Yale Professor Jason Stanley Identifies 10 Tactics of Fascism: The “Cult of the Leader,” Law & Order, Victimhood and More

What is fas­cism? Fas­cism is an ide­ol­o­gy devel­oped and elab­o­rat­ed in ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry West­ern Europe and enabled by tech­nol­o­gy, mass media, and weapons of war. Most of us learned the basics of that devel­op­ment from grade school his­to­ry text­books. We gen­er­al­ly came to appre­ci­ate to some degree — though we may have for­got­ten the les­son — that the phrase “creep­ing fas­cism” is redun­dant. Fas­cism stomped around in jack­boots, smashed win­dows and burned Reich­stags before it ful­ly seized pow­er, but its most impor­tant action was the creep­ing: into lan­guage, media, edu­ca­tion, and reli­gious insti­tu­tions. None of these move­ments arose, after all, with­out the sup­port (or at least acqui­es­cence) of those in pow­er.

There are dif­fer­ences between Ital­ian Fas­cism, Ger­man Nazism, and their var­i­ous nation­al­ist descen­dents. Mus­soli­ni secured pow­er chiefly through intim­i­da­tion. But once he was appoint­ed prime min­is­ter by the King in 1922 he began con­sol­i­dat­ing his dic­ta­tor­ship, a process that took sev­er­al years and required such deal­ings as the cre­ation of Vat­i­can City in 1929 to secure the Church’s good­will. Some lat­er fas­cist lead­ers, like Augus­to Pinochet, came to pow­er in coups (with the sup­port of the CIA). Oth­ers, like Hitler, won elec­tions, after a decade of “creep­ing” into the cul­ture by nor­mal­iz­ing nation­al­ist pride based on racial hier­ar­chies and nurs­ing a sense of aggriev­ed per­se­cu­tion among the Ger­man peo­ple over per­ceived humil­i­a­tions of the past.

In every case, lead­ers exploit­ed local hatreds and inflamed ordi­nary peo­ple against their neigh­bors with the con­stant rep­e­ti­tion of an alarm­ing “Big Lie” and the promis­es of a strong­man for sal­va­tion. Every sim­i­lar move­ment that has arisen since the end of WWII, says Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor of Phi­los­o­phy Jason Stan­ley in the video above, has shared these char­ac­ter­is­tics: using pro­pa­gan­da to cre­ate an alter­nate real­i­ty and pay­ing obei­sance to a “cult of the leader,” no mat­ter how repug­nant his tac­tics, behav­ior, or per­son­al­i­ty. “Right wing by nature,” fas­cis­m’s patri­ar­chal struc­ture appeals to con­ser­v­a­tives. While it mobi­lizes vio­lence against minori­ties and left­ists, it seduces those on the right by promis­ing a share of the spoils and val­i­dat­ing con­ser­v­a­tive desires for a sin­gle, uni­fy­ing nation­al nar­ra­tive:

Fas­cism is a cult of the leader. It involves the leader set­ting the rules about what’s true and false. So any kind of exper­tise, real­i­ty, all of that is a chal­lenge to the author­i­ty of the leader. If sci­ence would help him, then he can say, “Okay, I’ll use it.” Insti­tu­tions that teach mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives on his­to­ry in all its com­plex­i­ty are always a threat to the fas­cist leader. 

Rather than sim­ply destroy­ing insti­tu­tions, fas­cists twist them to their own ends. The arts, sci­ences, and human­i­ties must be purged of cor­rupt­ing ele­ments. Those who resist face job loss, exile or worse. The impor­tant thing, says Stan­ley, is the sort­ing into class­es of those who deserve life and prop­er­ty and those who don’t.

[O]nce you have hier­ar­chies set up, you can make peo­ple very ner­vous and fright­ened about los­ing their posi­tion on that hier­ar­chy. Hier­ar­chy goes right into vic­tim­hood because once you con­vince peo­ple that they’re jus­ti­fi­able high­er on the hier­ar­chy, then you can tell them that they’re vic­tims of equal­i­ty. Ger­man Chris­tians are vic­tims of Jews. White Amer­i­cans are vic­tims of Black Amer­i­can equal­i­ty. Men are vic­tims of fem­i­nism. 

