Week 2 Thoughts

I know this is too late, but I feel like having a base to build the following few articles, as well as the general narrative for the blog is important. Defining the useful terms for the rest of the blog as important as keeping up with the blog week in and week out. I applaud the students who are keeping a cohesive academic narrative and I feel like this course is designed that way. That said, I think I’ll struggle with that because of who I am. I have severe ADHD and I think it would be extremely difficult for me to maintain this strict academic format. Instead, I’ll attempt to tackle each week a slight bit more informally and go through my thought process as a move along in the course, with the goal of taking a more personal look at the affairs of this course and the rise of right wing belief in Europe. I think this’ll provide a more unique view on the affairs of the class. If my thoughts seem jumbled please dont hesitate to let me know, as I’m trying to take this in a different direction.

The second week of the course covered the importance of defining the term fascism, as well as its relationship with populism. The thought that stuck with me was highlighted in both class discussion and especially De Gracia’s article. Her article deals with the oversimplification of the term Fascism. She comments that this term is found and used everywhere possible and a lot of the time, it oversimplifies the term fascism. Fredirico Finklesteins article also mentions that the use of the term fascism and populism both simplify the terms. The general consensus seems to be that the term is far more ambiguous then our media space gives it credit for. I think this is also a result of being in the american media space, where fascism is often denoted as being unequivocally evil and denied the nuance that we as historians need to understand it. If something was without a doubt evil who would ever join? I’m not trying to say that fascism appeals to me, I’m saying that the ideology could not convince anyone to join if it was the oversimplified image of fascism that seems to exist in our current media space. I hope that over the course of this course that I can grow and explore these ideas through my personal lens and build a cohesive blog.

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).

Goal vs Means

D. Khaznadji

It is so easy for our brains to make shortcuts. It is a good way to make the complex — and sometimes scary — world more understandable and more reassuring. It is hard to take the time to think about the contingent nature of our world, to admit that it is not necessarily A alone that leads to B. 

This is exactly what the readings this week showed me: Humans simplifying complex social, economic and political phenomena with shaky historical parallels in order to serve a certain end goal. But while that goal might be totally legitimate, the problem arise when we confuse the goal and the means. The notion of confusing goal and means was introduced to me through psychologists, who argued that we humans suffer in love because we confuse the goal (to love and be loved) with means (verbal affection, physical affection, gifts, etc). In our context, the goal is a strong liberal democracy, and one of the means we came up with was the eradication of fascism. The problem comes when the eradication of fascism becomes the goal, and the strengthening of liberal democracy is relegated to the backstage. 

This is how I made sense of De Grazia, who argued that the victory in 1945 and after was more than just military. Countries had to adapt socially and economically to address the problems fascism claimed it could solve. “Beating” fascism meant not only to win on the battlefield but also to change the environment it thrived in. If there is a “new fascist phenomenon” today, it is because of a failure to implement a proper socio-economic adaptation to our current problems. My point is that we have confused the goal (strong liberal democracy) with the means (eradication of fascism). The means became the goal. Vietnam, Libya and Iraq were all about dealing with the flames of fascist resurrection. The means became the goal. 

This confusion is what led so many people into dropping that F bomb so easily. Which is why Finchelstein felt the need to clearly define and differentiate fascism and populism. Though they certainly do have links, they are in the end two different experiences. Finchelstein reminded me of last week’s readings in a certain way. She asserts that one of the main features of fascist regimes is that they replace History with political myth, aiming at serving a specific agenda. Last week we saw how some leaders forge a shared heritage with a white, Christian Europe. While those leaders would fall more into the category of populism rather than fascism, it also shows how those two can be linked. What I also liked about Finchelstein is that she has a view of fascism that is a bit more complex than the other authors, who seem to be limited to Mussolini as one of the only measurements of a fascist state. 

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.