Playing the victim, or blaming the victim?

By Daniel Williams

Mainstream media is a catchphrase that has gotten a lot of traction recently. It’s use tries to coalesce a sense of ‘Big News’, similar to Big Pharma or Big Oil. The concept is that there exist a large number of major news media formats and organizations that are intertwined, promoting messaging that benefits all of them through sensationalizing stories, building up dangerous messages, and keeping the general public in the dark by only ever displaying one side of the story.

This is the focus of Populism and media policy failure. In this article, the news is portrayed as having effectively been complicit in the rise of major populist figures. It suggests that structural conditions within news media have effectively established requisite conditions to cause populist figures to use fake news, half-truths and conspiracy theories to fuel their rise.


Op Ed #2: Patterns of Populism

By Daniel Williams

For all the show, for all the fuss, of individual populist groups often maintaining nationalistic views and policies, there is a silent overarching factor to these various groups.

In fact, Pew Research Center has recently released a series of excerpts from their findings regarding populist groups and their views on various issues important across the EU. And, wouldn’t you know it, these groups maintain notably similar stances on many issues. For instance, support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is markedly high among all right-wing populist groups throughout Europe, with small geographic variations.

But perhaps more interesting are the cases where these groups do, in fact, disagree with each other. Limiting our analysis to right-wing populists, we can find that there are differences that exist on several critical issues to populist platforms among the right. Confidence in the EU, views on Muslims, and even positive opinions of their own culture, are all points of dissonance among Europe’s various far-right populist groups. The question then is why?

Geography seems to be an element of this. Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary seem to be the nations that most commonly buck the trends set by other nations. Eastern Europe seems to have notably different ideas of what populism means, despite being some of the most fervent right-wing bases. Poland especially is known for an exceedingly far right government, yet Poland’s populist supporters are confusingly more likely to be favourable of Muslims than the average population of Poland. This is a rather bizarre trend when looking at the far right in Western Europe, but is mirrored by Slovakia’s right-wing members too.

This could be due in part due to a difference in othering within several Eastern European nations. While in Western Europe the ‘other’ is Islam and Islamic refugees, in Eastern Europe it seems that there is instead a different, resurgent threat: Russia.

Remember when we analyzed the approval of Putin among right-wing European populist parties? Well, something absent from the data on this particular issue is, you guessed it, Poland.

Further missing from the data is the influence of populists within Ukraine. Ukraine, having fought a bloody war against both separatists supporting Russia and against Russian clandestine forces, is not present on this list. Nor is Belarus, or the Baltic States.

The issue that is being seen here is one that has for a long time plagued Europe, the sense that the part of Europe that truly ‘matters’, politically and economically, is the West. Eastern Europe is, within the western world, still underrepresented, and as such trying to define patterns for ‘Europe’ as a whole results instead in defining patterns for Western Europe.

While it is not unimportant to maintain analysis of Western Europe and its influential political sphere, we must still attempt to move beyond the scope of Western Europe and instead try to encompass the true whole of the picture. Only then can we attempt to define real patterns for populism and the far-right throughout Europe.

Replacement & Colonial Thought Patterns

By Daniel Williams

The Great Replacement. Not just a great sounding name for a metal band, but a nationalist/white supremacist slogan. That is the topic of a fairly recent New York Times article, addressing the term and its ‘father figure’.

Within this, we learn that the intent of the term centers around the idea that modern immigrants, especially those from African nations, do not wish to assimilate with French culture, and instead fail to integrate and would rather simply ‘replace’ French culture with their own.

Interestingly, it can be noted that Renaud Camus was originally a socialist. This is nothing new: there is a surprising pattern of many a socialist falling instead into far right patterns of thought over time. The Nouveau Droite itself played on this idea, getting radical members by playing on the divide between socilaist and new right-wing extremes.

Perhaps more interestingly is the sort of language that is used when describing the term Great Replacement. Because it’s not anything new.

