Us Vs. Them: A Simplistic and Reductive Division of Society

Declan Da Barp

In the modern historical arenas of Twitter and cable TV terms like Populist, Fascist, and Authoritarian are being thrown around largely without their historical context. As Victoria de Grazia states “calling people ‘fascists’ has been as American as apple pie for as long as I can remember.” With that said, the arguments in this week’s readings fail to agree on a definition for any of these terms but rather discussed them as processes gleaned from historic events. Robert Paxton, Federico Finchelstein, and Cas Mudde underline that these ideologies are innately fluid enterprises that morph based on local contexts. The common line drawn between their arguments is that fascism and populism have transnational similarities, but an individual regime cannot be exported. As Paxton writes about Fascist regimes, though it could as easily be written about Populist ones, “Fascism, unlike the other “isms,” is not for export,” (20). This can is because the idea of the “people” changes based on the local context.

Mudde outlines that populism divides the world into two groups the “pure people” and the “corrupt elites” (578). The definition of people varies from regime to regime and is based on the political persuasion of the state but across the populist movement, the monolithic people are to be protected by the state while this same protection is not extended to the elites. In Fascism, scientific racism and social Darwinism are harnessed to create the “people,” blood matters before any other distinguisher (Paxton, 16). While innately tied to the post-war context that gave birth to the ideology, there is a clear line between both Fascism and Populism. Proponents of both see the state existing to serve the monolithic majority while leaving no space for minorities. The dividing line being the use of violence, which Finchelstein sees as the divide between both fascism and populism (23-24). There is no discussion of violence within Mudde’s piece and while this cannot be understood to say that violence does not factor within the populist worldview it does not hold the centrality that it does in fascism.

From the reading, I come away with a simple question: how has the violence that is so central to the fascist ideology clouded our understanding of it? And due to the popular conflation of the two, how has this impacted populism?

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square

https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-historymussolini- hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

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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