Is populism a ghost from the past or child of this century?

By Didem KAYA

Today, the shadow of fascism becomes more evident in the rapid spread of populist political movements in different regions, especially in Europe. While the external conditions, such as economic problems, social resentment, and political despair underscores the similarities that set the ground for the emergence of fascist and populist regimes in different eras, tendencies, such as anti-elitism, majoritarianism, revisionism, and anti-democracy draw attention to their shared practices and methods, uncovering the direct link between them. Analyzing the looming two-dimensional danger resulted from the proliferation of populist governments necessarily entails the examination of the substantial ramifications of their fascist predecessors on both national and international scales.

Populist movements come to power by using the methods of democracy and claim that they are the “democrats” and they really have the “democracy”. On the other hand, I think that populist movements are fundamentally authoritarian. The main reason for this is their moralistic orientation. They draw a clear-cut framework on what kind of morality the society should have, and they impose this on the whole society. Hitler was a populist leader until he brought the bourgeoisie to his side, but from then on he became a fascist leader. In that respect, we should perhaps see populism as a preliminary step in some future fascist regimes. Finchelstein makes the necessity of explaining the concept of fascism accurately and clearly by stating that it is always inclined to resemble populism. According to the him, every populism is not fascism. There is a good reason why he dwells on this issue a lot, because, when the concept of populism is used carelessly to describe any nonviolent, authoritarian regime, the concept of fascism takes on an even more exaggerated demonism. Thus, it shows oppresion populist goverments very innocent in the eyes of societies and international masses. I’ve thought before about where fascism started. Fascism does not start with the first bombs dropped nor does it begin with terrorism, which can be written about in any newspaper. Fascism begins in relations between people.

Today, experts and politicians use fascism loosely to describe not only populism, but also authoritarian regimes, international terrorism or oppressive stances of states, or even street protests of the opposition. This definition is historically problematic, such careless uses of the concept of fascism demonize populism but fail to explain the historical reasons that brought it about. Putting fascism and populism in the same bag often results in the status quo being presented as the only alternative to populist options.”

Populism is now considered as a concept that opens every door. Populism and populist labels are applied to movements, leaders and politics in different countries. Based on these designations, while there is no doubt that populism as a phenomenon has a transnational character, the debate about populism is going to take a long time. Although Federico Finchelstein states  populism is not fascism,” indeed, both of them are rising together ,The article showed us that fasicm use the same language in all era. Fascism is a global ideology reformulated itself in different  national context and undergo national  permutations.Fascism is  Hitler from Germany, Mussolini  from  Italy.  Despite the fact that author allegated in his article, fascism drop back in the 1945 and never come back again, I do not blieve that it left behind, because we have still felt his affect and result.

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).

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square

Cas 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.

Understanding the Historicity of Populism and Fascism.

By Ali Yasin

One of the most prevalent challenges faced by academics when attempting to analyze/interpret the ideologies of fascism and populism, is distinguishing them as a historical phenomenon from their common use as pejorative political labels.  As Victoria de Grazia notes in “What we don’t understand about Fascism”, the use of the terms fascist and populist to stigmatize one’s political opponents has been almost ubiquitous in the modern political landscape since the end of the Second World War. Movements across the ideological spectrum including the social democratic Jeremy Corby and Bernie Sanders factions of the Labour and Democratic parties respectively, as well as the wing right nationally conservative regimes of Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Law and Justice party in Poland, have all equally been described as populist. Likewise, the term fascist is frequently used not only to describe actions of many governments by their opponents, but also by those same governments to characterize the nature of their opposition and subsequently delegitimize them.

Frederico Finchelstein convincingly attributes this problematic tendency to inclination of scholars and the public to regard fascism and populism as ahistorical concepts, in his introduction to “From Fascism to Populism in History”.  Rather than understanding both political systems as the outcomes of historical processes and both the material and ideological evolution of the modern nation state, they are instead often seen as spontaneous aberrations appearing only as temporary detours from the overarching historical narrative of ever expanding liberal-democracy This inevitably reduces them from empirical phenomenon with concrete historical causes and characteristics, to vague transnational metaphors for a number of contradictions faced by the contemporary neoliberal global hegemonic order.  Furthermore, it also obscures the historic and theoretical relationship between the development of both fascism and populism.

