The world is not increasingly populated by populists; the world is increasingly structured for (and by) populists

By: PSjoberg

The evolution of media, having completely transformed daily life since the new millennium, is surprisingly and shamefully overlooked as a cause of so much of the 21st century’s political events and developments. Three of this week’s readings – those by Niko Hatakka, Des Freedman, and Nicole Doerr – address this fact, diligently outlining the ways in which modern social media and online platforms directly contribute to the recent wave of right-wing populism in Europe.

Hatakka correctly identifies how right-wing populists, and people who are generally unhappy with the prevailing government in their respective countries, are able to use online forums, like Hommaforum in Finland, to stir up emotional political sentiments among voters. Hatakka also rightly states that “digital communication technologies have provided not only new tools for political organization, but a whole new logic to political identity formation and group formation.” This is the crux of the problem: so many observers are refusing to acknowledge that the world’s political landscape and means of political discourse are undergoing a foundational change. This is not simply an issue of new tools or strategies being introduced to politics, it is an issue of the norms of political discourse shifting.

Des Freedman succinctly argues that so little attention is being paid to “the structural conditions and policy frameworks that have facilitated the circulation of clickbait and misinformation.” Populist groups tend to thrive on the spread of misinformation and “click-baity” emotion-driven headlines. What people are continually failing to acknowledge is the fact that modern social media platforms also thrive off this practice, thus creating an ideal partnership between the two: populists and the media.

Nicole Doerr further expands on this general hypothesis by detailing the ways in which right-wing populists are increasingly using visual images and symbols in order to make their message at once more powerful and more international (by softening the obstacle of language barriers).

It is easy to identify the faults of political discourse. What is more difficult is to be able to accurately predict the abuse of media platforms by right-wing populists before they are able to fully muster the technology to their advantage. Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis attempt exactly this in their study of anti-minority rhetoric in Czech print media. Their article demonstrates the difficulty in identifying what is and is not considered “hate speech” and examples of “new racism.” Slavíčková and Zvagulis demonstrate in their article, perhaps in contrast to their aims, the near impossibility of creating an accurate warning mechanism for right-wing political abuse of the media.


Slavíčková, Tess and Peter Zvagulis. “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Language & Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 152–170.

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. (2017): 2022–2038.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33(6)(2018): 604-618.

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

“Populism is here to stay – Get used to it!”

By: PSjoberg

The past few years has seen a dramatic increase in populist political leaders and movements – not only in Europe, but around the world. The rise of populism is not necessarily a “bad” thing: what is often perceived as “bad” about a populist movement is the degree to which you may disagree with its ideological motivations. While certain people may view certain populist movements as good or bad, they are ignoring the more important attribute of populism: its rise was inevitable, and it is here to stay.

Populism is a political ideology or strategy claiming to be “for the people,” and is largely motivated by an opposition to a perceived corrupt elite. While there existed populist movements as early as the 1920s, modern 21st century populism is a far different beast. But why? Were there not corrupt elites in the 1920s, and indeed in every subsequent decade up until today? What is it about the 21st century, and the 2010s in particular, that is so conducive to the rise of populism? The answer is: modernization and globalization, linked by the theme of technology.

Through the hyper-increased process of technological innovation and modernization, a huge percentage of the world’s population now interacts in large part through social media. The now pervasive social media mindset of only reading the titles of articles and ignoring the content, writing journalistic articles for the objective of getting the most “views” or “clicks” rather than for the purpose of imparting truth with integrity and accuracy, and rushing to throw every unfiltered thought onto the internet is the perfect breeding ground for populism. It is emotionally driven and serves to unite people against an “Other.”

Globalization supplements this development by making it easier for ideas to spread to the farthest corners of the world. Populist movements in Europe can borrow from those in Latin America, Asia, and the United States, and vice versa, and populist movements can span multiple countries and even continents.

