Nuancing left- and right- wing populism


One key takeaway from this week’s readings was nuancing understandings of left and right- wing populism. The labels of Inclusionary vs. Exclusionary populist rhetoric and politics put forward by Mudde and Rovira Klatwasser provide a useful framework through which to analyze both right- and left-wing populism. The authors use examples of materialist rhetoric to explore how Latin American left-wing populists include socioeconomically groups in their welfare programs while excluding the wealthy (American-backed) elites, while in Europe right-wing populist discourses around “welfare chauvinism” established groups who deserve social support (their “own people”) and who do not (“aliens,” such as Roma, immigrants, and refugees). However, it is important to stress that right-wing populists also attack economic elites as being a problematic group, something that is more often attributed to the left-wing.

From an inclusion exclusion perspective, xenophobia is clearly a discourse that is much more prevalent on the right rather on the left. This is something that we have seen in many other cases over the course of this semester. However, Fieschi reminds us that xenophobic rhetoric is also used by left-wing populists, as is the case with the Dutch Socialist party. According to Fieschi, this party fits into the “strictly populist” camp, demonstrating populism is not exclusively right-wing. Moreover, Fieschi’s three camps is a very useful spectrum on which to measure many different left and right wing parties and movements’ relation to populism.

Gender = Communism – Is Poland’s right-wing discourse lazy or sinisterly simple and effective?

By Frank

Going into this week’s readings, in particular the ones about Poland, I had a thought: Is there a dynamic going on where mainstream politicians and institutions are borrowing (and normalizing) anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from fringe far-right parties, similar to what happened in Hungary with Islamophobic discourse (if you recall Ivan Kalmar’s article from last week)? It appears to me that, in the Polish case, this discourse is actually coming straight from Law and Justice politicians, President Andrej Duda, the Catholic Church.

One example (of many) was the comparison of “gender” to Marxism and communism. As Zuk (2019) highlights, this is a conscious act of persuasive inference to discredit the LGBT gender and sexual identities, as well as pro-abortion policy. This discourse also lumps together many of the Catholic Church and right-wing’s “enemies” into a single, easy-to-denounce category, absolving any of the nuance or differences between these issues. In the vice video, Duda’s campaign speech that denounces “gender” as the (even more dangerous) successor to Marxism. To the Catholic Church, “gender” is supposed to be a new version of dangerous, leftist ideologies, a new disguise of Marxism, which this time took the ‘cultural’ rather than the ‘economic’ form (Zuk, 2019)

This type of rhetoric not only positions gender as an ideology (which is highly problematic), but also portrays it as a threat tantamount to communism that the Polish people must be protected from. It fans the fear of national fragility, that when Poles or Hungarians or French nationalists, fear a perceived tyranny of a minority (LGBTQ, Muslim, Romani, etc.) that is seeking to undermine the values of the majority.

What do Hungary and the UK have in common?

By Frank

I find Kalmar’s (2020) four steps of mainstream anti-Islamic populism to be a very helpful explanation of the phenomenon, although it is somewhat unsettling that mainstream politicians like Viktor Orban can descend into racism and xenophobia by following a few simple steps. What struck me was a parallel between the sanitization of racist rhetoric in contemporary cases like Hungary and those of late-20th century far-right movements like the British National Front.

According to Kalmar, the “sanitization” of Islamophobic rhetoric through the rejection of antisemitism allows populists to promote Islamophobia openly without the fear of being labelled Nazis. In the Hungarian case, the “Soros Myth” could be unapologetically touted by Orban and Fidesz, despite it’s antisemitic nature and roots in the Elders of Zion conspiracy theory of the early-20th century.

The National Front in 1980s Great Britain also voiced their anti-antisemitism through a statement issued to a Jewish organization, stating that they accepted Jews into their organization and were explicitly opposed to anti-Semitism (Bland 2020, p.121). Perhaps this was also a measure to deflect accusations about being Nazis and shield their xenophobic and ethnocentric rhetoric. Bland explicitly states that neofascism and neo-Nazi ideas were at the core of the National Front (p.109), and that they saw conspiracy theories like “Zionist Imperialism” as significant threats to Britain (p.118), demonstrating that their anti-antisemitism was disingenuous (what a surprise!). Moreover, anti-immigrant discourse was also espoused by Margaret Thatcher and mainstream British Conservatives, perhaps as a way of normalizing the rhetoric coming from groups like the National Front (p.110).

While it is unknown if Orban was aware the history of the sanitization of racist and xenophobic discourse in Europe, the fact that is being done by an increasing number of European politicians today is troubling.

