Transnationalism and the Nouvelle Droite

I found this week’s readings as very informative for understanding how right wing movements developed between the end of the second world war and today. Bar-On’s Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite, explains the French Nouvelle Droite role in establishing some of the core tactics and content used by today’s European populist and right-wing groups. One of the primary features of the ND was their view that Liberalism, Socialism, multiculturalism, and democracy were homogenizing ideologies that were destroying the cultural, regional, and national roots of Europe (206). This to me was the precursor for populist and right wings movements of today, use of identity politics. without the establishment of this idea, the “othering” tactics of populist movements would be lacking. Bar-On also touches on the idea that the ND was transnationally focused. According to him, the ND utilized the idea of the ‘Gramscianism of the right’, which focused the ND’s to influence European civil society rather than governments. Personally, I find this very interesting from a European integration perspective, on the one hand, the EU (which was undergoing its development at the time) focused on influencing governments rather than the public, relying on ‘permissive consensus’ of the public. On the other hand, the ND set out to influence civil society, thus bringing down some of the nationalist barriers that fascist and nationalist parties relied on. What is interesting here is that both the EU and right wing movements have been successful in targeting their areas, yet both lack traction in the other. By this I mean, right wing movements have been able to gain enough support at the public level, but have struggled to win at a national level. The EU has had the opposite problem, they have achieved some success integrating at the national level yet have lacked civil society support. Nonetheless, it is interesting that both the EU and the right-wing movements have integrated Europe in their own ways.

This week’s readings have turned some of the concepts I once took as fact, on its head. The first is put forward by Bar-On when he brings up the “now widespread strategy of inversion, of turning universalist, multicultural anti-racism into a form of racism, was picked up from the ND” (207).  This turning on its head of liberal values is actually quite ingenious. While the ND was able to trans-nationally influence the content of other groups in Europe, they also struggled. Such is the case of Portugal, where according to Marchi, the Portuguese intellectuals and right-wing groups seemed to be “influenced less by the content and more by the methods of the French ND”(243). This is not too surprising, as cultural context within different states will vary and thus require right wing groups to adapt their message accordingly. Marchi also argues that the ND was unsuccessful in cultivating a pan-European identity within in Portugal. Again I find this a bit harsh, as building pan-European identities has always been a daunting task for any group, including large institutions like the EU.

Remembering the stories of the Holocaust

The fall of the Nazi regime left many societal questions to be answered. Who was to be deemed a perpetrator? a survivor? How would this be determined? Was society at large ready to self reflect and address the horrors committed?

Werner Sollors article Everybody gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text, outlines one of the ways that were chosen to attempt to identify those that had supported the Nazi regime. One of the questions required German employment seekers to identify who they had voted for in elections prior to the war. Similarly the “Medelbogen” questionnaire asked for a self classification into one of 5 categories of offenders (major, offender, lesser offender, follower, or persons exonerated). These were just a part of the efforts of identifying perpetrators that were not as prominent as those being tried at the Nuremburg Trials. I question the successfulness of some of these methods, as for example self identification could allow perpetrators to lie or mislead their roles, something that was researched by Mary Fulbrook.

Fulbrook attempts to answer some of these questions by looking at how perpetrators dealt with the actions they had taken under the Nazi regime. Through her research she identified that perpetrators in most cases would use the strategy of self distancing by arguing ignorance or innocence in the crimes committed during the war. Further, this type of self distancing was bot only used by the nazi perpetrators, but those victims who were placed within Primo Levi’s “Gray Zone”. The Gray Zone is a moral zone where victims committed crimes themselves out of self preservation, this was the case of the Jewish Kapos or Sonderkommandos.

This was only half of the story; how would society react to the stories of the victims? Would the victims be able to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust? Fulbrook shows that victims immediately after the war tended to share their experiences amongst themselves. However, overtime this changed for a variety of reasons, but the most important was “not so much a matter of survivors “finding a voice” as of the emergence of audiences willing to listen”. One interesting point Fulbrook raises is the importance of technology in capturing these stories. She argues that technology such as VHS and Betamax meant that “No longer were there just a handful of published, literary representations, penned by a few well-known names; now hundreds of thousands of ordinary people were able to “tell their story”. I was left wondering how things would have gone if it were not for technology that allowed for these stories to be captured and more importantly widely accessible? Would people have been able to reach such a large audience with their stories? History up until this point had always been recorded by historians and therefore required to some extent a barrier to entry for the public, i.e. they had to be interested and have access to the texts. Whereas the ability of historians and groups to record the stories of survivors and distribute to anyone that had a tv meant that the barrier for entry was vastly reduced.

