Soft Power and the Culture of Fascism

By Jackie Howell

Tools of soft power can be useful in expanding a state’s sphere of influence. Soft power is the ability to attract rather than coerce and typically involves exerting cultural, social, or economic influence. Great powers, such as the United States, use soft power as an extension of their hard power (i.e., their physical military strength) through the arts, science, and culture to further their goals. Soft power, a concept coined by Joseph Nye, mostly defines the post-Cold War era. However, promoting a distinct national culture helped achieve Nazi Germany’s goal of dominance and legitimacy. This week’s readings highlight the soft power of Nazi Germany through their cultural influence, most notably through mass consumerism and photography. Similarly, Franco’s Spain framed consumer tourism as part of Spain’s cultural identity, which helped Spain overcome its international isolation post-war and reinforce the idea of Spanish cultural exceptionality.  

Notably, this week’s readings highlight the social and economic benefits that reinforce a regime’s legitimacy. For example, German workers who previously did not have access or the means to embark on luxurious trips received the chance to witness life outside Germany by Kraft durch Freude (KdF). KdF used tourism to showcase the benefits of National Socialism. The opportunity to see different workers in other countries gave German workers the impression that Germany’s standard of living was higher than in other countries governed by Social Democrats or Communists. KdF linked leisure to politics by capitalizing on the opportunity to unite class lines to showcase Germany’s economic successes and redefine the German racial community. Tourism development in 1960’s Spain also linked economic development and politics with leisure activities, as the regime restyled its image of government to promote a higher standard of living and modernity through tourism.

It is easy to question why Europeans accepted or supported Nazism or fascism in retrospect of the horrific acts committed by these regimes. However, Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain framed economic and social benefits in a manner that appealed to the masses. These benefits allowed Europeans to dismiss the known horrors of the regime in favour of the benefits they gained. Similarly, the perceived economic benefits under the “America First” argument allowed Trump supporters to dismiss the political horrors of the Trump administration. Those that remain silent during these periods – ignoring the political chaos around them to live in their alternate, blissful reality – must be questioned for their complacency. Shelley Baranowski highlights this issue by briefly examining middle-class tourists who avoided discussing the political situation if the consequences of Nazi Germany’s policies did not concern them. The lack of engagement indicates a high degree of privilege of those that experienced the social and cultural benefits of Nazi Germany. Overall, this week’s readings highlight the unique role that culture can play when expanding a state’s power and legitimacy.

References

Baranowski, S. (2004a). Introduction. In Strength through Joy: Consumerism and mass tourism in the Third Reich (pp. 1-10). Cambridge.

Baranowski, S. (2004b). Racial community and individual desires: Tourism, the standard of living, and popular consent. In Strength through Joy: Consumerism and mass tourism in the Third Reich (pp. 162-98). Cambridge.

Crumbaugh, J. (2009). Prosperity and freedom under Franco: The grand invention of tourism. In Destination dictatorship: The spectacle of Spain’s tourist boom and the reinvention of difference (pp. 15-41). Suny Press.

Umbach, M. (2015). Selfhood, place, and ideology in German photo albums, 1933-1945. Central European History, 48(3): 335-365. jstor.org/stable/43965175

The Third Path?

Lucas Lang

Nationalism was born out of the failures of Imperialism and liberal democracy. Imperialism involved multiple nationalities coexisting under a single banner which often involved oppression and hierarchy based on nationality and race. This was understood through the examples of France and Great Britain. The Soviet Union, and thus Communism was seen by minorities in a similar light as it also enforced its political policies upon other nationalities within its borders.  Nationalism was seen as a third way which instead advocated for the independent nation’s ability and right to self-determinism. Nationalists do tend to focus primarily on national interests rather than international issues. They tend to see internationalism as an extension of communism. Rather than spreading out resources and having all suffer (or benefit) equally, nationalists prefer to ensure that their nation benefits first before resources can be spared to assist other states. This week’s readings ultimately show the oxymoronic and inconsistent effects produced by the realities of nationalism. On the one hand, nationalism can lead to rejection and discrimination against foreigners, as can be seen in Italy’s colonial expeditions in Africa. On the other hand, it also can lead to cooperation with foreign nationalists as can be seen in the example of Nazi Germany. While to some, nationalists working with foreign nationalists might seem ironic or non-sensible, it is more practical than might first be construed. If the goal of the Nationalist is to seek the independence and prosperity of his nation, it is to the nations benefit if others are not interfering because they are seeking the same goal. The real irony is that in expanding their borders for their nation’s benefit, they oppress other nation’s nationalism.

Fascism & The New Italian

By: Vincent Larocque


In this weeks reading and Youtube video had the idea of remaking and reworking the perceptions of the image of the average Italian as well as the Italian state itself.