The bastardization of journalism as a profession, as brought on by the social media mindset, is of course worthy of criticism. However, social media’s tentacles have infiltrated and taken hold of the modern world, and it is never letting go. It may change and adapt, as does populism, but it will never disappear. Therefore, political discourse itself is being forced to change. Critique social media all you like, but by rejecting it you run the risk of cutting yourself out of the wider world.

As bleak as this new reality may seem, is it really so bad?

Populism is not inherently illiberal, right-wing, or extremist. Rather, these are attributes that can be applied to certain populist movements, like those which have taken hold in Europe, most prominently in Poland and Hungary but also in France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Populism can also take on left-wing personas, as in the global climate strike movement, Bernie Sanders’ mobilization of the common people, and the numerous anti-corruption protests currently taking place in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, and elsewhere, all united by the common purpose of liberty and anti-elitism.

The populist political strategy is becoming the new norm in world politics and, for once (perhaps counterintuitively), right-wing groups have largely been at the forefront of this new development.

The political pendulum will never stop swinging between the right and the left. Every now and then, one side will simply take on new strategies in order to get the pendulum to swing in their favour. The pendulum is now beginning to swing more to the right, for the first time in many decades, in large thanks to the rise of populism. To reject populism at large would be suicidal for the neoliberal left, for the simple reason that populism is working. Therefore, the left must instead adjust its strategies accordingly.

Modernization, globalization, and technological advancements are progressing in one direction: forward. It just so happens that populism has emerged as a by-product of this progression. In order for the world’s neoliberal left to win back some support, they are increasingly finding that they must embrace the new norm of political discourse and fight the radical right at their own game. Populism isn’t a moment in history, like fascism was in the 1930s; it is here to stay, for better or worse. The real challenge will be how we shape it.


“AfD: What you need to know about Germany’s far-right party.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Assouad, Lydia. “Lebanon protests: ‘I think Hariri’s announcements are symbolic, not to say populist’.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Bell, Melissa. “Macron vowed to fight the populists. Now he’s being engulfed by them.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Cassidy, John. “Bernie Sanders and the New Populism.” In The New Yorker. [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

“Causes to the rise of populism in Italy.” In Eyes on Europe. [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Laczó, Ferenc. “Populism in power in Hungary: Consolidation and ongoing radicalization.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Marguiles, Ben. “Why Europe should worry about rising Dutch populist Thierry Baudet.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Merelli, Annalisa. “The key difference between populism and fascism.” In Quartz. [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Noack, Rick. “One reason young people inspired a global anti-climate-change movement? They lost trust in politicians.” In The Washington Post. [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Owczarek, Dominik. “The roots of populism in Poland: Unsustainable growth and cultural backlash.” In Barcelona Centre for International Affairs [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Sheng, Andrew and Xiao Geng. “Hong Kong’s protests a populist movement of self-harm.” In The Australian National Review. [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Shuster, Simon. “Europe’s Populist Revolt.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Vergara, Camila. “The Meaning of Chile’s Explosion.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

Zaffarano, Frnacesco. “Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media.” In [Accessed November 22, 2019] <>

The limitless forms of populism

By: PSjoberg

This week’s readings offer a return to the theme of pragmatism in the discussion of populist movements. Specifically, they explore the ways in which modern populist movements adapt to social and civil society issues around them. These cases studies offer a unique insight to populism as an “ideology” (or, rather, as a “political strategy” – but I won’t bring up that old debate…), because they illustrate the ways in which the populist radical right can simultaneously act in conjunction with, and in opposition to the neoliberal left in Europe.

