Memories Require Nuance

Declan Da Barp

The German Catechism debates laid bare the tumultuous creation of memory in the post-45 context. In the piece that spawned these debates, Dirk Moses raises a number of profoundly difficult questions about how holocaust memory was fostered and the memories that it is used to obscure – particularly that of colonial violence. Moses, quoting Franz Neumann, calls Nazism a form of “racial imperialism” (7). His comments were not without controversy. As pointed out by Neil Gregor, there is no clear other that Moses is pointing to but rather the ominous “high-priests”.

Fundamentally, these debates were part of a long history of remembrance and historical narratives that form the social milieu. As is so eloquently pointed out in Evans’ piece, the lack of a colonial narrative is not unique to Germany or Europe, but an issue here in Canada and countless other countries globally. Germany and many global north countries are changing, and these narratives are being challenged. With a colonial memory being brought to the fore, ideas of the holocaust’s uniqueness are being examined and repositioned within a much wider historical context. Nuance is being introduced into a composition of a past that was black and white – a German past rather than the past of Europe collectively. Debates, such as the German Catechism, are a crucial arena in which societal memory can be pulled apart and discussed – the voice of scholars in the public domain is a key in creating this nuance. Creating a grey narrative that views an event through a myriad of lenses promotes robust debate around tough and painful memories – ones that must be viewed within a wider context to fully understand their shortcomings.

Can Historical Memory Escape Ideology?

By Ali Yasin

Collective memory and the culture surrounding it have become contentious and emotionally charged issues across the Global North. As many developed countries struggle to come to terms with their colonial legacies, traditional frameworks of historical memory have been challenged by an increasingly diverse array of perspectives. This inclusion of marginalized and subaltern voices (including post-colonial, feminists, and queer experiences) in the debates regarding memory culture, has been met by a growing reaction both institutionally and publicly. Its opponents argue that this postmodernist trend has undermined both the collective memory of western society and the liberal/enlightenment values it facilitates.

Although this debate is often framed simplistically in most national contexts, with both sides claiming to defended an empirical telling of history from the attempt to supplant with an ideological narrative, the reality is far more nuanced. We explored this theme by examining the “Catechism Debate”, an online public discourse between numerous scholars on Germany’s modern memory culture of the Holocaust. The debate was instigated by a Dirk Moses’ piece The German Catechism, in which he argues that the rigid commitment to Germany’s post ‘68 view of the Holocaust as a singular and uniquely German “rupture from the moral foundation of the nation”, has limited German perspective on genocide and systematic violence, particularly in regards to its own colonial legacy.

As the debate quickly progressed with many scholars reflecting on Moses’ argument, it became apparent that the construction of collective memory culture is an inherently ideological process. Even when historians agree entirely on the empirical information surrounding a period of history, the way that period or event is situated within a wider historical context inevitably carries ideological connotations. Both contextualizing the Holocaust as another example of systematic colonial genocide and maintaining its status as a singular historical event with no direct comparison, create societal narratives that have a formative effect on the character of a political community.

If the ideological implications of collective memory construction and culture cannot be escaped, this tendency can at least be balanced by taking a pluralistic approach to both institutional and public discourses on historical memory. As the Catechism Debate demonstrated, the ideological dimensions of collective memory can only be deconstructed and effectively understood when they are examined from multiple opposing perspectives.   

Societies: A Complex Web – Cultural Memory, Progression and Narrative Manipulation

Wesley M.

We’re currently in December 2021, over 76 years since the end of World War II, and of fascism within Europe. In reality Europe’s struggle against fascism never ended, the false narrative that fascism was eradicated was entirely because of the Allies victory, which created the belief that the fascists were gone forever, and that genocide would never be allowed to happen again. In reality, this was a complete hogwash for the masses as several genocides have occurred since 1945, and neofascists returned by undermining the developed societal narrative of progression within their countries through creating a counterpoint for the criticism of said progressive ideals and policies.

Societal narratives are about portraying an acceptable viewpoint, primarily that of the elite. The Dirk Moses articles points this out through his criticism of contemporary Germany not engaging with existing racism and their colonialist history. He points out that by creating the narrative of progress as well as repentance for the Holocaust after WWII, the reunified Germany is able to ignore much of its unpleasant past by making the countries seem more moral. By forming this narrative, the German state has also allowed for a kind of limit are to be placed on comparing other levels of crime to that one particular event all throughout Europe; with the Holocaust serving as a kind of yardstick for level of inhumanity and brutal horror, with differing genocides that occurred since being deemed un-comparable by the international community due to the belief that it any comparison demeans the overall Holocaust repentance narrative (Israel has particularly used that belief to their advantage to deflect any criticisms of their policies regarding Palestinians). Sadly countries reckoning with its past would as Professor Jennifer Evans points out, undermine or completely destroy any created narrative if a full accounting of any country’s past ever truly took place.

