Analogies to, and within, History – is this wrong?

Written by Emma Bronsema

There has been a debate among scholars as to whether using analogies is ahistorical or essential. More specifically, is it right to compare present day atrocities to events such as the holocaust, or the politics and characteristics of Trump to fascist Italy and Hitler Germany. 

Comparison is beneficial and, at times, crucial to getting the public interested and involved in current events that need addressing. Analogies help to understand the situation and look at how similar issues have been dealt with in the past. But it has to be done right. One cannot only focus on the commonalities, but rather the differences as well. No matter what it pertains to, what happened then and what is happening currently, is not the same. Solely focusing on comparison has a strong potential to result in bad decisions being made. These decisions become based off of the analogy rather than in response to the current climate and context of the event. This is where actions are driven by fear created by the comparison. It is also important to note that comparisons are often political. These analogies are often made through a particular lens with an agenda behind it. It is vitally important to go beyond the comparison. Good analogies must not only focus on the commonalities but also work in tandem with differences.

Using analogies to compare current day events to historical ones, or even comparing events within history to each other, can be beneficial and is even important when studying history and understanding what is going on in our world today. But contrasts need to happen to, in order to fully grasp the big picture and not become blinded by the thought of only one specific outcome of history repeating itself.

References:

Gordon, P. (2020, June 25). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, S. (2020, June 24). The Trouble with Comparisons. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Defining Terms: Historical Analogies

Sydney Linholm

This week’s articles provide a detailed and informative account of fascism and populism in today’s contemporary society. Something that resonated from these articles is Gordon and Moyn’s separate accounts of comparisons being made between fascism and Trumpism, and how both of these authors’ ideas intersect. In his article, Moyn criticizes the comparison of fascism with Trumpism by saying that comparison can lead not only to insight, but also blindness, and this is comparable with Gordon’s statement that the first thing to note with historical analogies is that they commit us to a basic view that the two phenomena in question belong to the same world. An example that Gordon gives of this is AOC’s comparison of the detention centres at the southern U.S. border with concentration camps. While comparing these types of phenomena holds some kind of benefit in that it can allow us to be better educated on the moral relevance of seemingly fascist actions, it can also erase some of the meaning that the phenomena holds, as Moyn was saying in his article. This is an important distinction to be aware of because while comparing events such as the Holocaust and Trump’s detention camps can be beneficial in understanding the moral severity of the situation and putting it into perspective, some might argue that this might be insulting to the memory of the Holocaust because it happened on a much grander scale, as Liz Cheney was quoted as saying in the Gordon article. Essentially, historical analogies for today’s contemporary issues can be beneficial in the understanding of the moral relevance of the situation, but can also miss the mark in the understanding of the historical phenomenon being used in the comparison, which is what makes them such a tricky subject.

References:

Gordon, P. (2020, June 25). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, S. (2020, June 24). The Trouble with Comparisons. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Trumpism and Fascism, Analogies and Comparisons

By: Willem Nesbitt

Each of this week’s readings all touch on the common themes of fascism and populism in our contemporary society, but a clear opposing duo emerges from Peter Gordon’s and Samuel Moyn’s articles. The two articles clearly stand opposed in view even at the phrasing of their titles, but what I found most interesting were the common opinions that the authors held. Despite their various disagreements on the topic of comparisons between Trumpism and fascism, Gordon and Moyn’s discussions do align occasionally, most prominently when discussing the idea that the use of certain terms or comparisons can result in their diminishment and meaning. Gordon, on the topic of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s stance on the equation between Nazi concentration camps and American detention centers, believes that the museum officials “harbor the fear that the Holocaust will become little more than a polemical weapon in ideological contests between left and right,” and Moyn similarly believes that “Comparison is always a risky tool; it leads to blindness, not just insight.” For all the disagreement between the articles, the instances where the authors do agree on certain elements reveals that there is a thin line that must be tread when using a historical event as an analogy or comparison for a moment in the modern day.

            These two readings reveal themselves to be an interconnected and intrinsically linked duo that tread common ground, at times in disagreement, and other times in a most interesting harmony. Given that Moyn’s article seems to be an almost direct reply to Gordon’s (especially through Moyn’s mimicking of Gordon’s Apples and Oranges theme), I am left wondering if Gordon has since read Moyn’s opposing stance, and how exactly he would feel towards it. There is certainly more of a conversation to be had between these two opposing camps one year on from the publishing of these articles, particularly with the ongoing death throes of Trump’s presidency.