Populism’s Co-opting of Religion

Europe finds itself navigating a state of Euroscepticism, xenophobia, and right-wing populist movements. At its core, populism pits the ‘pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’. For different groups, this means different things. Most attribute populist rhetoric as nationalistic and socio-economically driven. Religion offers many benefits for populist groups, yet is overlooked in much of the literature. This article attempts to highlight that populist group also draw upon religion as a means to rally ‘the people’.

By basing their identity in Christian culture, populists thus require something to stand in opposition to their ideals and their ‘people’. David French elaborates this point by arguing that populism typically uses mass mobilization against an opposing force. Islam has typically filled this role. This is likely due to the recent immigration crisis that Europe recently faced. Susi Meret and Andreas Beyer Gregerson argue that Islam has transformed into a floating signifier for the Danish People’s Party. They go on to say that “Islam is represented as a main religious and cultural challenger that threatens national identity and security”. National identity here is not limited to the Danish case. Rather any populist group can argue this. Donald Trump has attempted repeatedly to impose a travel ban on Middle Eastern countries because any Muslim could be a threat. The simple fact that a person can be banned because they come from a country where Islam is practiced may seem ludicrous to most, but this type of action and rhetoric strikes a cord with right-wing populists.

It is clear that right-wing populist groups are using religion as an identity, one that they can coopt to represent ‘the pure people’. Populist leader Viktor Orban has recently changed the branding of his government from an “Illberal democracy” to that of a “Christian democracy”. Going further Orban stated earlier this year that “Unless we protect our Christian culture we will lose Europe and Europe will no longer belong to Europeans”. This eludes to the Orban governments stance against immigration, by tying this to Christian culture. Orban has been able to appeal to those who may not be religious but do view immigration negatively. In the case of Hungary, it is clear that the government is becoming increasingly anti immigration and opposed to multiculturalism, likely due to Orban’s coopting of Christian culture.

But is all of this to be unexpected? Nadia Marzouki and Duncan McDonnell seem to think otherwise. They argue that There is nothing new about right-wing populists exploiting religion for political gain. Populism has been known to be very pragmatic and fluid in the make up of policy. Religion serves as a great platform for populists as it already has an established support base that shares a common identity. Not only that, populists are then able to twist long held beliefs to further their own cause. This cause as demonstrated above focuses on limiting immigration to protect the Christian way of life. By doing so, populists paint a picture of doom, one that they alone can offer salvation against. They tell the ‘people’ that the country’s problems are not their fault. Rather, the people are morally upright citizens who are victims of the elites.

Unfortunately, this trend overall seems to be growing, as the new European Commission, which has yet to be created, has already got a taste of populist backlash. In this case, the wound was self inflicted, as according to some, the proposed vice president of “Protecting Our European Way of Life” echoes the far-right rhetoric. This sparked an immediate response from the left with critics arguing that this position title identifies Europe as white and Christian, and migration from the Middle East and Africa as a threat to that identity. This example demonstrates that right-wing populist groups are now being closely identified with Christian values. More importantly, it appears that both the populist and the ‘other’ are both starting to see right-wing populism through the lens of religion.

Women in Nazi Germany

In Hitler’s Furies Wendy Lower shines the spotlight on the role of women in Nazi Germany and their role in the regimes violence. While there are many good arguments throughout the book, I found some arguments less persuasive. The first argument that fell short was when Lower draws comparisons between the typology of men and women perpetrators (163) and concludes that these women perpetrators came from varying backgrounds and the violence they exhibited was diverse. All of the examples in the book prior to this have attempted to paint women’s role and typology in a different colour, but any of these examples could have easily been perpetrated by a man or woman. On a similar note, Lower states that “But of course not all female camp guards were killers, not all female killers were camp guards; a huge number of victims in the East were killed outside camp walls” (142-143). This statement makes it hard to understand what exactly as readers we should make of the individual stories of the women in this book that carried of these atrocities.

In my opinion, the theme that these men and women came of age when Hitler was rising to power is interesting from a psychological perspective. Lower touches on this topic briefly when she elaborates on the indoctrination of girls starting at the age of 10. This is interesting as it raises the question of how society and norms influence individuals and what extent some are willing to go to ‘fit in’. This is something that I believe could be researched more in-depth, the reasoning and motives behind some of the worst perpetrators may be explainable, but that of the common man or woman I would argue has not been explained adequately enough in Lower’s book. By researching this area, one may be able to demonstrate that one of the main driving factors behind the regime, was the regimes successful indoctrination and desensitization of its public. I believe if true, this line of argument would be stronger than Lower’s account of individual cases, which for those cases may be sufficient but for a larger explanation on how some many people, both men and women, committed such crimes.

