The Political Traction of the Ambiguity of Fascism

 

Totalitarianism, populism, extremism, and the plethora of isms on the right and left of the political spectrum seem to shoot from the mouth of political commentators at increasing rates. Populist, Extremist and indeed Fascist are terms that find themselves inside people’s homes and minds; with each person having a different understanding of Fascism from the rest. This is why Gilbert Allardyce has argued that “the concept of Fascism should be de-modeled, de-ideologized, de-mystified, and, above all, de-escalated”.

While Allardyce, attempts to “deconceptualizing” Fascism he has equated Fascism to a movement and argues for the separation of the fascist concept from that movement.  Federico Finchelstein wrote that Fascism is associated with evil, authoritarian regimes, and racism. It celebrates dictatorship, destroys democracy and uses violence to spread its message. Allardyce has argued that these elements are “retained to refer to a particular movement of men and ideas,” acknowledging that a collective understanding of the elements at play is only superficially imposed. Yet to speak about the “political movement” of Fascism as Allardyce himself referred to it as, one must codify specific markers of Fascisms and by this action give credence to the term.

It is important to ask if Fascism is the exclusive domain of politics, for if it is a Political movement does the discourse and memory around it need to change over time? Zeev Sternhell, much like Robert Paxton, and Allardyce associated the emergence of popular Fascism with the regime of Benito Mussolini in the 1930s. If this was the genesis for Fascism as we know it today, we must also acknowledge the political realm in which the term operated. With Fascism extending to other regions and other leaders perhaps it is necessary to maintain the ambiguity of the term to keep its utility in the political realm of which it derived.

Allardyce has argued that Hitler and Mussolini operated regimes that were different in their objective and their genesis. Yet still they stand as the two greatest examples of Fascist regimes. The agreement to use the word has connected Hitler and Mussolini and have allowed these regimes to be remembered and re-remembered by political actors. The lack of consensus on the phrase allows for Populist movements and right-wing extremism to create an illusive distance from Fascism and allow leaders to be “not technically a fascist”.

 

 

Vox and Fascism

For the first time in recent memory, the world’s hegemony is located in North America instead of in Europe or Asia. The shift in contemporary politics has encompassed sociopolitical issues that were meant to have been issues of the past. This is the rise of contemporary fascism.

The question does remain if the concern of rising global fascism is legitimate. Scholars in political science academia are grappling with the post-Trump victory in 2016 to determine whether or not classical fascism, defined by Griffin as “… a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism,” has reared its ugly head in the world’s hegemonic state of America and has created a trickle affect globally. Consulting fascist experts, Dylan Matthews has compiled a detailed overview of whether or not fascism is what Trump embodies in “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts Whether Donald Trump Is a Fascist. Here’s what they said.”  The consensus is no. While Trump does have some elements, the fundamental ingredients to have a fascist government are absent in his governing bodies. Despite recent social media postings touting “Trump 2024” allude to the fascist fallacy (or at the very least a grotesquely uninformed stance on American democracy) and a swath of events inspired by Trump rhetoric, the academic consensus is that Trump, at his core, is not a fascist.

Fascism in academia is conclusive on its fundamental attributes: fascism calls for a violence renaissance of a nation, systemic revolution, groupism before individualism, and is not economically focused as a central point. Conflating Trump’s history since inauguration with these focal points does not conclusively suggest a fascism, however it does translate into a right-wing populism. Trump masquerades himself as “for the people,” but exclusively travels on private jet. He does call for “rebirth” of a nation through his MAGA campaign, but fascism calls for a violence-based approach instead of policy based, which is what Trump is embarking on in his regressive legislature tendencies. Trump is an economic machine first, and an individualist second. These and fascism do not correlate for their fundamental characteristics of groupism and nationalism over individualism and economics.

Matthews employs a contemporary analysis of the American hegemonic impact on a broader political scale. The rise of right wing movements in Europe as a continental whole are not a new concept as evidenced by a series of systemic violent movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. What is new is what appears to be its renaissance, and the timing of recognized fascist political movements (especially those in France and Greece) have had a much more dramatic rise post-2016 which can be attributed to the hegemonic rhetoric espoused in accessible platforms. “Fascist” may not be the most accurate moniker for the Trump era on a federal and personal level for “the Donald,” but those who espouse his ideologies and commit violent acts in the name of revolution certainly continue the debate over if neo-fascism can be transferred from government to individual levels.

