Fascism’s Facelift

Fascism in Europe has been associated with the tyranny of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Indeed, Fascism in these context’s as George Moose has argued “satisfied a deep need” in the public consciences “fostering a sense of belonging”. However, the need that gave rise to the WWII -era fascist regimes emerged as a product of “the crisis of the 1920s and 30s,” as Roger Griffin has termed it. A crisis that emerged under the loss of trust in the states institutional capacity to deliver for its base. Of course, the base favoured by the Third Reich, the Aryan race, is most distinct in memories of the past but each fascist regime has appealed to a similar base to drive its message.

Following the second World War, the appeal for a ‘new order’ did not bring the sense of belonging that George Moose referred to. As Griffin noted “The generalised sense of imminent socio-cultural breakdown and the prospects of renewal in a ‘new order’ had evaporated.” In a post-WWII era the crisis that had motivated thousands to the Fascist cause had disappeared leaving Fascism in a new theoretical space and in need of a new face – or facelift.

The Nouvelle Droite that originated in France in 1968 reinforces the thoughts of French art critic and journalist Maurice Bardèche who stated, “that neither fascism nor racism will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily.” The state needed a way to engage in the international space once the fascist dream, that I have previously written about here, was achieved. Projecting the ideals of the state’s ‘new order’ to the world gave way for Fascism post – fascist formation: ultra-nationalism. However not the “‘palingenetic ultranationalism’ which results is profoundly anti-rational and mythic in its thrust, seeking to inspire revolutionary action rather than static contemplation,” that Griffin referred but one protecting the state against all else. The stance of protectionism allowed ultra-nationalist states to engage in a post-WWII international space while remaining unbroken from the historical lineage tied to the interwar – fascist regimes.

1968 and a “New” Understanding of Fascism

Throughout the weeks, I still try to connect new readings and ideas back to our first discussions of defining fascism. While we have discussed that fascism was pragmatic, adaptive, and fluid, having a somewhat rigid frame of terms is still helpful in recognizing fascism or far-right movements elsewhere. Additionally, the fluid nature of fascism helped it take on a transnational form. Either way, whether seeing fascism as a fluid concept, or existing within a rigid framework, I find Roger Griffin’s article to be quite convincing.

Bringing back some of the key factors of fascism that Paxton highlighted include: a sense of crisis that is beyond traditional solutions, need for closer integration of a purer community, dread of a group’s decline because of corrosive liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences. These elements of racism, reaction to crisis, and superiority of one’s group are present in Andrea Mammon’s and Griffin’s articles. Another important element we discussed is modernity, which is a core pillar in Griffin’s definition of fascism (Griffin calls it re-birth).

Throughout Mammon’s article, crisis is discussed in both the Italian and French cases. Racism was also present in the French case, as was biological racism and the promotion of ‘white civilisation.’ Of course, there are elements of Paxton’s definition that are missing here. However, Griffin elaborates on the most important parts of Paxton’s definition I think. Griffin’s core of fascism rests on populist ultra-nationalism and palingenesis, or re-birth. Interestingly, both of these elements are, as Griffin calls them, “highly flexible” concepts.

When first reading Paxton, I interpreted the elements of fascism as quite fluid and adaptable. “Crisis” can be many things, it can be anything the leaders of a fascist movement want it to be. Dread of a group’s decline can also be applied to many issues. These elements that Paxton described fall neatly into Griffin’s term for re-birth. Since there can be “a vast array of diagnoses of the causes of decline and the sources of renewal.”

It may seem contradictory that in a definition of fascism, main elements are subject to change, and expected to change. I particularly liked how Griffin described fascism’s eclecticism and tendency to absorb, what I assume are only the useful elements of “potentially contradictory ideologies.” However, this is in line with how we discussed fascism in previous weeks. Key factors of fascism are pragmatism and fluidity, which is why it is impossible to draw concrete definitions from historical examples of fascism. Although there were common elements of crisis, nationalism and superiority of race, they were applied very differently across time and space. Of all of the definitions of fascism we have come across and discussed, Griffin’s appears the most convincing, while being succinct and encompassing of the adaptability and morphing of fascism.

Ulta-Nationalism or Fascism? Defining Terms in the 1968 Nouvelle Droite

By Christine Collins

Bar-On attributes the transnational success of the Nouvelle Droite (ND) outside of France to three key factors. One of these is the prestige of the ND leader, Alain de Benoist. An intellectual, philosopher, political commentator and—perhaps most importantly—an ultranationalist, Benoist was able to “capture the hearts and minds of the masses” through his personal appeal to the average Frenchman, and eventually Europeans transnationally. 