Works Cited:

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review of Books, January 7, 2020.

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review of Books, May 19, 2020.

The Many Fascisms and the Analogies of its 20th Century Form

By: Bryce Greer

Is Trumpism a new fascism? If you consider the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2020 to have its own striking similarities to movements made by Hitler and Mussolini, then one may define Trump under the term fascist. Yet, the term fascism is nebulous, and the thin line in using the term “fascist” to describe a mainstream right-wing populist politician is hard to truly define. The atrocity on the 6th, however, has opened good reason to reconsider the use of the term fascism especially in relation to the rise of populist “moments” in the 21st century.

How can we redefine the term “fascist” when scholars are deeply contested on the use? As Victoria de Grazia highlights, we must understand that fascism is both a historical phenomenon and a political label. Concerns around using the term fascist in our contemporary world comes down to the sloppy analogies of the past used to influence the future. But when scholars, like Robert Paxton for example, who were once hesitant in calling Trump a fascist, now change their minds, there are, therefore, analogies to the 20th century fascism that are evident in our current environment. So how we do we address fascism now through analogies of its old 20th century past. Peter Gordon and Samuel Moyns offer similar ideas from different sides of the coin, and it is fact that we must come to use analogies as a way of insight to the past and prevent its repetition in the future. Second, we must also consider the disanalogies, of what makes now different to what has happened in the 20th century form. Clear from both, then, is my suggestion.

Rather than define Trumpism as the same 20th century fascism, we should instead be clear that the environment now, a suffering of a “There is no Alternative” politics in liberal democracy is in fact a movement to illiberal populist movements. And with the growing populism, as well as a problematic environment that continues to fester into a polarized political world, we live now in a similar time when fascism was created to address these problems. Heed, then, that rather falling into the political scapegoating of comparing Trump or Trumpism to the remnant past of 20th century fascism, it should instead be categorized, with both its analogies and disanalogies highlighting fascism to be not one form but rather many, as populism has so been recently defined as.

What we see now is not completely the same as we did with 20th century fascism. To return to Paxton, who highlights the striking similarity of the attack on the U.S. Capital Building to a similar openly fascist protest that occurred in Paris on February 6, 1934, we must understand the comparisons. Furthermore, in the new setting that we live in, we must also understand that there are differences. These differences may equally speak to a second form of fascism that grows with the discontent that current democratic liberalism brings us. Our solution is not by returning to the past through political labels, but rather making connections to the past to find a solution to the shortcomings of our current democratic system.

WORKS CITED

DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties. https://demosh2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties  

Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” NYR Daily (7 January 2020), http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

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/

Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” NYR Daily (19 May 2020), https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Cas Mudde, “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania, https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/casmudde-populism-twenty-first-century

Robert Paxton, “I’ve Hesitated to Call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now | Opinion,” Newsweek (11 January 2021), https://www.newsweek.com/robert-paxton-trump-fascist-1560652

Defining Terms

Sara Dix

Since the Second World War, the use of the term “fascism” has increased to label specific groups of people. Its meaning has changed over time since World War II which has led to its lessening impact on identifying true fascist behaviour within certain political parties or its corresponding groups of extremist followers. President Trump and his administration are often used in comparison to analyze similarities and patterns from history, but there are opposing arguments regarding the definitions of these terms that creates conflicting messages about these terms and how they are, or should be, used.

Victoria de Grazia goes to explain that understanding the meaning of fascism during 1920-1945 is extremely important in order to use the term correctly. She mentions that the historical importance of fascism was that the term, as a label, was not what mattered to people, but that it was created to fight off important political, material, and social issues at the time. But now, the term has transformed into a label against people with opposing ideologies, particularly those in populist, extremist groups. So, how does this impact the effectiveness of using the historical definition of “fascism” to identify similarities within the current politic scene with the rise of populism and extremist groups?