Both fascism and populism can be described as a reactions to the political and material crises created by the simultaneously liberal and imperialist Anglo-American led global order of the 19th and 20th centuries. They differ definitively however on their relationship to and potential place within the spectrum of democratic governance. Fascism with its open embrace of both political violence and totalitarian leadership, is intrinsically antithetical to any form of democracy, liberal or otherwise. Although fascist movements routinely built on the theoretical approaches established by the early populists of the mid to late 19th century, they radically departed from their predecessors with their holistic rejection of democracy as a source of political power. The success of the fascist agenda inherently necessitates a complete dismantling of the democratic process and concurrent institutions. By contrast, populism with its tenants of majoritarianism and antagonistic repoliticization, conceives of itself within a democratic paradigm. While populist leaders like their fascist counterparts, often portrayed themselves as quasi-messianic figures with the privileged and often exclusive position of being able to speak on behalf of “the people”, they legitimated their authoritarian rule on the basis of majoritarian representation rather than socially Darwinian understanding of the ethnic nation and its relationship with outside groups. They also claim that a powerful leader is needed not to bypass the democratic process entirely, but to counteract the corrosive effect of the elites on democratic representation. These distinguishing characteristics have defined populism as a political ideology distinct from fascism both before and after its emergence in the early 1920s. Therefore, populism can be better understood as a form of authoritarian democracy that thrives in highly unequal political/economic systems, rather than a public relations driven recharacterization of fascism for the post-war era.

Works Cited:

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

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-historymussolini- hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

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).

Illiberal Democracy

By: Alison Miller

   “Illiberal democracy” came up in some of the readings this week, and I think it is this concept that best helps to define populism, but I also felt that adding Mudde’s argument that the populist affiliation comes second to a person’s “Host ideology” adds necessary nuance to the idea. These concepts simplify ways that populists interact with the political systems that they are a part of, allowing the term populism to remain at least partly amorphous in order to remain flexible in accordance with the need of the scholar. There very little use in a word meant to label that is so inflexible so as to not recognise new forms of itself arising without putting a name to it.

That same thing is part of my frustration with the opinion of most of this week’s authors. The question of how we use the word fascism in the modern day seems to be a sticking point for most of them. While I don’t disagree that the term ‘fascism’ is overused, the pedantic idea of only using it when it is either referring to historic fascism, or if the occasion perfectly matches that of Mussolini’s Italy is a bit of a means the word becomes so inflexible so as to be useless. I think that there must be a middle ground somewhere that allows certain sets of actions to be related to fascism without needing to pepper the word in absolutely everywhere, as well as recognising that academia will be using words like fascism in different ways than groups like antifa, social media users, newsgroups, etc.

Of all of the articles this week, I enjoyed Gavriel Rosenfeld’s the most, as his analysis of illiberal memory is at once new to me while also being completely recognisable. His critique of liberal memory-making was convincing, alongside multiple international examples of where memory-making has been co-opted by illiberal and populist leaders. What I felt was the strongest part of Rosenfeld’s argument was the concept that liberals were so focused on the creation of memory that they failed to acknowledge the real politics going on around them.

One of the things I would have enjoyed reading is an analysis of illiberal democratic leaders and their treatment of newer events. It feels as though if an event happens that counters what a populist leader wants, they are quick to say that the event did not happen, or it happened differently than the way it did. It would be an interesting study to see the treatment of events by liberal democratic leaders versus illiberal, and whether it is personal bias that leads me to think that illiberal leaders are more prone to re-writing even recent history in order to promote themselves.

Given the contents of this week’s readings, I feel like adding a version of the tradition anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” is not out of place.

Us Vs. Them: A Simplistic and Reductive Division of Society

Declan Da Barp

In the modern historical arenas of Twitter and cable TV terms like Populist, Fascist, and Authoritarian are being thrown around largely without their historical context. As Victoria de Grazia states “calling people ‘fascists’ has been as American as apple pie for as long as I can remember.” With that said, the arguments in this week’s readings fail to agree on a definition for any of these terms but rather discussed them as processes gleaned from historic events. Robert Paxton, Federico Finchelstein, and Cas Mudde underline that these ideologies are innately fluid enterprises that morph based on local contexts. The common line drawn between their arguments is that fascism and populism have transnational similarities, but an individual regime cannot be exported. As Paxton writes about Fascist regimes, though it could as easily be written about Populist ones, “Fascism, unlike the other “isms,” is not for export,” (20). This can is because the idea of the “people” changes based on the local context.