Some questions not answered by this article revolve around the author’s absolutist position on that the Trump regime is not fascist. While there is an acknowledgement of his extreme right wing stances, Matthews does not elaborate on the spectrum and gradients of a fascist or quasi-fascist political organization.

What is modern Facism? Dimitrios Monette

Upon reading and reviewing the Vox.com article “I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said” I have found myself continually struck by the current generations wave of sheer hatred for anything that is not their stroke of mind and thought. I myself am a centralist, one that would vote left or right depending on the situation our nation finds itself in, the performance of our last governments, and whether they make legitimate substantive arguments. As such, when I viewed the last American election, I was absolutely disgusted by both parties presented. When I, a man who is a great hater of radical political societies like communism or fascism find myself rooting for the most pro-communist contender in Bernie Sanders, we know the political climate and competition has gone astray. Due to this centrist position of mine, I find myself stuck in a very combative time politically across the west, with words like fascist, racist and sexist thrown around like they have no weight. The time of concrete proof and unpartisan fact has gone, instead we are in an era of feeling and emotion. Logic drives not the chariot of our minds but emotion, and that is a dangerous thing. This article, while immediately highlighting that Trump is indeed not a fascist, continues to perpetuate the hate of this era shown by both sides but particularly the ever dismissive left, noting “You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist”. I find this line of thinking inherently dangerous. It makes suggestions that only a certain type of person can be a fascist, while that is inherent untrue. We have seen fascism in south America, Europe, Asia. Fascism is an ideology, not a demographic the left wants to racially profile. To assume Trump is a racist for his political movements to protect his southern border and filter his nations immigration is simply leaping to conclusions. The man may be a racist indeed, in fact I find his policies inherently un American, but the actions are not as universally racist, and hate filled as the Vox article would like to convey. To me as an outside viewer, a undivided political eye and a Canadian at that, this screams of the attempts of a child who has been denied the victory they thought theirs in the political victory for the left that could have been the second Clinton, and it has not left the “liberal” political machine looking particularly spot free or appealing to side with. In fact the left and anti-fascists of ANTIFA have instead taken a liking to the pro violent tendency they claim their opponents wish to unleash, with situations like the bike lock attack at Berkley and numerous revealed discussions of the group bringing weapons to rallies in an attempt to attack any who disagree with their stance. They actively subvert democracy by attempting to silence and dissenters from their opinion, and that seems far more tyrannical than anything Trump and his right wingers have perpetrated.

The Difficulties of Finding Fascism

This week I found the reading by Allardyce to be the most interesting of the readings. Rather than attempting to define fascism as others such as Paxton, Allardyce sets out to strike down others’ attempts to define fascism. In his chapter, Allardyce runs through many different arguments about what fascism might be and shows how they are all flawed. The types of arguments he sets up in front of himself in order to then knock down all seem to be trying to place fascism within a box, and make it easily definable for use with contemporary and future occurrences of what one might call fascism, and at the same time attempting to reconcile the differences between the Italian and German formations of fascism as they arose in very different circumstances. There is a strong connection between the kind of argument that Allardyce is making and pieces such as the Vox article by Matthews. It is common in today’s discourse to call leaders like Trump a fascist, but when a journalist sets out to ask historians and fascism experts, the answer is not so simple. However, despite how effective Allardyce is at defeating attempts to create a mold of fascism into which we can place personalities and ideologies to test whether they really are fascist, I find an issue with his conclusion. Although it is clear that Allardyce does not set out to define fascism properly and instead explains why it cannot be defined so easily, I find his conclusion about the definition of fascism too weak. Allardyce says “there is no such thing as fascism. There are only the men and movements that we call by that name.” My issue with this statement on fascism is that it leaves us very little room to call fascistic entities or people fascist. Allardyce seems to agree that the Italian and Nazi systems of the 1930s and 40s were indeed fascist, but it seems harder for him to nail down any other movement in Europe before or after this decade as fascist. If there is no such “thing” as fascism, then how can we call anything fascism? He acknowledges there are “men and movements we call by that name” but seems hesitant to apply the label anywhere else. Allardyce is correct in that the term has been widely misused constantly, but unless fascism truly did die with Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, then Allardyce does not know where it went or where it came from.