In “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy by Ruth Ben-Ghiat observed the attempted creation of the new Italian “no longer becoming, but IS a soldier” amongst other ideals set forth by Mussolini and the Italian Fascist government. The theme of of renewal or change is present in the article as Italy was undergoing a type of identity crises all the while seemingly copying and trying hard to relate to the Nazi regime in Berlin. Mussolini and other Italian Fascist were off put by the Nazi’s bid to become the undisputed rulers of the “new Europe” and Italian fascists grew alarmed at the unequal relationship between Berlin and Rome since they considered themselves to be equal. As such, this accelerated the idea of Italians to become “a race of hard edged conquers” and even more alarming were the 1938 racial laws that sought to define Italians as Aryans by instituting a campaign of cultural reclamation (bonifica della cultura) and copying anti-Jewish measures for Mussolini’s plan of Italian “Aryanization” to overcome the national inferiority complex.

The idea of the “New Italian” is also present in the video presented of the week “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema” where Italian cinema at this time reinforced Fascist racial and labour policies. The Italian style cinema, which has been compared to 1930’s Soviet realism, focuses on the “new man’ archetype where it is centered around the Italian male and has heavy connotations to Italian colonialism. Through film and because Italian colonial holding are not as historical and mostly new reflected a way to disengage audiences with domestic troubles, “don’t worry about what is going on at home when we are trying to re-create the Roman Empire” and through the cinematic experience of idealizing the Italian male, it could create a colonial history and behavior that reflects all the ideals of Fascist Italy.

Sources

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945
(University of California Press, 2004), pp. 123-130.

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2015, April 9). Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema. New York University. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch v=ZbFFLXVvtXc&ab_channel=CasaItalianaNYU

Introduction – Étienne Plourde

Hi all!

My name is Étienne; and as my name suggests, I’m from the Quebec side of the river. I used to live in Montreal before moving here for my undergrad. Before that, though, I lived in the United States – I’m a dual citizen, which gives me something of a special interest in the whole ‘Trump/inauguration’ drama we’re covering this week.

I’ve also spent some time working on U.S. affairs with Global Affairs, but that’s more of a coincidence; I’m not planning to focus on American issues in studies or work. Instead, I’m doing my master’s in the EURUS program, where I’m studying Turkish settlers in Cyprus and what that means for Turkey’s relationship with the European Union. Turkey, in a sense, fits particularly well in this course, both undergoing something of a populist movement and being targeted by movements in Europe. I’ve spent some time in Turkey, and have some basics of the language, but improving that has been one of my COVID projects.

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to find good slow-cooker recipes; running an online board game club; co-opting a book club to finally get through all the books I’ve snagged at garage sales; and critiquing the 3D ‘open house’ tours on a real estate site (a bit odd-sounding, perhaps, but excellent fun with the right company; I’ve gotten creative to keep up with Ottawa folks since I’ve returned home).

My apologies for the delay – after a bit of a struggle, I thought I’d take the ‘wait for class’ option written in the initial post, but eventually figured it out.

Historical Analogies

By: Vincent Larocque

This weeks readings focus on drawing comparison and similarities between the past and utilizing them in a modern context that can either highlight similarities in an argument or be utilized in a manner that can be deemed as unfit or a ‘stretch’ and only used as buzzwords to incite a visceral reaction.

In Samuel Moyn’s “Trouble with Comparisons” he discusses that comparisons can be a useful tool in discussions about events that draw upon similarities but can also be dangerous in reducing the seriousness of the events being used in such comparisons. Not only this but using comparisons with only vaguely similar contexts is seen as banal as he states in when the Nazi regime is used in comparing political activities “So what? Of course, Nazi Germany was similar in some respects to other examples, but that is true of everything in the world” (Moyan, 2020) and does not in the long run help victims and offers no productive difference in reducing the power that they can hold. Similarly, Peter Gordon in “Why Historical Analogy Matters” looks at the fallout that occurs when using analogies, specifically in this case the holocaust, with other events that draw upon some similarities and that evoking comparisons reduces the severity of the event itself and are ‘sloppy analogies’ that are ‘grossly simplified’. Interestingly, terms such as ‘fascist’ and others like ‘concentration camps’ that have been wholly synonymous with the Nazi regime has historical connotations with other events predating Nazi Germany and as such. These terms can be hijacked and used politically to further an agenda and may not always have true moral objectives this making it a dangerous territory to venture into without proper context or thought on the matter. Likewise, in Victoria de Grazia’s piece “What we don’t understand about Fascism” discusses the over use of the term “Fascism’ which can further denote the true intensity that National Socialism brought upon those subjected to it, “Americans may think we know this history, but we have oversimplified its complexity” (de Grazia, 2020)

With these texts in mind I find that using terms in historical comparisons important but all depending on the situation and should not be used lightly. While certain current events can mimic historical events, all instances in politics can be comparable in some way or another to less than pleasant historic events. Using terms can diminish the actual meaning and further water down the original occurrence to which the term originates from. However, when used correctly in the right as it can help and bring to light important factors that could possibly redirect the trajectory of actions being perpetrated in some instances by drawing on the public eye to the causes these comparisons are used for.