Pietro Castelli Gattinara explores this exact paradox in his article, “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” Gattinara discusses how the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the wider surge in terrorist attacks throughout the Western world in 2015-2017, offered a rare point of concurrence for the populist radical right with the neoliberal left. Both groups fundamentally opposed Islamic extremist terrorism in Europe. While this connection emerged, though, the different modes of response to Islamic extremism illustrates the deepening divisions between the populist right and the neoliberal left in Europe: while the neoliberal left sought to understand the motivation behind these attacks, the populist right used them as an excuse to increase their exclusionary, xenophobic, anti-immigration rhetoric, even using these events as an imagined source of neoliberal support for the right wing populist cause. As Gattinara explains: the Italian far right took advantage of “the salience of freedom of expression in the public sphere” to position themselves as the “true representative of the will of the people.”

However, it would be unjust to paint the entirety of the populist right with the same brush. Gattinara attempts to demonstrate as much in his examination of the differences between the right-wing, the extreme right, and the ultra-religious factions within Italy. Gattinara is not as successful, though, in demonstrating the diversity and adaptability of the populist right as David Patternotte and Roman Kuhar in their article, “Disentangling and Locating the ‘Global Right’: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe.” Patternotte and Kuhar explore the connection between right-wing populism and campaigns against “gender ideology” in Europe, and as a result they reveal the fractured nature of the so-called “Global Right Wing.” Right-wing populists’ reactions and approaches to social movements, like that concerning gender identity, is highly dependent on regional and cultural characteristics.

Ina Schmidt, in her article “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement,” provides a discussion of the degree to which the populist right is itself engaging in social movements in the 21st century. With PEGIDA specifically, this right-wing populist movement was found to contain the core attribute of ethnopluralism, thus even further complicating conventional images of the populist right-wing.

This collection of readings serves to illustrate the diverse nature of right-wing populism in Europe, and the adaptability of those diverse populisms to contemporary social movements and societal events. In various contexts, the populist radical right can be conceived as more or less analogous to the neoliberal left, and as either fundamentally against social movements or as founders of social movements. How, then, can we define the populist movement? Is the populist “playbook” any different from a neoliberal “playbook”?


Gattinara, Pietro Castelli. “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” South European Society & Politics, vol. 22, no. 3, Sept. 2017, pp. 345–364.

Patternotte, David, and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 6-19.

Schmidt, Ina. “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement.” German Politics & Society 35, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 105–17

Addressing Europe’s Colonial Legacies

By: PSjoberg

The European integration project has always proclaimed itself to be a champion for unity through diversity and an advocate for a common European identity that achieves this goal. However, as seen in this week’s readings, a European identity appears to be fundamentally at odds with the idea of being “United in Diversity” (the motto of the European Union). At the core of this identity crisis is the lack of self-awareness on the part of white Europeans to acknowledge the privileges afforded to them by their imperial and colonial ancestors. No matter how much white Europeans may wish otherwise, they cannot (and should not) completely divorce themselves from the legacies of colonialism. Many Europeans’ mindset that colonialism has stayed in the past makes them prone to resuscitating those racist values and actions. Colonialism should be treated throughout Europe as Nazism is treated today in Germany: it must be addressed directly and not swept under the rug.

This is a problem of ‘collective memory,’ as discussed in Dan Stone’s article “On Neighbours and those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Stone challenges the writings of two other scholars, Jan T. Gross and G. M. Tamas, who each respectively published an article addressing the 2015 European refugee crisis wherein they argued that Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary were trapped in the past, demonstrated by their “failure to respond in a humanitarian way to the refugee movements.” Reacting to these two articles, Stone is correct in his critique that Poland and Hungary are trapped in the past, but that this is not a strictly Eastern European phenomenon: it can be expanded to all of Europe. As Stone states, collective memory is as much about ‘forgetting’ as it is about ‘remembering.’  

While Poland and Hungary have no issue ‘forgetting’ the fact that many Poles and Hungarians were co-conspirators in the Nazi-administered Holocaust, Gloria Wekkers demonstrates in her chapter, “…For Even though I am Black as Soot, My Intentions are Good,” that the entire collective memory of the Netherlands seems to forget about the legacies of Dutch colonialism. The absolute refusal by so many Dutch people to acknowledge that the figure of ‘Zwarte Piet’ is in fact a racist caricature, was shocking to me. For the modern descendants of European-colonized populations, it is impossible to escape the legacies of colonialism – they exist in a state of decolonization and postcolonialism. For modern descendants of European colonizers to believe they can simply move on from their colonial ancestors as if nothing ever happened is the ultimate display of white European privilege.

