The Relationship between Nationalism and Internationalism

By Jackie Howell

When discussing nationalist or fascists movements, historians tend to fixate on the regional or national level. Analyzing nationalism through an international lens allows one to identify the interconnectedness of nationalist movements, thus creating a nationalist international against empire. Ironically, nationalism can function simultaneously with internationalism even though internationalism connotes everything nationalists hate. David Motadel highlights the international level of nationalism and fascism, focusing on anticolonial nationalists’ relationships with Nazi Germany. Ruth Ben-Ghiat briefly illustrates how fascist regimes utilize the same tools to further their agenda, as depicted in the cultural exchange network between Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain that rivalled the League of Nations’ cultural internationalism.

Motadel then draws a parallel to the present far-right populist or nationalist movements. As anticolonial nationalists connected over a desire for independence, similar trends are present in the Americas and Western Europe. Anticolonial nationalists saw independence movements as a global act of solidarity against outdated empires. Similarly, Trump supporters, Brexit “Leave” voters, and Europe’s far-right nationalists have morally supported each other’s views. Identifying the far-right as an international far-right fraternity united by nationalism, anti-minority, and anti-multiculturalism sentiment helps explain the modern spread of far-right movements. In the digital media era, an area that Motadel failed to explore, far-right nationalists have connected on various platforms (most notably Twitter and Facebook). There is no longer a strict need for physical transport to mobilize; nationalists can share ideas, strategies, and support with a post, a Tweet, or even by joining a Facebook group. The 21st century differs from the 20th century by providing more efficient means of communication and mobilization. During World War II, Nazi Germany was a financial and political supporter for anticolonial nationalists, creating a power dynamic that favoured the Germans over the nationalists. While far-right nationalists still require some assistance from more powerful states to increase their political agency, social media platforms provide nationalists and grassroots organizations the significant space that Berlin once provided for anticolonial nationalists.

Perhaps the most intriguing international aspect of nationalism is the level of cooperation among nationalist groups. Nationalist movements utilized their connections to further their cause. These relationships illustrate the motives of regimes and the lengths they will go for personal gain. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is most applicable in international nationalism.  It seems contradictory for Nazi Germany to host and interact with anticolonial leaders given Germany’s racist and uncompromising policies. However, the level of cooperation makes sense when one analyzes their motives and objectives. Nazi Germany utilized anticolonial nationalists to undermine their adversaries’ empires while anticolonial nationalists utilized Germany to further their cause for independence. While nationalist movements portray an image of solidarity, the movement is not homogenous. Tensions, divisions, and self-interests taint the cohesive image of far-right movements. The short-term nature of cooperation further proves the instability of an international nationalist movement, which eventually leads back to the rejection of internationalism.

References

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2004). Conquest or collaboration. In Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (pp. 123-130). University of California Press.

Motadel, D. (2019a). The global authoritarian moment: The revolt against empire. American Historical Review, 124(3): 843-877.

Motadel, D. (2019b). The far right says there’s nothing dirtier than internationalism – but they depend on it. The New York Times, nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html

Historical Analogies: Useful or Harmful to Political Discourse?

By Jackie Howell

This week’s readings provided a thought-provoking question: Are historical analogies useful or harmful to political discourse? Gordon and Moyn present two opposing arguments on the tool of analogy; Gordon argues that historical analogies matter to advance our understanding of the present, while Moyn discusses the pitfalls of comparative historical analysis. While both are compelling arguments, one must use historical analogies when appropriate. Historical analogies can be overplayed to appeal to a particular audience, and one can misuse historical analogies to misconstrue current events. As described by Victoria de Grazia, “calling people fascists has been as American as apple pie,” but it is crucial to understand the difference between fascism as a political label and fascism as a historical phenomenon. Otherwise, the public becomes desensitized to fascism and the dangers it represents, leading to an apathetic society.

“History repeats itself” is a common catch-phrase that bears the cyclical image of events repeating every so often. It is human nature to compare and contrast, but does drawing a comparison between the past and present detract from the consequences of such events? While drawing comparisons can be a useful tool of analogy, comparative analysis can often be misleading and can downplay what requires attention, as argued by Charles Maier (Moyn 2020). However, labelling a historical event (such as the Holocaust) as “unique” can often lead to a hierarchy of traumas, risking the implication that some lives are more valuable than others – which ironically plays into the narrative of Trump-ism.

Understanding fascism, populism, and authoritarianism requires historical analogy to determine the similarities and differences between the various definitions over time. Particularly, fascism in the 20th century can be compared and contrasted with fascism in the 21st century. While events are not identical, the rise to power and the appeal to the masses bear a similarity, even if they occurred nearly a century apart. The most telling sign of fascism is the desire to create a dichotomy of us-versus-them. Populist parties have gained significant political breakthrough across Europe, indicating a phenomenon that is becoming common across continents. To understand the current dangers of the populist or fascist phenomenon, it is useful to study Mussolini’s appeal to the masses or the Nazi-Fascist New Order to learn why and how these leaders gained power.

Ignoring history will not transform the present, and comparing the present with the past can often excuse or distract. As proposed by Moyn, clarifying the similarities and differences to bring about a better future must be the goal when using historical analogies. Analogies can guide scholars and resonate with the public, but the focus of the analogy must be on how to avoid repeating harmful or dangerous behaviours. It is easy to compare President Trump with other fascist leaders; however, it is important to understand the social, economic, and political events that created these leaders to prevent a Trump 2.0.

Works Cited

de Grazia, Victoria. “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism.” Zocalo Public Square, 13 Aug. 2020, zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

“DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties.” Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe, demos-h2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Introduction: Jackie Howell

Hi everyone! My name is Jackie (she/her), and I am in the second year of my MA program in International Affairs (NPSIA), concentrating in International Organizations and Global Policy. I’m also pursuing a Graduate Diploma in European Integration Studies. Before moving to Ottawa, I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Windsor in International Relations and Development, concentrating in Economics and French Studies. While my academic interests vary, I am mainly interested in environmental policy and European politics, focusing on far-right parties and movements.

My curiosity in European politics stems from my study-abroad course on the European Union during my undergrad. In May 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Belgium and visit various EU institutions, NATO, and NGOs. Learning the difference between the Council for Europe, European Council, and the Council of the EU sent my head for a spin, but I found the intricacies of the EU fascinating. A highlight of my experience was listening to the UK negotiators that worked on the Brexit deal discuss their frustrations with the UK and the EU.

I’m originally from Erieau, ON, which is a small town between Windsor and London. I am currently the only resident that will have pursued a Master of Arts, although Erieau only has ~400 residents. Since it’s a small town, news travels fast, and everyone knows everyone (think Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls, and that’s pretty much Erieau). My backyard looks out over Lake Erie (facing Cleveland), so I often stargaze in the summer, but I also enjoy fishing and boating.

 Looking forward to the term with all of you, and from the words of The 100, “May we meet again.”

Seeing the pier in Erieau is the highlight of my run.