Defining Terms, Fascism & Populism

This week’s readings were a good introduction on fascism and populism, but with complex concepts (at least for me, as someone who is not familiar with political terms and analysis), which is why the podcast at the end was a welcomed synthesis for the populism discussion.

Fascism certainly immediately brings the names of Mussolini and Hitler to mind, as shown by the article of De Grazia. I appreciated the historical background that it gave to the term, and the fact that it was written from a more personal perspective. As politics affect in the end the everyday life of people, narratives that link the theoretical matters to real life experiences are in my opinion very valuable, and they put a context around abstract concepts.

Gordon’s and Moyn’s articles used fascism as an example to illustrate their views on historical comparisons, which echoed De Grazia’s text on the fact that this political stream exists outside of the 20th century’s famous figures. On this subject, I was particularly struck by a sentence that Gordon cites in his article: “In an American fascism […] one would see not swastikas but “Christian crosses” and ‘Stars and Stripes.’ ” This was, I thought, a really good way to illustrate how fascism is adapted by its followers to the country, culture and time period into which it is found, showing that it may not be exhibited in the same way it was or in the ways it is associated with, but the ideology behind it enables a comparison.

The second portion of the readings was about populism and its sub-categories. I was surprised to learn that there are several, that range from left-wing to right-wing, but less so after reading the analysis that tells that populism is incomplete as a political ideology and should be combined with another stream. In fact, from what I understood, populism would be more of an overall view of opposition, a frame maybe, used to appeal to a majority that feels oppressed by an elite, so it could more or less be applied to any political context, and new political organizations can draw on that, as shown by several populist parties in various European countries. Have I gotten that right? What I found the most interesting in the analysis is the role of social medias, used to directly engage with the population, which would explain why most populist parties emerged in the last years. It is certainly easier and faster to propagate one’s ideas through Internet rather than newspapers!

One common point of the articles in their depiction of fascism and populism is the concept of “response”. In analysing the rise (or rise again) of these political views, it appears that either the context provided a need for a response on the political scene, or the leaders of a political party used specific events, such as mass immigration, to justify an orientation toward a political ideology. An example in this line of thoughts that I appreciated from the podcast was the antemurale mindset of Hungary, in response to the migrants coming from outside of Europe, and a desire to protect the people’s integrity against threats from “outsiders”, specifically, to “defend and revive” the native population. In this, I think that a common trait between fascism and populism is the importance it gives to the ethnicity of a country.

One thing that left me wondering is about the ideology of populism. I probably did not fully understand how it rises, so I was thinking: If it functions with an opposition between people and elite, then once the party is elected, doesn’t it become a political elite, and in so, loses its common ground with people? Or is the political elite not considered the same than other elites?

Work used:

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Squarehttps://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,”NYRDaily(7 January 2020), nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,”NYRDaily(19 May 2020),https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties. https://demos-h2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties

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/cas-mudde-populism-twenty-first-century

Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?”podcast

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