Can Historical Memory Escape Ideology?

By Ali Yasin

Collective memory and the culture surrounding it have become contentious and emotionally charged issues across the Global North. As many developed countries struggle to come to terms with their colonial legacies, traditional frameworks of historical memory have been challenged by an increasingly diverse array of perspectives. This inclusion of marginalized and subaltern voices (including post-colonial, feminists, and queer experiences) in the debates regarding memory culture, has been met by a growing reaction both institutionally and publicly. Its opponents argue that this postmodernist trend has undermined both the collective memory of western society and the liberal/enlightenment values it facilitates.

Although this debate is often framed simplistically in most national contexts, with both sides claiming to defended an empirical telling of history from the attempt to supplant with an ideological narrative, the reality is far more nuanced. We explored this theme by examining the “Catechism Debate”, an online public discourse between numerous scholars on Germany’s modern memory culture of the Holocaust. The debate was instigated by a Dirk Moses’ piece The German Catechism, in which he argues that the rigid commitment to Germany’s post ‘68 view of the Holocaust as a singular and uniquely German “rupture from the moral foundation of the nation”, has limited German perspective on genocide and systematic violence, particularly in regards to its own colonial legacy.

As the debate quickly progressed with many scholars reflecting on Moses’ argument, it became apparent that the construction of collective memory culture is an inherently ideological process. Even when historians agree entirely on the empirical information surrounding a period of history, the way that period or event is situated within a wider historical context inevitably carries ideological connotations. Both contextualizing the Holocaust as another example of systematic colonial genocide and maintaining its status as a singular historical event with no direct comparison, create societal narratives that have a formative effect on the character of a political community.

If the ideological implications of collective memory construction and culture cannot be escaped, this tendency can at least be balanced by taking a pluralistic approach to both institutional and public discourses on historical memory. As the Catechism Debate demonstrated, the ideological dimensions of collective memory can only be deconstructed and effectively understood when they are examined from multiple opposing perspectives.   

Is Populism Inherently Opposed to Democracy or Liberalism?

By Ali Yasin

Many have argued that we are currently living through a populist era, as challenges to the liberal-democratic status quo from both the far right and the far left, have become increasingly anti-elitist and majoritarian in character. Because of its appeal across the political spectrum, scholars have struggled to define populism using traditional comparative and theoretical approaches. The majority now view populism as style of politics which can be adopted to most ideologies, rather than a concrete philosophy.

Although there is still extensive debate surrounding which features distinguish a political movement as being populist, the most widely accepted aspect of populism is its framing of “the people” as being in inherent opposition to the corrupt elites. Where individual populist movements vary however, is in how they define both “the people” as well as the elites.

Far right populism almost universally describes “the people” as the organic ethnic/national community. They then often argue that its traditionally homogeneous values and demographics are being eroded by a corrupt elite whose interests and values have become multicultural and transnational.

By contrast, far left populists generally frame the conflict between the people and the elite along economic rather than ethnic lines, claiming to represent an overwhelming majority of the population which has been negatively impacted by the unprecedented expansion of global capitalism since the 1980s. Both criticize the elite and contemporary status quo as being irreconcilably disconnected from the needs and interests of the majority. They differ substantial however on how they define the boundaries of the political community, and why the elite fall outside of it.

To some political scientists including Catherine Fieschi and Tjitske Akkerman, whose work was covered this week, this is a distinction without a difference as both the far right and left ultimately rely on resentment of the elite to drive their political agendas. While the far left may not depend on appeals to ethnic or even cultural solidarity to mobilize “the people”, its desire to exclude on the elite minority on the basis that they prevent majoritarian rule, non the less represents a form of anti-democratic xenophobia.

Others like Cass Mudde have instead claimed that rather than being inherently anti-democratic, populism across the left-right spectrum can be seen as an illiberal form of democracy which emerges as a reaction to increasingly undemocratic liberal societies. In order to maintain the stability of a complex and globalized free market, liberal-democratic governments have gradually become depoliticized, with little meaningful policy difference existing between major political parties. This trend towards technocratic governance at the expense of democratic engagement, has not only widened the gulf between the state’s population and its governing institutions, but also generates the desire for majoritarian rule as economic and ecological crisis continue to define our current political climate. Both the contemporary far-right and far-left use this populist backlash against the liberal-democratic status quo to revitalize their traditional political programs. Where they substantially differ is on which elements of the status quo they seek to undermine. All populist movements are inherently opposed to liberalism, but only those on the far right are inevitably incompatible with democracy.

