Pragmatic Alliances – The Far-Right Working Together

Wesley M.

How does one explain the dangerous relationship between the far-right radicals in our current era and the movement of internationalism that are present nowadays? Well on the surface that question might seem like a contradiction in terms given that far-right radicals typically espouse their own country first policies and seem unlikely to be willing to support other countries over their own.

The answer obviously lies within the fact that many of the far-right movements in France, Spain, Germany) are all seeking the same thing: political power and legitimacy within their own countries because in order for each group to accomplish their own individual goals all must be in power first. Therefore, to succeed, they will need to pragmatically work together, seeking cooperation with each other, and that cooperation is the true danger.

Pragmatic alliances between their various extremist groups despite differing levels of power or differing views on certain issues is not historically unprecedented. For example, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were allied during the 1936 Spanish Civil War with Franco’s fascist army.[1] During World War II the Axis alliance between Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany was an alliance of fascist and authoritarian powers each with their own interests. Indeed, one of the most historically interesting alliances that the Nazis made is seldom talked about but perfectly reinforces the point of far-right pragmatism, is the alliance between Nazi Germany and the various anticolonial powers that worked with the Nazis. These anti-colonialists were united by either resentment towards their colonizers or because they preferred the totalitarian style of government they witnessed in Nazi Germany to the liberal democracies that they been dealing with under their colonizers, while the Nazis assisted them in order to strengthen their own war effort (post-Stalingrad) and seeking to thereby weaken their European enemies, while in fact being divided internally over actually assisting the anti-colonialists.[2]Despite this ‘alliance’ being made against the Allies, ultimately the anti-colonialists weren’t viewed as having an equal relationship with Nazi Germany because they were “dependent on the regime and its resources.”[3] thus reiterating the fact that just like now far-right groups can work together because they will have better luck at success despite not fully agreeing with each other.

Motadel’s argument about the danger of contemporary far-right groups is that even if they don’t get along or aren’t fully allied they are still dangerous if they can agree on certain issues such as “which enemies to confront, which institutions to weaken, which values to assault.”[4] Therefore the far-right still has the potential to undermine the various legitimate democratic voices that are currently blocking their path to power.

[1] David Motadel, “Opinion | The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It,” The New York Times, July 3, 2019, sec. Opinion,

[2] David Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877, 869-870.

[3] Motadel, “The Global Authoritarian Moment”: 873.

[4] Motadel, “Opinion”.


Motadel, David. “Opinion | The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It.” The New York Times, July 3, 2019, sec. Opinion.

Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire”, The American Historical Review, Volume 124, Issue 3, June 2019, Pages 843–877,

Oversimplification, incorrect labels causes a resurgence of populism confused with fascism

Wesley M

            The central linking argument for this week’s readings and podcast is that the terms fascism and populism are often (either because of intentional bias or just genuine ignorance), commonly conflated within public discourse resulting in the majority of people incorrectly believing that the two terms mean the same thing; an authoritarian dictatorship, instead of their very different definitions. This incorrect labelling is in fact distracting from the real current issue: the fact that populism is resurging throughout Europe and North America and appears to be quickly gaining ground primarily due to discontent while more traditional political parties seek to maintain their relevance.

One of the most interesting things about these readings is that scholars are also divided on the issue of whether populism or fascism can be applicable terms for what we are dealing with in the world today. As the podcast of Professor Rogers Brubaker, the book by Robert Paxton, and the articles by Cas Mudde and Victoria de Grazia all show their own unique perspectives on this issue through their own separate discussions of the history of fascism as well as several deconstructions of the meaning of fascism and/or populism. Despite some minor differences in argument or focus, all of those mentioned above, appear to share the belief that populism can in fact be an accurate representative term for contemporary events around the world, but only if the term is used correctly.[1]

In contrast the article by Federico Finchelstein seeks to downplay the possible underlying correlation between the two terms by arguing against Paxton’s view on Trump not being a fascist, by viewing populism as being a post-fascism response to the perceived failures of neoliberal democratic institutions.[2] Professsor Brubaker discusses how the politicians failing to respond adequately to recent crises (2008 crash, Eurozone, 2015 refugee crisis, 2015-2017 terrorist attacks, Brexit) have allowed for those issues to become united and in turn strengthened populism’s appeal to the discontented masses, who don’t understand the danger populism due to not understanding what populism actually means.[3]

The best way to explain the danger of confusing populism and fascism with each other is by looking at the five steps of the fascist cycle: “(1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.”[4] populists and fascists being different is irrelevant because the terms being conflated together has allowed their original meaning to become joined in the public’s opinion and as the past years demonstrate populists being elected could gradually erode that country’s democracy, which in turn could ultimately create a dictatorship. So the best way to prevent this is to give an accurate explanation of the terms to show why populist leaders are able to appeal to the public.[5] This may allow the opposition to effectively counter them than just sticking them with the fascist/populist label.

[1] Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes); Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), 23.; Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 581.; Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square

[2] Federico 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).: 11-12, 18-19.; I wonder if Paxton’s viewpoint is changed following the capital riot on January 6, 2021?

[3] Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes).

[4] Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 23.

[5] de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism”.


My name is Wesley Massey. I’m a 4th year undergrad History student (this is my 6th and final year).

I’m very interested in European history of any time period (medieval, early-modern, modern, contemporary). My specific interest is looking at how power works, why certain populist leaders are permitted by their societies to accomplishes their agendas (no matter how controversial or damaging to the country they may in fact be), and most importantly how those autocratic or populist feaders maintain their influence and legitimacy. I’ll put it another way, that might resonate better by quoting a rather famous author “Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”[1]

I’m interested in learning more about how the far-right is able to maintain itself when the majority are not behind them in this class.

In my spare time I enjoy reading, writing, playing chess, and hanging out with my dogs.

[1] George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. 1998. New York: Bantam, 2000. 131-132.