Corporate Media and Populist Convergence, What Could go Wrong?

Jake Rooke

The authoritarian and populist forces across the world have utilized media and economic structures, largely embedded in neoliberal market fundamentalist practices and/or corrupt state capture in authoritarian states. Freedman (2018) argues that “a cocktail of tabloid values, falling levels of trust in the media and unaccountable tech power (facilitating the spread of hyper-partisan and sometimes ‘fake’ news) is widely seen to be intimately linked to the rise in recent years both of a xenophobic populism and polarised media and political environments”. The political earthquake after the Brexit referendum vote shocked media correspondents, political analysts and the largely ‘Remainer’ elites in Westminster and Brussels. At closer level of analysis, the British tabloid media, such as the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express had been formulating a Eurosceptic narrative since the early 1990s. As Channel Four News, Jon Snow stated, the British media ‘failed, not only over the [Brexit] Referendum, but perhaps over reporting Europe at all down the 40 years of the UK’s membership’ (Freedman 2018). These Eurosceptic narratives focused on seemingly innocent misinformation such as supposed regulations on the shape bananas, but there was larger narratives that promoted harmful misinformation. These larger narratives largely focused on immigration, and in particular, ‘illegal’ immigration crossing the English Channel from the continent. Tabloid media and Eurosceptic print media, such as the Telegraph wedded to give a sense of legitimacy to the sensationalism. The conservative Eurosceptic media pandered to their base, putting commercial interests fundamentally ahead of journalistic integrity.

With the introduction of market neoliberal policies and ‘soft-touch’ self-regulatory structures, corporate hyper-commercialization enhanced the visibility of far-right politicians that use provocative speech and nativist pleas. These ‘shock’ slogans and campaigns boosted media ratings mainly from citizens that wanted to watch the circus. However the provocative rhetoric was also salient amongst receptive individuals. These individuals are largely either economically disadvantaged, (i.e., ‘left behind’)  as a result of neoliberal policies and/or those that believe their cultural construct is being challenged and changed by a mixture of cosmopolitan elite liberals and/or the ‘invasion’ of ‘others’, (i.e., immigrants). This resulted in an intertwined economic and cultural backlash. Thus, also neoliberal policymakers ‘cement commercial values in, and to minimise regulatory controls on, accumulations of media power is hardly without consequence’ (Freedman 2018).

The scariest aspect of this corporate media and populist convergence is that the government since the 9/11 terror attacks has given government security agencies enhance surveillance capabilities. This includes the Investigatory Powers Act (2017), that provides for unprecedented surveillance and hacking by security services but fails to guarantee sufficient protection for journalists’ sources. Thus, as Freedman (2018) indicates, if a populist far-right government did come to power, they would have the legislative mechanisms to increase their power.

Don’t Blame the UK Vets and the Armed Forces: The Far-Right is Listening and We Are Only Window-Dressing

Jake Rooke

What did they serve for? Was it for the illegal war in Iraq, physical trauma from an IED, the PTSD, the low-pay, the distance from family, or the cynicism from the public? For many neglected veterans and active military personnel in the modern era, it seems that it is only the far-right that is listening.

Many vets have legitimate grievances against the state, which used them, and then binned them. The far-right are festering in this reality.

Professor Alberto Testa, an expert on far-right terrorism, said that extremism in the Armed Forces is magnified. “The Army [is] an ideal organization because the far-right groups are shaped on Army narratives, symbols and structure and this helps in their recruitment strategies.” These groups also provide veterans and active members with a sense of community and appreciation of their identity based on a military ethos. This is scarily similar to the pre-war Blackshirts and Brownshirts.

            In popular culture the Armed Forces invoke a deep sense of respect due to ideals of sacrifice. Sacrificing for your neighbours instills an image of selflessness that transcends petty politics. However, in modern Britain, there has been a decrease in collective remembrance, for our grandparents participation, but also recent conflicts. For those that do participate, standing in silence once a year is not enough, as veterans and active personnel matter 364+1.