Works Cited/ Bibliography

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

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

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

Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Vincent Larocque and I am in my first year of the EURUS masters program. I did my undergrad in Political Science with a concentration in International relations at Carleton and I have allot research interests that go back and forth but I am very interested currently in security and defense issues pertaining to the EU and NATO and its relationship with Russia, and how they deal with the different situations that have risen out of conflicting interests. Specifically, I find the on going conflict in eastern Ukraine something that should be continued to watch closely.

I have lived in Ottawa all my life and have only had the opportunity to travel in southern Ontario, BC and the American east and southern coasts. I was hoping to get an opportunity to travel abroad to Europe but that’s not in the cards as of now but fingers crossed for the future! With all the extra time staying put at home during COVID, I have been trying to read more novels, draw, and made attempts to bake and cook more which I find relaxing.

I’m looking forward to gaining more insight in this class to the causes of the rise in authoritarian power and the movements that help them seeing as we can draw on comparisons to occurrences happening in todays political happenings.

Defining Terms

By: Lucas Lang

The overarching theme that I gathered from this week’s documents is that historians need to be careful of the ways in which they use and promote terminology and comparisons to the past. Victoria De Grazia’s essay on the use of the word fascism was interesting in that it seeks to define nationalism and its roots before arguing that the focus should not be on identifying or labeling fascists. Instead, the emphasis ought to be on the identification of the reasons why fascism came to be. Similarly, Cas Mudde’s article is also an examination of the roots and meaning of a term, though instead it examines populism. The two articles are distinct as one addresses concerns use of the term from the past while the other uses a term which is currently occurring. Both authors want the focus to be on what the proper reaction should be to their respective terminologies. Samuel Moyne and Peter Gordon’s articles examine the issue of comparing modern events to the past. While both authors acknowledge a use for comparison, Moyne wants historians to be more cautious in their use of contrast, while Gordon is more open to its usage. Both authors raise valid points. What after all is the point of knowing history knowledge of it is never used to understand modern events? Is not its purpose to learn lessons and mistakes of the past and prevent their re-occurrence in the present? On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that the present is not the past and events are unlikely to occur exactly as they did in the past and fearing such can lead people to take harmful and dangerous action.

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/

Introduction: Jackie Howell

Hi everyone! My name is Jackie (she/her), and I am in the second year of my MA program in International Affairs (NPSIA), concentrating in International Organizations and Global Policy. I’m also pursuing a Graduate Diploma in European Integration Studies. Before moving to Ottawa, I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Windsor in International Relations and Development, concentrating in Economics and French Studies. While my academic interests vary, I am mainly interested in environmental policy and European politics, focusing on far-right parties and movements.

My curiosity in European politics stems from my study-abroad course on the European Union during my undergrad. In May 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Belgium and visit various EU institutions, NATO, and NGOs. Learning the difference between the Council for Europe, European Council, and the Council of the EU sent my head for a spin, but I found the intricacies of the EU fascinating. A highlight of my experience was listening to the UK negotiators that worked on the Brexit deal discuss their frustrations with the UK and the EU.

I’m originally from Erieau, ON, which is a small town between Windsor and London. I am currently the only resident that will have pursued a Master of Arts, although Erieau only has ~400 residents. Since it’s a small town, news travels fast, and everyone knows everyone (think Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls, and that’s pretty much Erieau). My backyard looks out over Lake Erie (facing Cleveland), so I often stargaze in the summer, but I also enjoy fishing and boating.

 Looking forward to the term with all of you, and from the words of The 100, “May we meet again.”

Seeing the pier in Erieau is the highlight of my run.

Introduction: Sydney Linholm

Hi everyone! My name is Sydney Linholm, and I am in my last semester of my BA in Political Science with a concentration in North American Politics. My main academic focus is on the function of parliament, specifically parliamentary and electoral reform, and I also have an interest in how political campaigns and political offices run as well as the representation of women, Indigenous people, and minorities within both chambers of parliament. I’ve done some preliminary research on these topics in my undergrad, but I plan to dive deeper into how parliamentary and electoral reforms could affect representation in parliament when doing my MA degree.

European history is more so a hobby interest of mine, as some of my family history is centred around the USSR and the Soviet occupation of Estonia. My grandmother was born in Estonia, however she had to escape to Sweden at the age of ten because of the Soviet occupation. My grandfather is also from Estonia, and his stepfather was the Minister of Industrial Trade from 1925-1926 and later served as a diplomat to Greece and Turkey–he was arrested by the NKVD in 1940 and ingested poison before being transported to Tallinn’s Patarei Prison (where he died the next day) in order to not be tortured into giving away information about the goverment. As a result of this (tumultuous) history that my family has, I’ve taken an interest in the history of the USSR and even traveled to Russia in 2018.

In my personal life, I like to spend time with my partner and my 5 roommates, who also happen to be my very good friends. I like to cook, and experiment with new recipes. I also enjoy watching shows like Jeopardy (RIP Alex Trebek) because I enjoy trivia, and Downton Abbey. I also enjoy going for hikes and walks around Ottawa, and I do yoga almost every day as a grounding technique. I am looking forward to this class, and to getting to know all of you!