Does democracy need an overhaul?

By: Lucas Lang

In recent years, the question of democratic reform has cropped up in countries spanning the globe. Over its history, the two thousand-five-hundred-year-old form of governance has changed drastically with many different variations emerging which are unique to cultures and regions. Since the second world war, democracies have generally been associated with stable states. Over the last two decades, however, there has been increasing political upheaval and demand for political change. In Russia, opposition to the government of Vladimir Putin is growing. In Hong Kong, calls for democracy are becoming louder, and the Chinese government is meeting the peoples demands with new restrictions on democracy. Yet, it is not just countries which are largely considered to be authoritarian which are struggling with calls for democratic reform.

In Canada there is growing consensus that democratic reform of the senate and electoral system is necessary. In the United States, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the continued support for the former president, indicates a voting base that seeks a change in party leadership style and democratic practices. Throughout Europe, there is mounting support for populist parties and preservation of national identity, which further demonstrates that citizens of democratic states are looking for a change in the way democracy is run.

So why is all this happening, how are we to understand it, and how should we respond?

Perhaps a clue can be found in the recent collapse of another form of governance. In the 1960’s, the Soviet Union underwent a period known as the Era of Stagnation. During this era, enthusiasm for socialism encountered a notable decline. Politicians attempting to re-strengthen support for the political system undertook a series of reforms in efforts to “improve socialism”. One of the leaders who led theses efforts was Mikhail Gorbachev, whose efforts to reform the Soviet Union are largely considered to have led to its collapse in 1991. It may be time that we consider that democracy might be having an era of stagnation of its own.

In countries around the world there has been a lack of enthusiasm for democracy. Where once it was considered a privilege and a responsibility to vote and participate in governance, within many states this is no longer true. Many governments find themselves deadlocked with opposing parties and bureaucracy preventing administrations from functioning properly. For many democratic countries both in North America and Europe, lower voter turnouts are not uncommon as citizens have begun to doubt their government’s ability to make changes and carry out their promises. Corruption and partisan politics have further corroded peoples trust in governments. As a result, many countries are seeking reforms to better their state’s democracy.

As governments begin to seek to “improve democracy”, it is crucial to acknowledge that seeking to fixing democracy is no small task. It will absolutely create divisions and most certainly will not provide the outcomes we expect. Within history there are numerous examples of states which began down the path to democracy but ended up becoming something else entirely. Despite the enthusiasm for democracy and the promise shown within Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Vladimir Putin ultimately came to power. After the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Imperial Germany, the Democratic Weimar Republic rose, but Adolf Hitler, and the Nazi’s were eventually elected to lead. There is always a risk with political reform and both those on the left and right will have to walk a careful line and manage their more radical elements for any compromise or progress to endure. Already in Europe, there is also mounting concern for the rising numbers of states which have adopted hybrids of democratic and authoritarian governments, with policies that do not comply with those of typical democratic states.

If democracy has indeed been in a period of stagnation from which it is now emerging, it will be at its most vulnerable. As changes are made, new policies and platforms will be introduced, new forms of democracy will be tested, and old ones broken. While some new and beneficial models of democracy will be made, others, harmful and more destructive will also emerge. Citizens will need to remain vigilant as the future of democracy within their country will be decided by their votes.

Two can Play at that Game.

By: Lucas Lang

The notion of dog whistle, as a signal that only those of a certain political orientation can understand is quite interesting and quite ironic. While memes and social media posts certainly signal specific audiences, evoking certain emotions and sentiments about subjects, do not articles and lectures among academic communities do the same? Underlying the sources this week and under the guise that populism needs to be understood there is an unspoken call that the madness of populism needs to be brought to a halt. Des Freedman’s article for example offers no advice however to how populist media may be able to become more productive and efficient in its contributions to society. Instead, Freedman seeks to identify and propose corrections amongst traditional media of errors that support the spread of populist media’s influence. The main theme that became apparent this week is that all media has biases and motives. As important as it is to recognize that biases and dog whistles, it is also important to hear to them and comprehend the concerns and motivations are for the messages, even if they are as far-fetched and irrational as cultural Marxism. (Which is not to say the dangers and destructive potential of such messages should be ignored.) The European Union’s Digital Services Act and Digital Markets act were also interesting to read about. While creating restrictions for platforms genuinely provides opportunities to reduce illegal activity and restrict harmful behavior online, it is also evident why removing power from platforms to regulate their own users and bestowing it upon the E.U. would be of concern to populist groups.