The benchmark in collective historical memory of ‘sacrifice’ can be largely appreciated in Britain’s victor narrative after World War Two; the ‘standing alone’ in the face of Nazism. But what about the vets in our ‘less glorious’ wars and conflicts, such Afghanistan and Iraq? Well, the 2011 British Social Attitudes survey showed that the British public is doubtful of the missions’ achievements and cynical about the purpose. This public reaction throws cynicism on sacrifice.

            456 and 178 UK military personnel gave the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, with an additional 2348 injured. The battle does not end there for many of our vets, as the British Journal of Psychiatry found, 6% of current members and veterans in 2014-2016 were suffering from PTSD. Sir Wesseley at King College said that part of the legacy of conflicts on mental health is that it can take time to reveal itself. Irrespective of opinions on conflicts in the Middle East, our Armed Forces are operatives, not politicians. They answered the call, it was up to all of us to make sure that the cause was legitimate. We cannot simply wash our hands with another foreign policy disaster by turning our backs on those that served.

            The far-right is exploiting this public reality, surging it’s support in active Armed Forces and leading very pro-military agendas. Recently the conviction of Lance Corporal Vehvilainen in 2018 is demonstrative. Vehvilainen, a member of the banned right-wing terrorist organization National Action, attempted to form a cell within the Armed Forces, reportingly recruiting other soldiers. Similarly, in 2019, two black paratroopers sued the Army for racial abuse from other soldiers that draped their barracks with Nazi flags. Other examples include, a video of soldiers using a poster of former Labour leader Corbyn as a target, or pictures of British cadets posing with right-wing extremist and former EDL leader, Tommy Robinson. These are active forces, but what about the veteran community that are civilians now. Here is the real surge of support.

Far-right groups and individuals, such as Britain First and Tommy Robinson have largely taken up the fight against Black Lives Matter in the UK, seen in 2020 with their ‘defence’ of memorials and statues. Ironically, this also included far-right activists giving Nazi salutes in front of the Cenotaph war memorial, as well as at Churchill’s statute. They also exploit other emotionally provoking instants, such as the murder of military drummer and Fusilier, Lee Rigby, in 2013. Far right groups use Rigby’s brutal murder by two homegrown terrorists to parrot anti-immigrant and anti-Islam narratives, even though Rigby’s family have denounced the far-right’s attempt to co-opt Rigby’s death for political gains.

If we want to stem far-right narratives in veterans and military communities, we need a new covenant. One that moves past window-dressing remembrance and token-appreciation. Our men and women, active and decommissioned deserve more. Firstly, the Ministry of Defence must take an active role in transitioning military personnel to civilian life. This can include increased funding for mental health support centres that focus on PTSD and homelessness. The government can increase public-private partnerships that seek to hire veterans and give them jobs retraining. In regards to active personnel, recommendations include, Army recruiters doing extensive background checks for radicalization before entering service, make countering violent extremism training mandatory, and engage with family and friends of military personnel to give our veterans and military families the support they need at home.

The Iliberal Alliance: Cosmopolitans and Traditionalists against Islam

Jake Rooke

The role of Islam in European politics and contemporary society with the presence of relatively larger migration flows has become a hot topic, especially amongst right-wing activists. The collective memory of Islam in Europe is contested and, in many respects, its most prolific impacts, in Medieval Spain and through the Ottoman Empire in South Eastern Europe have largely been framed through paradigms of conquest and culture wars. These culture wars created a dichotomy of ‘In-group’ and ‘Out-group’ in historical memory, fostering a historical perspective that considers Europeanness and its civilizational roots as a homogenous and overtly exclusive concept. In contemporary Europe, the core-inner group’s exclusive and hegemonic chronotope has reoriented, from Christian heritages to secular-dominated linear narratives. However, Muslim actors are entering secular spaces and embracing secular experiences, clearly demonstrating the heterogeneity Muslim peoples (Gole 2012) some perceptions are changing. Nonetheless, “many young pious Muslims defend Islam as the religion of their parents; Islam provides them with a source of resistance to acculturation and an opportunity to bind with their heritage” (Gole 2012: 668). With this, many young European-born Muslims’ and migrants experiences with Islam is remarkably different than peoples in Muslim majority countries, such as Turkey and Syria.