South Africa has long been confronted with its own version of this concept, the idea that Afrikaner and white populations within South Africa has a history of extreme thinkers and radicals suggesting that a black takeover is inevitable. Even before the end of Apartheid, neo-fasicst and far right groups were actively propagating such ideas.

Why then is France different? What makes France’s case so unique that Camus gets the glory for coming up with this concept? Perhaps it can all be tied to a lack of historical reckoning.

France has, historically, been a colonizer. One of the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) colonizers of the world. France has, by extension, been a ‘mother country’ in the colonial context. France hasn’t been forced to reckon with this past, not entirely, and dealing with the idea that France is no longer in some cultural way ‘above’ former colonies and peoples, may be part of the way that these white supremacist notions grow to be so powerful.

Unfortunately, the idea has stuck one way or another. Whether it can be rooted out, or called out for what it is, remains to be seen.

Neo-Fascism: Second Verse, Same as the First

What is the lesson of the New Right? Of Neo-Fascism and of new conservative movements? And how do they differ from plain, good ol’ regular Fascism?

Answer this and you’ll have solved the greatest political concern modern liberals have been facing since Neo-Fascism’s resurgence in 1968.

Interestingly, “why” is the simple part to answer. 1968 was a tumultuous year in Europe especially, and was the culmination of a trend towards anti-establishment thought and belief across multiple nations, especially centered on universities. Fascists and the far-right was suffering from a lack of appeal, and as radical thinkers began to align with varying ideologies, Marxist thought had a tendency to swallow up other anti-establishment believers.

At the same time, the established far-right was shaken when seeing how potent the effects of communist thinking had become in the West. So trying to redefine the right, trying to change the narrative of the far-right and of neo-fascists, was important if the movement was to remain, and more importantly to grow at all.

But what can we learn? Perhaps the lessons lie in the way that Fascism and by extension other extreme-right ideologies are able to fluctuate, shift in ideology and to remain powerful despite changes. As one form of Fascism falls in popularity, it is the innate ability of Fascism to change its face, manifest itself pragmatically in other forms.

Perhaps too we must recognize the power of a common cause. Far-right groups may no often get along with each other based on major doctrinal differences, but given a large enough, potent enough common enemy, groups tend to coalesce into a unified resistance. From the Carlists and Francoists in Spain, to neo-fascists in postwar Europe, this trend remains a powerful one.

But all of this speculation is difficult to truly give full credence to. Fascism itself is so hard to pinpoint that it is difficult to truly say what neo-fascism has done differently. In many ways, the attempts by the New Right to modernize and regain popular support is not too different from the shift to Fascism from older forms of right-wing thought.

So… here we are again. Trying to classify something that shifts by its very nature. To say it’s difficult is… an understatement.

After the End

By Daniel Williams

We often consider the end of a way of life, of a mindset, to be apocalyptic. We make films about the collapse of society we know it and label them apocalyptic, dystopian. It’s hard for us to comprehend a life after our understanding of society.

Perhaps that is part of why it is so difficult for us to understand how people came to grips with the end of Nazism. Nazism’s collapse was, as detailed in the Reckonings reading, a very difficult matter for regular people, many of whom had enjoyed their years living with the Nazis. Even writing this, I found I had to correct myself in writing “living *under* the Nazis”. But the truth is that many people were glad to live with the Nazi government in power, many were happy to live with its regulations, and happy to turn a blind eye to its many faults.

The article deals primarily with the concept of guilt compared to victimhood. It’s interesting when comparing this article to the previous week’s discussion on victimhood, namely whether it is possible for multiple different sorts of victims to coexist in a space, and if different victims had differing degrees of importance. In this case, we add another layer to the discussion, guilt. Who is and is not guilty, whether it is important to determine this so broadly, and how different groups and individuals managed their guilt.

Could victims also be guilty? Could nazi sympathizers still have suffered from the regime? Can we claim that those who are ‘guilty’ of sympathizing with the regime truly understood what it was they supported, even if the crimes of the regime were many and on relatively public display? Must everyone who did not engage in direct resistance be labeled guilty?

