Soft Power and the Culture of Fascism

By Jackie Howell

Tools of soft power can be useful in expanding a state’s sphere of influence. Soft power is the ability to attract rather than coerce and typically involves exerting cultural, social, or economic influence. Great powers, such as the United States, use soft power as an extension of their hard power (i.e., their physical military strength) through the arts, science, and culture to further their goals. Soft power, a concept coined by Joseph Nye, mostly defines the post-Cold War era. However, promoting a distinct national culture helped achieve Nazi Germany’s goal of dominance and legitimacy. This week’s readings highlight the soft power of Nazi Germany through their cultural influence, most notably through mass consumerism and photography. Similarly, Franco’s Spain framed consumer tourism as part of Spain’s cultural identity, which helped Spain overcome its international isolation post-war and reinforce the idea of Spanish cultural exceptionality.  

Notably, this week’s readings highlight the social and economic benefits that reinforce a regime’s legitimacy. For example, German workers who previously did not have access or the means to embark on luxurious trips received the chance to witness life outside Germany by Kraft durch Freude (KdF). KdF used tourism to showcase the benefits of National Socialism. The opportunity to see different workers in other countries gave German workers the impression that Germany’s standard of living was higher than in other countries governed by Social Democrats or Communists. KdF linked leisure to politics by capitalizing on the opportunity to unite class lines to showcase Germany’s economic successes and redefine the German racial community. Tourism development in 1960’s Spain also linked economic development and politics with leisure activities, as the regime restyled its image of government to promote a higher standard of living and modernity through tourism.

It is easy to question why Europeans accepted or supported Nazism or fascism in retrospect of the horrific acts committed by these regimes. However, Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain framed economic and social benefits in a manner that appealed to the masses. These benefits allowed Europeans to dismiss the known horrors of the regime in favour of the benefits they gained. Similarly, the perceived economic benefits under the “America First” argument allowed Trump supporters to dismiss the political horrors of the Trump administration. Those that remain silent during these periods – ignoring the political chaos around them to live in their alternate, blissful reality – must be questioned for their complacency. Shelley Baranowski highlights this issue by briefly examining middle-class tourists who avoided discussing the political situation if the consequences of Nazi Germany’s policies did not concern them. The lack of engagement indicates a high degree of privilege of those that experienced the social and cultural benefits of Nazi Germany. Overall, this week’s readings highlight the unique role that culture can play when expanding a state’s power and legitimacy.

References

Baranowski, S. (2004a). Introduction. In Strength through Joy: Consumerism and mass tourism in the Third Reich (pp. 1-10). Cambridge.

Baranowski, S. (2004b). Racial community and individual desires: Tourism, the standard of living, and popular consent. In Strength through Joy: Consumerism and mass tourism in the Third Reich (pp. 162-98). Cambridge.

Crumbaugh, J. (2009). Prosperity and freedom under Franco: The grand invention of tourism. In Destination dictatorship: The spectacle of Spain’s tourist boom and the reinvention of difference (pp. 15-41). Suny Press.

Umbach, M. (2015). Selfhood, place, and ideology in German photo albums, 1933-1945. Central European History, 48(3): 335-365. jstor.org/stable/43965175

The use of Tourism and Symbols as a way to Propagandize the Romanticized Version of Far Right Extremism, and Why it’s Appealing

Written by Emma Bronsema

In the 1960s, tourism was used as a way to propagandize political agendas. Film and souvenirs in this industry showed the supposed developments and improvements of the Spanish nation under Franco. They were used as a way to justify his rule and ideology. Appearance and perception was everything. The usage of symbolism and actions found within material objects, film and music was, and continues to be, a way to advertise identity traits to which one should aspire to. It congregates like-minded people, and fosters a sense of community and meaning. Not only are these objects reflections of identity, but have the power to shape it, and frame the way people think and act. 

In the context of right wing extremism, the symbols found on material goods brings together people who share a romanticized version of fascism. Rather than focusing on the marginalization and lack in certain civic rights, people yearn for a patriotized, nationalistic version of the past – for a society that painted itself to be full of opportunity, freedom, prosperity, and ran efficiently.  Although there are different fascist groups, they can work in tandem with one another. This includes participation in protests and movements to which the members have close ties and similarities to those in the other group. 

For some, these extremist groups provide people with a sense of community, a home where they are surrounded with people with similar ideologies. There is a social side of fascism. Some tourists even travel to interact and develop relationships with these people who have similar views. For others, it is a way for some to climb a social ladder, a way for them to become popular and almost a celebrity within their world. Often it has to do with memorabilia they have, or shrines with specific pictures and symbols they displayed. Lastly, these groups provide a way to justify and express their disagreement with the current state of their nation. It validates their seemingly unpopular opinion, as it goes against mainstream thought and politics.

Works Cited

Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 1-10, pp. 162-98 

Justin Crumbaugh, “Prosperity and Freedom Under Franco: the Grand Invention of Tourism” in Destination Dictatorship: the Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference (SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 15-41. 

Cynthia Miller-Idris, “The Extreme Gone Mainstream” IIITMedia lecture, May 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHYcakSDUCE 

Inside Spain’s Fascism Fandom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqKSXPiGe7U