Although Islam is not identical to its believers, the introduction of Islam in European contemporary societies’ is having a large effect on the social and power structure. First, traditional cultural identities, mainly deriving from the Christian faith have been displaced by newer cosmopolitan and multicultural norms. These groups traditionally sought power against cosmopolitan liberal values with counter ultra-conservative reaction. With the introduction of Islam into the mainstream through migration, traditional ultra-conservative groups have a newer target. Second, newer liberal cosmopolitan structures and groups, notably such as aspects of the wealthy gay cohort and their allies, largely seen as the victors of the traditional v. cosmopolitan culture wars are being co-opted against the new ‘other; Muslim European-born and Muslim migrants. This is evident in the Onishi (2019) article, that focuses on Renaud Camus, a Gay French literary and fiction author that coined the phrase ‘the Great Replacement’. The far-right have co-opted many secular individuals in their fight against Islam in Europe. This is particularly evident in countries such as France, with its long history of collective and confrontational secularism, that sees Islam and religion as by-products of a bygone age. The Great Replacement is also being mainstreamed by Hungarian Prime Ministe, Obran and Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party. In France’s case, the Great Replacement is largely in relation to France’s secular and liberal values and traditions. Whereas in the post-bloc countries, Poland and Hungary, a lack of secularism and adherence to universal liberal values, such as gay rights, pro-choice and multiculturalism, has resulted in a state-run systematic ‘othering’ of migrants from Syria and the Middle East.

Islam is being painted by traditional and aspects of the cosmopolitan class, as anti-European and fundamentally at odds with the civilizational social fabric of the continent. There is this notion that Muslim born individual must be ‘saved’ from Islam and its supposed medieval values. This is hypocritical to the core. For one to be pro-women’s rights and a believer in ‘women can make choices for themselves’, ordering a woman to not wear a burka exhibits a lot of irony.

Political Pragmatism, the New Right and cultural hegemony

Jake Rooke

The right-wing and the far-right in particular have never been a homogenous ideology or organization, but instead, a collection of ideals, concepts, agents, organizations. This was evident in the interwar period initially with Italy fascist internationalism, and then the war-time fascist internationalism of Nazi Germany. This fascist internationalism promoted national sovereignty, authoritarian, and the cultural and biological purity of the homogenous people of a particular nation-state. In the post-war system, the far-right, largely associated in political, academic and popular culture with fascism sought a new image. The new right, under the intellectual leadership of Benoist rallied to battle the cultural hegemony of liberalism and socialism, largely promoted by the two global hegemons of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union. The third-way, the new right wing would transcend national boundaries, similar to neoliberalism and cultural liberal values of the U.S. and the collectivist values of socialism’s internationalism. The new right rejected ideals promoted by the ancien regime, the neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, but instead, took a more centre-right populist message to battle socialism’s internationalism and Marxism, and liberalism’s decadence.

Benoist, and many other new right leaders wished to distance themselves from the overtly racist and ideologically fascist movements on the right. Instead, they adopted a more nuanced platform that promoted ‘politically correct’ nativism and xenophobia. Bar-on (2011) examines how the ND world-view was shaped by transnational influences. Benoist’s ND cleverly co-opted the notion of ‘right to difference’ from the French Socialists to insist that France should be for the French and Algeria for the Algerians.  This approach has largely been adopted by right-wing parties and groups through Europe, especially in the 1990s with the demise of the Soviet Union.

Digital Mayhem Fuels the Seeds of Far-Right Youth Extremism In The UK

Jake Rooke

The pandemic of lies online is costing lives. The pandemic has also increased anti-social behaviour from extreme radicalization which will extend long after the lockdowns. The UK’s youth seem to be a target audience.

Parents, teachers and groups such as Hope Not Hate, the Expo Foundation, and the Center for Countering Digital Hate are concerned that British youth returning to school next week have been exposed to extremist content online. The fact is, the far-right is exploiting the interchangeability and complexity of the online sphere. This interchangeability has fostered an everchanging lingo and glossary of new far-right symbols.

            A neo-Nazi teenager, that set up FKD GB, a splinter group of banned National Action, was convicted of terrorism offences in January 2021. This teenager was radicalized and groomed online through forums such as Telegram, 8Chan (now 8kun) and GAB. The teenager has also influenced other youths, including Paul Dunleavy, 17, from Rugby, who was jailed last year for preparing acts of terrorism.