Any societal narratives or myth that is constructed simply refers to manipulation and a narrative that will allow the citizenry to be able to sleep at night (all societies either want to believe they have the moral high ground or at the very least that they are working on their way towards morality, when the fact is that every society has skeleton in the closet somewhere within its past; some unacknowledged unpleasantness or horrific event).

Any narrative that is created within a society is manipulated by default because it never shows the society as a whole, rather it can only portray a limited perspective: there will always be facets of that society that are missing from that shown perspective, it is unavoidable (as anyone who has ever seen an archive: there are always stories that are left out, archivists have to pick and choose as they can’t fit everything within). Despite this unpleasant reality, all countries should reckon with all of their past not just some of it, in order to be able to create a better society for all of their citizens.

Bibliography:

Evans, Jennifer. “Ends and Beginnings.” The New Fascism Syllabus (blog), June 16, 2021. https://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/ends-and-beginnings/.

Moses, Dirk. “The German Catechism.” The New Fascism Syllabus (blog), May 23, 2021. http://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/the-catechism-debate/the-german-catechism/.

Moses, Dirk. “Dialectic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung.” The New Fascism Syllabus. The New    Fascism Syllabus (blog), June 15, 2021. http://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/dialectic-of-vergangenheitsbewaltigung/.

Memory, the full picture?

Kathleen McKinnon

The discussion of memory is important in the topic of populism, because as has been seen throughout the course, often the backing for ideology is a historical narrative. As the Moses article points out in the Catechism Debate, that this type of historical manipulation like romanticizing of the past, leads to things like radicalization which can end in extremes like Auschwitz. The manipulation of history always has the potential of spiraling to extremes since it can create polarizing images as well as images of the past that are incomplete giving people a sense of pride or a sense of not being acknowledged. 

I think the discourse last week on the differences between right and left-winged nationalism and their similarities might also point to history being used on both sides for their particular advantage. Firstly the right in idealism with a push to return to the “way things were” and the left in emphasizes things that need to be “fixed.” Memory is a tool that is tied heavily to emotion so it is no surprise how divisive it can be, although this is not a European phenomenon and is experienced all over the world, the memory of specific European events like the Holocaust can be very difficult to navigate with respecting memories and moving on from the past and perhaps this is how memory begins to be selective.

Memory in Europe

Emma C

This week we finally touch upon the theme of memory and collective memory which we have touched upon numerous times throughout the course. In particular we are looking at the Holocaust and its collective memory in Europe. What is interesting is how such an event can be remembered and experienced differently by so many different people, no two stories or retellings will be the same. The Holocaust is what we compare many right-wing groups to and the reemergence of them.

As we have discussed previous weeks is how some right-wing groups use the Holocaust to defend their actions. They compare their actions and ideas by saying, while we’re not like the Nazi’s and therefore aren’t bad. Although these groups may not be going about the same practices, they do share similar values such as national pride and migration. I think by not acknowledging certain aspects and omitting things from memory can cause harm and a disservice. Certain people may view the event through the eyes of the party they follow, and another may look at the event through the eyes of a family member who experienced it.

There are many nuances to collective memory and memory culture which can make it difficult to police who uses memory in what way. My omitting things from memory it can cause harm or minimize the true impact of the event. There is a fine line that can be easy to cross when using memory for political agendas.

Memory-Making

Alison Miller

These pieces on the Catechism debate really dig through the mille-feuille that is memory creation and culture. It’s is already summed up in the pieces themselves, but the questions of who is responsible for memory culture, how that culture is built (ex. “officially” versus “unofficially”), who and what is reinforcing it, the state’s version of events versus individuals versus groups, etc. are all coming together to address this issue around Holocaust memorialisation and German colonial memory.

I read a few different articles, but the one that really stuck out for me was Wolff’s “Refusing the Extended Hand.” His experiences are tied to his identity as well as the identity of those around him that he interacted with, as an Eastern German, a Communist, and a Jewish person.

His piece highlights the complexities of memorialisation. His discussion on the East versus West German development of memory culture displays that despite current the geographical unity of the German state, there is still a hegemonic imposition of specific historical narratives upon those that have different historical experiences.

One of the things that Wolff brought up that I hadn’t thought about before was the sterility of institutional leftist memory culture. There is a specific experience that Wolff draws on, but I think that this is a concept of sterility really gets at what all of these entries about the Catechism debate are about (I think sterility can be applied to a lot of other things to, as I perceive it as almost a critique of memory culture as building franchises in different places to provide exactly the same product to as many people as possible). Opinions and methods of building memory culture that are outside of the hegemonic narrative add complications that the entities responsible for this culture do not like. Memorialisation is deprived of complicating factors not only as a method of maintaining a state-sponsored coherent narrative, but almost as a preventative to avoid right-wing groups from appropriating dissenting opinions in order to deny that events ever happened, or at the very least manipulate the narrative to their own ends.