The area that I think this book succeeds in is that it highlights the importance of how systemic the Nazi ideas were in society for both women and men. It raises the question if we can ever truly know the extent of what really happened and what true motivations lead these seemingly normal men and women to carry out such terrible things. The biggest contribution by this book is that it has been clearly demonstrated that the role of women in the Nazi regime has been overlooked and under represented in the literature and that this is an area that should be explored in greater detail.

Stemming the Populist Tide: Has Europe’s Populist Surge Lost Its Momentum? Not Quite

By Stuart Strang

In recent years, a populist wave has swept the European continent. The tides of populist electoral success instilled a fear that the European project was dead, and that fascism may soon rear its face once again. 

The success of populist groups has been attributed to their tactics of nativism and charismatic leaders. Populist political parties seek to overturn current political systems by pitting the ‘people’ against the ‘corrupt elite’. Leaders of populist groups claim that they alone speak for the ‘people’. This combination has proven effective for leaders such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Penn, and Gert Wilders. Despite success, the high tide of populism that had risen across the European continent may be lessening. 

The Austrian general election this week showcased the latest loss for populist parties in Europe. The right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) lost over a third of its seats. This is a major blow to populist parties, as the FPÖ was a shining example of success for populist parties. Prior to the election the FPÖ were a part of the leading coalition in Austria. Due to scandal, the FPÖ is now unlikely to be included in the new majority. 

Is the Austrian case localized or a part of a larger trend of populist decline?

Looking elsewhere in Europe, it is clear that populist parties have been struggling to keep their momentum.  Most notably, the European Parliament election earlier this year saw populist parties failing to make significant gains. Other examples include the Italian Lega being ousted from power.

 With the losses mounting for populists’, media outlets have started to question if populism has peaked. Has the populist tide lost its momentum? Not Quite. 

Europe is not out of the woods yet.

While populist success has somewhat stagnated, populist parties across European countries are still making significant headway electorally. This year alone saw populist parties at the national level in Belgium, Estonia , and Finland make significant gains. This does not appear to be slowing down, as polls also show the Law and Justice Party in Poland with a large lead ahead of the Polish general election on October 13th. Despite less than expected success in the European Parliament election, statements such as “The populists’ finish isn’t that much stronger than in 2014”  can be misleading. Put in context, 2014 was the watershed year for populist parties’ success. 

But how are populist parties continuing their electoral successes? 

Two explanations offer great insight. 

The first explanation highlights the flexibility of populist groups. “The People” that populists claim to represent is deliberately loosely defined. Who fits into the in-group defined as ‘the people’ is very fluid. Prominent populist scholar Cas Mudde warns that defining “Us” and “Them” is crucial for the success of far-right populist parties, and the boundaries are constantly shifting”. Populist’s are able to dynamically adapt their policy and rhetoric to better match current political trends.

The second explanation has been a lessening in radical policy.  Most prominently, the elimination of calls to leave the European Union. Ironically this  shift in rhetoric is due to the populist success of Brexit. The chaos that Brexit has caused has led continental populist parties to adjust course on their policies to leave the European Union towards less radical policies. By promoting less radical policy, populists stand to reach more moderate voters who feel disenfranchised by other mainstream parties. 

Populism in Europe is undergoing some stagnation. However, populist parties have demonstrated the ability to be flexible and sustain electoral success. 

To claim that European populism is on its way out would be a mistake, the tide may be out at the moment but will soon return if unchecked. 

Masculinity’s Many Faces in Illiberal Regimes

Once again, the theme of fascist use of pragmatism in order to control and shape the public and military was apparent in this weeks readings. On the extreme side, Barbra Spackman in Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy illustrates the fascist fascination with ‘manly’ behaviour and traits was illustrated best through the description of what great lengths Mussolini took to appear ultra masculine and virile. Mussolini taking extreme measures such as shaving his head, having no references to family or fatherhood, and what I found the most ridiculous; keeping the lights on at night to show his devotion, all to keep up his manly appearance and demonstrate his virility.

