Sweeper: The Comfort of Authoritarianism

This week we discussed the comfort that people felt under authoritarianism.  In Eastern Europe many people still alive today remember living under the specter of communism during the Cold War.  In  countries such as Hungary and Poland, they are relatively new democracies without strong democratic institutions.  That creates a situation where it is relatively easy to see why some might have felt better under authoritarianism.

The role the government played in the lives of people under authoritarianism was one that allowed for people to live their lives not having to worry about making any political decisions as you could never question them.  Under democracy problems can be blamed on the leaders that have been elected but authoritarianism projects a certain aspect of strength in a regime.  Many in the country during authoritarianism could have seen themselves as a part of a country that was strong in their conflict against the West.

Now, globalization and democracy have taken their toll on the people and they have pent up frustrations that causes them to move towards populism over traditional democratic leaders.  Populism rises where democracy does not have a strong base and the democracies in Eastern Europe are only 30 years old.



First Response: Brexit and the Politics of Fear

A dominant feature across this weeks readings was that of the idea that those that were opposed to remaining in the European Union fell into a specific demographic of those that were disenfranchised from globalization. The idea that immigration and regulation were perceived as negative by the leave camp was made evident in both journal articles as well as the Rivers of Blood speech.  The iconography of a river of blood clearly indicates the extremes that the leave camp feel globalization could potentially put them in.

A problematic aspect of this is the misinformation and logical extremes that arise from an issue such as Brexit.  Powell opens his speech in the video by saying “In this country, in 15 or 20 years time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.  40 years have elapsed since that time and this has proven to be in no way shape or form the case but the important aspect of that statement is the fear-mongering.  Fear, as mentioned in both readings is a crucial aspect of Brexit.  The fear of losing ones livelihood to immigrants or losing the identity of the nation are the two dominant fears surrounding Brexit.

The main question surrounding this is how valid are these fears?  Obviously the ‘black man’ does not have the whip over the ‘white man’ but the idea of a loss of national identity is a much more valid fear.  Over 50% of British people for one reason or another felt that the United Kingdom would be better off without the European Union but was this the right decision or was the fear it was based on unfounded?

Reconciling with a Troubled Past

In an article on CBC, professor Samir Husni claimed that National Geographic was one of the first ways for Americans to learn about the rest of the world.  In publication since 1888, National Geographic has almost been around for as long as Canada has been a country. Similarly to Canada, National Geographic has also had problems with racism in their past, and struggle to reconcile with those in a contemporary setting.  Recently Susan Goldberg, the editor in chief of National Geographic claimed their coverage of other races had been racist for decades and they wished to move beyond it.

This example speaks to a broader issue that we’ve discussed of how a corporation, or even a country, should deal with its past actions.  This issue raises several interesting questions because it has aspects to it that exist in a moral grey area. The world in 1888 was vastly different to our own and along with that came different beliefs and values that people had.  The idea of the freedom and equality of all races was not yet universally accepted and this was reflected in their media and beliefs. National Geographic portrayed people indigenous to Africa, Oceania and Asia with fascination as if they were a foreign and exotic, different entirely from the ‘civilized world’ of the West. 

As this changed and this portrayal of people of colour became less accepted, National Geographic published increasingly less racist issues but they would always have their origins in exploring the ‘other’.  So how does one reconcile with a troubled past? Is the solution to pretend it never happened and move on? Should they attempt to erase the past or reconcile for it? These questions speak not only to National Geographic, but nations and people as well.  Take for example the contrasting example of post-war Germany and post-war Japan.

Germany has attempted to reconcile for their actions by acknowledging the crimes they committed during the Second World War and integrating that into their education system, so new generations understand their past, and are able to move forward from it.  Through actions such as declaring January 27th to be Holocaust Memorial day and erecting several memorials to those who lost their lives during the Holocaust, Germany shows their attempts to reconcile with their past by acknowledging their crimes. The difficulty of this is that there is no quantifiable way through which to atone for the actions of one’s ancestors.  This is a difficult question with no easy answer for Germany. Japan on the other hand takes a different approach by stifling the events of the past.