Both Gordon and Moyn discuss the issue with analogies when comparing the past to the present. A good point that Gordon emphasizes is that by reflecting and understanding history, a person can connect the past to see the significance in the present and how it is beneficial to analyze the historical context of fascism in order to see its components arise once again. While analogies can be misleading in certain situations, they tend to be more helpful in identifying patterns so people are aware and can respond appropriately.

Works Cited

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/

Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” NYR Daily (7 January 2020),
nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” NYR Daily (19 May
2020), https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Historical analogy – does it help or harm?

Michaela Bax-Leaney

As Peter Gordon and Samuel Moyn converse with one another about the efficacy of historical analogy and comparison – particularly in the context of fascism and the current political climate – there appears to be a misunderstanding between the two authors which de Grazia addresses very early on in her article. It seems that Gordon and Moyn are basing their articles on two different meanings of fascism – Moyn engages with fascism as a historical phenomenon, while Gordon’s definition extends more broadly to the political label. De Grazia strikes an important balance in her piece. There is the essential task of knowing and remembering fascism as an historical event – it led to some of the worst suffering humanity has borne witness to. However, there is a very real risk of oversimplifying that event and applying it to modern goings on. That is not to say that fascism is not a real and present threat in the 21st century, but rather, an effort must be made to understand it for what it is, rather than as a shadow or imitation of something else.

There also appears to be a disconnect in the language employed by Gordon and Moyn in the use of analogy vs comparison. Gordon very intentionally prefers analogy, and makes a point of it, writing that “there’s an important difference between analogy and comparison but I’ll ignore that difference here.” Moyn, on the other hand, titles his piece “The Trouble with Comparison.” This may simply be a matter of semantics, but one wonders if the difference speaks to a broader misunderstanding between the two. After all, they both seem to be working towards a similar overall point – that there is a very critical need to address and seek to understand fascism in the modern context, and historical sensibility is very necessary in achieving that understanding. While their disagreements on how exactly to undertake the historical sensibility do differ, and I do not believe those differences can be boiled down to word choice and a slightly different working definition of the word fascism, they both recognize the benefits and pitfalls of analogy/comparison, and caution against similar things; namely, that historical comparison, if it is to be done, be done very cautiously, intentionally, and in recognition of De Grazia’s point that modern fascism ultimately does need to be recognized as its own phenomenon. In coming away from their articles, I am left wondering how best to go about that, in an actionable and practical sense, rather than just the theoretical.

Works Cited

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/

Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” NYR Daily (7 January 2020),

https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” NYR Daily (19 May 2020)

https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

Defining Terms, Fascism & Populism

This week’s readings were a good introduction on fascism and populism, but with complex concepts (at least for me, as someone who is not familiar with political terms and analysis), which is why the podcast at the end was a welcomed synthesis for the populism discussion.

Fascism certainly immediately brings the names of Mussolini and Hitler to mind, as shown by the article of De Grazia. I appreciated the historical background that it gave to the term, and the fact that it was written from a more personal perspective. As politics affect in the end the everyday life of people, narratives that link the theoretical matters to real life experiences are in my opinion very valuable, and they put a context around abstract concepts.

Gordon’s and Moyn’s articles used fascism as an example to illustrate their views on historical comparisons, which echoed De Grazia’s text on the fact that this political stream exists outside of the 20th century’s famous figures. On this subject, I was particularly struck by a sentence that Gordon cites in his article: “In an American fascism […] one would see not swastikas but “Christian crosses” and ‘Stars and Stripes.’ ” This was, I thought, a really good way to illustrate how fascism is adapted by its followers to the country, culture and time period into which it is found, showing that it may not be exhibited in the same way it was or in the ways it is associated with, but the ideology behind it enables a comparison.

The second portion of the readings was about populism and its sub-categories. I was surprised to learn that there are several, that range from left-wing to right-wing, but less so after reading the analysis that tells that populism is incomplete as a political ideology and should be combined with another stream. In fact, from what I understood, populism would be more of an overall view of opposition, a frame maybe, used to appeal to a majority that feels oppressed by an elite, so it could more or less be applied to any political context, and new political organizations can draw on that, as shown by several populist parties in various European countries. Have I gotten that right? What I found the most interesting in the analysis is the role of social medias, used to directly engage with the population, which would explain why most populist parties emerged in the last years. It is certainly easier and faster to propagate one’s ideas through Internet rather than newspapers!