From Evola to Putin: Russian Far-Right Intellectual Alexander Dugin’s relation to Italian Neofascism and the Kremlin

Alexander Dugin next to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the cover of his book, The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia. Source:

By Frank

More than eight months after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the War in Ukraine continues to be waged. Putin and a cast of murderous Russian officials continue to make headlines. But perhaps no figure is as curious as the neofascist Russian “philosopher” Alexander Dugin. His name resurfaced last August after his daughter (herself a far-right journalist) was killed in a car bombing in Moscow.

Relatively obscure in the West before Russia’s pre-February military buildup, Dugin has been a considerable intellectual force in Russia during the last two decades, advocating for a new Russian Empire built on anti-liberal and authoritarian values. But what is perhaps most curious about Dugin is that he was heavily influenced by the Italian fascist and neofascist thinker Julius Evola.

How did this Italian fascist theorist’s ideas reach Russia? How did Dugin use them to form his own political ideologies? Is there a connection between Dugin, his ideas, and Vladimir Putin?

The Evolian Imagination

Julius Evola was a fascist thinker and intellectual of the early-mid 20th century whose ideas resonated with far-right politicians in Italy, Austrian and Germany, including Benito Mussolini. Avoiding war crimes punishments, Evola became a darling of new-right and neofascism in Europe in the post-War years. Embraced by far-right politicians and intellectuals throughout Europe, Evola’s ideas crossed national boundaries and were embraced by politicians and pundits across the globe.  

Evola’s writings consistently denounced modern progress, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, and communism. It differed from traditional conservatism by also decrying Christianity, democracy, individualism, and the bourgeoisie – epitomized by the neoliberal USA. Evola was also a proponent of mythical Hyperborean histories of European ethnic origins. He even appropriated religious and cultural traditions from Buddhism and Hinduism to promote essential psychic and spiritual differences between “races,” classes, and sexes.

Alexander Dugin and Evola’s Ideas

Alexander Dugin was a Soviet dissident who first encountered Evola’s works in the final days of the USSR: “These readings changed my life,” Dugin said in a 2018 interview, “I had never heard anyone describe the contradictions of the modern world like Evola.” Dugin was expelled from university for “unorthodox activities,” which included the translation and samizdatpublication of Evola’s Pagan Imperialism.

Dugin remained in relative obscurity during the 1990s. But his status as an international far-right intellectual was elevated thanks to his “Eurasia Movement” launched in 2001, which claims to have a presence in 29 countries. Moreover, his ascent to academic respectability was completed through his appointment as chair of the international relations section of the sociology department at Moscow State University in 2009.

As is the case with many far-right intellectuals, Dugin’s political theories are complex and convoluted. Nevertheless, there are some major themes that can be extracted. First stated in his seminal work, The Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), Dugin argued for the revival of Evola’s fascist idea of traditionalism: an eradication of modern, polyethnic, egalitarian, feminist, and democratic cultures, which he reduces to “American Globalism.” Dugin’s vision for Russia is of a vast, Eurasian, authoritarian empire of racially pure regimes in which women are confined to the home and breeding. Furthermore, Dugin also stated in a book to Hyperborean theory that Russia has a theological destiny to leader the “modern day Hyperborean societies” of Eurasia against the American-rule “Atlanticist” civilization.

Dugin and the War in Ukraine

Dugin’s vision for a vast, Russian-ruled Eurasian Empire rejects the idea of a distinct Ukrainian culture and nation. In The Foundations, Dugin argued that “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, [and] no ethnic exclusiveness.”

Furthermore, Dugin warned Ukraine in 2003 that embracing a pro-Western “Atlanticist model” would expose Ukraine to the menace of “gays, and homosexual and lesbian marriage,” values which he saw as threatening to Eurasian civilization. Here, Dugin applies Evolian ideas to the regional geopolitical situation.

Dugin’s ideas clearly reject Ukraine’s existence, as well as his threats against the country moving closer to the West. But establishing clear links between Dugin’s ideas and Putin is challenging, since the Kremlin is veiled in a shroud of secrecy that makes any decisive claim untenable.

What we can say with some certainty is that he has been advisor to Gennady Seleznev since 1999, who was one of Putin’s top aides from 2012-2019. Moreover, The Foundation of Geopolitics is required reading at the Russian General Staff Academy for every officer above the rank of colonel.

It is also difficult to overlook the convergence between Dugin’s ideas and Putin’s rhetoric, in particular the claims which deny Ukraine as a distinct nation and culture. The February 2022 Invasion and the ensuing brutal war waged by Russia further reinforces the idea that Putin and the Russian Military are acting on the denial of Ukraine’s right to exist under historical, philosophical, and cultural pretexts, which itself constitutes a genocidal practice.