Fatima El-Tayeb expertly demonstrates this privilege in her article, “‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City,” wherein she explores how queer Muslims are repressed within the wider pan-ethnic queer community in Europe because of their ethnicity. This Othering of queer Muslims by queer white Europeans illustrates the prejudice shown by Europeans even in which kinds of people they choose to include under the slogan of “United in Diversity.” Thus, Europe clearly still has not addressed its ugly colonial past, creating the environment for this past to rear its ugly head even under the guise of “tolerance” and “diversity.”


El-Tayeb, Fatima. “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95.

Stone, Dan. “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Wekkers, Gloria. “….For Even Though I am Black as Soot, My Intentions are Good”: the Case of Zwarte Piet/Black Pete” in White Innocence. Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (Duke University Press, 2015), pp. 139-167

Reconciling nationalism with transnationalism: The Nouvelle Droite and perceived oppression

By: PSjoberg

Populism, and particularly modern right-wing populism, has developed a reputation for being somewhat inward-looking. Right-wing populist movements, after all, often create an oversimplified “Other” against which “the people” of that given nation, culture, or ethnicity feel the need to defend themselves. In this way, many brands of right-wing populism appear similar to the fascist movements of the 1930s. Also like those fascist movements, the history of modern right-wing populism appears to contain elements of transnationalism.

In Tamir Bar-On’s article “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite,” and in Riccard Marchi’s article, “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: A New Strategy for the Radical Right in the Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy,” the authors discuss in detail the transnational foundations of modern populist right-wing movements. While it may seem counterintuitive for right-wing populist movements to be somewhat transnational in their behaviour – as it is shocking for 1930s fascist movements to have behaved in this way – Roger Griffin, in his article, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum’,” produces the key to this puzzle.

Griffin’s examination of the intertwining themes of metapolitics and apoliteia in the Nouvelle Droite approaches the answer: right-wing populist movements are, in essence, a combination of two different political components, (1) right-wing political ideology and (2) populist political strategy. Griffin’s discussion the concept of apoliteia describes the heavily nationalistic nature of most right-wing populist movements. Moreover, Griffin is correct in the importance he places on the Nouvelle Droite’s metapolitics and the concept of a populist Weltanschauung. Populism being more of a political strategy than an ideology is therefore prone to transnational tendencies, for the purpose of exchanging lessons and tactics across national boundaries.

This dichotomy between metapolitics and apoliteia ties in well with the concept of right-wing Gramscianism, as discussed in the Bar-On reading. While seeming like a contrarian term itself, right-wing Gramscianism perfectly describes the combination of strong identity-formation of the Nouvelle Droite (as is important in all populist and nationalist movements) with the guiding principle of anti-elitism, which transcends national boundaries.

These three discussed readings are successful at demonstrating the complex nature of right-wing identity formation in the rapidly liberalizing West European landscape in the latter half of the twentieth century, through their analysis of the dichotomy between staunch exclusive identity formation and transnational tendencies.


Marchi, Riccard. “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: A New Strategy for the Radical Right in the Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy.” Patterns of Prejudice vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2016): 232–52.

Bar-On, Tamir. “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

Griffin, Roger. “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Modern & Contemporary France, vol. 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.

To Forgive a Nazi

by: PSjoberg

Of all human history’s movements, Nazism is the one most unanimously synonymous with evil. Hitler’s Nazi regime appears the one thing in Western cultural consciousness that will be always unworthy of any sort of ‘historical fairness.’ Unlike with most other atrocious episodes throughout history, Nazism alone seems to be universally agreed to have been objectively horrible on all accounts – there is no such thing as an ‘anti-Nazi bias’; the anti-Nazi sentiment is widely regarded to be a sign of common sense and basic human decency.