Leaders like Benoist are able to more easily challenge the status quo through their cult of personality and rally around the flag approach to leadership. We see this success reflected in many right-wing leaders ranging from Mussolini to Hitler to Le Pen to Trump. However, despite the cults of unity inspired by such individuals, we must practice caution in our naming conventions when distinguishing ultra-nationalism from fascism.  

Benoist claimed that fascism may reappear in society with “another name, another face.” So can we consider the ND the second coming of fascism? According to fascist experts Allardyce and Paxton, maybe not. Contemporary historians have defined fascism as: 

  1. The revolt of the masses
  2. The moral crisis of civilization
  3. Totalitarianism
  4. Modernization process

The May 1968 developments in France certainly give strong reason for checking boxes one and two. However, despite the characterization of the ND movement as a right-wing Conservative Revolution, the last two points are a bit more difficult to sell. On this distinction, I agree with academics like Wegierski and Sacchi: while the core values of the ND were certainly very right-leaning, experts like Allardyce and Paxton are right to confine fascism as a term to describe the political movements from 1919-1945 exclusively, no matter how tempting it may be to do otherwise. 

When describing the aims of GRECE (the ND’s principle think tank), Bar-On highlights how reimagining the ideology of the ultra-nationalist movements away from ethnic concepts of the nation and militaristic expansion was one of the goals of Benoist and the ND. This account pokes holes in the arguments made by Griffin linking the ND to fascist ideologies. As noted in Griffin’s colourful introduction, such connections are a bit of a stretch, and not widely accepted in academia.  

Marchi attributes the success of the spread of the ND school of thought across Europe in part to leaders’ ability to shape the ND agenda to their own political strategy. This thinking links back to our previous class discussions on gender and sexuality in authoritarian regimes: homosexuality was permitted and even encouraged in the Soviet Gulags while at the same time being outlawed in broader society; homosexuals were further persecuted in Nazi Germany, but lesbians were able to survive under the radar. In both these cases, leaders shaped nationalist ideologies to suit their particular needs.

In the example of the ND, it is reasonable to assume that right-wing leaders across Europe were not attracted to embracing all aspects of the ideology. It appears their support of the ND can be attributed to their interest in the legitimacy associated with labeling a political movement, be it the ND of 1968 or fascism from 1919-1945. In cases like this, we are reminded of the importance of defining terms, as these labels tend to stick without regard for their accuracy. 

A Culture of the Nouvelle Droite?

Just as with Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, we can track the development of a distinct culture alongside the Nouvelle Droite (ND). Culture became not only a means of disseminating the messages of the ND and bolstering it, but also came to define the movement. An examination of the culture of the ND reveals the ambiguity between nationalism and transnationalism in the ND. One way we can maybe think about this is the way that ND movements throughout Europe refashion a culture of the ND that is both relevant and useful their own countries while being deeply pan-European.

In all four readings from this week, the importance of media loomed large. Journals were a particularly important cultural artifact in several ND movements throughout Europe. In the Portuguese case, several journals emerged as a space to engage in dialogues about Portugal’s political future post Estado Novo (New State) and were a way to gain support for the ND in Portugal. Journals like Política which is especially interesting for its interdisciplinary nature and invocation of science. It was not only the production of journals that helped to bolster the ND throughout European countries but also the role of specific journalists like Gilberte Comte as mentioned in Roger Griffin’s article: “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Indeed, journalists like Gilberte Comte can be seen as making important contributions to the development of the ND having published articles like “Une nouvelle droite?”

Moreover, writers like Julius Evola played an indispensable role in the development of a culture of the ND in Italy. Evola played an important role in defining the sense of traditionalism that the ND would lean on in the future. In particular, tradition as a belief in a sacred order governed by the ruling class of priests and elites. Stories and beliefs like this reconciled the decadence of the present with the belied that a new world order was coming. 

It is important to address the “so what?” question that emerged with the theme of a distinct culture of the ND. The complicated, and somewhat paradoxical ways, that ND movements in different countries developed a culture that was both nationalists and transnational was important in managing perceived threats. Namely, by creating and perpetuating rigid notions of culture, these movements could manage the threats that immigration brought which something we are very much still witnessing.

A Secular Europe

Usually during writing responses, I refrain from using first person pronouns, but I will reverse my stance for this week for the issues I had with this reading. Colloquial radical terrorism can find 9/11 at its nucleus. I argue that these violent acts do not “decentre” the West as most academia and media not only suggests but is obsessive and compulsive with perpetuating. 9/11 as a contemporary focal point was a product of systemic conflict within a Western conflict (consider the Soviet-Afghan proxy war) and less so a product of religion. While acts of violence in the name of Islam are conclusively indefensible, the framework of this article considers Islam to be part of a destabilizing force of Western, and in this context European, structures.