The online radicalization of youth has only ballooned during the pandemic.

Civil society and not-for-profit organizations, such as Owen Jones’ Hope Not Hate have taken the lead in battling online radicalization. Jones recently created a guide-book for teachers that focuses on new age internet-driven neo-Nazi symbols, logos, memes, and a appendix of common terms used by the far-right online.

The Expo Foundation, 2021 State of Hate: Far-Right Extremism In Europe, reported on a complex interwoven web of conspiracies that the far-right is promoting online in the UK. These include traditional anti-Semitic conspiracies with a contemporary twist, such as Covid-19 and 5G being Jewish plots. Other conspiracies include the typical anti-immigrant schemes, such as the government and the elites’ promotion of the ‘Great Replacement’ of white Britons. This was widespread in 2020 during BLM. Other simpler conspiracies include ‘immigrants bring diseases’ and Britain is being ‘invaded’ by illegal migrants crossing the Channel in little dinghy boats.

Although we can thank organizations such as Hope Not Hate and the Henry Jackson Society for their commitment to tackling radicalization and terrorism online, the UK government and Big Tech need to step up. The government’s ‘Prevent Strategy’ is outdated for the digital era, focusing on groups, instead of individuals and ignoring realities that Big Tech has a large role to play in preventing hate and radicalization of youth online.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate powered by young people, indicates in a study, major social media companies are not doing enough to tackle misinformation and radicalization online. The study indicated that out of 756 examples of misinformation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, only 9.4% were removed. It is quite clear that Facebook, with a stock increase of 23% since the end of 2019 is running off like a bandit, while grassroots groups, civil society, teachers, and parents are fighting the good fight.

Back in 2019, Sacha Baron Cohen described Facebook as the ‘greatest propaganda machine in history’, arguing that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform. Google’s YouTube isn’t much better, riddled with far-right ‘stars’, such as Paul Joseph Watson, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and recently, two silly blokes, Alan Leggett and Nigel Marcham, who watch out for Channel dinghy boats. YouTube also allows these individuals to promote their far-right pages and platforms such as Telegram, festering right-wing extremism into an echo chamber.

As a result of the lockdowns, British youth have spent much of the last year stuck inside, online, doom-scrolling. When a teacher assigns a project on the Holocaust or a study on Islam for instance, a student, researching online largely unsupervised could be exposed to extreme right-wing misinformation. This innocent exploratory process can lead a student to an alt-education, with Holocaust deniers and as well as far-right podcasters promoting extreme radical views on youth. Social media, search engines, and alt-platforms use algorithms, which then push impressionable youth down a rabbit-hole, increasing susceptibility of grooming by radicals. Moreover, many young boys, feeling isolated have turned to the incel movement online, which holds dangerous views on women.

Some recommendations include a research initiative by the Commission for Countering Extremism to examine the most effective ways to counter the distribution of online extremist content on alt-tech platforms. Additionally, regulatory agencies such as the Office of Communications and the Independent Press Standards Organization should be reformed and given more responsibilities.

Coming out of lockdown, it cannot be business as usual. No generation has had such an overabundance of information, nor has any generation in the digital age been subjected to a pandemic and numerous lockdowns. The combination, with a lack of government oversight online is a fertile environment for the radicalization of UK youth.

Reflection is a Two-Fold Process

Jake Rooke

It is intricately difficult to come to terms with one’s own past faults and mistakes. This process of reflection must have been enormous for those involved in the Nazi’s Third Reich, for those that implicitly supported it, for those that turned a blind eye, and finally, for those that were victims of Nazism. Reflecting on trauma is a two-fold process for either a victim of Nazism or a perpetrator. First, there is a need for personal self-reflection for individuals explicitly, implicitly or tacitly involved. These individuals must reflect on their past, however their accounts of events are through the eyes of a perpetrator, and will be largely misdirected and/or downplayed. Thus, there is a need for a second process. The second processs is based on the input of reflections from those that were victims of Nazism. These victim statements and the accounts they give are valued detail to what victims experienced at the hands of those that explicitly, implicitly or tacitly supported Nazism. These victim statements and reflections also hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and their own self-reflections. Moreover, these reflections give critical credibility to the process of historiography, and how we remember the events surrounding Nazism, its perpetrator’s actions, and it’s victims torment.