Conspiracy Theories: Diffusion or Accumulation

Lucas Lang

This week’s readings examined the role of conspiracy theory in influencing the radical right. Conspiracy theory is a complicated element of society. It is typically an indicator of mistrust directed either at groups, classes, or individuals who are deemed to be a threat to society. The readings examined what could be examined as two very different versions of the use of conspiracy theory. One version they examined was conspiracy propagated by government. The example focused upon was from Hungary and observed the Fidesz party’s use of conspiracy surrounding George Soros. The party depicted him as being the propagator of not only Hungary, but also many of Europe’s “problems”, such as multiculturalism, immigration, and cultural decay. Through utilizing this rhetoric, the party is able to portray itself as being the people’s protector against the threats that it creates. By diffusing these ideas to the citizenry, they can create support. The second version examined was conspiracies propagated by the people. These theories tend to be suspicious of governments and the establishment. They are often spread by word of mouth and though external sources. While some conspiracy theories are exchanged in closed groups, others have become so popular that political parties have formed and adopted their beliefs in order to appeal to greater groups of people. In this second version, it is therefore the accumulation of belief within the people which is adopted by the government.

Ironically, part of the reason that conspiracy theories spread so well is that they are often given credit due to persecution. When theories are actively denied or repressed, adherents to the conspiracies will often interpret repression as evidence that they were correct and are being persecuted to prevent the truth from being spread, thus increasing outsiders curiosity.

The New-Right Alternative

By: Lucas Lang

Following the anti-fascism that emerged after the second world war the far-right fractured. While some elements clung to the fanatical, racist, and nationalistic rhetoric of the fascism established under the dictators, others sought new more acceptable means of disseminating their beliefs and values. This new-right focused on intellectualism, discourse, and publication to legitimize itself and separate itself from strict and militant behavior traditionally attributed to right wing politics. Through this they believed they would gather public support for their initiatives rather than demand support with threats. Was this new right actually something new or was it a disguised version of older fascism. While some authors accepted the new-right as a new contributor to politics, others criticized it for taking ideas from the new-left and merging them with old fascist policies. The result being a collage of discontent and criticisms of a variety of issues in contemporary politics. Ultimately, it seems the far-right became the group of the politics of dissent. Its followers rejecting the current state of the world, advocating for radical changes. It is interesting to note that the far-right is often attributed to the uneducated workers, and yet the new-right is presented as being composed primarily by intellectuals with education and scholarly apparatus. This week’s readings all made note of the networking existing between various elements of the new right which allow them to share, compare, and develop their ideological beliefs. Based on their intellectual inclinations, the new-right should perhaps be considered a viable alternative, to the radical right.

The Struggles of Denazification and Coming to terms with the Past

Lucas Lang

This week’s readings were about struggle. In the aftermath of the second world war, the fall of Nazi Germany resulted in struggles both with those within and affected by the party and its actions. For Jewish communities, it became a struggle to rebuild. Regrouping with family and loved ones and grieving the dead was only part of their difficulties. Returning to their homes was often problematic as their neighbors, often struggling themselves, sought to ignore or forget the Jews suffering. It would take years for some communities to recognize the losses endured by the Jewish communities, and early on, only if matched with their own losses. The German people also struggled in the aftermath of the war. They had to come to terms with their own dead and losses as well as their own participation in events. Perhaps one way to explain the German struggle to accept their parts in the murder of Jews and other groups, they first had to resolve their own suffering. It is hard to comprehend other’s suffering when suffering ourselves. The Allies had their own struggles, though of a different nature, as they tried to determine who the guilty, innocent, and the victims were and how to punish the collaborators. There is much debate over how effective their efforts were and whether they ought to have persecuted more of the Nazi’s. Whether that would have solved modern issues or only provoked the German people can only be speculated. Many of their same struggles to determine who is the victim, who is guilty, and how to prosecute them reflect current events and remains modern issues.