We can observe a divide from a series of pivotal events: pre- and post-WWII, pre and post-the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and pre- and post-9/11. The focus on the collapse of the Berlin Wall is cited as symbolic for radical European change. From indiscriminate indiscrimination to collective unity (negative to positive groupism) in the face of public political unrest on massive scales, the use of Berlin Wall to mobilize a collective force was a revolution that, at the time, was unparalleled. However, the author uses the fall of the wall to both literally and figuratively break the levee between a homogenous Judeo-Christian European religious structure to a more inclusive and intersectional landscape. Quite obviously, two dominant faiths does not equate to coexisting. The author uses terminology that in a post-Holocaust society insinuates that pre- and post-Nazis was overwhelmingly and unflinchingly Christian-Catholic. The breaking levee and subsequent introduction of Islam through immigration had the author states that “Europe is a notion elaborated via the power of modernity and colonialism; in the present it also refers to a project of union that is being implemented by Europeans themselves.” This is somewhat implicit that Islam is being viewed as a colonial force, which is unfair – European powers dismantled and imposed by force religious and cultural values. The employment of the phrase “anachronism” places Islam into a primitive or antiquated context. The general practical application of scripture versus the ignorant notion that all billion Muslims are out for violence and radicalism. This is inherently problematic and blatantly false. The author presents the idea of integration is what is destabilizing Europe and its social, political, and economic structures.

If I am writing this both with my opinion and with my truth, I could not understand why the author, only 10 pages in, was contextualized to suggest that Islam is a threat. Europe has also been presented as the centre. Eurocentric ideology is equally as problematic as the purview that Islam is evil. Europe has been centralized through systematic campaigns of violence and oppression on a global scale across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Europe has in itself decentralized the world – how can the overarching dichotomy of Islam in scholarship consistently revert back to how this and more broadly speaking other minority groups be an intervening malicious force? Göle is correct in suggesting that “we need to renew our ways of thinking and change our perspective on Europe, seeing it not as an autonomous and self-centered entity …” however their assertion that Islam exists to decentralize a current world order implies that the current world order promotes a utopia, which, when observing the systemic European sociopolitical structure is definitively not.

Transnational Movements of Ideas in The Late 1960s

1968 has been a pivotal year for many European countries. The “Red” tide that was threatening Western Europe became the detonator for the rise of neo-fascist movements both in Italy and France. This transnational event which expansion all over Western Europe transformed the political landscape, found its origins in universities and youth movements.

In Italy, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) which transitionally associated with the communists, broke away after 1968 and set itself as an all right-wing party with the intention to be more attractive and national. However, the association with the Destra Nazionale (DN) and its attraction to revive the fascist party, led to violence and terrorism in the 1970s.

In France, the newly decolonization of Algeria was resented as a failure and partisans of French Algeria favoured the creation of neo-fascist and anti-communist movements such as Occident and la Féderation des Etudiants Nationalistes (FEN). The creation of the New Order (Ordre Nouveau) and the influence of Alain de Benoist and the GRECE collaboration (Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne) contributed to the creation of a new rightist culture.

The similarity of thoughts that was in France and Italy spread to Portugal during the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution. The influence of De Benoist was visible with the participation of intellectuals and the publication of numerous magazines and books which used scientific methods to demonstrate the inadequacy of egalitarian Marxist societies.

What Portugal and France had in common was a struggle to overcome post-colonialism and the creation of a New Right allowed a more powerful political presence that rejected the two superpowers in place at that time in order to favour a European path. Using immigration as a scapegoat, the idea of nationality and traditions laid the path for a transnational movement that substantiates itself through ideas and culture.

What transpires from these readings is the departure from rigid and old-fashioned regimes toward the creation of political movements that foster on deception and protests to present an alternative path that supports traditional values and which goal is to appeal to mass population. But, is there really a new path with new ideas or are these ideas more the antithesis of older ones ? Can the New Right rally enough people without digging too deep in a dark past ?

Works cited :

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

Andrea Mammon, “The Transnational Reaction to 1968: Neo-Fascist Fronts and Political Cultures in France and Italy.” Contemporary European History, vol. 17, no. 2 (May 2008): 213–236.

Riccard Marchi, “The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: A New Strategy for the Radical Right in the Transition from Authoritarianism to Democracy.” Patterns of Prejudice vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2016): 232–52.