One common point of the articles in their depiction of fascism and populism is the concept of “response”. In analysing the rise (or rise again) of these political views, it appears that either the context provided a need for a response on the political scene, or the leaders of a political party used specific events, such as mass immigration, to justify an orientation toward a political ideology. An example in this line of thoughts that I appreciated from the podcast was the antemurale mindset of Hungary, in response to the migrants coming from outside of Europe, and a desire to protect the people’s integrity against threats from “outsiders”, specifically, to “defend and revive” the native population. In this, I think that a common trait between fascism and populism is the importance it gives to the ethnicity of a country.

One thing that left me wondering is about the ideology of populism. I probably did not fully understand how it rises, so I was thinking: If it functions with an opposition between people and elite, then once the party is elected, doesn’t it become a political elite, and in so, loses its common ground with people? Or is the political elite not considered the same than other elites?

Work used:

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

Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,”NYRDaily(7 January 2020), nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,”NYRDaily(19 May 2020),https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties. https://demos-h2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties

Cas Mudde, “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania, https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/cas-mudde-populism-twenty-first-century

Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?”podcast

Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away?

By Absalom Sink

It’s becoming a tiresome cliché, isn’t it? Almost as tiresome as the cliché from a few years ago: that of a ‘rising tide of far-right populism’ in Europe. And while that old number is still getting plenty of play, it seems like every month there’s a handful of new articles and op-eds pontificating on whether the ‘populist tide’ has peaked and begun to ebb.

To be fair, I can understand the urge behind writing pieces like those. The ‘populist right’ has been dealt a number of blows this year. There was the “stunning rebuke” against populism in Slovakia with the election of centre-left, liberal Zuzana Caputova. Just over a week ago in Bologna, Italy, a rally held by the populist Matteo Salvini and attended by a little under 6000 supporters was counter-protested by between 12000 and 15000 people. Similarly, far-right rallies held last week by Pegida in Dresden and the ultranationalist NPD in Hannover were dwarfed by counter-protesters. And it’s hard not to see 13500 people marching in Paris against Islamophobia as a raised middle finger aimed at the Rassemblement National (RN), the political embodiment of Islamophobia in France. Finally, let’s not forget the “collapse of the far-right” in the Austrian election this past September, when the FPO lost 10% of the overall vote as compared to the last election because of a corruption scandal.

The problem is when we try to use events like these to extrapolate out over the whole of Europe. In fact, just framing it as the populist right is problematic. Certainly, there are transnational connections between populist movements/parties, but there is no single, monolithic populism. These groups cooperate to the extent that it’s practical. But if, say, Germany’s AfD were to suddenly founder, it’s a fair bet that the Swiss Peoples’ Party and the RN and the Sweden Democrats—far-right populists, all—would let them sink before risking their own positions. By lumping all these groups together when declaring that the ‘populist tide is receding’, we massively oversimply a complex transnational political situation.

Aside from oversimplifying things, there’s also the worry that such statements might make voters complacent; believing the threat to be behind them, voters might have less impetus to vote. The problem is a number of far-right populist parties in Europe still have fairly robust polling numbers. Germany’s AfD has held steady at 13-14% in the national polls for two years, while in Thuringia’s state election last month it came second, with over 23% of the vote. In France, Marine Le Pen’s RN is actually leading the presidential poll, hovering around 28%. Even in Austria, where the ‘Ibiza affair’ saw the FPÖ drop by 10% in the last election, they picked up enough seats that they were able to maintain their coalition government with the winning ÖVP. How can we claim that far-right populism has peaked when a party like the ‘formerly’ fascist Sweden Democrats are poised to become the biggest party in their country, and could conceivably with the 2022 election?

My point in all of this is simply that journalists and political observers alike should be wary of making sweeping declarations on the state of far-right populism. Europe is bigger and more diverse than we sometimes recognize; when we’re talking about an entire continent, it’s worth remembering that high tide happens at different times in Helsinki, Finland and Cadiz, Spain. The same goes for the metaphorical tide. While populism might ebb in one region, it can still be in flood in another.