The appeal to “law and order,” to police state lev­els of con­trol, only applies to cer­tain threat­en­ing class­es who need to be put back in their place or elim­i­nat­ed. It does not apply to those at the top of the hier­ar­chy, who rec­og­nize no con­straints on their actions because they per­ceive them­selves as threat­ened and in a state of emer­gency. It’s real­ly the immi­grants, left­ists, and oth­er minori­ties who have tak­en over, “and that’s why you need a real­ly macho, pow­er­ful, vio­lent response”:

Law and order struc­tures who’s legit­i­mate and who’s not. Every­where around the world, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion is, in very dif­fer­ent socioe­co­nom­ic con­di­tions, the fas­cist leader comes and tells you, “Your women and chil­dren are under threat. You need a strong man to pro­tect your fam­i­lies.” They make con­ser­v­a­tives hys­ter­i­cal­ly afraid of trans­gen­der rights or homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, oth­er ways of liv­ing. These are not peo­ple try­ing to live their own lives. They’re try­ing to destroy your life, and they’re com­ing after your chil­dren. What the fas­cist politi­cian does is they take con­ser­v­a­tives who aren’t fas­cist at all, and they say, “Look, I know you might not like my ways. You might think I’m a wom­an­iz­er. You might think I’m vio­lent in my rhetoric. But you need some­one like me now. You need some­one like me ’cause homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, it isn’t just try­ing for equal­i­ty. It’s com­ing after your fam­i­ly.”

Stan­ley offers sev­er­al his­tor­i­cal exam­ples for his assess­ment of what he breaks down into a total of 10 tac­tics of fas­cism. (See an ear­li­er video here in which he dis­cuss­es 3 char­ac­ter­is­tics of the ide­ol­o­gy.) Like Umber­to Eco, who iden­ti­fied 14 char­ac­ter­is­tics of what he called “ur-fas­cism” in a 1995 essay, Stan­ley notes that “not all ter­ri­ble things are fas­cist. Fas­cism is a very par­tic­u­lar ide­o­log­i­cal struc­ture” that arose in a par­tic­u­lar time and place. But while its stat­ed aims and doc­trines are sub­ject to change accord­ing to the psy­chol­o­gy of the leader and the nation­al cul­ture, it always shares a cer­tain group­ing, or “bun­dle,” of fea­tures.

Each of these indi­vid­ual ele­ments is not in and of itself fas­cist, but you have to wor­ry when they’re all grouped togeth­er, when hon­est con­ser­v­a­tives are lured into fas­cism by peo­ple who tell them, “Look, it’s an exis­ten­tial fight. I know you don’t accept every­thing we do. You don’t accept every doc­trine. But your fam­i­ly is under threat. Your fam­i­ly is at risk. So with­out us, you’re in per­il.” Those moments are the times when we need to wor­ry about fas­cism.

Below we’re adding Stan­ley’s recent inter­view where he explains how Amer­i­ca has now entered fascism’s legal phase. You can read his relat­ed arti­cle in The Guardian.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

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

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

20,000 Amer­i­cans Hold a Pro-Nazi Ral­ly in Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1939: Chill­ing Video Re-Cap­tures a Lost Chap­ter in US His­to­ry

The Nazis’ 10 Con­trol-Freak Rules for Jazz Per­form­ers: A Strange List from World War II

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

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Frank Frederick Winkel says:

    Sec­ond-year Yale Law stu­dent Trent Col­bert, he with the ele­phan­tine shad­ow in this dis­course, may have anoth­er, time­ly, per­spec­tive on Yale fac­ul­ty com­mit­ment to inde­pen­dent thought and speech.
    The long march of total­i­tar­i­an­ism con­tin­ues.