Understanding Fascism.

Understanding the definition of Fascism was more complex than I had initially believed. What I thought I knew before setting out on the reading for class this week was; Hitler, Mussolini and Trump are all Fascists. If someone would have asked me what a fascist was my answer probably would have been those three names without any real evidence to back up that claim. What I know now is that it is hard to define what fascism is, and that makes understanding Fascism easier.

In Gilbert Allardyce’s “What Fascism is Not” he explains that historians “have agreed on using the word [fascism] without agreeing on how to define it. I think that this is what makes it so easy to understand what fascism is and who and who not is a fascist. There is no true definition and so it to understand we agree that the word is used. He goes on to compare how Nazi Germany and Italians Fascism differ, and how they are comparatively different in ideology, or in concept. He uses these differences to illustrate fascism is not limited to boundaries. Understanding that to engage with fascism it is easier to deconstruct what everyone thinks it is or should be.

Comparatively the writings of Mudde and Matthews look at populism. The Mudde article focuses on the Populism and its rise throughout the twenty first century. Matthews asks five experts in Fascism if Donald Trump is a Fascist. To which his conclusion is that not he is not a fascist but a right-wing populist. Mudde discusses how the populism of today has populist voters who are voting for parties that undermine the democratic system due to new age media. Something that Matthew’s article states is a characteristic of Fascism. The Matthew article also focuses on how Trump is not a fascist because he does not fit into a certain set of guidelines to be a fascist, but ones that follow the guidelines set out for populism.

Allardyce wrote his piece in 1979, he remarks in his final paragraph to follow the research of fascism without the constraints of the word fascism. It seems that the research has shifted on to Populism. While I understand that using the term Populism helps to separate certain political thoughts from that of Fascism, will we not see the same thing happen to the Populism? Will the term grow with the populists? The Mudde and Matthew article provide two contradicting elements of populism. Are the lines getting blurred or were they already? According to Allardyce even Fascists in Italy did not know the definition of fascism. The proposition of Allardyce, while difficult in practice, allows for a broader understanding of what Fascism is, instead of attempting to explain what it is from inside a box.

Works Cited

Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.

Dylan Matthews, “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said” Vox May 19, 2016 https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism

Cas Mudde, “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania, https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/casmudde-populism-twenty-first-century

Introductions: Julia Aguiar

My name is Julia and I am a fourth year History student. My main area of academic interest is Canada in the twentieth century. Thematically, I like thinking about gender, sexuality, migration, power structures, and resistance. I previously completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English literature and a concentration in creative writing with a semester abroad in England. I am so looking forward to the next few months!

Problems in the Absence of Gender and Sexuality Analysis in Fascism and Populism Scholarship by Julia Aguiar

As was manifest in our conversation last week regarding the obscurity of the Middle Ages, the readings from this week make clear that despite the lack of clarity surrounding fascism and populism, they are terms used frequently and without much care given to their historical significance.

For all the good work that the readings do to come to nuanced historical understandings of terms that are often treated with great abuse, they overlook the role of gender and sexuality in the development and understanding of fascism and populism. When I think of fascist and right-wing populist regimes both throughout history and more contemporarily, I am irked by their hyper-masculine and heteronormative underpinnings. I am thinking of Rodrigo Duterte in his offer to protect soldiers should they rape women or any number of Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic comments to identify a few examples. It begs the question, is there something innate in fascism and populism that encourages the objectification of and discrimination against women and the LBGTQ community? Can we trace this historically? In being critical of the absence of gender and sexuality analysis in the readings, I hope to come to a better understanding of the misogynistic and hyper masculine trappings of contemporary fascism and populism. To further explore these ideas, I will take a closer look at Allardyce, Finchelstein, and Mussolini and Gentile.