 In Helmut Walser Smith’s article (2021) it took victims of Nazism, and in particular Jewish individuals that returned to Germany, to create the environment for a genuine level of reflection. This can be compared to the Fragebogen questionnaires (Sollars 2018), that was imposed by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces German Country Unit (GCU) to tackle the ‘denazification problem’. Although this questionnaire had many tangible benefits tackling issues surrounding denazification in the short-term, it was a largely American bureaucratic process. This is demonstrated by Military Governor Lucius D. Clays, that states ‘perhaps never before in world history has such a mass undertaking to purge society been undertaken’ (Sollars 2018: 140), other observers state that this was ‘revolution by decree’.

The Fragebogen can be compared to the efforts of Holocaust survivor, Hugo Spiegel, and many like him. Spiegel returned to Germany after the war and fought for recognition of crimes against Jews, however, it took until 1970 to build a memorial to both the Jews who lay in the Warendorf cemetery and those ‘who died in the years 1933 to 1945’ (Smith 2021). As Jews began returning in the 1970s, they complained that their local cemetery had no plaque or sign about Kristallnacht. “This was often the moment that the work of commemoration began” (Smith 2021). This created a two-fold process of reflection, for the general German public, but also from the Jewish victims of Nazism. In turn, the German people began a national conservation of reflection, creating national memorials and institutions to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. It is clear that it took more than self-reflection for the German people was needed in order to understand what had happened during Third Reich’s reign. As Smith (2021) concludes, “the work of memory was not a German effort alone” but needed victim statements as well.

Female Spanish Nationalist Covert-Ops, Nazi Women Input, and How We Must Challenge the Generalizations of Female Activity in Right-Wing Movements and Fascism

Academics, including historians, are not insulated from implicitly or explicitly avoiding or even actively preventing female perspectives and stories from being heard. This is especially the case when female experiences and perspectives challenge our generalizations of historical events and how these generalizations confront the role of women in seemingly male-dominated  movements, such as fascism. Not only is this visible in history (Lopez and Sanchez 2018; Lower 2013), it is also apparent in contemporary right-wing movements (Chrisafis 2019).

Lopez and Sanchez (2018) argue that historians have underestimated pro-Franco women’s participation in anti-Republican underground activities, because of a false distinction between a ‘real’ Fifth Column, where men were predominant, and the supportive roles, where women were crucial and often the majority (692). The article argues that Nationalist women played a key role in intelligence and resistance activities against the Spanish Republic and abroad.

Although the Republicans were aware of female Nationalist resistance, sabotage, and espionage, they could not comprehend that Nationalist women could have their own organizations and agency. This resulted from a mix of misogynistic contempt for their capabilities and paradoxically, fear. Moreover, the Republican conception of femininity, meant they were reluctant to punish women as harshly as men. The Republicans paradigm of the female spy was either the hyper-sexualized femme fatale-type, or the ‘light-headed’ gossip who manipulated her man or was manipulated by him (Lopez and Sanchez 2018: 707). This misogynistic perception helped female Nationalist’s objectives, as many operatives escaped detection. The majority of Nationalist female actions and their significance have been semi-forgotten due to historical and social biases, but also because of methodological limitations. After the eventual fall of the Republic in 1939, the vast majority of Nationalist female operatives adhered to quiet, domestic, and traditional Catholic lives. As Lopez and Sanchez (2018) conclude, these Nationalist females fought for this reality.

            Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies (2013) captures female activity in fascism at a broader and deeper level of analysis. Nazism mutated with the synergy of idealism and youthful energy, created an obedient mass movement and assertive force (Lower 2013: 16). Pseudo-racial science, female comradery, and the political and economic instability of the Weimar Republic influenced female participation and/or tacit consent in Nazism. There were also historically rooted in conservative cultural traditions. These traditions became mixed with Prussian militarism that “cultivated a culture of total wars and ‘final solutions’…. Integrat[ing] women into a martial society as patriotic nurturers and combatants (Lower 2013: 29). Women ‘empowered’ by Nazism camaraderie (through the Hitler Youth League of German Girls and the Nazi Women’s Organization) were not ‘feminists’, but “agents of a conservative, racist revolution” (Lower 2013: 24).