Women and the Far Right

By: Lucas Lang

This week provided valuable insight into woman’s roles and perspectives within fascist states. Rather than being bystanders or pawns within far-right politics, women are in fact vital and active within political actions and structure. Not only do they serve as the domestic wives and mothers in compliance with far-right ideology, but during conflicts they are willing to act counterintuitively to their ideology, taking whatever steps necessary to preserve or establish the traditions and world they want to see. Ultimately, there are three primary reasons why women, especially in recent times, have sought right wing populist parties and politics. The first is that they feel marginalized by other groups and parties which have previously held power. They feel they have little to no saw in the power and politics of other groups. The second is issues with immigration. Women who sympathize with the far-right on this issue usually do so because of concerns for their personal, or family’s safety and well-being, which is in line with the domestic identity of women supported by the far right. The final reason, quite related to the first, is a rejecting of modern feminism. Typically, there is a sense among women within the right that feminism has gone too far and has already achieved its objectives. Under these terms, support for the far right has been increasing among women.

On a separate note, another aspect this week that was intriguing was men’s willingness to talk about mass killings they participated in with women within chapter 3 of Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies. I could never get a sense of whether when they were speaking with women, they were doing so to brag about their “manliness” or if they were genuinely concerned about their part in the genocides. If so the latter, then would they have been looking for reassurance that what they were doing was right or might they have been seeking scolding and criticism for having participated in the horrific mass murder. Either way, it seems out of character for men living under the Nazi regime to be presenting themselves as week in front of female company. It would be important to note though that this would be occurring in a private sphere and not publicized or promoted by the government. Nonetheless, it was uncommon for women to have criticized the men for participating. By saying nothing though, were they contributing to the genocide?

Radicalizing Moderates

By: Lucas Lang

The world is becoming increasingly polarized. More and more, both the left and right are adopting with us, or against us, policies. These divisions are increasingly affecting moderate elements on both the left and the right as views that were accepted as middle ground or at least reasonable by opponents are becoming increasingly far-out. Those sharing even some of the beliefs of the fringes of the spectrum are being cast by the other side as being part of the problem.

Polarization has gotten to the point where those holding moderate views are forced to take more extreme sides or face rejection by both sides of the spectrum. An example of this could be an individual with a view that conditionally accepts abortion. The extreme right might reject them for being even open to accepting the murder of babies. Meanwhile the extreme left might reject them for even considering refusing a woman her right to choose. In such cases moderates are forced to yield to viewpoints which they may not completely agree with due to fear of rejection.

Some scholars are becoming concerned that current polarization is creating similar circumstances to those that led to the Spanish Civil War. Preceding the conflict, both the left and right engaged in increasingly violent actions creating division within society. The ensuing conflict further separated the population into opposing sides. A vast assortment of factions including Liberals, Conservatives, Catholics, Anarchists, Monarchists, Republicans, Fascists, Socialists, and Communists were forced to co-operate with factions they did not always agree with (resulting in significant internal conflict) in order to defeat “the other side”.  Comparing current U.S. events to the Spanish civil War, history professor Ian Dowbiggin notes that, “The Spanish example is a warning of what happens when there is no middle ground.” Ultimately, the people in the middle are being forced to pick sides, and the loss of the middle ground only makes polarization more severe.

Recent re-evaluations of Social media are further inflaming the situation. Crackdowns on extreme points of view and efforts to silence radicalizing content on multiple social platforms are not only enraging radical elements but also detrimental to efforts to reduce polarization. While some hope that as an alternative to “radical” content, extremists may view more content from the other side, a 2018 study found that exposure to “opposing political views on a social media site such as Twitter might be not only be ineffective but counterproductive.” Furthermore, as the example of Parler demonstrates, that banning of radical elements only forces them to seek new methods to communicate their worldview. In the ensuing effort to silence radicals, it is the center that suffers most.

While no one can argue that the center is flawless, elements acting within it often act as a calming voice to both sides of the spectrum. While they themselves vary in extremity, they do serve to reassuring their respective sides that the other is not an unreasonable disease. Through media, moderates can platform views, if not uniting, that can at least seek coexistence.

Through a polarized lens though, to someone, somewhere, any view can be considered radical. Efforts to rid the internet of so called “radical content” are a clear and present danger to moderates. Its hard to argue that the other side is reasonable when they are looking to ban your content for your views being too radical. Such action only serves to dis-empower moderate views while proving radicals correct when they argue that the other side cannot be reasoned with. Such was the case in early 20th century Imperial Russia. Moderate liberals and socialists seeking change were cast out by the Tsar, being imprisoned, or exiled, forcing them and their supporters to turn to more radical elements for the change they desired. Without moderate voices in our own time, can we expect any different?