  • Eric B Rasmusen says:

    My thought too. The Trap House Affair should be of keen inter­est to any stu­dent of fas­cism. https://www.rasmusen.org/rasmapedia/index.php?title=Trent_Colbert I’m wait­ing for some­one to do a study com­par­ing the US today to Ger­many 9 1933 and the purge of Jew­ish and social­ist pro­fes­sors. In that affair, the “rea­son­able major­i­ty” pro­fes­sors were almost 100% silent under pres­sure from pro-Nazi stu­dents, even tho the Gestapo was not yet a dan­ger for them.

  • ben says:

    Utter lies and non­sense. Fas­cism is a polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, move­ment, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that stands for a cen­tral­ized auto­crat­ic gov­ern­ment head­ed by a dic­ta­to­r­i­al leader, severe eco­nom­ic and social reg­i­men­ta­tion, and forcible sup­pres­sion of oppo­si­tion. Every­thing Biden is doing today

  • Sara says:

    There is quite a bit of truth lying in utter lies and non­sense.

    Con­sid­er his com­ments: “let’s begin with the attack on abor­tion right now. which is — the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans reject the repeal of Roe v Wade they want to keep Roe v Wade but we are fac­ing a future in which abor­tion rights are going to be severe­ly cur­tailed -” (starts ram­bling into blam­ing the so-called auto­crat­ic macho man who holds lit­er­al­ly zero polit­i­cal office)

    Repeal­ing Roe v Wade can­not be called an attack on abor­tion.

    It was an attack on the cen­tral­ized author­i­ty and pow­er of the nation­al fed­er­al gov­ern­ment with respect to its author­i­ty over state sov­er­eign­ty.

    We can only view repeal­ing Roe as an attack on abor­tion if it fed­er­al­ly pro­tect­ed abor­tion in the first place. It’s not as if abor­tion became restrict­ed under fed­er­al law when Roe was repealed. Abor­tion was already restrict­ed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and has been since the rul­ing in Roe — under Hyde. Repeal­ing Roe has no bear­ing on the Hyde Amend­ment and it remains iden­ti­cal in its fed­er­al impli­ca­tions post-Roe.

    The fas­cist nation­al­ist argu­ment goes — Roe was pro­tect­ing abor­tion in each of the indi­vid­ual states. From what? State con­sti­tu­tions that actu­al­ly rat­i­fied bod­i­ly auton­o­my (pro­vid­ing actu­al pro­tec­tions against attacks on abor­tion Roe nev­er pre­tend­ed to pro­tect?) Oh. I see. Our con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tures, then?

    The ACLU of Indi­ana is rep­re­sent­ing Planned Par­ent­hood of Indi­ana & Ken­tucky in its law­suit against the state of Indi­ana for what it char­ac­ter­izes as the state leg­is­la­ture’s attack on abor­tion.

    The ACLU of Indi­ana’s PR team has been see­ing to it no one notices the bat­tle is not
    anti-abor­tion vs pro-choice

    It’s pro-access vs pro-Hyde
    Which is the same as
    pro-health­care vs pro-prof­i­teer
    pro-patient rights vs pro-clin­ic
    Women vs Planned­Par­ent­hood

    This is hard­ly an attack on abor­tion by the anti-abor­tion aka pro-life “social con­ser­v­a­tives” he’s refer­ring to…
    We can pre­tend they haven’t been entire­ly pushed from any mean­ing­ful seat at the prover­bial table — only because they’re abor­tion access’s most impor­tant unwit­ting ally. They got us this far — and more impor­tant­ly — no one else is able to rec­og­nize their adver­sary, Planned Par­ent­hood — deprives women of afford­able, safe, pri­vate, access to health­care — and is not the ally they’ve been mis­led to allow to reduce their repro­duc­tive rights to on walks designed to shame and hop­ing to humil­i­ate accom­pa­nied by neon orange vest­ed “escorts” whose health pri­va­cy right vio­la­tion is eager­ly broad­cast­ed.

