is such subterfuge really necessary? “Right now,” McMahan asserts, “in current conditions something like this is needed…. I think all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better.” Given that the journal’s co-founders paint such a broadly dire picture of the state of academia, it’s reasonable to ask for more than anecdotal evidence of their claims. A few high-profile incidents do not prove a widespread culture of repression.

It is also “fair to wonder,” writes Annabelle Timsit at Quartz, “whether the board of a journal dedicated to free speech might have a bias toward publishing particularly controversial ideas in the interest of freedom of thought” over the interests of good scholarship and sound ethical practice.

via Daily Nous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The CIA’s Former Chief of Disguise Show How Spies Use Costumes in Undercover Operations

Think on this as you ready your Halloween finery. Sometimes it’s not a case of winning a costume contest, or impressing your friends with your witty take on current events or pop culture.

Sometimes, masquerade is a thin line between life and death.

The CIA’s former Chief of Disguise, Jonna Mendez, rose up through the ranks, having signed on as receptionist shortly after her fiancé revealed—three days before the wedding—that he was actually an undercover agent.




As Chief of Disguise, her mission was to protect case officers in dangerous situations, as well as foreign sources who routinely put their lives at risk by meeting with American operatives.

Transforming their appearance was an additive proposition—while it’s difficult to make someone shorter, slimmer, or younger, it’s not difficult to render them taller, heavier, older…

In her experience, women are easily disguised as men. (She shared with The New York Times' Matthew Rosenberg how she herself passed undetected in male mufti, thanks primarily to a lit cigar.)

Men have a tougher time passing as women. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race might take exception to this position, were it not for the assertion that blending in is key.

The goal is to be forgettable, not fabulous.

For Americans abroad, this poses certain cultural challenges.

Mendez stresses that disguise is much more than a simple facial transformation, involving makeup, false hair, and prosthetics.

It’s dress, carriage, gait, jewelry, scent…

The biggest American giveaway is our shoes. An Italian civilian can peg ‘em with one swift glance.

Passing requires further behavioral modifications in the realms of table manners, gait, and even hanging out. (Europeans distribute their weight evenly, whereas Americans lean.)

To fly beneath the radar, the disguised operative must shoot to transform every aspect of their appearance. Imagine a survey wherein the participant recalls every physical aspect of someone they’ve just encountered. The goal is to nudge that participant into answering every question incorrectly.

What color are your eyes? Your hair? How much do you weigh? How tall are you? How old?  How would you describe your nose? Your voice? Your clothing?

Change it.

Change it all.

You can do so by low tech methods, using whatever is on hand. Mendez once maneuvered an agent out of a tight spot on the Sub-Continent, by improvising a quick change with Dr. Scholl’s powder and cosmetics collected from local CIA wives.

She credits her own second husband, CIA “master of disguise” Tony Mendez (the inspiration for Ben Affleck’s character in Argo) with many trade secrets she put into regular practice: dental facades, speech-altering artificial palettes, prosthetics…

At the high end is the mask she wore to brief former CIA Chief, President George HW Bush, on developments within the disguise program. The President was none the wiser.

Meanwhile, a masked American agent chucked his mask under a Moscow rock when danger compelled him to scupper his mission midway through. That mask now resides in the KGB museum where Mendez cannot visit it.

Check out the Mendezes’ book Spydust for more information on their adventures in the field.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Yale Professor Jason Stanley Identifies 3 Essential Features of Fascism: Invoking a Mythic Past, Sowing Division & Attacking Truth

New books on fascism are popping up everywhere, from independent presses, former world leaders like Madeleine Albright, and academics like Jason Stanley, Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Stanley’s latest book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, has been described as a “vital read for a nation under Trump." And yet, as The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy writes, one of the ironies Stanley points out is that—despite the widespread currency of the term these days—fascism succeeds by making “talk of fascism… seem outlandish.”

Is it?

The word has certainly been diluted by years of misuse. Umberto Eco wrote in his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” that "fascist" as an epithet was casually thrown around “by American radicals… to refer to a cop who did not approve of their smoking habits.” When every authority figure who seems to abuse power gets labeled a fascist, the word loses its explanatory power and its history disappears. But Eco, who grew up under Mussolini and understood fascist Europe, insisted that fascism has clearly recognizable, and portable, if not particularly coherent, features.

“The fascist game can be played in many forms,” Eco wrote, depending on the national mythologies and cultural history of the country in which it takes root. Rather than a single political philosophy, Eco argued, fascism is "a collage... a beehive of contradictions." He enumerated fourteen features that delineate it from other forms of politics. Like Eco, Stanley also identifies some core traits of fascism, such as “publicizing false charges of corruption,” as he writes in his book, “while engaging in corrupt practice.”

In the short New York Times opinion video above, Stanley summarizes his “formula for fascism”—a “surprisingly simple” pattern now repeating in Europe, South America, India, Myanmar, Turkey, the Philippines, and “right here in the United States.” No matter where they appear, “fascist politicians are cut from the same cloth,” he says. The elements of his formula are:

1. Conjuring a “mythic past” that has supposedly been destroyed (“by liberals, feminists, and immigrants”). Mussolini had Rome, Turkey’s Erdoğan has the Ottoman Empire, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban rewrote the country’s constitution with the aim of “making Hungary great again.” These myths rely on an “overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past that is racially pure, traditional, and patriarchal.” Fascist leaders “position themselves as father figures and strongmen” who alone can restore lost greatness. And yes, the fascist leader is “always a ‘he.’”

2. Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves—between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on—are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

3. Fascists “attack the truth” with propaganda, in particular “a kind of anti-intellectualism” that “creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories.” (Stanley’s fourth book, published by Princeton University Press, is titled How Propaganda Works.) We would have to be extraordinarily naïve to think that only fascist politicians lie, but we should focus here on the question of degree. For fascists, truth doesn’t matter at all. (As Rudy Giuliani says, "truth isn't truth.") Hannah Arendt wrote that fascism relies on “a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth.” She described the phenomenon as destroying “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world.... [T]he category of truth verses falsehood [being] among the mental means to this end.” In such an atmosphere, anything is possible, no matter how previously unthinkable.

Using this rubric, Stanley links the tactics and statements of fascist leaders around the world with those of the current U.S. president. It’s a persuasive case that would probably sway earlier theorists of fascism like Eco and Arendt. Whether he can convince Americans who find talk of fascism “outlandish”—or who loosely use the word to describe any politician or group they don’t like—is another question entirely.

FYI: You can download Stanley's new book How Fascism Works, as a free audiobook if you want to try out Audible.com's no-risk, 30-day free trial program. Find details here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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