In his article, Allardyce is interested in moving away from a generic conception of fascism. Indeed, his overall mission is to think about fascism in terms of “what it is not”. In doing so, he considers fascisms roots in Italy and Germany as well as fascism in different countries across the world. It is not only that a discussion of gender is absent from Allardyce’s article, but I also found the tone to be decidedly masculine. Allardyce acknowledges nationalist politics as a defining feature of fascism which encourages genocidal practices, but lacks nuance in considering how gender and sexuality intersect with genocide. To illustrate this and in an effort to add to Allardyce’s conversation surrounding the genocidal practices of Nazism, I would encourage people to consider why marginalized women and members of the LGBTQ community were disproportionately targeted for experimentation. 

Finchelstein makes clear the relationship between fascism and populism in his article by speaking of fascism as the antecedents of populism. Whereas fascism celebrates dictatorship and violence, populism exists in unequal democracy. While Finchelstein does mention “macho-populism” at the end of his piece, he does not do much with it. My main frustration with Finchelstein’s article was that he anchored the piece so strongly in the context of the Cold War, speaks of twentieth century decolonization, but ignores Cold War gender politics and the rise of second wave feminism that were crucial historical moments happening alongside the establishment and rise of populism.

Finally, Mussolini and Gentile’s “The Doctrine of Fascism” is a rich primary source for considering how early fascists viewed themselves and how that might manifest contemporarily. The excerpt offers an explication of the founding pillars of fascism in Italy. Particularly, fascism, as Mussolini and Gentile articulated, “wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him…” I am not preoccupied so much with the use of masculine gendered pronouns as with the way “manfully” is invoked as an adverb. In this sense, fascism is posited as the project of men. 

Works Cited:
Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.

Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932. http://facweb.furman.edu/~bensonlloyd/hst11/mussolinidoctrines.htm

On The Importance of Using The Right Word

Emmanuelle. M

Defining fascism has always been a difficulty as it is connected to very dark moments in history. When it is used to describe present events or personalities, one is confronted with the risk of mistaking it with populism in the majority of the cases. Historians have been arguing about the origins and the exact definition of fascism for years, but everyone agrees on the fact that fascism is not a unique concept or an ideology but rather events that happened at a certain time in Italy and Germany , and that these events started as a reaction to modernity. Distinctive places are given to Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazi regime in Gilbert Allardyce’s article, who highlights the differences in their respective goals in regard to military, stage in modernization  and racial position. Corroborating these variations between Italy and Germany, Robert Paxton describes how fascism was manufactured in both countries and how historians interpreted them over the years that followed their fall.

These distinctions are critical to be able to unequivocally describe the rise of new populist movements in today’s Europe and America. When one looks at the multiplication of right-wing movements in the European landscape or the recent election of Donald Trump in America, it has been pretty clear that people have been eager to describe them as fascism. The Vox in an article from Dylan Matthews in May 2019, synthetized the differences between fascism and populism with the example of Trump. By using scholarly documentation such as Paxton’s book on The Anatomy of Fascism, the emphasis is put on the individualistic personality of Trump whereas fascism is about collective interest. However, ambiguity can be detected in the violence that surrounds fascism and populism. As far-right movements take advantage of populist leaders to demonstrate their ideas with violence, it could be easy to assimilate populism and fascism. But, the web article and scholarly articles explain that the violence present during fascist Italy or Nazi Germany had underlined motives in a battle against capitalism and represented a proletarian violence which is far from being the case in Trump’s America. Regardless, the public promptly described such violent acts as part of fascism.

The choice of words is crucial in politics as it may lead to the misuse and the misunderstanding of what a seemingly emergent power can be. As explained by Allardyce, fascism is multi-faceted, but it should not be confused with populism.

Sources :

Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.

Dylan Matthews, “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said” Vox May 19, 2016 https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23

Technology as a tool for Populism

While more clicks may equal more populism, no number of views will result in a reboot of fascism.

According to Mudde, “cognitive mobilization and growing inequality have created a more dissatisfied and vocal population,” and have thus led to the growth of populism in the 21st century. The rise of “new media” has allowed for the proliferation of radical political voices to reach the mainstream. The ability of the media to serve as a tool of populist mobilization has therefore transformed with the technological advents of social media and growing interconnectivity. This explains the lack of salient populist movements prior to recent years, despite the existence of fringe groups in former fascist or communist states across Europe. On the other hand, however, if new media given rise to populism today, what prevents this from devolving into fascism?

