Nostalgia for the “isms”

Emma C

The readings this week discussed the terms fascism, populism and authoritarianism and how they have been historically used. The way in which we understand and use these terms today, is often based on figures and moments in history, but the history around these terms is ignored. Both the readings by Robert Paxton and Cas Mudde discuss the ideas of fascism and populism and their gained popularity today.

Paxton’s point about how fascism is a cycle of five stages, but very few events/people make it to the fifth stage, “the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy,” interested me as I had never seen it broken down like that before. It had me thinking that while we may call many leaders fascists, using this cycle they were never true fascists, only echoing the ideology. Paxton also says, “The complex relationship between fascism and modernity cannot be resolved all at once, and with a simple yes or no. It has to be developed in the unfolding story of fascism’s acquisition and exercise of power.” This quote got me thinking about Mudde, as they talk about in their piece that “currently there is a period of nostalgia for the past.” While Mudde discusses the idea of populism, what both authors bring together is this idea that the ideologies of fascism and populism are gaining traction again today, because people want a change, and they see how these ideas worked in the past to make political change.

A question I have is: What harm can come from being nostalgic about the past, without having proper education about it or are people just romanticizing a history because they are unhappy with the present?

Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 1-21.

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

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