Tyranny of the Majority

Aleksander Bracken

Something that stood out to me in terms of an appealing aspect of fascism beyond ideology is the sense of inclusivity and protection that it offers to people whom belong to (or identify with) the dominant ethno-linguistic nationality. Marhoefer’s exploration of gender nonconformity in Nazi Germany shows that women were targeted by the state and authorities when they presented as masculine (through hairstyle and dress) in public. While this was to enforce gender conformity as part Nazi totalitarianism, Marhoefer also points out that public lesbianism provoked anxieties in neighbours, acquaintances, and state officials. Homosexual and gender non-conforming women where minorities whose identities, while “Aryan” in the eyes of the Nazi worldview, nevertheless conflicted with the majority identity of gender conforming, heterosexual Germans. Thus, the scrutiny and violence of the Nazi state against these groups can be seen as a form of protecting the majority from their fear of the minority.

This desire to seek protection from the minority, or any group that threatens the “nation,” can be seen strongly in the Vice video about the cult of Francisco Franco in contemporary Spain. Several of the people featured in the video spoke of “dangerous groups” whose perceived evil tides need to be stemmed: migrants, sexual minorities, feminists, etc. Here the mental gymnastics of the far right are on full display, such as the differentiation between immigrants and “invaders.” What is interesting about this contemporary example is that the idea Spanish “nation” and the cult of Franco was embraced by people outside of the Spanish ethno-linguistic nation, such as the Dutch Franco-lover Tom and the bar proprietor of Chinese origins. This also emphasizes the extent to which ethno-linguistic nations are constructed.

Fascist Internationalism is not altruistic and very dangerous

Aleksander Bracken

Authors from this week suggest that far-fright movements, in particular interwar and WWII European Fascism, are much more international than ethno-nationalist ideologies might suggest. Motadel argues in his essay that Nazi Germany actively forged transitional military ties and anti-colonial solidarity with radical nationalist groups in colonized countries, a pretty significant incongruity considering that the Nazi regime was murdering peoples deemed “racially inferior” across Europe. As he argues in his article, far-right internationalism does not advocate for multiculturalism and pluralism, but rather for cooperation among “supposedly homogenous, organically grown, closed national communities.” While these groups may cooperate with foreign radical nationalists, they are not advocating for a “friendship of the peoples” like the Soviet Union did.

It is important to nevertheless stress that European fascists were not embracing international cooperation altruistically. As Motadel stresses in his essay, Nazi solidarity with nationalist movements abroad was a way to undermine their liberal European imperial rivals, who presented significant geopolitical obstacles to their own imperial projects, as well as the “Versailles system” imposed by these European powers post-WWI. Moreover, the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy invented by Fascist and far-right nationalists was another international threat perceived to be subordinating many European nations and even Western civilization itself. Thus, radical nationalist movements and leaders sought mutual support from international partners in order to combat international threats both real and invented.

What strikes me is how far-right movements are becoming increasingly international in our present moment. In addition to racist and antisemitic chants echoing from far-right demonstrations from Charlottesville to Warsaw, organizations like the American Conservative Union hosted a 2022 Conservative Political Action Convention in Budapest, Hungary this year. Perhaps this is a contemporary iteration of the Geneva International Convention of Interwar Europe discussed in Motadel’s article.

The Pitfalls of Equating Populism with Fascism

Aleksander Bracken

One of the issues presented in the readings that I found particularly interesting was the discussion around populism versus fascism. I have often equated the two when discussing the rise of far-right populist movements in contemporary politics. I have come to realize that doing so can have a negative impact on public discourse, potentially fanning the flames of political tensions.

Finchelstein pushes against people who conflate populism and fascism with anything that stands against liberal democracy. He also has a bone to pick with “pundits and politicians” who use fascism to describe not only populism, but also authoritarian regimes or international terrorism. My initial reaction was to question his argument: While I appreciated his nuance when defining these terms, I also believed that labelling populist movements that advocated for exclusionary ethno-nationalist politics as fascist movements was a useful tool to shock and scare people into action against these dangerous political movements. If they walk like a duck, and quack like a duck, then why can’t they be fascit?

This type of anti-populist discourse evidently worsens relations between liberal-democrats and populists. The equation of populism and fascism as political rhetoric can be a form of anti-populism.  Mudde argues it is a “mirror image” of populism, as it establishes both a monist (us versus them) and a moralist (populists are morally corrupt) position that leaves no room for compromise. Thus, the equation of fascism with populism further solidifies the sentiments held among populist-democrats that they are being marginalized by the liberal democratic system and that their political antagonists are “enemies of the people,” further widening the gap between them and liberal democrats.

As Paxton argues, fascist states were established and maintained by the “solid texture of everyday experience and the complicity of ordinary people,” and that these states could not have grown without the help of these people. Perhaps labelling populists as fascists could push people further down the path towards the more violent and extreme ideology of fascism.

Sources: 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.

Introduction

Hello class! My name is Aleksander and I am a third-year MA student at the Institute of European, Russian, and Eurasian studies. My research interest is 20th century Russian cultural history, but I am also very keen to learn about other histories to study issues and topics through other disciplinary lenses. Populism and Authoritarianism are two ideologies which are unfortunately becoming increasingly salient in our political and cultural climate. I have learned about them in other European history courses as topics. However, I have never taken a course dedicated to their study that analyzes them from a transnational perspective, which is why I am looking forward to doing so in this course!