These are all problematic questions, and the segment Discomfort Zones approaches this from trying to explain how the perpetrators of supporting the Nazi regime felt like they had to defend themselves from unspoken accusations of guilt. But it also mentions a lack of closure, and that is the most important factor. There is no good answer to the above questions. Indeed, trying to understand life after a way of life is cripplingly difficult.

Op Ed #1: Spain’s Franco Problem

By Daniel Williams

                When growing up, one of the most common things I heard from my parents is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The goal is to prevent stupid arguments by understanding both sides. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re facing particularly complex issues.

                Spain faces a very complex issue ahead of it, in trying to reckon with its fascist history. This past Thursday the government finally achieved one of its longtime goals, exhuming the remains of dictator Francisco Franco, removing them from a national monument at the Valley of the Fallen. While the remains have been reburied in a small mausoleum, there is no denial that this political move by the government will not be forgotten by its opposition. This sort of maneuvering is not new for formerly fascist countries to deal with. Tensions between resurgent far-right political parties and installed liberal democratic governments have a tendency of sparking whenever old fascist elements get criticized or changed. In turn, far-right governments tend to try and protect the same things that liberal democratic governments try to pull down.

                But Spain is a particularly unique case. Spain’s Francoism was not the same as various other forms of European fascism. Franco’s regime reformed several times, liberalized near its end, and relied extensively on Spain’s heavy Catholic tradition. These, along with the bloody civil war, ensure that Spain’s Francoism stands alone compared to other regimes.

                Here’s the thing: Franco isn’t a taboo for many in Spain. Indeed, at the exhumation and reburial ceremony, protesters showed up to praise Franco’s legacy. And this isn’t a fringe movement the same way that many neo-nazi groups are across Europe. Spain’s far-right is modelled in large part on Franco’s politics, and includes political support. And as an election approaches, the far-right party Vox seems poised to gain politically from the exhumation.

                The issue here is not that there are a high number of Spanish fascists that are out to overthrow the government. Francoism is not exactly the most popular ideology, even though it still exists and has weight in Spain. The issue is that Francoism is so complex. There are elements of Franco’s rule that appeals to many centrists and conservatives. Further, fascism intentionally obfuscates itself, contradicts itself, and attempts to create confusion surrounding the ideology. In historic and political terms, this makes understanding fascism very difficult.

                Franco’s legacy can, as a result, be perceived a million and one ways. He can be seen as someone who saved the nation from communist interference. He could alternatively be seen as a leader who promoted a sense of national identity, or as someone who defended the catholic faith in Spain, or even as a controversial leader with any number of mixed traits. The key is ensuring that Franco’s policies are hard to separate from him as a person, and as a result many social conservatives see attacks on Franco’s legacy as attacks on their beliefs. This drives moderates directly into the hands of far-right beliefs.

                Franco’s political base was founded on this sort of activity, as the fascists incorporated and integrated various other conservative ideologies into their Nationalist banner. From Carlists to staunch Catholics, fascists and military supporters, Franco’s support base was a melting pot for right-wing belief. In the modern context, this ensures that conservatives from all walks of life can look to Franco as a single unifying leader. Especially in light of what some describe as disturbing a tomb, this latest activity specifically draws the attention of Spain’s large catholic population and drives them away from the Socialist government. This attempt at a political power play from the Socialist government has effectively backfired.

                So how do governments break free from legacies as powerful as Franco’s? How do we seek first to understand, when dealing with something as contentious as fascist ideology? This issue has wracked Europe for decades, as various nations deal with fascism in their own ways. And unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. The only thing we can be certain of is that failure to understand will lead to more of this, attempts to change the narrative that simply lead moderates into the arms of those who would very gladly have their pragmatic support.

Works Consulted:

Franco’s Feminine Fascists

By Daniel Williams

If it’s so hard to define fascism, if it’s constantly shifting and changing, and if it constantly goes back on its own principles and policies, why are we so surprised that women may find an acceptable place within the new order? It’s something of a surprise itself that with all the research done on fascism, and with all the focus on the gendered nature of fascism, it has taken so long to acknowledge that some women may have been attracted on principle to fascist ideologies.