Mudde outlines that populism divides the world into two groups the “pure people” and the “corrupt elites” (578). The definition of people varies from regime to regime and is based on the political persuasion of the state but across the populist movement, the monolithic people are to be protected by the state while this same protection is not extended to the elites. In Fascism, scientific racism and social Darwinism are harnessed to create the “people,” blood matters before any other distinguisher (Paxton, 16). While innately tied to the post-war context that gave birth to the ideology, there is a clear line between both Fascism and Populism. Proponents of both see the state existing to serve the monolithic majority while leaving no space for minorities. The dividing line being the use of violence, which Finchelstein sees as the divide between both fascism and populism (23-24). There is no discussion of violence within Mudde’s piece and while this cannot be understood to say that violence does not factor within the populist worldview it does not hold the centrality that it does in fascism.

From the reading, I come away with a simple question: how has the violence that is so central to the fascist ideology clouded our understanding of it? And due to the popular conflation of the two, how has this impacted populism?

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square

https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-historymussolini- hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

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).

Cas 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.

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23.

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) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000:; 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 https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

[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”.

Aesthetic Definitions of Fascism

Dani Carron

Beyond the search for political or historical definitions, a common theme that struck me in this week’s readings was the authors’ engagement with the aesthetics of fascism. The readings touched on several prominent historical examples, including the recognizable coloured shirts associated with fascist movements & their followers (Finchelstein 18), as well as fascists’ interests in the aesthetics of architecture, modernity, race, health & body (Paxton 13). Several authors made these aesthetics fundamental to their introduction of fascism as a subject: Robert Paxton refers to fascism as “the most self-consciously visual of all political forms” (9), while de Grazia quotes Susan Sontag in referring to the United States “being beguiled by fascism’s kitschy aesthetics.” It seems that aesthetics are essential both to fascists themselves, as they pursue a power and cosmology rooted in particular aesthetics, and to the public interacting with them, as these aesthetics allow them to both admire and participate in fascist politics. As Paxton describes, fascism harnessed the power of emotions through dramatic displays and rituals, and while these images (falsely) dominate our notions of fascist regimes, this nonetheless points to the emotional traction of fascist aesthetics among various publics.

Having established aesthetics as an essential component of fascist power-wielding, I wonder if it might be worth pursuing this theme further into the realm of definition. What value might an aesthetic definition, rather than a political, ideological or literal one, offer both researchers and the wider public? To a non-academic audience, are aesthetics more easily communicated than complex definitions or critical debate? Do they leave room for nuance otherwise not enabled by finite definition? Within a contemporary context, having an understanding the aesthetic coding of fascism might prove useful within visual-centric media – and the contemporary far-right, more broadly, have already been using particular aesthetics to signal value systems that would otherwise be frowned upon (or easily identified) if made explicit.

There might be objections to this approach, despite the inclusion of aesthetics in nearly all of this week’s readings. Some authors expressed concern for studying ‘style’ over content, particularly in regards to populism (Finchelstein 2, and Mudde 578). Paxton raises issues with definitions outright, arguing that these present processes as a stagnant framed “picture” or “frozen statuary” (14). Despite this visual imagery, however, I’d suggest that aesthetics are more amenable to transnational connections, differences and transformations than strict ‘universal’ political definitions. In the case of fascism, aesthetics (and the emotions they invoke) appear to stand in for traditional ideology in the forms of discourse & literature, which Paxton questions even exists in the case of fascism (18) – thus, rather than trying to shape fascism in the image of traditional political thought, it might be more fruitful to learn to identify it by its own particular means of communication and power-making.

Works Cited

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square, August 13th 2020. 

Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past.” In From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017), pp 1-30.

Cas 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.

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23.

Terms: How they are used vs. What they are. Is there a distinction?

Kathleen McKinnon

Rogers Brubaker’s “Why Populism?” podcast posed an interesting thought process of what makes populism and how it has been possibly overapplied in many instances as an evil racist machine. Not that is always true or untrue but it certainly makes clear that terms are not always clear and are not always used or portrayed correctly and thus become even more polarizing. Not only that but without proper definitions and with over applications what is going on in the determining of populism and authoritarian phenomena as eras or just periods, for example as pointed out in the podcast, are not so clear. It is better to understand these terms to determine or try to determine what is going on in the world.