Works Cited:

Catherine Fieschi, “A Plague on Both Your Populisms” (April 19, 2012) Open Democracy

Cas Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, C “Exclusionary vs. inclusionary populism: Comparing contemporary Europe and Latin America” Government and Opposition 48 (2013): 147–174.

M. Rooduijn Akkerman T. “Flank attacks: Populism and left-right radicalism in Western Europe” Party Politics 23 (3) (2017): 193-204.

The Popularization of Far Right Politics

By Ali Yasin

Social media and the internet more broadly, can be seen as the most recent examples of a historical and technological trend towards the popularization of information. The ongoing development of information and communications technology has gradually widened the scope of public engagement in political, social, and philosophical discourses. This steady trajectory towards “mass society”, has been reflected in evolution of political movements across the ideological spectrum.

Both the far-right and far-left were early adopters of radio and film as mediums for political action during the early 20th century. Doing so expanding the reach of their political mobilization from the traditional property holding upper and upper middle classes, to the organizing urban workers in the case of the far-left, and the disaffected lower middle class in the case of the far-right. In both instances, their political programs took on the character of mass societal movements with revolutionary ambitions. Subsequently, liberal governments during and after the Second World War, were forced to adopt similar systems of political mobilization and governance to prevent revolution from either the right or left. This adaptation is reflected in the trans-Atlantic development of the liberal welfare state in nations across western Europe and North America, as a centrist alternative to the mass politics of the 20th century.

Now in the 21st century, the internet as the primary means of communication, has had a similar yet distinct effect on the development of contemporary politics.

While previous technologies like radio, film and TV broadcasting all expanded the general public’s capacity to receive information and narratives, the internet is the first to radically expand its ability to also construct and disseminate them as well. As a result, political activists on the far-right and far-left have once again adopted this new arena of political action and altered the character of their political movements in the process. Rather than portraying themselves as the vanguards of mass political movements like their early 20th century predecessors once did, modern activists now present themselves as agents of culture change seeking to undermine the artificial narratives of the elite and supplant them with the organic will of the people. This has inevitably given the politics of the modern far-right and far-left an increasingly populist orientation. Ironically, it has also once again led the political establishment to adopt these new modes of politics, fearing the growth of either ideology. Although some centrist politicians like Barack Obama and Emanuel Macron have had success incorporating populist energy and strategies into liberal political agendas, as the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and Macron’s drastic decline in popularity have shown, they may be quickly outpaced by the members of the far-right and their now decentralized system of narrative construction.  

Works Cited:

Imen Neffati, “Anti-sociologisme, Zionism, and Islamophobia in Philippe Val’s Charlie Hebdo” French Cultural Studies (2021) 32(3):280-295.

Nicole Doerr, “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

Benjamin Krämer, “Populist online practices: the function of the Internet in right-wing populism” Information, Communication & Society, 20:9 (2017): 1293-1309

John Postill, “Populism and social media: a global perspective.” Media, Culture & Society. 40(5)(2018): 754-765.

List of Topics and Sub-Modules for Week 11: November 24

Does neoliberalism erode or reconstruct the boundaries of the 20th Century?

By Ali Yasin

Mass migration has influenced and often driven the politics post-Cold War Europe. With the collapse of communist regimes across the continent through the early 1990’s, there was a widespread belief that Europe was now inevitably on a path towards an integrated post-national future. In reality however, the neoliberal politics of contemporary Europe have largely failed to erode the social and cultural barriers associated with the nationalism of the 20th century, as well as the anxieties it was rooted in. Neoliberalism has instead redefined these boundaries, establishing both a new “model citizen” and “threatening Other” in the process.

The development of neoliberalism in the 1980’s can be seen as the political expression of the emerging globalized economy. The needs and challenges of a globally interconnect and interdependent marketplace require increasingly post-national forms of governance which pass over the protectionist tendencies of the nation-state. It also requires a new model of citizen, namely the cosmopolitan consumer, who likewise lacks the traditional attachments associated with both civic and ethnic citizenship and facilitates the ever increasing transnational flow of capital. This reconstructed model citizenship is most clearly visible when looking at the boundaries which neoliberalism has successfully diminished. Significant and even historic progress has been made by the EU in diminishing the social barriers faced by women and members of the queer community. Furthermore, this commitment to the protection of gender equality and the free expression of individual sexuality/gender orientation, have become integral aspects of a growing post-national European identity. Despite these progressive achievements, neoliberalism does not erase the need for a threatening Other which stands in inherent opposition to the model citizen, vital the nationalistic worldview it attempts to supplant. While cosmopolitan consumers whether they take the form of international investors or upper-middle class tourists, serve the needs of a global marketplace regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, the same cannot be said about impoverished migrants and refugees who lack capital and struggle to integrate into a service orientated post-industrial economy. As a result, immigrant populations (1st, 2nd and even 3rd generation) are increasingly confined both spatially and socially to the margins of the community.