We can glean a few important ideas from the case of Alexander Dugin’s relation to Julius Evola’s ideas, as well as his non-negligible ties to formal Russian Power. Firstly, ultranationalist and neofascist ideas – like the ones espoused by Evola – can travel outside of their original national context. Secondly, right-wing thinkers (like Dugin) in other national contexts (like Russia) absorb and appropriate these ideas to develop their own right-wing and neofascist theories. Finally, under certain conditions and in certain critical moments, these ideas can draw the attention powerful people who use them to rationalize imperial projects and atrocious wars.

Othering and its contradictions

By Frank

One of the themes that struck me from the readings was how late 20th century Europeans “othered:” who did they consider to be included t of their “nation” or “people” and who they did not. What I found interesting was that the lines were often drawn differently depending on the context, and how this was done not only by leaders of radical right parties, but also by average citizens.

Cento Bull examines the more high-level perspective of far-right Italian Second Republic parties radically redefined inclusion and exclusion in their efforts to reconstruct the past. One example is discussed Lega Nord. On the one hand, they othered Southern Italians based on a dissonance between work ethic and perceived criminality vis-à-vis Northern Italians. On the other, they saw migrants (in particular people from Arab-speaking countries) as an excluded group from all Italians, Southerners included (p.222-3).

While Italian politicians were doing mental gymnastics to develop their imagined past, Germans in the recently reunified Germany were also engaging in othering from a more bottom-up persepective. Molnar’s piece highlights that post-War racism in Europe had shifted from Nazi-era “biological” differences to ideas of European cultures being incompatible with those of the global south. While this was a discourse pushed by far-right and neofascist groups, Molnar’s examination of letters from German citizens to President Wiezäcker illuminate that these ideas held sway over “average” German citizens, evidenced also by the 1992 anti-asylum compromise (p.498-501).

From these readings we can see how othering ultimately leads to the marginalization of, persecution of, and violence towards groups in European society that were not considered to be included in the dominant national or ethnic group.

Differences between Neofascism and Fascism-Fascism


Reflecting on the question of how neofascism differed from fascist movements of the early-20th century, I found Bland’s discussion of the UK National Front’s “Third Way” interesting. In particular, that their worldview was not a blend of communism and capitalism, but rather rejected them outright (Bland 112). This anti-materialism is also echoed in Julius Evola’s ideas of spiritual ethnonationalism. This lack of materialist focus could have also been a product of French and Italian far-right groups, who as Mammone points were building cultural hegemony projects to counter liberal-leftist hegemony, one built on the foundation of Evola’s (and other fascist thinkers) ideas. Overall, these authors suggest that new right thinkers and leaders were building an ideology and identity which centered less around economic models.

There are a few more areas where neofascists differ from their forebearers, and I am really interested in discussing them during Thursday’s facilitation. However, I believe that is it vital to stress that these differences should not fool us into thinking that these movements are not dangerous or destructive because they don’t mimic Mussolini or the Nazis. Antisemitism is still a core value for these parties. While NF issued a statement that they were explicitly opposed to antisemitism (Bland 121), they were essentially Neo-Nazis in their fetishistic faith in and adherence to Hitler’s political program and antisemitic conspiracy theory (Bland 109). Moreover, the “bludgeon and double-breasted suit” approach adopted by MSI reflects early-20th century Fascist tactics of pairing paramilitary street violence with parliamentary politics.

CPAC Hungary is a recent example of how ultranationalist, radical-right politicians are gaining legitimacy through international cooperation

US television host and conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson delivers a speech via a videolink at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a prominent conference of American conservatives, in Budapest, Hungary, 19 May 2022.  Credit: Szilard Koszticsak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (12946499a)

By Frank

This past May, the American Conservative Union (ACU) held one of its Conservative Political Action Conferences (CPAC) in Budapest, Hungary. While it may appear to be somewhat ironic that the ACU – a traditionalist conservative, nationalist, and populist-leaning organization – hosted a conference in Hungary, it shows how radical-right Republicans in the US and populist, authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán are willing to align themselves with the global far-right movement. Call it ultranationalist internationalism.

CPAC Hungary received a star-studded cast of new right figures. Donald Trump gave a speech virtually, and former UKIP leader and Brexiteer Nigel Farage made an appearance. Less famous figures to share the stage included Zsolt Bayer, a Hungarian television talk show host who has been repeatedly denounced for his racism and antisemitism.