Europe’s Radical Right: Cultural Descendant of the Nouvelle Droite

By Absalom Sink

Two weeks ago, we read and discussed the rise of the Nouvelle Droite (ND), first in France, and then in a broader, pan-European context. Crucial to the formulation of the ND was its retreat from the political arena into the realm of culture, the realm of “metapolitics”. Seeing in the protests of 1968 the sway that the Left held over cultural institutions—particularly institutions of higher education—far right figures led by Alain de Benoist ostensibly abandoned politics and moved instead to open up cultural space in which later generations of Far Right thinkers and politicians might act; they appropriated from the Left Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, and worked to sow the seeds of a counterhegemonic bloc.

From this week’s readings, I would argue that the experiment is something of a qualified success. Certainly, most of today’s so-called Radical Right1 have not taken up de Benoist’s neopagan ritualism. And the populist, self-described “democratic” nature of Radical Right movements is inherently contrary to the ND’s anti-democratic, elitist formulation. But as the readings make clear, there are crucial threads linking the ND and the Radical Right. Chief among them is ethnopluralism. As Ina Schmidt explains, “Ethnopluralism is an ideology of the far right, which is no longer directed against foreign ethnicities, but rather against cultures—understood as being irrevocably connected with certain values, practices, and habits.” Essentially, it is a form of cultural racism, as opposed to the biological racism of yore, popular with fascists. By shifting the focus of their xenophobia from “race” to “culture”, Radical Right groups avoid the charge of racism and open ideological space between themselves and fascist forebears. It’s the ideological sleight of hand that lets Islamophobes respond to charges of racism with the stock sentence “Islam isn’t a race!” And as we’ll recall from Tamir Bar-On’s article, it is the same semantic shift that de Benoist and his followers made in the 1980s, moving from biological racism to the anti-multicultural “Europe of a Hundred Flags”.

It does not really matter that groups like Pegida or the Front National don’t adhere entirely to the roadmap laid down by the ND. Remember, the goal of the ND was simply to create the cultural space in which Far Right ideals might be taken once more into the political sphere—ideals like the abandonment of liberal democracy, and at least since the 1980s, of ethnopluralism over multiculturalism. By achieving broader cultural acceptance, as evinced by de Benoist’s Prix de l’essai from l’Académie Française and glowing coverage in Telos, the ND was able to open that political space it desired. It now needed political actors to take up the mantle. As both Zack Beauchamp—in his interview with our old friend Cas Mudde—and Pietro Castelli Gattinara show, a series of events in 2015 would provide the spark for an explosion of Radical Right movements to occupy that space, a sort of Far Right Big Bang.

According to Mudde, “the core of the ideology of the radical right includes three features: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism.” Nativism, he says, is essentially a form of xenophobia that dictates that a state should only be inhabited by people who are “native” to it.2 Authoritarianism revolves around the belief that society should be “strictly ordered”, and in which any social issue becomes treated as an issue of security—the example Mudde gives here is the treatment of drug crises as “something to be cracked down on” through law and order, rather than as a public health issue. Finally, populism boils down to another “us versus them” dichotomy, this time between “the elites”—typically mainstream political figures, but with a healthy helping of wealthy proponents of liberalism, like the far right’s bogeyman George Soros—and “the real people”.3 2015 brought a confluence of factors that served to empower nascent Radical Right movements throughout Europe. First, the refugee crisis, stoked nativist fears throughout Europe. Terror attacks, starting with Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, fueled authoritarian tendencies and calls for increased vigilance, particularly against ‘outsiders.’ Finally, the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the aftershocks that threatened the structural integrity of the EU undermined the existing economic liberal order and played into populist anti-elitist rhetoric.

Julius Evola knew he would never see a truly resurgent fascism in his lifetime; it is entirely possible that Alain de Benoist never thought he’d see the ideological seeds he sowed bear fruit. But a series of external shocks—a financial crisis originating in the United States, revolutions throughout the Middle East leading to a nearly decade-long civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIL, and the largest refugee crisis since the Bosnian War—provided the cover for a broad range of Radical Right political movements to spring up in the cultural niche carved out by the ND.