In 1934 Hitler declared crushing the Jewish intellectuals and female activists that ‘spoke of emancipation’ and that Nazism would “emancipate women from woman’s emancipation” (Lower 2013: 24). For Hitler, female equality was a Marxist demand, and stated that equality would only put women in a precarious situation where they could not strengthen their position, but only weaken it (Lower 2013: 22), as women were inferior in Nazi ideology. For these conservative and Nazi women, their enemy was not the oppressive male, but the Jew, asocial, Bolshevik and the feminist, as many in the younger generation women saw the suffragettes as passé.

            According to the regime, an Aryan woman’s main battle was for births, sacrificing their bodies in the service of the state and selective breeding. This gave zealous women power in socially policing, for a dictatorship does not require a massive secret police force when one’s neighbours are willing to do the surveillance work of the regime, out of fear, conformity, fanaticism, and spite. In particular, women policed pregnancies, preventing genetic disorders, including alcoholics, and the depressed, prostitutes with venereal diseases, Roma, Sinti women, and Jewish women. Thus, the “civil war for perfect Aryan babies was underway even before the outbreak” (Lower 2013: 23) of the war. This female involvement explicitly implicated women in the regime’s atrocities and its genocidal institutional and cultural structures.

            In Chapter 6, Lower (2013) mentions Ruth Kempner’s post-war study on the Denazification of German women, determining that 600,000 were still dangerous because they were politically active leaders and indoctrinators. After the war many Nazi women did not see themselves as guilty, this might be explained by an immoral perception of duty, loyalty, or secrecy. But also, this was a self-defence strategy, for the Final Solution was a ‘defensive’ act against the encroaching power of a globalizing Jewry (Lower 2013: 162). This exhibits clear indoctrination, that may be explained by Theodor’s Adorno’s work, that authoritarian personalities result from moral socialization in a child’s upbringing. However, as Lower (2013) states, minimizing the violent behaviour of women creates a false shield against a more direct conformation with genocide and its disconcerting realities (Lower 2013: 158). Herman Weissing, Chief Officer for the Investigation of Nazi War crimes in North Rhine-Westphalia explains, he did not encounter anyone who could be described as psychopathic, for the individuals were not insane, it was the Nazi system that was crazy (Lower 2013: 161).

            Although the Nazi and Franco leadership and military were dominated by men, women played a far larger role in ‘supporting’ fascism. Although women were largely implicated in fascism along intricately social and propagated gender lines, for instance in the female sectors of concentration camps, their position as birth-givers and socially policing ‘female roles’, women were also active in covert operations and physical torment by killing Jewish children and/or ‘rejected’ individuals.

Historians have largely dismissed the sophisticated and tangible value that women had in fascist movements. This exhibits a flaw in historical analysis and how historical evidence and methodology has been gathered. Moreover, the dismissal of the role women played in right-wing movements is limited by our own liberal biases and a dichotomy that female agency is largely a left-leaning equality driven process. Whereas, history has shown that counter-revolutionary women’s movements have also been intricate in right-wing and fascist movements.

Works Cited:

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). Chapter One and Chapter Six.

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019.

Authoritarianism is a product of its environment.

Jake Rooke

Since Trump’s been democratically booted, anxiety levels have plummeted, well, at least for now.

Claiming victory would be naïve, we have only experienced the 21st century’s version of Hitler’s 1923 Putsch when he failed to seize power. Unfortunately, this did not prevent his 1933 accession to the German Chancellorship. Like a passage from a DC or Marvel Comic, evil has to only win once. If we wish to foil other attempted Putschs, we have to take the fight to the rabble-rousers and not give them ammo. We have to soul-search, shore up our democracies’ and be proactive in addressing the economic and cultural root causes. This starts with every one of us. By labelling someone a racist, an authoritarian, or a Nazi only adds noise to a screaming match and only scratches the surface of the complexity.