Orbán delivered the keynote address at CPAC, but a controversial speech given a few days before the conference is what made international headlines. After taking the oath of his office for the fourth time, he endorsed the “Great Replacement Theory:” a xenophobic and racist conspiracy theory embraced by far-right figures.   

Viktor Orbán gives a speech at CPAC Dallas 2022 a few months after CPAC Hungary. In it, he refers to Hungary as the “Lone Start State of Europe” because of its shared values of Independence, freedom, sovereignty with Texas.

What do far-right nationalist figures gain from these types of events? How deep does their collaboration run? While it may seem to be merely a paradoxical feature of the globalized information age, ultranationalist internationalism has a historical legacy.

European Fascists leaders of the early-20th century actively sought out and solidified connections with likeminded governments, parties, and partisans globally. During the Second World War, Berlin became a hub of international Fascism, as the Nazi regime invited far right and ultranationalist leaders from across the globe, like Subhas Chandra Bose.

The contradictions of Fascist internationalism are evident, especially considering that Nazi Germany was exterminating peoples that it viewed to be “racially inferior” while they invited people from the Colonized world. However, this “reactionary cosmopolitanism” served larger goals for both parties. Nazi Germany garnered supported far-right militias and organizations : Fascist ‘fifth-columns’ had the potential undermine (or even overthrow) their European adversaries, thus enhancing Nazi power and prestige. For the leaders of these organizations, cooperation with the Nazis provided a power, likeminded ally who was fighting (and initially beating) their colonial rulers: a powerful Fascist model to be emulated.

Celebration of the foundation of the provisional Indian national government: soldier of Azad Hind Legion, Hotel Kaiserhof, Berlin, November 15, 1943. SZ Photo Archive, Image 00081540.

“Dressed in a black sherwani, [Subhas Chandra] Bose gave a passionate speech, denouncing “British imperialism” as “a cunning and diabolical enemy.” His address was replete with references to the global anticolonial struggle, to India, Burma, Palestine, and Iran: “The war offers not only India, but also all other enslaved nations of the British Empire a unique opportunity for throwing off the foreign yoke.””

– David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire.”

It is important to state the obvious here: our current moment differs vastly from the Second World War. Nevertheless, authoritarian, illiberal democratic states like Orbán’s Hungary acts as model ultranationalist state that American conservatives wish to emulate.

American conservative politicians are interested in Hungarian policies. For example, Hungary’s law banning the teaching of homosexuality and transgender issues in schools was enacted a year before Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill; laws which significantly curtail the rights of LGBTQ people in both states. Vox senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp suggests that the American law was “literally” inspired by Orbán’s law.

The policies and platforms of Viktor Orbán are not exclusively for a domestic Hungarian audience. In his speech at CPAC Dallas (which took place a few months after CPAC Hungary), Orbán provides a playbook for advancing ultranationalist, anti-pluralist agendas:

“I am here to tell you that our values: the nation, Christian roots, and family can be successful in the political battlefield. Even nowadays, when political life is ruled by liberal hegemony, I am here to tell you how we made these values successful and mainstream in Hungary. Perhaps our story can help you keep America Great.”

– Viktor Orban, CPAC Dallas Speech

Giving guidance to American conservatives also benefits Hungary. Strong ultranationalist governments in Western countries friendly to Hungary provide Orbán’s regime with legitimacy at home and aboard. As history shows, internationalism benefited Fascist states like Nazi Germany, as their allies provided the regime prestige, support and legitimacy.

Radical-right collaboration on policy is certainly significant, but it is only one of the heads of the ultranationalist internationalist hydra. The sharing of far-right, ultranationalist ideas – touted as “traditional” values – are also a key feature of their international cooperation. This too has a historical legacy.

For over half a century, new right figures have understood power of ideas and narratives to build long-term, durable power. In the late 1960s, the French Nouvelle Droite (New Right, or ND) saw the need to establish a right-winged “Cultural Hegemony” in civil society to combat perceived leftist influences over public discourse. As Political Scientist Tamir Bar-On highlights, ND leader Alain de Benoist saw that Gramscian-Marxist political theory could be used to further the far-right’s agenda, through the “control of dominant values, attitudes, and ways of seeing and being.” To achieve this goal, Bar-On argues, the ND and other European new-right organizations embraced “pan-Europeanism:” a transnational framework which promoted European traditional values in order to preserve the “authentic” regions of Europe against the “onslaught” of non-European immigrants. The ND countered this treat, as well as the alleged cultural hegemony of the liberal-left in Europe, by establishing journals, think-tanks, and conferences to link centre-right and extreme right-win political movements and parties throughout the continent.

