Enzo Traverso’s book is a broad introduction to current right-wing political thought in Europe. The right ranges from outright fascists (notably in Greece) to old-fashioned conservatives, but seems to cluster around an anti-immigrant, nativist, backward-looking stance that is more concerned with maintaining ethnic or at least religious purity than with economic policies. The right seems more concerned with ideology and culture than with economics. Most of the right seem broadly comfortable with Europe’s welfare state systems, and broadly uncomfortable with free-wheeling capitalism, but there the uniformity ends. Traverso thus sees fascism and postfascism—the current anti-immigrant, anti-change movements—as cultural and ideological, not political and economic. My own definition is different: I see the essence of fascism in the fusion of authoritarian, murderous, powerful government with giant firms and suppression of labor. This was the core of “National Socialism,” and is the core of American fascism today. Traverso also briefly addresses Islamic extremism, pointing out that Muslim countries never had free or democratic institutions and have always had varying degrees of religious repression. He is, however, aware that many current Islamicists are young men (rarely women) with little real knowledge of Islam. He cites one would-be killer captured with a book Islam for Dummies in his baggage.
One interesting aspect of the right-wing turn has been “revisionist” histories of fascism. Right-wing historians now range from those who want no more than rhetoric-free history to outright fascist apologists for Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. They see the USSR as far worse at the game of tyranny. Conversely, left-wing revisionists find much good in Stalin and far less in Hitler. (I am reminded of recent efforts in the China literature to rehabilitate Mao Zedong. These range from moderate texts pointing out that at least he did bring food and medical care to China to outright defenses of his murderous excesses.) Traverso ends by interrogating the idea of “totalitarianism,” which he finds too broad and loaded a term. I do not entirely agree. Granted, understanding Hitler and understanding Stalin require extremely different types of investigation. Yet there is still something about one man seizing total power and using it to kill millions of others for absurd reasons that unifies not only Hitler and Stalin, but also Mao, Qin Shi Huang Di, Savonarola, and many others throughout history. Genocide, for instance, is a highly predictable event, something that would be unlikely if it were “really” a lot of unrelated phenomena. I will duly continue to use the word, but with proper attention to the enormous diversity of things it covers.
One minor complaint about an otherwise extremely rich and valuable book: One, he does not understand the Trump phenomenon in the US. He thinks Trump is more or less a one-off wild card. Not so; Trump is the result of a very long and systematic political effort by genuine fascists—people who still support Hitler and his ideals—and other extremist right-wingers of a more “postfascist” sort.
- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Verso; Translation edition (1 April 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1788730461
- ISBN-13: 978-1788730464
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.1 x 21.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 358 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 49,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)