This relates fairly significantly to concepts of masculinity within fascism, as we’ve explored fairly recently. But there’s a fair number of differences between masculinity and fascism’s approach to the new man, and concepts of femininity in fascism. The article titled Blue Angels points out a fair amount of these differences. One of the most interesting points raised is the after-fact removal of women from the narrative in many senses.

Specifically mentioned is how a large number of female participants in the resistance to the Republican forces were recorded by spanish fascist propagandists to be nothing more than ideologically sound, christian women who supported the real efforts of the revolution conducted by men. This goes rather against modern research conducted on the group, which suggests these women took a much more active role as saboteurs and resistance members.

While it is notable that perhaps some of the lack of recognition is related to the diversity of the group’s recruiting (Franco’s right was not the sole right wing group involved in the civil war, and Nationalist fighters came from many walks of life), it is also possible that this disregard to the true role of women is related to ideology. The constant question in fascist ideology is of pragmatism compared to ideology. While pragmatism may allow for all manner of actions taken so long as it promotes the end goal (in this case, winning the civil war), ideology can be effected once the state is firmly secured.

Spain is a unique case where the state managed to avoid war with non-fascist nations. In other words, the state was secure. Spain is special, as unlike other fascist nations the state had a long period of time to push policy and ideology. The post-fact rewriting of history allowed the state to push its ideology within its history, and as part of this it seems that perhaps the female resistance was swept under the rug, another victim of ideology. The question remains, then, of how far fascist states or groups were willing to go during moments of crisis, how much ideology fascism is willing to sacrifice in order to ensure the security of the state.

The Fascist Nightmare that is Masculinity

By Daniel Williams

To say that masculinity is an inconsistent and fluid thing would be an understatement, according to Thomas Kühne in his article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich. It examines various cases of masculinity within the Third Reich, and addresses how concepts of masculinity varied dependent on a lot of factors within German hierarchy.

It presents various concepts of masculinity, including the masculinity shown among male-only contexts, and explores some of the many complications that arise as a result of the nebulous concept of masculinity. And whereas fascism is extremely anti-individualist, attempting to ensure that fascism (and by extension the state) is the highest identifier of a person, masculinity’s diverse patterns and complex identity is a massively problematic issue for Fascists. Due to this, fascist groups promoting a single, fascist-approved sense of masculinity makes a great degree of sense. One wonders if the case is not that fascists feared femininity, but instead feared that over-varied masculine identities were problematic for the state.

As exemplified in how certain high-ranking Nazis, who had already ‘proven’ their masculinity, could take on aspects that would be seen as feminine without issue, it seems the case that femininity was not itself an issue for the fascist regime. Further, comradeship in a traditionally ‘soft’ sense seemed promoted rather than looked down on, to a degree at least. Instead it seems that comradeship was seen as furthering the goals of all, by preventing the failings of the individual from becoming the harm of the many. In this way, softness is paradoxically connected with anti-individuality and as a result fascist ideology.

Tenderness and hardness, in the same person, expected at the same time and with similar importance. Fascism’s contradictions extend even to the realm of what a man can and should be. Even deeper, it is suggested that this was in the goal of adjusting to an all-male society, enabling men to be entirely independent from true femininity by being themselves capable in multiple roles. Folding the laundry, for instance. But the darker aspect of this rejection of femininity is seen in sexist and destructive attitudes towards real women.

Th question now then, is how can society rectify the issue of ambiguous masculinity to prevent the active abuse of such ambiguity by those who would seek to manipulate it. There is, tied closely within the realm of right-wing populist messages, a sense that masculinity is being stifled, and that a rejection of modern male ‘femininity’ is required. Oddly, while preying on different concerns over masculinity, it still relies on the manipulation of concepts of ambiguous masculinity.