Orbán speaks at CPAC Dallas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Like their new-right forefathers, today’s radical-right recognizes the value of these institutions to further their agendas. Conferences like CPAC become platforms for sharing ideas like “Replacement Theory.” The open discussion of these ideas; the cheers from the crowds in response to unapologetic racism and xenophobia; and the videos of important figures like Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán talking about them on flashy stages provide legitimacy to these incredibly divisive and destructive ideas in the eyes of supporters, be they Hungarian, British, or American. This legitimacy helps far-right, authoritarian leaders like Orbán implement even more discriminatory policies and build walls to prevent refugees and migrants from entering Hungary.

Throughout his speech at CPAC Dallas, Orbán presented his political struggle as a “culture war:” a battle of the virtues Western Civilization, Christianity, and family values against the vices of “wokeness,” pluralism, and multiculturalism. He even framed it as a battle between “David-sized” Hungary and the Globalist “Goliath.” In his conclusion, he pointed to two elections in 2024 – the US Presidency and the EU Parliament – as the crux of this battle. In his mind, the far-right must fight to control these two institutions. Orbán reassured his audience: “There is no enemy that Christ has not yet defeated.”

For the sake of the pluralist and multicultural values that we hold dear, let us pray that Christ loses this one.   

The Far-Right Appropriates Ideas from Marxist Antonio Gramsci


One of the ways that the New Left challenged the postwar order was during 1968, when student movements shook Western and Eastern Europe. McCreary and Drescher argue that the Paris movement subtly changed patterns, attitudes, and institutions through the shock treatment of crisis. For instance, French institutes of higher learning experienced a revolution: their reactionary, conservative faculty and administration were replaced with left-leaning, progressive scholars. Some far right groups like the Novelle Droite saw this as a seizure of the levers of cultural power in civil society, signalling the need for far-right groups to fight fire with fire. As Bar-On discusses, the ND’s leader Alain de Benoist called for a ‘cultural hegemony’ project in order to create long-term, durable power.

This materialized in a form of far-right nationalist internationalism akin to what early-20th century Fascist leaders fostered to undercut their European rivals before and during WWII. While tactics of post-1968 European parties differed, they shared a core of ideas: an antipathy for liberalism, immigration, and multiculturalism. While the USSR was the boogeyman of the Cold War era, the US became it’s successor. As Deam Tobin highlights, ideas from thinkers like Julius Evola where diffused amongst dozens of far-right figures and leaders, who latched onto fringe theories like “spiritual races” and myths of Hyperborean origins. It is also not coincidental that Evola was a contemporary of Mussolini, who admired Evola’s work.

The spread of these ideas again demonstrates the strange relationship that ultranationalists have with internationalism. I found that the readings of this week provided useful frameworks through which to view this relationship: that it is in service of a mission to provide an alternative cultural hegemony to leftist liberalism.

Western Expectations of de-Nazification

Aleksander Bracken

One of the aspects of de-Nazification that stood out to me was the degree to which American and Allied expectations and needs of the time affected it. Moeller’s piece on the Judgement of Nuremberg highlights that the American bought into the “dream” of Janning’s confession as the embodiment of the enormity of the crimes committed by Germany and as a confession of guilt that provided the possibility for forgiveness, despite the fact that this confession was not actually something that happened historically. There was also the idea of the Fragebogen as a “bureaucratic process of revolution by decree,” since it was expected that a 131 question questionnaire could alone “de-nazify” West Germany. Thus, the West leaned heavily into the perception that Germany was quickly heading down the path towards de-Nazification.

But these two articles highlight several instances where Germans were not on the same page as their Western allies/occupiers. While Willy Brandt somewhat embraced a critical view of his country’s past and the need for reconciliation, German film critics harked on the films historical inaccuracies and were less critical of their nation’s wrongdoings. Some respondents of the Fragebogen also scoffed at the questionnaire, feeling that some aspects of it were reminiscent of Nazi scrutiny (i.e. physical characteristics and ancestry certificates). Furthermore, Americans were boasting a 92% denazification rate in areas like Bad Weisse (147). But as Moeller highlights, radical neo-Nazi antisemitic acts – like attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries – occurred in major cities, like Cologne in 1959. Thus, the American dream of de-Nazification was built on a shaky foundation at best.

These texts demonstrate that German discourse and perspectives did not echo the dreams put forward by Americans, suggesting that West Germans’ relationship with their past in the first two post-war decades was not sufficiently critical to purge Nazism from the body politic and prevent the rise of new Nazi-inspired movements.

Tyranny of the Majority


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.