THE BEER HALL PUTSCH, NOVEMBER 1923 (MH 11397) Nazi stormtroopers arriving at the Marienplatz in Munich amongst crowds of onlookers, 9 November 1923. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

As history shows us authoritarian movements are persistent beasts that gain power through attrition, inflicting death by a thousand cuts. They break us down, echo fringe urban myths and conspiracies to create an illusion of truth. This is similar to chief Nazi propagandist Goebbels’ ‘Big Lie’, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This resonates well, as we are now in a post-truth era, that philosopher Nietzsche predicted, seen in the interwar period (1919-1939), and what is currently manifesting. Nonetheless, there has always been a variation of post-truth in fringe groups before authoritarianism’s historical rise and in post-WWII societies. What has changed, is it’s now becoming the mainstream again, from the shadows to the bully pulpit. The Covid-19 pandemic has only brought gasoline to the fire.

Authoritarianism, like a disease, is treated when our societies’ are resilient, whereas, when the disease becomes mainstream it’s a symptom of societal degradation. That is the big picture. Authoritarianism, populism, cultural, and economic backlash are symptoms of a system that is not working for everyone. Since the 1980s and the rapid expansion of economic globalization income inequality has skyrocketed, deindustrialization has hit blue-collar folks hard, all the while cosmopolitan elites have made off with large swathes of money. This is the spark.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhythms”. WWI had devastating effects, especially in Europe and in particular, Germany. This was then followed by the greatest economic collapse ever recorded, creating a tsunami of populist and authoritarian forces across the world. The powder was set, and the eruption resulted in the greatest war ever recorded. Not many historians will deny that an overwhelming factor in the surge of authoritarianism in the 1930s is tied to the economic crisis, but also the perception that the future prospective was shrinking.

After WWII the Western world built an ambitious democratic and liberal system that created a resilient societal structure and a generous welfare system. This was there to maintain a level of economic mobility and stability. Ultimately, this structure pushed the would-be authoritarians to the sidelines and back into their basements. However, this system was continually under-attack through little cuts. These cuts have increasingly morphed into a Frankenstein movement through issues with economic globalization, cultural change, and a broken political system. We are now looking down the barrel of mainstream authoritarian forces again.

With recent demilitarization after the Cold War, the failures of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and the long-term trend of deindustrialization, outsourcing, and surging costs of living, the fringe festers in this fertile environment. This is occurring more than ever with the introduction of social media and the misinformation campaigns by state and non-state actors. And although MAGA wearing skirmishers have been forced to retreat, there will be more, especially if we do not address the symptoms of this disease.

Hegemonic and Protean Masculinity , in Ideology and in Reality.

Jake Rooke

This week’s readings gave insight into how authoritarian and national regimes used gender and sexuality to firm up their social support. The regime seemingly rigid and ideological conceptualization of masculinity, in reality, was idealistic. Instead, the Nazi regime employed a pragmatic approach to balancing their ideological devotion of the masculine archetype and the reality that certain social expressions exhibited what was perceived as feminine qualities. Thus, flexible masculinity, under the guise of the regime’s objectives was permitted. However, this was only after one had proven their masculinity. Fundamentally, this process creates a paradox and challenges notions of rigid and idealistic toxic masculinity. Moreover, this shows that toxic and hegemonic masculinity was built on a fluid and fragile paradigm.

Kühne’s 2018 article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich captivated the balance between the rigid structure of masculinity and the flexibility of protean masculinity socially. Firstly, Kühne (2018) employs R.W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity. The theory accommodates the existence and rivalry of multiple conceptions of masculinity, analyzing the hierarchical order in a Gramscian fashion. Here, different men such as generals and rank-and-file, war volunteers as opposed to draftees, soldiers as opposed to civilians, blue-as opposed to white-collar workers, black as opposed to white men, and Jewish as opposed to Christian men – may adhere to different masculine norms. However, “these norms operate in a constant state of competition for broader social approval and power…. They struggle for hegemony” (Kühne 2018:395). According to this hegemonic masculinity, in the Nazi regime, there were subordinate masculinities that were represented paradigmatically by gay men. These gay men defied heterosexual hegemony and were considered illegitimate, preventing them from any position in the hegemonic masculine social order of the Nazi regime.