Werner Sollors’ article, “‘Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Late’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text,” identifies a less straight-forward conceptualization of the Nazi ideology. Sollors discusses West Germans’ mass aversion to an American-administered questionnaire which was mandatory for all West Germans to complete in the immediate post-war years. That many West Germans equated this questionnaire with a ‘Nazi-esque’ purge initially calls into question the degree to which Germans wished to address their Nazi past. However, my view of Nazism as inherently evil (and thus my view of denazification as an inherently positive process) possesses me to receive this so-called ‘purge’ of West German society in the most positive light. This stirs the question in me: is it wrong to think a purge can be a positive thing?

Robert Moeller’s article, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg,” creates further questions about the legacy of Nazism in post-war West Germany. The fact that Konrad Adenauer “pushed hard to forgive and quickly forget the Nazi war crimes,” and the proclamation that, to West Germans, “Kramer and Mann’s errors seemed to be more numerous than the crimes of the judges on trial” both suggest an widespread cultural dismissal of Nazi war crimes. Moreover, Mary Fulbrook describes in her book, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice, a man named Rudi Zimmermann who carried out heinous crimes under the Nazi regime, but then became a well-integrated citizen of East Germany and had even joined the bureaucracy of the ruling Communist Party. This theme seems to permeate throughout all this week’s readings: a criticism of the treatment of Nazism by Germans in the post-war period.

Do these apparent dismissals of the long-lasting effects of Nazism in Germany demonstrate a more widespread guilt, and therefore blame, for Nazi war crimes across German society in the 1950s and 1960s? Or, do these readings simply paint Nazism in a more complex light than it is usually treated in Western culture? After all, the atrocities committed by Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and numerous other communist autocrats during the Cold War are often addressed with a more balanced approach than Hitler and his Nazi regime.

Do these readings demand a less black-and-white view of Nazism and its legacies? Or do they demonstrate that Nazism is more representative of widespread sentiments in early-20th century German society (and Western metropolitan society as a whole) than is commonly believed?


Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314- 336, 361-377.

W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.

“Is the EU at fault for its right-wing populist problem?”

by: PSjoberg

A populist authoritarian leader and an EU bureaucrat walk into a room and one slaps the other across the face. Who slapped whom? Most would be inclined to assume it was the populist authoritarian who would commit such an egregious act of wanton aggression, but alas! On May 21, 2015, it was the EU bureaucrat who slapped the authoritarian leader.

This event actually happened: at the May 21-22, 2015 Eastern Partnership summit held in Riga, Latvia, European Commission President at the time, Jean-Claude Juncker, greeted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban by calling him a dictator and slapping him across the face on a stage for the whole world to see.

This action, on the part of Juncker, can be taken as generally symbolic of the EU’s typical response to Eurosceptics and populists, and this is a problem. However harmful and ignorant the discourse and actions of right-wing populists are, it is woefully insufficient for the liberal bastion of the EU’s bureaucratic core to simply belittle them. This tendency to dismiss right-wing populism as an illegitimate form of political expression only adds fuel to the fire that is Eurosceptic populism in Europe.

The EU has a democratic deficit and a legitimacy problem – that is, the EU’s complex bureaucratic machine lacks transparency, it fails to reflect democratic values, and therefore it is viewed by most EU citizens as illegitimate and unimportant. This all seems to paint the EU – a self-declared beacon of democracy and liberal values – in a somewhat unsavoury light. It’s no wonder, then, that EU citizens have increasingly begun to voice their dissatisfaction with this arrangement. The strategy turned to by many disgruntled citizens is one which paints itself as a voice for the common people against a corrupt political elite: “populism.”

