The 2016 presidential election made me think about 1933 and Hitler’s rise to power. I’ve known that he came to power through constitutional means and then used that power from the inside to destroy a constitutional system of government. This seemed like a good time to better understand the way that someone who was a megalomaniac, not taken seriously by elites, brought to power by pandering to people’s fears, could take control of the levers of power.
I just read Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism. For me it helped clarify the tasks before us. In discussing Hitler’s and Mussolini’s rise to power Paxton says it is important to look at the means through which these fascists translated an ability to mobilize popular discontent into an almost unlimited ability to control the machineries of governmental power.
His core claim is that both Hitler and Mussolini gained support by being emotionally satisfying nationalist alternatives to the left. Mainstream conservatives were willing to go along with their programs, distasteful as many found them, because working together in coalition, they were the only viable way to keep from making concessions to economic policies that would favor the working class over the elites. The mainstream conservatives and business elites made a pact with the devil in order to gain power.