The rise of populism today is not only linked to the perceived lack of political will, a central element of fascist mobilization under the “one body” principle, but from the movement of everyday people demanding more from their government. Throughout European history, politics was oftentimes seen as a game for the elite, excluding the average worker from meaningfully engaging on issues that impact the nation. This trend is no longer: our newsfeeds are dominated with content meant to spark conversations, incite rage, and overall engage voters in the world around us. 

Defined by Mudde as “a set of ideas focused on a fundamental opposition between the people and the elite,” I believe populism has in part gained prominence due to increased online connectivity, making it easier than ever for a dissatisfied politic to mobilize against a disparaging political force. The media landscape today—be it through the traditional channels of newspaper and radio or newer models of social media—allows for a broader range of opinions and values. No longer are news outlets dominated by unitary ideological interests, liberal-democratic or otherwise: individuals of varying political affiliations are able to share our opinions with a broader audience through the rise of independent media channels, often with a low degree of oversight and “fact checking.”  

In an increasingly connected society where political messages are no longer tied down by limited technology and confined geography, I agree with Mudde’s central argument that populism is here to stay. 

By the same logic, one could argue that through the ability to mobilize large groups of individuals, fascism could see an equal rise in modern day politics. I disagree. Under a liberal democracy, I believe we will not see the likes of fascism in the West reborn. While right populism has dominated certain European elections and we can further anticipate such actors to remain on the political stage for years to come, there are important distinctions from fascism. Namely, I think Europe has learned from the miscalculations of the past, and has moved past supporting Sorel’s praises of violence as a necessary tool of the class struggle. 

What does this mean for electoral politics and governments across the continent? I think its safe to assume that populism in all its forms will continue to makes appearances in elections around Europe. An increasingly engaged populous goes hand in hand with differing opinions, some of which will push the elite to do more, to do “better.” While critics can point fingers and stamp right-wing extremists with damaging titles, Allardyce is well supported in his claim that while a single definition may be hard to pinpoint, political leaders of today do not deserve the title of fascist. 

Political Evolution: Fascism in hindsight

Calling someone a fascist is infinitely easier than describing what sort of person really IS a fascist. That is one of the critical parts of this weeks readings, especially covering the Vox article by Dylan Matthews surrounding whether Donald Trump is a fascist. This article is interesting for a number of reasons, but it’s important to summarize things first. All in all, the argument is no, he may be any number of unsavoury things but primarily due to the fact he does not advocate for the active destruction of all democratic tradition. The suggestion made then is that he is instead a populist, another term that is very often used to target Trump.

To summarize populism in contrast to fascism, there is another excellent article in the readings. This article proposes that populism is a longstanding worldview, rather than a newfound ideology. It supposes that populism is not the same as extreme fascism, instead being simply the concept of a corrupt ruling elite that puts down upon the lower class, working masses. There is a suggestion that fascism has, thanks to the Second World War, been more or less eradicated, and that populism is simply a twist of democracy in an illiberal manner. It is important also, then, to challenge these assertions.

Rather than try to argue if Donald Trump is a fascist, it’s instead important to raise questions as to the nature of populism and fascism. For example, in the Cas Mudde article, populism is defined as not a political ideology, but instead a sort of parasitic element, requiring a host ideology. But what is there in that that distinguishes it from Fascism? Fascism is often defined as closer to a worldview than a concise treatise on politics. Fascism indeed comes in many forms as well, with Francoism being distinct from Mussolini’s Fascism, being itself distinct from Nazism. Nazism as an example pulls from elements of nationalism, economic independence, pan-nationalism, shares elements of socialism and state enterprise, promotes public healthcare in various forms, private enterprise, and a meritocratic system. This is, evidently, somewhat nonsensical in a traditional political manner. So it seems both Fascism and Populism share, to some degree, the need to be integrated with other political systems. Even further, Nazism evolved through a degradation of democracy, with Hitler being an elected official first. Populism’s lack of wholehearted anti-democracy then seems, again, not entirely dissimilar from one form of fascism. It seems, then, that while fascism and populism may still be distinct in nature, there are undeniable similarities regardless.