What struck me with these readings is the lack of consensus shown by the writers with regard to the definition of the word “fascism”, and how easily it is used interchangeably with the word “populism”. Although the general impression of the word shows it to be synonymous with an authoritarian and restrictive regime, which, as stated, refers specifically to certain key countries within the early to mid-20th century, the wider interpretation of the word, and placing it in its correct historical context, are slightly less straightforward.
Finchelstein (2017) in particular lays out in clear terms the distinction between fascism and populism, but the understanding most people in society have regarding these movements is somewhat skewed. It makes me wonder whether people looking at the news today make links between current trends in populism across Europe and the United States and equate them automatically with fascism, as they are used to having a so-called enemy to hate. With the end of the Cold War, people are looking for a new enemy, as befits human nature. Society as a whole, especially in Europe, as stated by Mudde (2021), has been increasingly becoming liberal in mindset. As such, when a minority of people gain populist leanings, many of which trend towards the right end of the political spectrum, the average person may equate the “otherness” of their mindset with the “bad” right-wing regimes of the past.
As the readings show, populism can be left or right, but I would assume that many people do not wish to identify themselves as populist to avoid any negative connotations the word has garnered. However, they would feel comfortable labelling those on the opposite end of the spectrum as such. As fascism and populism, outside of a historical and correctly analysed perspective, are often seen as synonymous, it stands to reason that the term would be erroneously used to label modern populist movements.
Finchelstein, F. (2019). Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past. In From Fascism to Populism in History. essay, University of California Press.
Schapiro, L., & Mudde, C. (1969). Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism. In Government and opposition (pp. 1–21). essay, London School of Economics.
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