On Fascism: 12 Lessons from American History (Paperback)
As featured on NPR's "On Point"
"The twelve lessons in On Fascism draws from American history and brilliantly complement those of Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny."
An expert on American authoritarianism offers a searing rebuke of the exceptional narrative that dominates our understanding of US history. In 12 lessons, Matthew C. MacWilliams' On Fascism exposes the divisive rhetoric, strongman tactics, violent othering, and authoritarian attitudes that course through American history and compete with our egalitarian, democratic aspirations. Trumpism isn’t new, but rooted in our refusal to come to terms with this historical reality.
The United States of Lyncherdom, as Mark Twain labeled America. Lincoln versus Douglas. The Chinese Exclusion Act. The Trail of Tears. The internment of Japanese-Americans. The Palmer Raids. McCarthyism. The Surveillance State. At turning points throughout history, as we aspired toward great things, we also witnessed the authoritarian impulse drive policy and win public support. Only by confronting and reconciling this past, can America move forward into a future rooted in the motto of our Republic since 1782: e pluribus unum (out of many, one).
But this book isn’t simply an indictment. It is also a celebration of our spirit, perseverance, and commitment to the values at the heart of the American project. Along the way, we learn about many American heroes – like Ida B. Wells, who dedicated her life to documenting the horrors of lynching throughout the nation, or the young Jewish-American who took a beating for protesting a Nazi rally in New York City in 1939. Men and women who embodied the soaring, revolutionary proclamations set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution.
On Fascism is both an honest reckoning and a call for reconciliation. Denial and division will not save the Republic, but coming to terms with our history might.
About the Author
Matthew C. MacWilliams is a scholar, an award-winning practitioner of American politics, and a recognized expert on authoritarianism. He was the first researcher to use survey research to establish a link between Trump’s core supporters and authoritarianism. Early in the Republican nominating contest for president, he warned that Trump’s activation of American authoritarians would make his candidacy virtually unstoppable. His articles in POLITICO, the London School of Economics blog, and VOX on Trump sparked an international media debate that contributed to the framing of Trump and his tactics as authoritarian. His work was reprinted or referenced by leading media around the world including CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, the Washington Post, Newsweek, New York Times columnist David Brooks, NPR, The Atlantic, and Der Spiegel. He has presented to elected officials and civil society leaders in the United States and Europe about the rise of authoritarianism and its implications for the future of democracy.
"To prevent the ravages of fascism, it’s essential to understand its roots in our national character and experience. The twelve lessons in On Fascism draws from American history and brilliantly complement those of Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny."
—Laurence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University, and author of To End a Presidency
"It is comforting to assume our nation is built on a secure foundation that protects our right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' But far from being on solid ground, we are instead walking a precarious tightrope with no net except our better angels. As MacWilliams shows, authoritarian demagogues and a frightening portion of the public have always been willing and eager to tear away the balance pole of reason and push democracy into the abyss. By showing the failures of the past and the present, this accessible, alarming, and insightful work is a much needed reality check and counterweight to the resurgent extremism of our times."
—Brian Baird, PhD and former congressman for Washington's 3rd district
"This is a very scary book—and one that every citizen who wants America to remain a democracy needs to read. A University of Massachusetts Amherst expert in authoritarianism, Matthew MacWilliams demonstrates with a rich review of US history how fragile (and still flawed) our system is. And, he convincingly warns that 'Trumpism' has put us on a path toward 'a hollowing out of our Republic' that only work and dedication by every citizen can help us avoid."
—Morton Kondracke, political commentator and author of Jack Kemp
"In On Fascism, MacWilliams draws upon years of political campaign experience for his insights, further informed by an encyclopedic knowledge of public opinion data and his scholarly interest in and grasp of authoritarianism. The result is an eminently readable, fact-packed and compellingly argued treatise on just how imperiled America’s representative democracy is at this point in the 21st Century."
—Les Francis, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter
"Written in a pithy manner, this is both a solemn reminder of America's unreckoned and yet celebrated past, and a course for a better future. MacWilliams guides readers in understanding how authoritarianism, through fear and ignorance, has shaped U.S. history, and will continue to do so if not properly addressed."