This ideological hierarchy, that underpinned the Nazi regime is challenged by protean and flexible masculinity that emphasizes masculine fluidity. The rigid hierarchy emphasized structural social hierarchy, but in reality, male social interaction, diversity and flexibility were needed. This “… thus allow[ed] for the display of femininely coded behavior like affection… caring, and tolerance toward emotional breakdowns and movements of weakness” (Kühne 2018:390). It was this inclusive protean masculinity that enabled different types of male identities, allowing them to also switch among different emotional and moral states without losing their ‘manliness’. This is true only if the predominance of hardness was respected, as Kühne illustrates with SS Officer Walter Hauck.

Fundamentally, ideological purity and rigid structure do not work in reality, especially in the most repressive and genocidal cultural hegemonic regimes, such as Nazism and its military gravitas. The Third Reich overtime adapted their ideological standards to the fluidity of societal development, and in turn, morphed their concepts to their circumstances.

Works Cited:

Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418.

Fascist Culture, and it’s Fragility in Reality

Jake Rooke

Fascism had many implicit and explicit effects on the German public, but how far did this ideology translate into the culture of the collective and individual consciousness? The Nazi regime focused on regimentation and discipline, complemented by an ethos of a pseudo-natural order and a mythical bygone nostalgia. Moreover, fanaticism and spectacle were designed to mass mobilize the pure people against those seen as decadent, degenerate, and corrupt. However, fascism had to move past structural and merely ideological factors, seeking to find resonance through cultural and emotional connections to the mass public.

 Emotional fanaticism was exhibited by Hitler and the official cultural nostalgia his regime supported in displays of mythical, ancient and cultural tradition. However, these regimes knew they had to connect its ideological and structural tenets to the recreational and private lives of its supporters, and better yet, to seek a form of illiberal tacit content from mass society. The regime found saliency initially by utilizing the state’s explicit propaganda power and achieving immediate material gains with the rearmament boom. Moreover, the regime also found saliency subliminally through implicit fascist conceptualizations of leisure, recreation and sports. In the latter years, as fascism’s novelty dissolved and fascist foreign policy led to total war, the seemingly attractive aspects of its tenets and its ideological inflexibility were exposed as a set of ruses. But at a deeper level of reflection, this fragility was displayed in the underpinnings of fascism from the start. And although the fascist culture promoted mass change, its indoctrination and its inability to stem patronage structures and individual subjectivities made the cultural foundation weak.

Baranowski shows that initially the Kraft durch Freude (KdF), ‘Strength through Joy’ “persuaded the majority of Germans whom the terror did not directly affect that an improved economy, rising living standards, and the regime’s commitment to social opportunity defined the Third Reich” (Baranowski 2004:198). German’s that went on subsidized KdF trips had a two-fold positive effect. Firstly, KdF weakened hostility among the working-class towards Nazism with the ability to travel. Secondly, as German tourists travelled abroad, especially to less developed countries and societies, they witnessed other societies’ relative economic depravity. Thus, “tourism weakened what possibilities existed for a coherent and effective opposition” (Baranowski 2004:197). However, these trips, at first a novelty, were exposed by Gestapo agents to have existing class divisions, vast regional differences, a societal class-driven hierarchy and individual pursuits that were contrary to fascist principles. Fundamentally, it was the last being the most controversial and existential, as individualism, happiness and enjoyment are the most natural inclinations of an individual.

In Umbach’s (2015) article, private photography had a more subliminal ability to “borrow and (re-)appropriation, in which private subjectivity and public ideology constantly commingled” (Umbach 2015:335). Thus, private and professional photography made for personal consumption and political propaganda existed in a relationship. This relationship linked the emotional or affective states, such as “relaxation, exploration, introspection, and even melancholy” (Umbach 2015:335) which often defined or highlighted ways which both civilians and soldiers positioned themselves in relation to landscapes. However, as the novelty fell off so did the synergy between personal and official culture. The war and the tenets of fascist principles brought fascist culture back to reality and this process led to further alienation between the official policy line, and the individual pursuit.