Thomas Kuhne also highlighted similar core ‘ideal’ traits of masculinity such: physical, emotional, and moral ‘hardness’. More importantly, Kuhne introduces the concept of ‘protean masculinity’, which he argues allowed soldiers to have both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ or ‘tender’ masculinity. According to Kuhne, soldiers were able to remain ‘tough’ while also adopting more ‘feminine’ roles without undermining the soldier’s manliness. This fluidity was seen in acts where soldiers showed tender masculinity in the loss of a comrade. Protean masculinity allowed for greater adoption and inclusion of less ‘manly’ traits, this concept was the pragmatic way for the fascist regime to create an ‘ideal man’ while also accounting for the realities of war, loss, and suffering on soldiers. Interestingly, Protean Masculinity has to be situated within a group and hierarchy. Those that expressed more ‘soft’ masculinity were able to due to the perception that they were the exceptions to the rule of masculinity and hardness, which meant they conformed to the rules and more importantly to the dominance of the alpha males. In my opinion, this also brings up the fascist idea of putting the nation above yourself. By accepting the hierarchy and seeing themselves as exceptions to the rule, soldiers were buying into the narrative. Kuhne raises the point that Protean Masculinity was “In essence, it was all about fitting in. Accepting the priority of the group’s “we” over the individual “I” granted the latter some leeway. This did not mean that all men were equal when it came to assessing their degree of manliness, or that various emotional states were considered equal.”

Lastly, I found it interesting that there was a somewhat common theme of men coming back to society facing a difficult adjustment, German soldiers and Russian prisoners alike. Both had faced a group hierarchy that changed them and in some cases their masculinity. The idea of prisons being ‘homogenic’, that is prisons being the source of many instances of same-sex behaviours lead to many Russian’s, once no longer prisoners, being singled out by the public as at that time homosexuality was tied to Stalinization, something which was to be looked down upon. The article by Healy really showed how inhumane pragmatism could be under these regimes. This can be seen in the case of same sex relations within the gulags being counterproductive in the eyes of the Gulag managers, which lead to homosexual relations having a blind eye, as these relations were not as counterproductive to the camps.

Control, Culture, and Technocracy

By Stuart Strang

In this week’s readings, I have clustered a few general themes that I thought were the driving forces behind the fascist efforts of tourism, leisure, and consumerism. These themes are: Control, Culture and Technocracy.

Control

Germany under National Socialist rule attempted to spread its message and control consumerism through the KfD (Strength through Joy). To achieve this, Germany dedicated significant monetary resources (free trips, subsidies, etc) as well as manpower (Gestapo agents) to promote and monitor mass tourism. One of the most prominent cases for the ‘success’ of mass tourism was the average German’s exposure (through subsidized travel) to other less fortunate living standards in other countries. By witnessing what other people were accustomed to; Germans saw their circumstances in a different, more favorable light and thus painted the regime in a better light as well.

Culture

The fascist regime in Italy faced a different set of circumstances in comparison to Germany, such as a weaker national identity, lesser access to resources to devote towards its programs, and a different approach to implementing a culture of fascism to promote a new national identity. In Italy, the emergence of this “mass leisure” was thus closely tied to the specific ends of the fascist regime. While the regime was able to subsidize some of the costs for events such a movie tickets, radios, and sports; there were other areas where the regime faced clear class divisions such as professional theaters and high-level sports. The regime thus attempted to promote an Italian culture through tying the OND (and in a general sense the regime) to these past times. For example, Victoria de Grazia argues that “the regime in effect appropriated as its own a whole series of popular pastimes, incorporating what had previously been experienced as autonomous expressions of class or community into the social life of the state, associating them with its official activities and infusing them with new competitiveness” (170). I think in comparison to the German or Spanish case, the Italian attempts to promote tourism and culture was the least well received, as there seemed to be a general trend of great interest by the public at the introduction to new activities and events, but was followed with a quick diminish in interest.

 Technocracy

As Crumbaugh highlights in Prosperity and Freedom Under Franco: the Grand Invention of Tourism, the Franco government in the late 1950’s underwent a massive change of economic governance, towards a more technocratic economic policy. At the time, tourism in Spain became a prominent success for the country. Crumbaugh argues that “The power exercised through the spectacle of tourism, in other words, was constructive rather than repressive.” (20). Lastly, I found it interesting that tourism may have also contributed to the regimes downfall by allowing for such openness and socialization to democratic ideas. Personally, I found the Spanish case to be the most compelling for the fascist state being able to exert direct influence and control over the public. However, this was likely due to the fact that the policy the regime pursued was heavily economic and constructive.

Question: Other than for pragmatic reasons, were there any common elements of a fascist approach between Germany, Italy, or Spain?