Rather than addressing the underlying socio-economic causes for this isolation, both liberal and populist governments have chosen to focus their attention on the alleged cultural incompatibility of certain immigrant populations (often those with a Middle Eastern or North African background) with the norms and values of modern Europe. Immigrants are characterized as unwilling to shed their illiberal practices and beliefs, despite wanting to receive the benefits of a liberal European society, leading to their inability to integrate and concentration isolated communities. In addition to being portrayed as an unproductive burden on the social welfare state, the characterization of migrant communities as inherently unwilling to accept liberal values implies that they are intrinsically subversive and threatening elements present within, while remaining perpetually separate from, the European community. Given that poor non-European migrants fundamentally represent the same threatening Other to both cosmopolitan liberals and right wing populists, it’s doubtful whether neoliberalism will be able to address the growing political mobilization of the far-right around the issue of mass immigration.

Works Cited:

Fatima El-Tayeb, “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95.

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Ivan Kalmar, “Islamophobia and anti-semitism: the case of Hungary and the ‘Soros Plot” Patterns and Prejudice Vol. 54 (1-2) (2020): 182-98.

Fear and Anxiety within the Collective Memory of the Far Right

By Ali Yasin

When discussing the role of collective memory within populist movements there is a tendency to over-emphasize its nostalgic forms, namely the desire to return to a glorified and imagined past. This neglects the fact that similar nostalgic narratives are frequently adopted by anti-populist liberals, as well as the importance of fear and anxiety to the collective memory of the far-right. Several of this week’s articles examined the impact of this more angst inducing form of collective memory on the European far-right following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through his analysis of primarily source documents, Christopher Molnar effectively demonstrated how the language of crisis, disorientation, and collapse prevalent within German historical narratives of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, were used by the far-right to characterize fears of “over-foreignization” and immigration following German reunification. Terms such as “annihilation” and “liquidation”, taken directly from the nomenclature of the holocaust, were used by both East and West Germans to characterize the peril uncontrolled immigration contained for the interchangeable German nation and people. Allusions to the both the historical collapse Weimar Republic, and the more recent case of Yugoslavia, were presented as empirical examples of societal and political collapse which Germany risked through its asylum and social policies. In both instances, deeply ingrained cultural memories of crisis and upheaval are reappropriated by populist to integrate contemporary political conflicts into their collective and often polemic historical narratives.

Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231

 Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

The Evolution of Fascism from a Mass Movement to a Subversive Revolution

By Ali Yasin

Exploring the impact of neo-fascism on the politics of post-war Europe is often a challenging subject for historians and political scientists. There is a risk of downplaying both the significance of its influence, as well as the substantial ways it has evolved ideologically and tactically from the fascist movements of the early 20th century. This is in part due to the transition of the far-right in Europe from a popular movement striving for the mass mobilization of its supporters, to a clandestine and openly subversive revolutionary faction which tries to create a political climate that is more favorable towards far-right politics.

Political scientist Grant Amyot examines the effects of this more underground neo-fascism on the political evolution of the so called “First Italian Republic” (the uncontested 49 year rule of the Italian Christian Democratic Party following the end of the Second World War) in his article “The Shadow Of Fascism Over The Italian Republic. He claims that while scholars often minimize the role of the far-right in conditioning the politics of the First Republic, largely because of the very limited electoral success of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) and the refusal of larger parties to form governing coalitions with them, this neglects the disproportionate influence held by neo-fascists within post-war Italian society through what he labels as the “deep state”. Amyot describes the deep state as a “hidden layer of power” formed by a wide network of powerful businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats, as well as high ranking members of the armed forces, police, and intelligence services. These otherwise disparate actors were unified by a shared far-right ideology which many of its members had held since the fascist regime of Mussolini, and the common purpose of preventing any left wing social forces from gaining political power. To this end, they cooperated in carrying out a wave of domestic terror attacks on the Italian people, with the explicit purpose of framing far-left activists and building hostility towards the possibility of a left-wing coalition government. In addition to these secret acts of terrorism, the deep state also more publicly suggested the possibility of a military coup in response to a left-wing government taking power. This possibility was taken very seriously across the Italian political spectrum, with military coups against socialist governments in Greece and Chile serving as recent analogues.

