“Fascism: A Warning,” by Madeline Albright

“On the day Fascists first altered the direction of my life, I had barely mastered the art of walking.” So begins Albright’s book, a personal and urgent examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world.

Albright brings a unique perspective as a both refugee from the Holocaust and the first woman to serve as Secretary of State.

Madeleine Albright, flanked by grandmothers Růžena Spieglová (left) and Olga Körbelová.(Courtesy Madeleine Albright and Harper Collins)

Discussion Questions:

1). The premise of Albright’s book is that the 20th Century was not atypical and could return. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Guernica is a large 1937 oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. One of Picasso’s best known works, Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history, It is exhibited in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

2). Mussolini (Il Duce) who was Italy’s Prime Minister from 1922 until 1943, used the term “drenare la palude,” or “drain the swamp.” He had a talent for theatre and discouraged cabinet members from “proposing any idea that might cause him to doubt his instincts,” which, he insisted, were always right.

Adolf Hitler came to power by, inter alia, providing a simple path for a people that were craving direction. He “lied incessantly about himself and about his enemies,” Albright writes. He convinced millions that he “cared for them deeply when, in fact, he would have willingly sacrificed them all.”

The parallels with the current president are obvious so the more interesting question is how is Trump different from Mussolini and Hitler? Is it unfair to compare Trump to historical figures freighted with connotation?

Hitler’s Trousers after the 1944 Assassination Attempt
Birds of a Feather?

3). The United States was not immune to the temptation of Fascism. In 1940, the America First Committee included Nazi sympathizers—and claimed eight hundred thousand members within its first year. In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, fooled many by using the demagogue’s trick: “repeat a lie often enough and it begins to sound like it must—or at least might—be so.”

Albright warns the danger is not behind us. “We are becoming disconnected from the ideals that have long inspired and united us.” Is she right? Is the United States of today in danger of failing prey to Fascism? If so, what can the average citizen do in prevention?

But for the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States may have maintained its isolationist policies during WW2
Joseph Welch (seated left) and Senator Joespeh McCarthy (standing right) during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings.
credit: United States Senate Historical Office

4). Fascism is hard to define. On page 253 of her book, Albright sets for a series of “the right questions” to ask when ascertaining the true bent of a politician.

Do you agree with her proposed litmus test? How does Trump fare under that test?

5). The quote: “Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it,” is attributed to Dr. Joseph Goebbels.

As of October 14, 2019, President Trump has made 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/14/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/

How has this become acceptable? What role does changes in communication technology and distribution played in society’s acceptance of political prevarication?

6) Some consider Albright’s set of suggestions to forsestall Fascim (e.g. reclaiming “the vital center” in politics, rediscovering ideals that unite us, calling for “responsible leaders from both parties to address national needs together”, etc.) hollow.

Do you agree with that assessment? What policy prescriptions would you add?

7). Finally, as always, did you like the book? Would you recommend it? Why or why not.

A Two Thousand-Year-Old Warning

About the Author:

The future US secretary of state Madeleine Korbel with her father, Josef Korbel, photographed in America, 1945. Photograph: The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

Madeleine Korbel Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová) was the first woman to become United States Secretary of State. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996 and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate 99-0. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.

Madeleine Albright is the author of the New York Times bestsellers “Madam Secretary,” “The Mighty and the Almighty,” “Memo to the President,” and “Read My Pins.”

One comment

  1. This is one of the best books I’ve read. It’s organized and it flows well. The information is relevant and as as the author relates how her own life has been touched by fascism, it provides a more humanistic perspective of how fascism gained traction and its lasting impact. 5 stars.

    Like

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