This is a timely book by a brilliant person who had a front row seat to the tragedy that was Europe in the Mid-20th Century. There is little doubt that the world is starting to look fearfully like it did at the beginning of those dark hours, starting with the tyranny of...
This is a timely book by a brilliant person who had a front row seat to the tragedy that was Europe in the Mid-20th Century. There is little doubt that the world is starting to look fearfully like it did at the beginning of those dark hours, starting with the tyranny of Hitler and Mussolini and culminating in the Cold War and the gulags of the Soviet Union.
Figuratively speaking, this is really three books. The first will be the most divisive and may, in fact, quite unfortunately, relegate the book to practical irrelevance. The second book is extremely insightful and informative. And the third book, honestly, is pure gold and vintage Madeline Albright.
The first book begins with a contradiction. Albright openly acknowledges that Fascism has become a meaningless epithet, hurled, as it is, by opposing politicians of every stripe and at parents merely attempting to limit the cell phone usage of their children. She goes on to defend the titular use of the term, however, by clarifying her use of the term: “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.”
At that point, however, she hasn’t really narrowed the list of politicians who qualify for the pejorative label at all. Every reader will conclude that his or her political enemies fit the bill. She seals the fate of this portion of the book, however, when she asks, on page 4 of the book, “…why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?” And answers, “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.” And she goes on to make thinly veiled comparisons between Trump, Mussolini, and Joseph McCarthy.
And, unfortunately, I fear, she, in one fell swoop of prose, both fuels the fires of division while exiling the book to practical irrelevance. In the end, she will likely only energize both political extremes, and, I suspect, the reader ratings of this book will ultimately reflect that.
That is most unfortunate because without those opening pages this would be a truly terrific book. It chronicles both relevant history and the recent past to a degree that few other people on the planet could.
The second part of the book is devoted to an analysis of recent political events in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines, Russia, North Korea, and, of course, the United States. All, to varying degrees, she maintains, are showing signs of a slide toward Fascism and the decline of post-war liberal democracy. It is an informative analysis and unless you are a political junkie, you will learn a lot.
In the third part of the book she truly hits her stride. She notes, for starters, that the Fascist epithet may be appropriate for the US today for reasons having more to do with economics than populism. The Fascist Party of Italy, which gave rise to general use of the term, was the ultimate merger of the corporate and political states. And that is, in fact, what has happened here in the US.
The incorporation of America has been going on since the conservative movement of the 1980s, however, and while Trump is carrying the corporate water at the moment, he can hardly be blamed for allowing Wall Street and Silicon Valley to take control of Washington.
The incorporation accelerated greatly during the dot-com 90s when young entrepreneurs were preaching disruption and libertarianism. It is ironic, indeed, that tech’s “democratic” perspective has now produced among the biggest and most powerful corporations the world has ever known. And they pulled it off, actually, while the anti-trust regulators in both Republican and Democratic administrations stood by and watched.
To me what we have today is not so much analogous to the Fascist or Nazi parties of the mid-20th Century as it is the power of the church in Medieval Europe. The kings and queens of Washington may wear the crowns, but it is the corporate “popes” of Wall Street and Silicon Valley that are really calling the shots.
Which is why both parties, I think, should be fearful of whatever happens in the mid-term elections. Be careful what you wish for. Neither party has defined an agenda that addresses the issues that originally brought Trump to power. And until that happens I believe Albright’s Fascist warning will remain valid.
In the final chapters of the book Albright notes that putting American interests first invites Russia, China, and others to do the same. And it is here that she lowers her partisan guard (we all have one) and calls for unity through the recognition of our common humanity and the rejection of extremism that favors one group over another.
It is here that she also seems to soften her position on ideals of post-war democratic liberalism and focuses more on compassion, integrity, and fairness. I think of it as defining a new standard of shared obligation and responsibility that includes those countries and those people that aren’t rushing to implement an Electoral College and to copy our form of bare-knuckle individualism, but those are my words, not hers.
In the end she notes that spend her time on issues like: “…purging excess money from politics, improving civic education, defending journalistic independence, adjusting to the changing nature of the workplace, enhancing inter-religious dialogue, and putting a saddle on the bucking bronco we call the Internet.” It’s a perfect ending to what is a very good book by an inspiring individual.
I do recommend reading it.