In not addressing these nuances, it’s just as Wolff says – the memory culture is not for memory or culture.

There is certainly something to be said about the fact that Holocaust memorialisation should centre the Jewish experience, but somehow Jewish voices that do not agree with institutional memory are at odds with the narrative.

Is Populism Inherently Opposed to Democracy or Liberalism?

By Ali Yasin

Many have argued that we are currently living through a populist era, as challenges to the liberal-democratic status quo from both the far right and the far left, have become increasingly anti-elitist and majoritarian in character. Because of its appeal across the political spectrum, scholars have struggled to define populism using traditional comparative and theoretical approaches. The majority now view populism as style of politics which can be adopted to most ideologies, rather than a concrete philosophy.

Although there is still extensive debate surrounding which features distinguish a political movement as being populist, the most widely accepted aspect of populism is its framing of “the people” as being in inherent opposition to the corrupt elites. Where individual populist movements vary however, is in how they define both “the people” as well as the elites.

Far right populism almost universally describes “the people” as the organic ethnic/national community. They then often argue that its traditionally homogeneous values and demographics are being eroded by a corrupt elite whose interests and values have become multicultural and transnational.

By contrast, far left populists generally frame the conflict between the people and the elite along economic rather than ethnic lines, claiming to represent an overwhelming majority of the population which has been negatively impacted by the unprecedented expansion of global capitalism since the 1980s. Both criticize the elite and contemporary status quo as being irreconcilably disconnected from the needs and interests of the majority. They differ substantial however on how they define the boundaries of the political community, and why the elite fall outside of it.

To some political scientists including Catherine Fieschi and Tjitske Akkerman, whose work was covered this week, this is a distinction without a difference as both the far right and left ultimately rely on resentment of the elite to drive their political agendas. While the far left may not depend on appeals to ethnic or even cultural solidarity to mobilize “the people”, its desire to exclude on the elite minority on the basis that they prevent majoritarian rule, non the less represents a form of anti-democratic xenophobia.

Others like Cass Mudde have instead claimed that rather than being inherently anti-democratic, populism across the left-right spectrum can be seen as an illiberal form of democracy which emerges as a reaction to increasingly undemocratic liberal societies. In order to maintain the stability of a complex and globalized free market, liberal-democratic governments have gradually become depoliticized, with little meaningful policy difference existing between major political parties. This trend towards technocratic governance at the expense of democratic engagement, has not only widened the gulf between the state’s population and its governing institutions, but also generates the desire for majoritarian rule as economic and ecological crisis continue to define our current political climate. Both the contemporary far-right and far-left use this populist backlash against the liberal-democratic status quo to revitalize their traditional political programs. Where they substantially differ is on which elements of the status quo they seek to undermine. All populist movements are inherently opposed to liberalism, but only those on the far right are inevitably incompatible with democracy.

Works Cited:

Catherine Fieschi, “A Plague on Both Your Populisms” (April 19, 2012) Open Democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/plague-on-both-your-populisms/

Cas Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, C “Exclusionary vs. inclusionary populism: Comparing contemporary Europe and Latin America” Government and Opposition 48 (2013): 147–174.

M. Rooduijn Akkerman T. “Flank attacks: Populism and left-right radicalism in Western Europe” Party Politics 23 (3) (2017): 193-204.

Left/Right Comparisons of Populists – Same As They Ever Were

Wesley M.

This week’s readings touch on something I have been eager to discuss for quite a while, which is the irony of populism. If you’ll forgive a little digression, the way our society views populism we often think of the far right populists (which is in part helped by the media biases, but as this week clearly indicates the fact that, many people in society who are not aware of populist impacts, far-left populism does exists and is often times just as prevalence as the far right. The main difference being the far-left populists do not necessarily use the same tactics as the far right. Despite that the facts remains populism on either side on both sides of the political spectrum is not really all that different (oh it may appear different on the surface, but in reality, they both use the same playbook of xenophobia). One appears respectable wearing a smile on its face while espousing division of in and out groups and subtly encouraging societal disunity through the promotion of one group over the other. The other one snarls, foams at the mouth, and angrily rants in front of a group of disaffected people about how they should blame another group of people for their problems.).