As the world enters a new decade, the world is ever more polarized. In politics across the globe sides are being taken and lines are being drawn. Fear, anger, and hatred echoing a conflict that occurred 85 years ago are haunting us. We know what happens. Maybe its time to find a new path, before the moderates are forced to take sides.  

Role Models for Society in Fascist Culture

Lucas Lang

Within fascist cultures, there is often an effort to engineer the social structure of society through manicuring roles of gender and creating idealized characteristics for gender within society. Whether in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or the Romanian Legionary movement, authoritarian cultures commonly create archetypes of the ideal male within their society. Characteristics encouraged within males often include values such as strength, intelligence, cunning, emotional control, and dedication to morale’s. At the same time, gentleness, passion, and empathy were also contradictorily encouraged to co-exist, though only at designated times and places. Those who reject such emotional “weaknesses” were often exemplified and designated as ideal examples to strive towards for those who were incapable of doing the same. Through promoting such values and embarrassing those people (or races) who did not comply with their standards, they hoped to create a society in which the ideal could become reality. Social and gender interactions in which individuals did not or were encouraged to not comply with the ideal were therefore forbidden and supported by both societal and governmental punishments. Critical to the success of fascist endeavors were the efforts to reach and engineer the youth to accept and actively participate in their societal models. Many fascists recognized that it would be the youth who would realize their societal goals in the creation of a new superior society, rather than their own generation. Presenting model figures for the youth in order to have them seek to live up to its characteristics was therefore critical in the fascist’s efforts rebuild society.

Memory of Fascism

By Lucas Lang

I once visited Military memorabilia shop in Florida in which the owner sold among other historical objects, some of Nazi origin. My father, curious of how Neo-Nazi’s would respond to such items asked him if many of them came in. The owner replied that not many did, and those that did cared little for the historical value of the objects, only focusing on their symbolic value. He relayed that they knew very little of actual Nazi history or politics and most left when they found out the object’s high prices. This week’s materials made me think of this story. In the Vice video, many of the fascist’s shown knew very little of the inner workings of Franco’s Spain. Those that lived at the time selectively remember what they felt to be the best features of the dictatorship while either being oblivious or forgetful of the less appealing features. This week’s material also demonstrates that Fascism both in past and modern times is popular due to the stability its supporters feel it provides. From the maintenance of tradition to the protection of social values, to defense of the good life, fascism to this day, is believed by certain parties to be for the benefit of society. It is significant to note though that very few fascists are aware or even include the other “benefits” within their advocacy for fascism. No one goes around proposing the return of government provided vacations for example. Nor does any fascist advocate for the return of traditions such as leisure time as was commonly depicted in Nazi-era photography. Modern fascists only advocate for the return of features of fascism which they admire but fail to remember or understand the full extent of the Fascism which they desire.

The Third Path?

Lucas Lang

Nationalism was born out of the failures of Imperialism and liberal democracy. Imperialism involved multiple nationalities coexisting under a single banner which often involved oppression and hierarchy based on nationality and race. This was understood through the examples of France and Great Britain. The Soviet Union, and thus Communism was seen by minorities in a similar light as it also enforced its political policies upon other nationalities within its borders.  Nationalism was seen as a third way which instead advocated for the independent nation’s ability and right to self-determinism. Nationalists do tend to focus primarily on national interests rather than international issues. They tend to see internationalism as an extension of communism. Rather than spreading out resources and having all suffer (or benefit) equally, nationalists prefer to ensure that their nation benefits first before resources can be spared to assist other states. This week’s readings ultimately show the oxymoronic and inconsistent effects produced by the realities of nationalism. On the one hand, nationalism can lead to rejection and discrimination against foreigners, as can be seen in Italy’s colonial expeditions in Africa. On the other hand, it also can lead to cooperation with foreign nationalists as can be seen in the example of Nazi Germany. While to some, nationalists working with foreign nationalists might seem ironic or non-sensible, it is more practical than might first be construed. If the goal of the Nationalist is to seek the independence and prosperity of his nation, it is to the nations benefit if others are not interfering because they are seeking the same goal. The real irony is that in expanding their borders for their nation’s benefit, they oppress other nation’s nationalism.