One author in BBC discussed how their experience in the Japanese education system left much to be desired regarding the history of the twentieth century.  The Japanese education system plays down many of the crimes Japan committed during the early twentieth century including the Nanjing massacre and the comfort women Japanese soldiers took from Korea and China.  This approach indicates that Japan as a whole preferred to approach their past by attempting to take their actions out of public memory. This is made problematic by the fact that in China and South Korea, there is still animosity towards the Japanese for their role in the Second World War.  This creates a dynamic where children in Japan can’t fully understand why China and Korea would bear them any animosity because they do not fully understand the severity of what their country did during the war.

These examples, along with the recent news on National Geographic, paint a complicated picture of acknowledging the events of those that came before us.  Although there are no clear answers to any of these questions. The fact that any sort of reconciliation is being attempted is promising. Our social values and norms have shifted significantly in 100 years and this is reflected through how we treat our past.  All nations, as well as each of us, have something to learn from National Geographic’s attempt to reconcile for their past.

Sweeper: Polarization

In our in class discussion, one aspect of the readings we brought up centered specifically around the idea that Gloria Wekker put forward in her discussion on Black Pete.  In her piece, Wekker discussed how the tone of response to criticism of Black Pete had shifted since 1998.  She identified 10 themes of both set of responses and in 1998, people were dismissive but not nearly as aggressive as they are now.

In class we discussed why this might be the case and what about this issue had changed to make this more aggressive.  One idea we came up with is that with the rise of social media and the recent rise of populism in the west, political discourse was becoming much more focused on personal attacks rather than disputing other people’s ideas.  We can see this in the responses Wekker describes.  In response to the criticism of Black Pete, the artists who spoke out against it were often mocked for being women and ‘leftists’ these attacks on a person’s personal character rather than their arguments have become increasingly common in our political climate.

Throughout the course we have discussed the implications of populism on a population and a countries approach to political critique.  All of the countries and regimes we have discussed responded harshly to any deviation from their own ideas and we can see similarities to this in the response to criticisms of Black Pete.  Regardless of whether or not Black Pete is racist seems to be irrelevant to these people as they feel more that their traditions are being attacked directly.



First Response: Dead Memories

In the late 90’s, Chile found itself in an awkward position of having just come out of  a dictatorship, but all of the members of the previous regime were still in positions of power.  Teresa Meade discusses the uncomfortable reality of post-Pinochet Chile where the government was unwilling to fully commit to recognizing the full atrocities of the previous government.

Meade argues that Ricardo Lagos, who was president after Pinochet attempted to maintain aspects of his Neoliberal ideals, along with the socialist ideals of Lagos’ own party.  Although public monuments were erected, Meade argues that Chile had not fully recognized the past atrocities.  This can be related to Temma Kaplan’s argument that Pinochet’s regime attempted to silence those that they tortured through their own shame.

A combination of an unstable political situation as well as the attempts by Pinochet’s government to silence their victims seem to have created an uneasy acknowledgement, but not a true acceptance of their past crimes.  This creates the question of how it is best to acknowledge the tragedy of ones own past.  There is a conflict in Chile between accepting the atrocities of Pinochet’s government and attempting to hide their shame in not prosecuting Pinochet nor fully acknowledging the mistakes made by his government.

This is perhaps best encapsulated by Meade’s description of one of these public monuments remembering the victims.  While the monument remains not vandalized around it do not seem to fully grasp the scale of the atrocities the monument represents.