The article by Catherine Fieschi, was intriguing because it talked about how populism is symptomatic of the failure of democracies institutions (when I say failure I’m referring to the fact that populists want quick action and democratic institutions are notoriously slow as is any bureaucracy, though populists don’t make that specific point of bureaucratic weakness to their followers as it would undermine their claim to be a better alternative). She points that both groups of populists argue against the elite claiming give people a voice, favour easily fixable solutions, and regardless of opens in a phobia that both sides use a with us or against us attitude.[1] The Matthijs Rooduijn and Tjitske Akkerman article analysing European populism shows that left-wing populists uses the argument of morality to justify its policies of grouping people for and against their own policies labelling the people for is good and the people against them as the opposite.[2] The Cas Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser article is fascinating as looks at the difference between the populists methods the right-wing populists exclude openly while the left-wing populists use inclusion to further their goals while subsequently subtly excluding those who don’t fit up to their standards or agree with their policies while avoiding direct accusations of exclusion through their inclusive model, and repolarizing politics to accomplish their goals.[3]

Luke March’s article looks at how both kinds of populism are not the same, he discusses different methods of measuring populism with a lot of statistical graphing that almost made it seem like a mathematical article while doing various case studies of Britain’s main parties to show that populist rhetoric is not highly common among them while still occasionally being used.[4]


[1] Catherine Fieschi, “A Plague on Both Your Populisms” Open Democracy (April 19, 2012):  https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/plague-on-both-your-populisms/

[2] Matthijs Rooduijn, and Tjitske Akkerman. “Flank Attacks: Populism and Left-Right Radicalism in Western Europe.” Party Politics 23, no. 3 (May 2017): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068815596514.

[3] Cas Mudde, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. “Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America.” Government and Opposition 48, no. 2 (2013): 147–74. doi:10.1017/gov.2012.11.

[4] Luke March, “Left and right populism compared: The British case” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 19(2) (2017): 283-301.

Bibliography:

Fieschi, Catherine. “A Plague on Both Your Populisms” Open Democracy (April 19, 2012): https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/plague-on-both-your-populisms/

March, Luke. “Left and Right Populism Compared: The British Case.” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19, no. 2 (May 2017): 282–303. https://doi.org/10.1177/1369148117701753.

Mudde, Cas, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. “Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America.” Government and Opposition 48, no. 2 (2013): 147–74. doi:10.1017/gov.2012.11.

Rooduijn, Matthijs, and Tjitske Akkerman. “Flank Attacks: Populism and Left-Right Radicalism in Western Europe.” Party Politics 23, no. 3 (May 2017): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068815596514.

A More Nuanced Definition

Declan Da Barp

            Still grappling with the idea of definitions, the contribution through this week’s readings broaden the scope of both along with the political and global compass. The contributions of Cas Mudde (whose work we began the course with) and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser along with those of Matthijs Rooduijn, Tjitske Akkerman, and Luke March creates a much more holistic view of populist discourse – one that is too often focused on the global north. In taking this all-encompassing view a more nuanced view can gleam and better and more robust questions can be studied in future.

            As presented by Rooduijn and Akkerman, the scale of populism provided a useful lens through which to discuss the ideas of populist scholars (193). While exclusively focusing on Western Europe, Rooduijn and Akkerman further outline left and right populism in the European context – one that has largely been defined as a right-wing movement. This is crucial is it not only shows that these left-wing populists exist, but that they express these tendencies (in western Europe) at relatively the same levels (199). Particularly given that Rooduijn and Akkerman are working off the definition established by Mudde, the importance of his and Kaltwasser’s work is key to any discussion on definitions. Their exploration of the full political spectrum of populism across the world underscores the importance of understanding the movement as a set of ideas existing in local contexts rather than an overarching ideology. Employed by the left and right, the ideas of adaptable and can act as legitimators of power (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 151). Whether it is inclusionary or exclusionary depends on the political ideology but the ways these leaders go about forging these in and out-groups exist in the same framework.

How Left and Right Populism Interact in Politics

Kathleen McKinnon

At the beginning of the course we mentioned left-winged populism and it is interesting to see that topic come back after several weeks of studying what drives right winged populism. As the March article points out, there are similarities between left and right-winged populism in that the main goal is criticizing the elites – although right-wing populism brings in the dimension of marginalized groups, and perhaps this is where they draw more scrutiny than left-winged populism (285). However, March states that there is less left-wing populism than right-winged populism, in the case that he looks at (200).

Another interesting point that is brought up in the March article is that there is room for both sides to work together, which is very surprising considering they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum (285). However, this does explain why in my own mind I always had a difficult time discerning the difference between where some populist movements lay on the political spectrum. March mentions that left-wing populism does not necessarily mean communist so this makes the distinction a little more difficult between how the two sides operate, without that obvious ideology. However, as Akkerman states, ideological left-wing parties can be communist and these left-winged parties often employ populist tactics in that it gives them a better position in the arena of mainstream parties (195). March points out that there is little evidence of populism among mainstream parties meaning that it needs to be a mechanism used to promote more fringe ideology and perhaps covers for the deficiencies in the party’s ideology and organization (200).

M. Rooduijn Akkerman T. “Flank attacks: Populism and left-right radicalism in Western Europe” Party Politics 23 (3) (2017): 193-204.

March L. “Left and right populism compared: The British case” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 19(2) (2017): 282-303.