Up until very recently, I have always thought that populism and fascism are the same thing. There was also a time when I considered leaders such as US President Donald Trump and Brazil President Jair Balsanaro to be fascists. After this week’s readings, I have come to the conclusion that Trump and Bolsanaro are purely populists. They are not fascists, at least not yet. The major reading that changed my mind on this concept was Finchelstein’s From Fascism to Populism in History. Finchelstein’s article taught me that there is a major difference between Populism and Fascism. First of all I can wholeheartedly agree with the concept that populism is not limited to the right and right wing movements. The author refers to populism as an “ideological pendulum” swinging between the left and the right. The key concept that populism contains is a deep distrust of the ruling elite, a popular desire of the masses: especially those who believe that they have been left behind in their political system by the ruling elite, combined with the mass following of a leader in which supporters believe is strong and the belief that a single leader is the solution to the problem. This is the blanket umbrella of populism ideals that both right wing and left wing populism espouses. As the author notes, the distinct differences between left and right wing Populism is that left wing populism considers anyone opposed to their movement as enemies of the people. Right wing Populism connects those opposed to their views as enemies of the people based on their race, ethnicity, or country of origin. It would seem in this view that racism runs more rampant on Populist movements from the right. One key difference between populism and fascism that I learned was that Populism is essentially an authoritarian version of democracy. Fascsism exists in an undemocratic institution with dictatorships that espouse violence to gain power, dismantle democratic institutions, and enact violence on minorities or those of a different ethnicity. The author makes it clear however that populism can become fascsim, and as soon as a populist leader begins to dismantle emocratic institutions, cheques and balances, and incite violence, that is when populism turns into fascsim. This can mean that the rise of populism on the right is incredibly dangerous. Even though the author insists that the morphing of populism into facsim is rare, it can still happen. Therefore in order to prevent Populism from morphing into Facsim, one must hope that a country has strong democratic institutions that would prevent a radical leader from dismantling them. The only area in which I disagree with the author is when he mentions that populist leaders do not celebrate dictatorships. This is not entirely true. In 2018, Donald Trump cozied up to and praised Kim Jong Un and his Regime in North Korea. Bolsanaro has expressed and admiration of the former dictatorship that was in power in Brazil in the 1960s. I therefore believe that when populist leaders begin to encite such admiration, they threaten democratic institutions posing the elements of risk in populism turning into fascsim.
Finchelstein, Federico, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past,” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).