Transnationalism and the Nouvelle Droite

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

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

Nouvelle Droite and the “Multiculturalism of the New Right”

Tamir Bar-On’s Idea of the “multiculturalism of the new right” is a concept that I found particularly interesting. It also reminds me of the discussion that we had a few weeks back about the use and manipulation of other countries by Hitler in David Motadel’s The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire. An example being the use of British anti-colonial sentiments in other countries to mobilize them for the German Reich, but to do this for the liberation of their own country. This seems very similar to the Nouvelle Droite’s (ND) “multiculturalism of the new right,” as it focus on the differentness of different regions, and countries in their attempt to spread their ideas transnationally. It is interesting to see how these concepts in a way overlap, and much like Roger Griffen points out in his article, the similarities and ideas of German Fascism that the ND draws from.

Bar-On’s writes that the post war there was an increase in the popularity of left-wing politics. This is something that Alain de Benoist, the leader of ND, drew upon to further his goal of spreading this transnational “multiculturalism of the new right.”  He would use the tactics that the new left would use in spreading this goal. de Benoist was vocal about being anti-fascist, he would use terms such as “multiculturalism of the new right,” because he did not want to be connected with the ultra-nationalism of the German Reich, it was seen as “politically correct”. To push this idea that they were not associated with their concepts, but they were choosing their wording specifically to appeal to the promotion of the new right.

It is through these readings on can see the way in which the general conception of politics, and the political landscape of the times shifts the way that the ND present their ideology, in their attempt to promote this idea of transnationalism. This is quite evident in Griffen’s article. It makes one wonder the about the validity of perceived political dichotomies, but also about the how this notion of “political correctness” is used today? How does the ND’s understanding of political correctness differ from modern conceptions of what it means to be politically correct, what is the etymology?

Neo-Fascism: Second Verse, Same as the First

What is the lesson of the New Right? Of Neo-Fascism and of new conservative movements? And how do they differ from plain, good ol’ regular Fascism?

Answer this and you’ll have solved the greatest political concern modern liberals have been facing since Neo-Fascism’s resurgence in 1968.

Interestingly, “why” is the simple part to answer. 1968 was a tumultuous year in Europe especially, and was the culmination of a trend towards anti-establishment thought and belief across multiple nations, especially centered on universities. Fascists and the far-right was suffering from a lack of appeal, and as radical thinkers began to align with varying ideologies, Marxist thought had a tendency to swallow up other anti-establishment believers.

At the same time, the established far-right was shaken when seeing how potent the effects of communist thinking had become in the West. So trying to redefine the right, trying to change the narrative of the far-right and of neo-fascists, was important if the movement was to remain, and more importantly to grow at all.

But what can we learn? Perhaps the lessons lie in the way that Fascism and by extension other extreme-right ideologies are able to fluctuate, shift in ideology and to remain powerful despite changes. As one form of Fascism falls in popularity, it is the innate ability of Fascism to change its face, manifest itself pragmatically in other forms.

Perhaps too we must recognize the power of a common cause. Far-right groups may no often get along with each other based on major doctrinal differences, but given a large enough, potent enough common enemy, groups tend to coalesce into a unified resistance. From the Carlists and Francoists in Spain, to neo-fascists in postwar Europe, this trend remains a powerful one.

But all of this speculation is difficult to truly give full credence to. Fascism itself is so hard to pinpoint that it is difficult to truly say what neo-fascism has done differently. In many ways, the attempts by the New Right to modernize and regain popular support is not too different from the shift to Fascism from older forms of right-wing thought.

So… here we are again. Trying to classify something that shifts by its very nature. To say it’s difficult is… an understatement.

Identity, Media and the Transnationality of the New Right Movements

The new Right movements have started to rise again similarly to how they first rose in the late 60s. Their influence is of a transnational reach, which is interesting as the movement itself is grounded on ultra-nationalistic ideology. Based on a chosen national identity, it is interesting that it is also considered transnational because, as Tamil Bar-On writes, identity is often not paired with only one nation, but a panoply of them. We can point back to the conversation we had quite a few weeks ago about Fascism and internationalism and say that like fascism, the new right knows the importance of internationalism as a pragmatic approach to realizing its goals and getting support. Also, Riccardo Marchi points out that the failure of some of the new right movements in Europe reflects a lack of interest from the population because of a lack of media attention. Media attention, which is surely as national as it is international, is in fact part of that transnational outreach. In the age of media and information, it is interesting to see how influential the media is in shifting the political stage. Could we imagine certain political personalities of this age having taken the position they have now without media attention? Another question one might ask is how much media is influencing the political stage, nationally and globally? Even at the beginning of the new right movements in France or Portugal, how much could we accord the formation of these movements to information circulation? This is considering the fact that these movements were born from pulling numerous ideological concepts from a multiplicity of other states, making the movement very transnational. So, what to make of the importance of the media in the creation of these movements and is there really a national identity or are we simply circling back to the idea of a new man by creating a national identity?