A Plague of ‘ists’ and ‘isms’

M. Nagy

It is easy to make someone into an ‘other.’ The need to self identify and outwardly codify is as inherent to the human condition as the need for the safety and security of the group. In a sense, it is this form of ‘tribalism’ that has helped to establish the systems that we hold near and dear to our existence. Our ways of life and understanding have been compartmentalized and clarified down into subsets of singular terms that carry vast intentions and meaning.

The terminology that is applied against certain topics and ideas maintains a great weight against them in establishing the preconceptions that a term is typically associated with. As Brubaker put it in his lecture, ‘populism’ is the “Politics of Fear”.1 More than that however, the use of these terms of great ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ without clearly dictating the manner in which they are being applied is rife for problematic usage and manipulative logic. With each reading bringing a constant through-line of logic to the use of the terms of ‘populism’ and ‘fascism’, they nonetheless maintain keep points of deviation. While Brubaker, Mudde, and Finchelstein come to agree on the conceptualization that ‘Populism’ is a trans-atlantic issue which is characterized by the use of outgroup dynamics and the inherent reactionary nature of the policy that ‘populists’ develop; a major facet they cannot reconcile is the nature of how it develops and which groups can be assigned to the term.

These are central issues to the topic of term application as without them the use of the terms are, at worst, inherently meaningless; while, at best, they require constant affirmation of the context in which they are being used in. Brubaker takes the assumption that a ‘populist’ system is based around fear. Crafting an ideology of immediacy and responsiveness that rejects established forms and employs protectionist policies.2 Mudde takes the approach that it is an inherently secondary ideology that is used to further the goals of a main ideological framework and galvanize a public for the common cause of the people.3 With the assertion by Finchelstein that the current issues of ‘populism’ are driven from the historical nature of the adaption of ‘fascism’, that would maintain Finchelsteins argument that ‘fascism’ was a coalitionist movement against ‘leftist’ elements of the societies, then populism would as well.4 This is disputed by the straightforward argument by Brubaker that ‘populism’ is far too big a term to concentrate down along the political spectrum and is instead a cross-spectrum issue.5

These terms are weighed down from the abstract to the practical by the associations they are placed against in real, rather than the hypothetical, world. In doing so they are supposed to convey a greater sense of meaning and continuity between incidents that bare a similarity between them. This is not always the case though, as the overuse of terms can lead to their redundancy in an ability to clarify or codify various incidents. These terms have been too loosely applied to incidents which are disparate from one another to the point that the use of a term to link them becomes a pointless exercise of crafting a catchy byline or establishing a moral superiority.

1 Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000

2 Ibid

3Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 1-21.

4Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

5Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?”

Introduction: Nagy

Hello all!

My name is Matt, or really any derivation of Matthew as I’ve probably been called it before; and luckily for once there doesn’t seem to be another Matt in the class, so you will not have to learn how to pronounce my last name. I did a bachelor’s at Carleton in History and Political Science with a minor in Russian and I’m now a second year graduate student in EURUS. My research topic is on how Russia is structuring its foreign policy towards the individual nations of the Visegrád Four. I took this course in part because there are shockingly few courses that handle Central Europe to any significant degree. I am also fascinated with the use of language and terminology to establish oppositional relationships.