Although the military coup that many neo-fascists anticipated never came to pass, Amyot convincingly argues that the far-right deep state was still largely successful in achieving its political goals. Not only did a left-wing government never come to power despite the strong electoral performance of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), but the members of the Italian far-left were also so fearful of an authoritarian response to a comprehensive social reform program, that they never earnestly tried to implement one, even while the Christian Democrats were forced to rely on their support in parliament. The most concerning aspect of this remarkable political success enjoyed by Italian neo-fascists in the post-war era is not the fact they were able to achieve their goals largely in secret, or with a comparatively minuscule number of activists, but rather that they were permitted to carry out their activities by the American led global military and intelligence apparatus, which viewed the possibility of a “communist takeover” as a bigger threat to liberal democracy than the reemergence of fascist authoritarianism in Europe.

Works Cited:

Grant Amyot, “The Shadow of Fascism over the Italian Republic,” Human Affairs 21, no. 1 (2011): 35–43

Normalizing Nationalism through the Language of Human Rights.

By: Ali Yasin

Columbus Day has always courted controversy, more so than nearly any other holiday. Its celebration across the Americas, as well as in Italy and Spain, has often been a battleground for activists and scholars on both sides of the political spectrum. This year the debate seems to have reached new heights as US President Joe Biden weighed in on the subject. He’s the first American president to acknowledge the “painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations”, during his commemoration of Columbus Day. [1]

Many Americans see this recognition as overdue and somewhat timid considering the extent of Columbus’ personal cruelty, let alone the countless other crimes committed over the centuries of imperialism in the Americas. On the other side of the Atlantic however, a host of current and former Spanish politicians have harshly criticized Biden’s comments. Members of the conservative Popular Party and more hard-line populist Vox have come to the defence of the long dead Spanish Empire and its brutal conquest of the Americas. Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, argued that Spanish people should feel a sense of pride when remembering the actions of the Spanish Empire, what he described as “an empire of human rights”.[2] This line of thinking was echoed across the Spanish political right, with colonial conquest being portrayed as a noble quest to discover the new world, create prosperity, and spread Christian humanism.

Almost any historian of colonial Latin America would find these claims baffling as they’re in reference to the same empire which worked hundreds of thousands of Quechua people to death, operating a single sliver mine at Potosi Bolivia, the same mine which produced 80% of the worlds silver at the time, making the Spanish Empire the richest in Europe.[3] It’s difficult to see how any reasonable person could describe the colonization of the Americas as anything other than blatant and murderous exploitation. Columbus himself set this tone early as he routinely punished the native Taino people with mutilation, death, and infanticide when they failed to produce the tributes of gold and silver he demanded.

The Spanish right’s depiction of colonialism as a humanitarian undertaking is puzzling not only because of its misrepresentation of actual history, but also because it defends nationalist attitudes using the language of human rights. Although seeing Trump-style populists using terms like humanism to protect their sense of grassroots nationalism may seem strange to many in North America, scholars of right-wing populism in Europe have studied this trend for decades now. Unlike the far-right movements of the early 20th century, the “New Right” rejects the use of violence as an immediate means to seize power, while still seeing themselves as a revolutionary movement. They instead argue that their role as revolutionaries is to transform the cultural landscape and bring their views back into mainstream politics.[4] Ironically, this strategy was first proposed by Italian Socialist Antonio Gramsci while imprisoned under Italy’s fascist regime during the 1930’s, leading some to describe the New Right as the Gramscians of the right.