Op/Ed: The German Populist’s Balancing Act

Populism has become a contending political ideology, not only in the United States, but all around the world.  In Europe especially, distrust of experts and anti-immigrant sentiments have risen since the refugee crisis in 2015, driving many native Europeans to far right populist parties.  The key feature in many populist parties has always been the personality that leads it.  The classic example being Donald Trump’s bombastic personality representing the populist ideas, rather than the Republican Party.  This feature remains consistent across Europe with politicians like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.  In contrast to this, German populism has seen a rise, but the leaders of this movement have been more divided on their stances, often preferring more moderate approaches to populism.  What does German Populism look like and how does the history of the country help us understand the 2017 election? To understand this we must look into the German electoral system, as well as to the history of German populism.

The 1919 German Constitution established universal suffrage, making the vast majority of Germans, including women and m


inorities able to vote.  Despite the surprisingly liberal policy for the early 20th century, it actually made democracy weaker because everyone was able to participate in politics, and anyone was able to make a party.  The result of this move was 40 parties being represented in the modern day Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, after 1924 including the Nazi Party.  This gave rise to extremist parties being able to gain parliamentary seats, and power within the German government.  Despite the eventual rise of the Nazis and establishment of a dictatorship, the erosion to German democracy began with an over-representation of parties in politics, making it difficult to reach consensus.


After the Second World War, an attempt to prevent this issue was implemented into the new German constitution via the 5% rule which stated that each party must receive at least 5% of the national vote in order to be eligible for a seat in the Bundestag.  The intention of this rule was to prevent too


many parties from being in the Bundestag and preventing extremist parties from gaining too much power.  Despite this, in 2017 Alternative for Germany (AFD) received 12.6% of the vote and 94 seats (out of 709) in the Bundestag, marking the first time they have been represented in the Bundestag and the first time since the Second World War that a populist party would break the 5% threshold.

AFD’s far right ideals of anti-immigration and distrust of experts are creating a party that appeals to many of the populist sentiments seen commonly across Europe and the United States.  Despite this, their party leaders have remained disunited and without a clear direction to follow.  Donald Trump runs the most powerful nation on Earth through a twitter feed while the leaders of AFD struggle to maintain a united leadership as ideas of whether the party should remain as a more moderate party, rather than an extremist one, caused the former chairwoman Frauke Petry to switch to an independent seat after the 2017 election.

The reason for the divide of AFD’s leadership can be understood through analyzing Germany’s history. Since the events of the Second World War, the German people have largely expressed remorse for their actions and see the Third Reich and its actions as a dark period in their own history.  Richard Von Weizsacker, the president of  what was then West Germany in 1985 referred to the Allied victory over the Nazi’s as a liberation of Germany. Politicians in the AFD like Björn Höcke are now calling for Germans to be proud of their past.  Because of the German people’s apprehension of their past, this has drawn significant controversy from not only the leaders of more moderate German parties, but also within AFD itself from powerful members like Petry.  Contrast this with the United States where many hold pride of some golden era of American past, exemplified by the slogan “Make America Great Again”.  The leaders of AFD do not have the popular support to be able to make such bold statements due to the skeletons in their closet.  Many Germans do not see the early 20th century as a golden age of German achievement that they must look to remake, but instead a point of national shame where they must be better moving forward.


Sweeper: Sinclair Lewis and Historical Reading

This week we discusses the rise of fascism in the United States.  Writing in 1935, we have to keep in mind that Sinclair Lewis does not have all the information we have.  He has no knowledge of the Second World War, the Cold War, or the contemporary wave of populism.  During the time of his writing, the idea that a character like Buzz Windrip would be able to take over the government in a similar manner to that of Hitler seemed to be a very real possibility to him.  We can see this clearly through the blatant parallels between Huey Long and Buzz Windrip.  Long was an American Democrat and governor of Louisiana during the time of Lewis’ writing.  Long was known for his populist rhetoric and Lewis used this to create “It Can’t Happen Here” not only as a warning of the potential of populism, but also as a political attack ad against a potential presidential candidate he clearly did not like.  In the novel, Buzz Windrip has a meteoric rise to power, establishing the Minute Men to quell dissent and abolished congress in order to centralize his power.  This was Lewis’ idea of how American fascism might look but also a warning to readers of the time of what a potential run by Huey Long would look like.  In conclusion, while we read the works of Lewis, and other historical texts and apply it to separate historical events, as well as our contemporary world, it is important to keep in mind that the authors of these books display biases and do not automatically have correct ideas.  Lewis displays a world in which a populist leader becomes a dictator and Americans are eventually forced to revolt against him.  Just because he wrote it in his book, does not mean that is an eventuality of populism.

