June 22, 2022


Perhaps the most prominent representative of this tendency today is one Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, Jason Stanley. Trained in epistemology and the philosophy of language, Stanley turned to politics in 2015 with his book How Propaganda Works. He completed his metamorphosis into a political theorist in 2018 with the best-selling follow-up, How Fascism Works. His books were perfectly of the age: American liberals, horrified by the Trump revolt and desperate to find a definitive tie between Trumpism and the kind of movements that installed Hitler and Mussolini, devoured them. There are fascists on the prowl, and they’re all the people Jason Stanley doesn’t like.

Stanley claims that the goal of his book was not to describe fascist regimes, but rather to delimit the essential characteristics of fascist politics — distilled into a checklist of 10 essential qualities — which may or may not congeal into a regime down the line. This distinction allows him to avoid any mention whatever of Spain’s Franco, Austria’s Dollfuss, Romania’s Antonescu, or Portugal’s Salazar, while every single chapter contains at least one instance of the word “Trump.” But as Samuel Moyn observed in an essay for The New York Review of Books, “If Stanley is right, most of modern political history is fascist, latently or openly.” His definition is gravely overbroad. A vast majority of politics as such — for decades if not centuries, whether left- or right-coded, in America or beyond — contains most if not all of what Stanley believes to be characteristic of fascism.

The professors of “academic Twitter” have subordinated their work as professional intellectuals to the news cycle, yoking their reputations to the delirious churn of outrage media.

Twitter is the mind-killer. You could write a book on it.

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