This may explain why the modern populist right has focused so much energy on what they call the “culture wars”. It may also explain why their use of humanitarian language to describe colonialism, so closely resembles the statements made recently by Emmanuel Macron in defence of French colonialism. Despite often being seen as a bulwark against right wing populism in Europe, president Macron took the same defiant stance when questioned on France’s colonial history in Algeria and the rest of Africa. He described the history of colonialism in Algeria as being “entirely re-written” and “based not on truths” but “on a discourse of hatred towards France”. Going even further to undermine the suffering inflicted on Algerians during their experience of French colonialism, which included having roughly one third of their entire population killed during the initial conquest, Macron stated “these are only stories of wounds… the problem is that many people are irreconcilable towards one another”.[5]

It seems that despite the supposed political gulf between them, both far-right populists and avowedly anti-populists liberals in Europe, feel compelled to defend not only the imperial pasts of their nations, but more importantly the historical narratives which have been built around them. Narratives that serve the purpose of unifying inherently diverse people around collective national agendas and justifying the exploitation which comes with those agendas, regardless of how divorced from the complex realities of actual history these narratives are. If both the most liberal and illiberal forms of our current political system are dependent on the same constructed narratives to justify their often exploitive actions, can neo-liberalism actually offer a compelling alternative to illiberal populism, or are both simply part of the same political spectrum and facilitating one another?

[1] Hedgecoe, Guy. “Spanish Right Attacks Biden over Columbus and Conquests.” BBC News, 12 Oct. 2021,

[2] Casey, Nicholas. “In Debate Over Conquistadors 500 Years Ago, Spanish Right Sees an Opportunity.” The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2021,

[3] Forero, Juan. “Bolivia’s Cerro Rico: The Mountain That Eats Men.” NPR, 25 Sept. 2012,

[4] Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Modern & Contemporary France, vol. 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.

[5] Bensaid, Adam. “France’s Silence over Colonial Crimes Ensures Confrontation with Algeria.” TRT World, 14 Oct. 2021,

Photo Credit: Al-Jezeera,

Appropriating the Narratives of the Second World War for a Contemporary Context

By Ali Yasin

Our readings this week focused on the ideological transformation undertaken by the subversive right, and left, during the transnational student protest movements of the late 1960’s. Although each article emphasized the characteristics which distinguished post-war revolutionary ideologies from their pre-war counterparts, an enduring tendency which appears in the politics of both the “New Right” and the “New Left”, is the appropriation of the Second World War’s historical narratives for a contemporary context. Both ideologies present a distinctly Manichean worldview in which modern society is holistically dominated by corrupting influences and undergoing a phase of terminal decline.

The “New Left”, as represented by the West German student movement of 1968, regarded the liberal states of post-war Europe as not being post-fascist democracies, but pre-fascist societies like the Weimar Republic, undergoing a transitionary period which would inevitably end in authoritarianism. From this assumption they argued that the Federal German Republic was fundamentally unreformable and that the revolutionary abolishment of its existing institution was the only alternative to the re-emergence of fascism in Europe. This dichotomy is best captured by the revolutionary slogans of the era “freedom or barbarism” and “revolution or authoritarianism”. Accepting the inevitability and necessity of revolution, proponents of the New Left in Germany largely favored the tactic of revolutionary vanguardism, arguing that the urgency of the situation necessitated the leadership of a small core of predominantly male revolutionary activists. An argument extremely similar to those made by Bolshevik leaning leftists during the pre-war era, but with student activists substituting the urban proletariat as the revolutionary minority charged with leading/commanding the inherently reactionary masses.

By contrast, supporters of the New Right instead claim that the democratic states of post-war Europe, represent the victory of liberal and communist imperialism over the organic revolution of the far-right. Rather than characterizing modern society as being dominated by intrinsically authoritarian influences and on a trajectory towards fascism, the New Right depicts contemporary culture as pervasively nihilistic and decadent, and on a trajectory towards spiritual decline, much like their pre-war counterparts. They also, however, reject the possibility of immediate revolutionary action, particularly in the form of fascist paramilitarism, arguing that the role of far-right activists in modern politics is to prepare the ground for a cultural transformation which will precede the political accession of the far-right.

While the objectives and tactics of the New Right differ substantially from those of the New Left, both have clearly maintained the dominant narrative of the Second World War, that of a declining society faced with a violent crossroads between two diametrically opposed alternatives, into a post-war political context. Both ideologies present themselves as the only possible alternatives to the corrosive hegemonic order which currently exists. Furthermore, they claim that if the current status quo is not actively subverted, it will inevitably decline into a state which both emotionally portray as “barbarism”, suggesting that it is a condition that is to be avoided with absolutely any, including violent, measures.

Works Cited:

Frank Biess, “Revolutionary Angst” German Angst: Fear and Democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020), 195-241

Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Modern & Contemporary France, vol. 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.

Norimitsu Onishi, “The Great Replacement and Renaud Camus” New York Times (September 20, 2019)

How is far-right ideology internalized by its supporters?