Internationalism’s Relationship with Fascism

Prior to this week’s readings, I would have not considered the relationship between fascism and internationalism as ambivalent, rather I would have thought that fascism was against internationalism. However, as the articles by Motadel and Ben-Ghiat point out, fascist regimes did create networks centred around fascist ideology and had real interest in having Internationalist aspirations. In “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt Against Empire”, Motadel showed that Berlin was a significant hub for anticolonial nationalists and had an ideological appeal to fascist (as well as other groups). Ben-Ghait focused on the Italian colonial motivations, specifically in Ethiopia. What I found very interesting in this article was that fascist groups started cultural exchange networks with other fascist groups in Europe, something that I would think would not be so intuitive at first glance. The networks created in both of these cases share two similar traits, the perceived credibility gained from connecting with other fascist groups, especially colonial aspirations (groups claimed that they their colonial aspirations were to bring modernity to the countries they conquered) and as a result of credibility came closer unity in ideological terms.

In order to support these claims of modernity and cultural change, fascist groups have to create an “Other”. The example Ben-Ghait illustrates is the “Aryanization” of Italy, which allowed Italian fascist to change the narrative around the idea Italy did in fact have a strong national identity and that be imposing racial laws, fascists could then blame “internal Others for Italy’s supposed backwardness and subordinate position in the European hierarchy”. By creating the “other”, the Italian fascists were able to unify their own identity domestically, project the claim they bring modernity to the “other” (Ethiopia), and gain credibility internationally through association with similar groups. The Hanebrink article also touches on the points above and more clearly demonstrates the idea of Othering in the interest of delegitimizing these groups for political or ideological gain. In Hanebrink’s article it is clear that while some prominent leaders in revolutions were Jewish, not all Jews were revolutionary or even shared any of the same ideas or views of these leaders. The process of “othering” the Jewish community, leading to the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism, was according to Hanebrink achieved through: “a long history of associating Jews and Judaism with heresy, misrule and social disharmony; well established beliefs in an international Jewish conspiracy, and the figure of the Jewish Bolshevik embodied in secularized form much older fears of Jewish fanaticism”. Once the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism was established, the repercussions were drastic, leading to many Jewish leaders having to distance themselves from revolutionary groups, although even this was typically limited in changing the publics view of them.

In a contemporary context, Motadel argues that internationalism and todays nationalist groups are not necessarily incompatible. This is due to internationalism as a concept presuming the existence and prominence of the nation state; nation states that can share a ‘common’ struggle that nationalists can rally around and, in some cases, work with other similar groups across borders. I think that internationalism can to some extent have a relation to nationalist and fascist practices and ideologies.

Is Populism the New Fascism?

Both populism and fascism are concepts that are often used in today’s media coverage. While populism and fascism are sometimes used loosely together, the traits of each have been well covered, albeit contentiously. However, the issue arises due to the definition of each is rarely agreed upon and defined definitively. This is problematic as it can lead to questions like the one posed by Federico Finchelstein: “should we brace ourselves for an ideological storm similar to the one fascism precipitated when it first appeared a little less than one hundred years ago”? Unpacking this question requires a great amount of attention due to its potential implications and requires the elaboration of terminology.

Fascism as a concept has seen great debate within the academic literature, from definitions such as “Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra nationalism” by Roger Griffin to more detailed and elaborate definitions by Roger Paxton. Paxton sets out a list of features to define Fascism (sense of crisis, primacy of group toward a superior, victimhood of the group, general sense of group decline, closer group integration, the beauty of violence, etc.)

Populism on the other hand is more traditionally defined as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite” (Cas Mudde ). Populist politicians typically claim that they alone speak for “the people” against the elites, with “the people”, often the difference between the groups is argued on a moral basis with the “people” being the morally superior going against the “corrupt”. It is important to note that populism defers from fascism as the concept does not fall into dictatorship, populism only manifests within democracies.

Finchelstein makes an important distinction that populism is a form or permutation of authoritarian democracy, whereas fascism is ultra violent dictatorship. I believe some of the confusion that manifests in media coverage occurs because of populist leaders rhetoric being misconstrued, while leaders like Trump may have illiberal agendas, that does not translate to a complete abolition of the democratic way, which would be the case if he was a fascist. This is what I believe is at the heart of Paxton’s idea of “echoes of fascism” when referring to rhetoric and agenda. Additionally, the “people” defined in populist literature is unlikely to match with a fascist understanding of the “group”. This does not mean that the groups found in populism and fascism would not share similar experiences, such as the features set out by Paxton. For example, populist leaders can use events such as the “immigration crisis” in Europe as a rallying call to spur the emotion of a sense of decline and accompanying perceived victim hood of the group who are losing out due to the crisis. It could be argued that the only difference between the populist using this technique and a fascist would be that the fascist would incite violence and go further in their calls to change the system, not just change it but dismantle it entirely.