Hitler’s Furies and Women in Nazi Germany

Hitler’s Furies discusses the role of women in the Nazi regime during the Second World War.  Wendy Lower analyzes how women were portrayed, as well as the things they did in the interest of the Reich.  Many of the themes and ideas she discusses seem to argue that although it is not often believed, women were also witnesses, accomplices, and perpetrators of crimes in Nazi Germany, and the eastern territories they conquered.  

Throughought the book, Lower discusses the idea that women moved out to eastern colonies, not because of political ideology, or a desire to commit atrocities, but as a means of advancing their economic status.  Women in the nazi regime were not equals and Hitler proclaimed that the ideal women stuck to Kinder, Kuche und Kirche or children, kitchen, and church.  Despite this, the economic hardships of the war made it necessary for many women to become the primary caretakers of the family and needed money to sustain this.  

Lower discusses how in roles such as teachers, nurses, secretaries, and wives, women committed many of the same atrocities as men during the Nazi regime but was this out of an inherent evil in their hearts, or a genuine belief that this was the only way to survive in the regime.  The contemporary narrative surrounding Nazi Germany is that the regime was inherently evil, therefore anyone who participated in it were evil.  While certainly many of the women who participated in the regime were likely motivated by a genuine hatred for the Jewish people, others simply found themselves in a situation where they believed they were doing the best thing for themselves, and their country.  These women adapted to their political reality and attempted to make the most of it while navigating the lack of agency they held during the period.  This begs the question, are those who participate in the Nazi regime inherently evil?  Or can their actions be justified to an extent through necessity?  

Sweeper: The Nation State and Populism

Yesterday in class our group discussed the idea of the European Nation State, its emergence, and its effect on Populism.  During our discussion we focused on how the nation state in Europe has been carefully crafted over a series of centuries.  This is not the case in the rest of the world, especially in Canada, as borders were defined by colonialist ventures, rather than decided on ethnic and cultural lines.  This means that in many countries around the world, there are many minorities that do not feel connected to their nation the way the French identify with France.  During the development of the nation state in Europe, many atrocities were committed in order to achieve the ideal country in the eyes of the state.  Cultural and religious groups were exiled so as to maintain the ‘purity’ of the nation.  These acts were atrocities, but a modern audience glosses them over as events in the past that are no longer relevant in a contemporary setting.

We related this to the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar.  Myanmar is attempting to expel a religious and cultural group from their country.  This act has received near universal criticism from the world, especially from the West as they believe this is a violation of human rights.  We discussed how, regardless of the clear violations of human rights the Burmese government was perpetrating, it was ironic for countries such as the United States and Canada to critique Myanmar for their actions despite our own treatment of Native Americans.  The last residential school was closed not even 20 years ago in Canada and yet we dismiss this fact and regard ourselves as champions of human rights on the world stage despite the obvious hypocrisy of our words.

We related this back to populism through the idea of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.  Despite the fact that we live in the most prosperous and peaceful time, Americans seem to believe that there is this golden age of American history that has since passed.  The best definitive time period we could point to was the 1950’s, a high point of of American hegemony as they emerged relatively unscarred from the Second World War.  Despite the fact that the 50’s may have been good for America, this relates back to our idea of the historical skeletons in Western countries closets.  The 1950’s was a great time to be a white, heterosexual male, but not a minority woman.  When Donald Trump appeals to the public with his slogan “Make America Great Again”  what he really means is “Make White America Greater Again”.