Former US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, pulls no punches in her cautionary book Fascism: A Warning (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 288 pp.).
Drawing on her personal experiences as a child in war-torn Europe, her time in government and conversations with her students at Georgetown University where she serves as professor of International Relations in the university’s School of Foreign Service, Albright traces the history of Fascist states and leaders between the end of World War I and now.
In her introductory chapter Albright acknowledges that recent international developments suggest that democracy, once heralded as the undisputed future of humankind after World War II in 1945 and the Fall of Communism in 1989, is “under assault and in retreat” around the world.
She suggests that the recent emergence of strong men and populist leaders around the world is evidence that Fascism is making a comeback of sorts.
Having said that, Albright attempts to explain the meaning of “real Fascism,” positing that there really is no universally agreed-upon definition of the term. Drawing upon discussions with her students, Albright concludes that “Fascism should perhaps be viewed less as a political ideology than as a means for seizing and holding power.”
She also states: “To my mind, a Fascist is someone who identifies strongly with and claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use whatever means are necessary – including violence – to achieve his or her goals. In that conception, a Fascist will likely be a tyrant, but a tyrant need not be a Fascist.”
But more importantly, she wonders aloud “Why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?”
“One reason, frankly, is Donald Trump. If we think of Fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab,” she says.
Describing herself as “an optimist who worries a lot,” the author expresses her concern over Trump’s election and the actions of the self-proclaimed “stable genius” during his first year and a half in office.
At this point she leaves Trump behind, promising to get back to him towards the end of the book, and launches into her survey of past and present strong men and their regimes.
Italy’s Mussolini ( the father of modern Fascism), Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Bosnia’s Slobodan Milosevic, North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, and others, are all analyzed in terms of what contributions each made to modern Fascism.
That line leads directly to Donald Trump, the man who now occupies the US White House.
While stopping short of calling Trump a Fascist (as many have), Albright warns that the United States is headed in that direction.
“Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was ‘bully,’ and on the day of the Normandy invasion, Franklin Roosevelt prayed to the Almighty for a ‘peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.’ By contrast, President Trump’s eyes light up when strongmen steamroll opposition, brush aside legal constraints, ignore criticism, and do whatever it takes to get their way.”
Now that Trump has declared a “National Emergency” to build the Border Wall between the United Sates and Mexico he promised during the 2016 campaign, how much closer is America to becoming a Fascist state?
Only time will tell.
Albright’s book is a welcome addition to the growing canon on Fascism. It should be compulsory reading for all thinking Americans.
Rick Young, February 16, 2019