By Ali Yasin

The overarching focus of this week’s readings was the appeal of fascism to its common supporters. While there is a tendency to focus on the motivations of major political and ideological figures when studying the history of fascist regimes, it is impossible to develop a complete understanding of their accession to power and subsequent forms of governance, without understanding how their far-right rhetoric seemingly connected with multitudes of ordinary people whose lives were otherwise dominated by mundane rather than ideological concerns.

As described by both Cynthia Miller Idriss and Justin Crumbaugh in their analysis the far-right in modern Germany and Franco era Spain respectively, it is often the cultural and emotional dimensions of far-right rather than the strictly political, which proves to be the most compelling to its average supporters. Although many scholars typically regard the modes of cultural representation and dissemination in fascist regimes as being antithetical to those found in their liberal counterparts, they both share a deep reliance on consumerism as a vehicle for the individual internalization of hegemonic mindsets. The tourist industry as an “art of governance” in Franco era Spain, presented the fascist state as a facilitator for entrepreneurial and social progress both personally and nationally, with many ordinary citizens associating their own individual success with that of the regime. Likewise, contemporary European far-right clothing brands often act as an initial introduction to far-right political discourses. More specifically, far-right apparel offers the wearer access to a largely undisclosed cultural space where feelings of personal and social alienation are validated and channeled into far-right narratives.

Works Cited:

Cynthia Miller-Idris, “The Extreme Gone Mainstream” IIITMedia lecture, May 2018

Justin Crumbaugh, “Prosperity and Freedom Under Franco: the Grand Invention of Tourism” in Destination Dictatorship: the Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference (SUNY Press, 2009), pp. 15-41.

How Fascism Links Local Anxieties to International Narratives and Archetypes

By Ali Yasin

As an ideology, Fascism is rooted in the unprecedented material and social change characteristic of modernity. Traditional boundaries and hierarchies across Europe had been greatly undermined by the spread of enlightenment philosophy, the cascade of revolutions it inspired, and the concurrent economic transition from locally based feudalism to an increasingly globalized capitalism. Fascism represents one of several reactions to this disorientating tendency of modernity, which attempts to secure an ostensibly necessary hierarchical order by reimagining the nation as a homogeneous ethnically bounded collective, with the totalitarian state as its guarantor.  While this clearly explains Fascism’s protectionist tendencies both economic and otherwise, is fails to account for its perplexing and somewhat paradoxical relationship with internationalism.

Unlike the reactionary archconservatives of the 18th and 19th centuries whose political aims were largely confined within a national perspective, the fascists of the early 20th century understood the objectives and aspirations of their political agenda as being intrinsically international in scope. A common feature of the rhetoric and propaganda produced by the fascist regimes which came to power during interwar period, was the association of local anxieties to an international and transhistorical polemic narrative. Both Italy and Germany were dominated by atmospheres of pessimism and unrest during this period. The loss of national prestige that accompanied their disappointing fortunes during the First World War, was quickly followed by the rise of the radical labour movement in the aftermath of the Russian revolution and civil war. Rather than simply attributing these developments to “subversive” domestic elements as its predecessors had done for centuries, fascism extends this persecution narrative and its associated paranoia to the international arena.  

As described by Ruth Ben-Ghiat in Fascist Modernities: Italy, the Italian public was gripped by fears that Italy risked being relegated to a subaltern position as it continued to face internal political and economic turmoil. In addition to ruthlessly suppressing the budding Italian socialist and labour movements as many of his conservative counterparts were also doing across Europe, Mussolini and his fascist cohort further argued that the national revival of Italy required the “Italian race” to reassert and redefine itself on the international stage. According to the regime’s propaganda, Italy found itself in a disadvantage position within the European community not because of its delayed industrialization or political unification, but rather because the Italian people had abandoned their status as the archetypal “race of hard edged conquerors” who commanded respect and authority. It was the desire to revive this international reputation more so than any concrete strategic or economic objectives that motivated the brutal Italian invasion and colonization of Ethiopia. Portraying the invasion as a crusade of modernization, the regimes propaganda described the Italian colonial project as a synthesis of natural ethnic hierarchy and the modern progression of technology. Through Italy’s colonial domination of Ethiopia and its native population, the fascist regime claimed that the Italians would not only bring out the regions full productive potential by integrating modern infrastructure and bureaucracy, but also simultaneously reinsert themselves within the transhistorical archetype of the civilizing conqueror that originated with the Roman empire.

Works Cited:

How Fascism Links Loc Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-45.

Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp. 1-10, 11-45.