1Borrowing here from Cas Mudde’s differentiation between “Extreme Right” and “Radical Right”, in which the former rejects democracy outright in favour of revolution aiming for authoritarianism, while the latter merely rejects aspects of liberal democracy, like pluralism and minority rights, while still claiming to adhere to democratic principles. Castelli Gattinara helps to further clarify, explaining that radical right groups “locate themselves outside the political mainstream but without intending to replace democracy with an authoritarian order.”

2Remember, though, from our very first class, when we grappled with the question of “who is really ‘native’ to a given place?” The Magyar people claim ownership of Hungary, even though they are likely to have arrived significantly later that the ancestors of today’s Slovenes within the borders of Hungary. Likewise, how “native” is a person who calls themselves an “Anglo-Saxon”—itself an incredibly fraught term—to Britain?

3”The real people” has become something of a shibboleth for Far- and Radical Right groups, differentiating them from Left populists; as Jan Werner-Muller explains, the term serves to “other” any who don’t fit with the “majority”, while also delegitimizing any other groups and figures vying for power.

Works Cited:

Beauchamp, Zack. “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics”. Vox. May 31, 2016 https://www.vox.com/2016/5/31/11722994/european-far-right-cas-mudde

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

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

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

“The Dangers of Populism” Interview with Jan Werner Mueller, Council of Europe (March 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahtvsNU2bkk

Europe’s Paradoxical Relationship with Tradition

By Absalom Sink

As Gloria Wekkers writes in her book White Innocence, the celebration of Zwarte Piet—Saint Nicholas’ “Moorish helper” usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, and played as a —remains a mainstay of Dutch Christmas celebration, despite increasing controversy over the racistracial’ implications of the character. Supporters of the Zwarte Piet minstrelsy often wrap their defense of the practice in the flag of tradition; white Dutchmen and women perceive themselves at risk of being “deprived” of a tradition that reaches back into their youth and beyond. Wekkers gives the example of a woman who “introduces herself as a sociocultural worker and says that black people do not realize how much pain it causes whites to hear that Black Pete is a racist figuration.” Wekkers’ interlocutor, a stand-in for countless other Dutch, imagines herself and her family the victims of “blacks [who] do not realize how hurtful it is to have to give up a figure that you have grown up with and who has given you so much joy.” Forget the people who actually feel uncomfortable or hurt by the depiction of Piet; forget that, as Stuart Hall says, “stereotyping tends to occur when there are gross inequalities of power.” This is a matter of tradition! Europeans clearly must hold traditions to be sacred, right?

Ah, but then we get to Nilüfer Göle’s article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” Here we read of European Islamophobia, which pits Europe as a “secular site of modernity” against the foreignness of Islam, which no less a figure than Pope Benedict XVI implied to be incompatible with “reason” and “rational values.” As Göle explains, “many Muslims defend Islam as the religion of their parents; Islam them with a source of resistance to acculturation and an opportunity to bind with their heritage.” The tradition of Islam both provides a link to ancestry and acts as a bulwark against the cultural alienation of trying to acculturate in a society that insists on recognizing immigrants as Other. And from thence springs the fear, the “phobia” in Islamophobia. By presenting an alternative to the European ‘secular’ consensus (which nonetheless frequently makes reference to a Christian cultural basis), Islam brings with it the spectre of counter-hegemony. Recognizing a Europe in which Islam has a place—not just in its present, but throughout its history, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and now across the continent—means “become aware that the hegemony of European chronotopes (time-space) over the definition of modernity is weakening.” Islam is a threat to that hegemony, just as the controversy around Zwarte Piet is a threat to the white Dutch hegemonic culture within the Netherlands.

So, one could suppose that the threat of erosion of hegemony is what leads to the disconnect on the subject of tradition. But questions remain. How do Europeans—Western Europeans, in particular—reconcile their progressivism with their own cultural conservatism? How does Belgium ban the niqab while neighbouring Netherlands clings to blackface Zwarte Piet? Could it have anything to do with the fact the former is seen as a mark of the foreign Other while the latter is a Dutch tradition, ostensibly “indigenous” in nature? What makes some traditions, even those rooted in religion, compatible with ‘European secular modernity’ while disqualifying others?

… ‘he asked rhetorically, already having a good idea as to the answers.’

Works Cited

Göle, Nilüfer. “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” New Literary History 43, No. 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Wekkers, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015.