This practice is not new in any respect. Masculinity being a highly intangible concept, it is not uncommon to be challenged and reformed in various ways in order to influence the minds and actions of men. It seems that until a true, solid and somehow universal concept of masculinity can be established, the ambiguity of the concept (much like the ambiguity of fascism itself) will be an issue.

A brief tour of Fascist ideology

By Daniel Williams (See what I did there?)

There is often an assumption, propagated in part by modern media, that fascist ideologies and nations are homogeneous. That the individual at the bottom level often buys into the ideology of the top level in full, and that this ideology is taken as the primary identity of all regardless of social divisions. And while this may be the end goal of fascist ideologies, to have a single unifying set of values, it is also a very basic, face-value assumption. It takes for granted that fascist regimes (and further, totalitarian regimes as a whole) are fully successful in convincing their citizens to this goal, despite individual groups already having their deep rivalries set.

Strength Through Joy takes a particularly interesting approach in attempting to disprove parts of this, by looking directly at the attempts made by the Nazi regime in particular to use vacations to try and spread ideology. This is particularly interesting in contrast and comparison to the previous week’s discussions, addressing whether fascism is imperialist or international, rather than national.

One of the most interesting components of Strength Through Joy is how it addresses that regional differences *within* the nation were significant enough to cause conflicts aboard vacation cruises, or that social status would lead to discomfort. It’s somewhat interesting that while Prussian militarism was often seen as dominant in the national image, that individual regions still maintained rivalries and less-than-pleasant thoughts within the nation.

Perhaps more interesting is the choice of destinations, how the Nazi regime was not afraid to expose its tourists to non-fascist nations and cultures. The Nazi regime seemed to be making it clear that it was willing and ready to compete on the main stage for a place as a potential successor to democratic liberalism.

With populism on the rise, and the sense that right-wing populism is itself an illiberal entity, it would interesting trying to evaluate how populist groups are attempting to transcend national identity over regional differences, in contrast to fascist activities.

Wrestling with a Myth

In the last week’s postings, readings and discussion, there was a strong focus on how elements of history can be used to justify certain actions. This week, in the book A Specter Haunting Europe, we instead get a chance to see how myths develop in real time, with the concept of overarching Judeo-Bolshevism during the early 20th century.

In brief, the article deals with how the concept of Judeo-Bolshevism evolved based on both real world events and the actions of individuals and groups to promote the concept. It addresses the tactics and approaches used, often by right-wing groups, to propagate the concept that the various left-wing revolutionary groups and governments at the time were being led by Jewish persons, both men and women. The main method described is by ‘unmasking’ revolutionaries’ personal histories and displaying their Jewish origins, though not always accurately.

At its heart, the author notes, there is a kernel of truth to the allegations, that there was a number of high-ranking revolutionaries that came from Jewish backgrounds. But the author also demonstrates that much of the overarching concerns for Judeo-Bolshevism stemmed from deep fears over Jewish religion and culture, and that Bolshevism was simply the latest iteration of Jewish influence.

It is particularly pertinent to view Judeo-Bolshevism’s deconstruction in terms of what some modern persons have coined as Islamofascism. The terminology is highly problematic, conflating Islam and Fascism in a way not dissimilar to Judeo-Bolshevism. As the far right in Europe continues to grow more bold in its attempts to paint Muslims and Arabs in general as anti-democratic and dangerous, the term is beginning to become more reminiscent of things seen before.

Also of note is trying to understand the various methods in which the Jewish populations of Europe tried to combat this myth, and which were effective. From trying to justify the actions of Jewish Bolsheviks , to suggesting that they are traitors to both Judaism and country, the Jewish communities of Europe often took a variety of approaches in trying to handles the mythologizing.

Towards the end of ensuring marginalized groups are not demonized further by the extreme actions a few, it is imperative to understand which strategies worked and which did not when trying to ensure the public that not all Jews were involved in a Bolshevik conspiracy. Applying these results to the Islamofascist scare tactics used by far right members in modernity, we can hope to better prevent unfounded hatred spreading across Europe.