How has the EU chosen to respond to its citizens’ legitimate worries about the functioning of the EU, and the revelation that EU citizens possess diverse political beliefs and values? By declaring Hungary to be “diseased,” and labeling all right-wing populists racist, sexist, and xenophobic. Does the right-wing populist movement demonstrate sentiments of racism, sexism, and xenophobia? Yes. Is it fruitful to alienate all right-wing populists by labelling them as such? No.

When the EU stands in opposition to the right-wing populist movement, it is essentially demanding EU citizens and member states to reflect the wills of the EU bureaucracy, rather than one where the EU seeks to reflect the views of its citizens. Such a position is problematic for the EU because it directly contradicts one of their primary mandates, and it appears much more akin to a metropole-periphery relationship – or even one of imperial nature – rather than that of an international organization built on cooperation.

Perhaps the EU’s slogan, “United in Diversity,” should be replaced with: “United in Diversity, unless you are too divergent from the EU’s preferred political views.”

By choosing the belittle right-wing populists and not take them seriously – as Juncker treated Viktor Orban in May 2015 – the EU is sadly demonstrating that it has built a liberal echo-chamber for themselves. What is even more dangerous, though, is that through this behaviour they are building one for right-wing populist extremists as well. The EU is essentially giving right-wing populists, who mobilize themselves primarily due to feelings of being disrespected and ignored, more justification to feel disrespected and ignored by the EU

In order to properly address the issue of right-wing populism within the EU, then, I believe there are only two respectable avenues remaining for the EU to take: (1) become more transparent and democratic as an institution while allowing for equal representativeness of all EU member states and populations, regardless of their political leanings, or (2) rebrand itself as an actor which, at its core, upholds and promotes liberal values at all costs, and risk alienating vast portions of the European population which do not espouse these values.

The core issue with the EU seems to be that it wants to make everyone happy, uniting all Europeans around a belief that not all Europeans hold, which is simply not possible. The EU is perceived by many as an example of undemocratic liberalism. As Cas Mudde famously put it, the right-wing populist movement is an illiberal democratic response to the EU’s undemocratic liberalism. The EU simply can’t have it all, and it must change its approach before it fans the flames of right-wing populism into a fire that engulfs the entire continent.


Ágh, Attila. “The Decline of Democracy in East-Central Europe.” Problems of Post-Communism, 63:5-6,  277-287, 2016.

“‘Hello Dictator’: Hungarian prime minister faces barbs at EU summit.” In The Guardian, May 22, 2015. <  -faces-barbs-at-eu-summit> [Accessed October 27, 2019].

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic   Liberalism.” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania. <;

Ruzza, Carlo. “Populism, Migration and Xenophobia in Europe”, in C. de la Torre, ed., Routledge Handbook of Global Populism (London: Routledge, 2019).

The Tricky case of Gender in Fascist regimes

by: PSjoberg

Wendy Lower’s book, Hitler’s Furies, and Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez’s article, “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies, and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-9,” address the relatively overlooked role of women in two significant fascist contexts in European history.

The question of women’s roles in fascist regimes is particularly interesting considering the virile, predominantly masculine identity that is commonly associated with fascism. Therefore, women may seem prone to fall by the wayside in historical studies on the topic. In both of this week’s readings, I found a sort of paradoxical expectation for women in fascist contexts: on one hand, women were expected to contribute to the overall societal image of strength and virility that is promoted my fascist movements, but one the other hand women were also (sometimes simultaneously) expected to fulfill their prescribed roles as wives, daughters, and lovers to the more dominant men in these societies.

In both this week’s readings, however, I found myself frequently disappointed by the quality of analysis offered by the authors. Both readings feature numerous, repeated statements about women in both Nazi Germany and Republican, and later Francoist, Spain as if they had unlocked some hidden significance behind women’s roles in these regimes. However, these statements could always be just as easily ascribed to men in these respective countries.  Some examples of this in Lower’s Hitler’s Furies include: “German women in the Nazi East wielded unprecedented power over those designated ‘subhuman’” and “women of varied backgrounds and professions are mobilized for war and acquiesce in genocide.” In both of these examples, ‘women’ can be substituted for ‘men’ without changing the truth of the statement.