Populism for example, as just the opposition to elites, is a broad definition and needs further exploration to be further understood otherwise it remains broad and in danger of misunderstanding. Both fascism and populism see themselves as the only legitimate form of government, both of these terms likewise have been historically overapplied and both have been seen as negative in a liberal democratic society but also these terms have some differences. (Finchelstein, 5). I get the sense that fascism is seen as more militaristic with the world wars and major revolutions (De Grazia) and that populism is what has risen to power in place to keep down the “other” while using information technology to prove legitimacy. It seems that over time that the authoritarianism which has manifested as fascism has seen a decline in favour of populism. But I would argue that the terms take on a life of their own as defined by popular media. The definitions can be fluid and change depending on how people perceive them and that is the role the media plays in this.

Works Cited

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

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).

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square

https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-historymussolini- hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

Nostalgia for the “isms”

Emma C

The readings this week discussed the terms fascism, populism and authoritarianism and how they have been historically used. The way in which we understand and use these terms today, is often based on figures and moments in history, but the history around these terms is ignored. Both the readings by Robert Paxton and Cas Mudde discuss the ideas of fascism and populism and their gained popularity today.

Paxton’s point about how fascism is a cycle of five stages, but very few events/people make it to the fifth stage, “the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy,” interested me as I had never seen it broken down like that before. It had me thinking that while we may call many leaders fascists, using this cycle they were never true fascists, only echoing the ideology. Paxton also says, “The complex relationship between fascism and modernity cannot be resolved all at once, and with a simple yes or no. It has to be developed in the unfolding story of fascism’s acquisition and exercise of power.” This quote got me thinking about Mudde, as they talk about in their piece that “currently there is a period of nostalgia for the past.” While Mudde discusses the idea of populism, what both authors bring together is this idea that the ideologies of fascism and populism are gaining traction again today, because people want a change, and they see how these ideas worked in the past to make political change.

A question I have is: What harm can come from being nostalgic about the past, without having proper education about it or are people just romanticizing a history because they are unhappy with the present?

Cas 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.

Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23.

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?”

Historical Analogies: Useful or Harmful to Political Discourse?

By Jackie Howell

This week’s readings provided a thought-provoking question: Are historical analogies useful or harmful to political discourse? Gordon and Moyn present two opposing arguments on the tool of analogy; Gordon argues that historical analogies matter to advance our understanding of the present, while Moyn discusses the pitfalls of comparative historical analysis. While both are compelling arguments, one must use historical analogies when appropriate. Historical analogies can be overplayed to appeal to a particular audience, and one can misuse historical analogies to misconstrue current events. As described by Victoria de Grazia, “calling people fascists has been as American as apple pie,” but it is crucial to understand the difference between fascism as a political label and fascism as a historical phenomenon. Otherwise, the public becomes desensitized to fascism and the dangers it represents, leading to an apathetic society.

“History repeats itself” is a common catch-phrase that bears the cyclical image of events repeating every so often. It is human nature to compare and contrast, but does drawing a comparison between the past and present detract from the consequences of such events? While drawing comparisons can be a useful tool of analogy, comparative analysis can often be misleading and can downplay what requires attention, as argued by Charles Maier (Moyn 2020). However, labelling a historical event (such as the Holocaust) as “unique” can often lead to a hierarchy of traumas, risking the implication that some lives are more valuable than others – which ironically plays into the narrative of Trump-ism.

Understanding fascism, populism, and authoritarianism requires historical analogy to determine the similarities and differences between the various definitions over time. Particularly, fascism in the 20th century can be compared and contrasted with fascism in the 21st century. While events are not identical, the rise to power and the appeal to the masses bear a similarity, even if they occurred nearly a century apart. The most telling sign of fascism is the desire to create a dichotomy of us-versus-them. Populist parties have gained significant political breakthrough across Europe, indicating a phenomenon that is becoming common across continents. To understand the current dangers of the populist or fascist phenomenon, it is useful to study Mussolini’s appeal to the masses or the Nazi-Fascist New Order to learn why and how these leaders gained power.

Ignoring history will not transform the present, and comparing the present with the past can often excuse or distract. As proposed by Moyn, clarifying the similarities and differences to bring about a better future must be the goal when using historical analogies. Analogies can guide scholars and resonate with the public, but the focus of the analogy must be on how to avoid repeating harmful or dangerous behaviours. It is easy to compare President Trump with other fascist leaders; however, it is important to understand the social, economic, and political events that created these leaders to prevent a Trump 2.0.

Works Cited

de Grazia, Victoria. “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism.” Zocalo Public Square, 13 Aug. 2020, zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

“DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties.” Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe, demos-h2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/