By: Alison Miller
“Illiberal democracy” came up in some of the readings this week, and I think it is this concept that best helps to define populism, but I also felt that adding Mudde’s argument that the populist affiliation comes second to a person’s “Host ideology” adds necessary nuance to the idea. These concepts simplify ways that populists interact with the political systems that they are a part of, allowing the term populism to remain at least partly amorphous in order to remain flexible in accordance with the need of the scholar. There very little use in a word meant to label that is so inflexible so as to not recognise new forms of itself arising without putting a name to it.
That same thing is part of my frustration with the opinion of most of this week’s authors. The question of how we use the word fascism in the modern day seems to be a sticking point for most of them. While I don’t disagree that the term ‘fascism’ is overused, the pedantic idea of only using it when it is either referring to historic fascism, or if the occasion perfectly matches that of Mussolini’s Italy is a bit of a means the word becomes so inflexible so as to be useless. I think that there must be a middle ground somewhere that allows certain sets of actions to be related to fascism without needing to pepper the word in absolutely everywhere, as well as recognising that academia will be using words like fascism in different ways than groups like antifa, social media users, newsgroups, etc.
Of all of the articles this week, I enjoyed Gavriel Rosenfeld’s the most, as his analysis of illiberal memory is at once new to me while also being completely recognisable. His critique of liberal memory-making was convincing, alongside multiple international examples of where memory-making has been co-opted by illiberal and populist leaders. What I felt was the strongest part of Rosenfeld’s argument was the concept that liberals were so focused on the creation of memory that they failed to acknowledge the real politics going on around them.
One of the things I would have enjoyed reading is an analysis of illiberal democratic leaders and their treatment of newer events. It feels as though if an event happens that counters what a populist leader wants, they are quick to say that the event did not happen, or it happened differently than the way it did. It would be an interesting study to see the treatment of events by liberal democratic leaders versus illiberal, and whether it is personal bias that leads me to think that illiberal leaders are more prone to re-writing even recent history in order to promote themselves.
Given the contents of this week’s readings, I feel like adding a version of the tradition anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” is not out of place.