The question thus arises: is it a product of the modern ‘progressive’ bias of 21st Century historians that the involvement of women in heinous acts during the Holocaust and Spanish Civil War does not appear so radical as such? Considering the immense difference in gender norms between the 1930s-40s and the 2010s, atrocities committed by women can possibly be considered more significant and thus more atrocious. Therefore, the fact that women were so often ignored and given light sentences during post-WWII trials for war crimes is all the more disgusting, while simultaneously being (unfortunately) unsurprising.

It was a product of early-20th Century gender norms that female war criminals were treated so leniently by judges, simply because it was so unbelievable that women could commit such acts. With historical hindsight, though, female war criminals should have received at least equal sentences to their male counterparts. This, however, begs an even more controversial question: would it be fair to deliver different sentences to different gendered individuals for the same crimes as a result of different gendered expectations?


Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).

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.

Op/Ed: “Trump is not a fascist, but we should treat him as one”

By: PSjoberg

The recent resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe has spawned a tendency among observers to view these movements as a sort of “second coming” of early-20th Century fascism. It’s easy to see the connection: American President Donald Trump has been endorsed by the KKK, Marine Le Pen uses xenophobic language, and intensely anti-immigrant messages are becoming popular throughout central and eastern Europe. These developments conjure images of Nazi anti-Semitism, the strategic manipulation of identities in Mussolini’s Italy, and the suppression of minorities in Francoist Spain. Are modern populist movements, though, really the same as fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s?

The short answer is: “no.”

Such a simple answer, though, is grossly misleading. Through examining the technical definitions of the terms “fascism” and “populism,” we find a longer, more comprehensive answer: “no (right-wing populists are not fascists), but we should treat them as such.”

There exist certain vital distinctions between the two concepts. First, the words themselves provide some hints: “fascism” comes from the Italian word facismo, which simply means a bundle of sticks signifying strength through unity of the state. “Populism,” on the other hand, can be defined as a political approach which appeals to, and mobilizes, the common people against a perceived corrupt elite.

Second, fascists dream about toppling the democratic system and replacing it with an alternative –historically taking some form of authoritarianism. Populists, on the other hand, work within the democratic system in order to replace the governing elite with an alternative who better represents the common people. In short: fascism is anti-democratic; populism is democratic.

A final difference between these two terms is the important fact that fascists, unlike populists, believe violence is a positive and integral attribute of their cause because it creates commitment. Therefore, to be a fascist and to be a populist are two wildly different things. How, then, do modern-day “populist” leaders, such as Donald Trump, fit into these two categories?

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with achieving state strength and unity? While Trump proclaims a desire to “make America great again,” actions speak louder than words. Therefore, my answer is: not at all.

To what degree is Donald Trump concerned with mobilizing the common people to overthrow a perceived corrupt elite? This defines Trump’s entire presidential campaign. My answer: to a high degree.

To what degree is Donald Trump in favour of toppling the democratic system in the United States? Trump has always worked within the current democratic system in order to achieve his goals (granted, while disregarding many of the rules). My answer: not at all.

To what degree does Donald Trump champion the use of violence as a political tool? While some might point to examples where Trump has seemed to latently promote or approve of the use of violence, he does not necessarily openly and explicitly advocate for the use of coordinated violence against his political foes. My answer: to a minimal degree.

In following the technical definitions of “fascism” and “populism,” Donald Trump fits the latter but not the former. However, it is not impossible for a populist movement to morph into fascism, given enough time. After all, the fascist movements of the 1920s became more extreme over the succeeding decade, before culminating in the mass atrocities of the 1940s. Benito Mussolini, the man who first attached the term facismo to that style of political movement, even initially referred to himself as a “radical populist.”