    For bet­ter or worse, Indi­ana’s state leg­is­la­ture did­n’t make abor­tions ille­gal in the state. They made abor­tion clin­ics ille­gal in the state. They leg­is­lat­ed def­er­ence in state law to pro­fes­sion­al med­ical doc­tors, in hos­pi­tal envi­ron­ments, to indi­vid­u­al­ly define ‘med­ical rea­sons’ for each patient as doc­tors see fit. The lan­guage Indi­ana’s state leg­is­la­ture adopt­ed and passed — is far more pro­tec­tive of abor­tion access than Roe ever pre­tend­ed to be.

    What’s more, its pro­vi­sions intro­duce mon­u­men­tal­ly impor­tant doc­u­men­ta­tion reg­u­la­tions on doc­tors. In doing so the state leg­is­la­ture has lit­er­al­ly solved the 50+ years fed­er­al Hyde Amend­ment prob­lem in Indi­ana.

    Indi­ana’s new abor­tion laws have been char­ac­ter­ized as some of the most restric­tive attacks on abor­tion among the var­i­ous states. This might be true if oppo­site day were a thing. Indi­ana is not alone. Most of the oth­er state leg­is­la­tures accused of pass­ing abor­tion bans — solved the Hyde prob­lem in those states as well.

    But shh­hh 🤫 We’re going to let the nation­al­ist fas­cists over at Yale keep rely­ing on wax­ing poet­ic mean­ing­less mind­less dri­v­el and utopia-dis­tort­ed con­cepts of democ­ra­cy while its tyran­ni­cal mob’s knocks con­tin­ue going ignored out­side the walls of a con­sti­tu­tion­al repub­lic rein­forced to ensure we could keep it.

    It’s reas­sur­ing to note Yale guy’s biased rants and rea­son for resort­ing to crit­i­cal race the­o­ry in appeal­ing to their tar­get audi­ence — that audi­ence is so over­whelm­ing­ly indoc­tri­nat­ed to accept nation­al­is­m’s cen­tral­ized pow­er of our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment — their default assump­tion gross­ly under­es­ti­mates the extent of exist­ing lim­i­ta­tions on that pow­er. Yale elit­ist guy was care­ful to avoid fram­ing his crit­i­cal race the­o­ry com­ments in their prop­er con­text. He did­n’t mis­rep­re­sent it as a nation­al threat. Because he knows he did­n’t have to — he knows the major­i­ty of his audi­ence reli­ably con­sis­tent­ly just assumes with­out any need for steer­ing that pub­lic edu­ca­tion is a pow­er enjoyed fed­er­al­ly, and that pub­lic edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy is uni­form­ly under nation­al­ist con­trol.

    He’s cater­ing to an audi­ence that believes it’s pos­si­ble to “steal” an elec­tion out­come armed with zip­ties. An audi­ence who lacks any­thing remote­ly resem­bling the com­pre­hen­sion nec­es­sary to know well enough to know bet­ter than to believe leg­is­la­tors like Paul Gosar were object­ing on Trump’s behalf on Jan­u­ary 6. An audi­ence so illit­er­ate in U.S. pol­i­tics they assume Repub­li­cans on Jan­u­ary 6 efforts to sus­tain objec­tions to elec­toral votes for Biden — had they suc­ceed­ed — would have simply…reversed? To Trump? It’s lit­er­al­ly how they imag­ine it must work — because they have zero capac­i­ty to even begin to under­stand how it actu­al­ly works. They still think elec­tions are over on elec­tion day. If you told them the DNC and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Ari­zona sued ITSELF in sum­mer of 2020 in an attempt­ed coup on the U.S. con­sti­tu­tion­al pow­er of Ari­zon­a’s state leg­is­la­ture to change elec­tion laws — hop­ing to usurp that pow­er for Ari­zon­a’s sec­re­tary of state, of course it sounds like a crack­pot Qanon schiz­o­phrenic plot to them because they have no pri­or knowl­edge what­so­ev­er, and any­one com­pe­tent enough to know how to look it up to defin­i­tive­ly prove it did­n’t hap­pen. Of course they’ll wave it off when it goes over their head that Democ­rats left a des­per­ate paper trail of unde­ni­able red-hand­ed proof of their efforts to get away with count­ing unsigned bal­lots AFTER the polls closed in 2020.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.