Therefore, this entire debate appears wrapped up in entirely the wrong focus: who cares what people are called, fascist or populist, if they engage in immoral discourse and actions? So many people are openly critical of Trump and Le Pen not because they’re undemocratic (although some might suggest otherwise), but because they’re illiberal. After all, Bernie Sanders could accurately be called a populist, and he most certainly isn’t undemocratic. The real issue here is morality, and both fascist and far-right populist movements have a tendency for immoral behaviour. President Trump, Marine Le Pen, and their other contemporaries may be best classified as populists for now but given time that may change.

While the common people of the 1920s and 1930s could not have foreseen the horrific acts fascists would go on to commit, the common people of the 21st Century have that luxury. If there is even a miniscule chance that modern radical populism might morph into neo-fascism, it is our duty to stop it. Immorality is immorality, and if labelling modern populist movements as fascist better enables us to take a firm stance against them, it probably isn’t such a bad thing.


Matthews, Dylan. “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said.” Vox. May 19, 2016. <;

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism.” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania. <;

Mussolini, Benito and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932. <>

How did unmanliness and manliness mean the same thing in Nazi Germany? Read on to find out!

By: PSjoberg

As Barbara Spackman illustrates in her book, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy, fascist discourse has an apparent “obsession with virility.” Although rhetoric of virility is common to all political discourses, as Spackman concedes, the particular aggressiveness and tenacity inherent in fascist discourse makes this type of rhetoric stand out more, and thus attracts an aura of perceived significance among historians.

Virility being an inherent aspect of fascist discourse, it is interesting to examine those parts of fascist regimes which appear to contradict this assumption. This is exactly what Thomas Kühne does in his chapter, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich,” when he asked the question: “What did being a man mean for Hitler’s soldiers?” Kühne’s analysis of what he calls “Protean” masculinity offers a new perspective on this virile element of a fascist regime. However, Kühne’s analysis of “Protean” masculinity seems to directly contradict (in certain ways) Laurie Marhoefer’s study of gender nonconformity in Nazi Germany in her chapter, “Lesbianism, Transvetitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943.”

A comparison of these two readings provides insight into the malleability of cultural norms even within a regime as rigid and oppressive as Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Kühne’s concept of “Protean” masculinity and Marhoefer’s focus on gender nonconformity offer two contrasting views of gender norms in Nazi Germany: the former discusses the ability of “Aryan” soldiers to explore more feminine roles as long as they fulfilled a required image of “hardness,” while the latter discusses the inability of lesbians and transvestites to avoid persecution in Nazi Germany, despite the lack of official laws against them, as a result of their image as nonconformists. The common rationale linking these two seemingly contradictory cases appears to revolve around the concept of conformity.

In the case of “Protean” masculinity, male soldiers in Nazi Germany were afforded the luxury of being able to express more effeminate and non-masculine traits once they had conformed to the norm of displaying physical, emotional, and moral “hardness.” In Marhoefer’s discussion of gender nonconformity, lesbians and transvestites were clearly viewed as outcast members of society due to their nonconformity to gender norms, despite the fact that many of them would likely have displayed certain “masculine” traits. On the surface, these different reactions to two separate instances of blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity appear arbitrary. However, Spackman’s discussion of virility may help to organize these concepts.

Spackman identifies the concept of masculinity (in strictly the sexual, “phallic” sense) as gradually blurring over time with that of virility (meaning “strength” and “force”). Since political discourse so often champions the strength of a state, a nation, a people, or a community, the abstract concept of unity and strength has become conflated with that of being “manly.” This explains the fascinating phenomenon mentioned in Kühne’s reading whereby, in Nazi military culture, being deliberately “unmanly” demonstrated such a level of confidence in oneself as a man that it became an expression of manliness.


Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167- 1195.

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

Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minneapolis, 1996), pp. 1-33.