How do we Capture Populism? – Jacob Braun

Ever since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the term “populism” has seen a resurgence in academic literature and popular media. Although the idea of populism has been studied and monitored since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, most still have a very faint idea of what the concept actually means.

In his podcast with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Rogers Brubaker lays out a general definition of populism as a repertoire of worldviews— characterised by a distrust in governmental institutions, cultural protectionism and crass behaviour. Despite populism further being argued as neither left nor right by Cas Mudde, right-wing populists have been able to wield this repertoire effectively as to champion their political objectives ostensibly in the name of the people. But if populism represents a fight against the elite caste of society which can be manipulated for both the left and right wings of the political spectrum, how does fascism connect to it? 

According to Federico Finchelstein, populism in theory rejects the raw forms of political violence presented by fascism. But, the intolerant nature of right-wing populism as well as its many similarities to fascism provides a readily available jumping-off point for its followers to radicalise into fascists. For instance, Robert Paxton presents the invention of fascism as a kind of “national socialism;” a stark similarity to the populist rhetoric of patriotism and national identity with a necessity to protect the lower class of society who have fallen prey to parasitic elites. Sound familiar?

Through this week’s readings, we can attribute a loose definition to the ephemeral concept of populism and connect it to its most dangerous extreme form, fascism.

“Deus Vult!” A phrase with many meanings

I am choosing to write on last week’s readings for now, but I see everyone is writing on this week’s readings. Worst comes to worst I do two reflections this week…

The phrase “Deus Vult!” or “God wills it”, is a phrase I have heard a few times before, but I had never known what the term really meant or why it was being used.

It seems that shouting the phrase could be very innocent, but in a decade of Trump supporters, Islamophobia and other issues, the term has almost a new meaning. In the reading by Sal Hagen on this phrase, we learn that it is a historical catchphrase that was intended to align people into recapturing the Holy Land. Therefore, it has become a more far-right catchphrase that is slightly problematic.

Although it was interesting to learn that it was not just Americans who began to use this phrase in a more extreme right way, it also fueled Israel’s far-right and the Brazilian far-right as well. However, in either case, it is used to promote a more white and Christian perspective and to extend cases of Islamophobia.

Something that I continue to struggle with is that Christians claim to be loving and accepting of all people, but then you have these cases in multiple areas where the far-right of these groups are hating on others. Which you would believe to be the opposite going off of what they tell others. Alas, that is more on the side of my opinion, so I will stop there.

I think using the phrase as a meme can be funny and innocent in a particular context with friends. However, to use a catchphrase in terms of hate is a bit ridiculous. However, it seems that everyone needs to hate someone. In the reading of the Brazilian far-right, it is interesting that the government used another phrase, “Brazil above everything, God above all,” which is a religious twist on a slogan from the Nazi Party.

There’s much I could talk about on this phrase but I will leave it here for now.

Introduction

Kaileigh La Belle

Hello everyone!

My name is Kaileigh and I am a fourth-year History student with a minor in Sexuality Studies. As you can probably guess, I am very interested in the history of sexuality. I particularly enjoy studying queer and trans histories in 20th Century Europe and North America, as well colonial/imperial discourses on sexuality. Outside of class, I enjoy reading (especially historical fiction), writing, and doing crafts such as knitting, sewing, and beading. I look forward to getting to know you all over the semester!

Introduction :)

Me and my trusty hat

Hi new faces and old alike! My name is Hannah and I am in my fourth year of History, concentrating in Public History (to sound a little fancy). My relationship with history has always been a very present part of my life, as I have been fascinated with history on a global scale since I was very young. I can attribute this to my immigration to Canada and relatives back in the UK who would give me history books as presents and take me to historic sites on my visits back.

Recently over the summer I was fortunate enough to volunteer with archeologists on a Roman Villa and was able to expand my insight into how history is viewed and treated in different countries. I really enjoy seeing the variety of jobs available in this field and how different they all are from each other!

See you all in class!

Defining Terms – Populism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism

The readings for this week by Brubaker, Finchelstein, Mudde, and Paxton, all question why we label governments, or different classes/groups of people as populist, authoritarian, or fascist. Brubaker questions if the term “populism” is used as a tool for analysis, or if it is just a journalistic cliché that is thrown around as a label for groups and individuals. By extension I feel that this idea applies to the other terms as well. Do we use the terms authoritarian, or fascist to gauge ongoing political issues, or are they just catchy headline terms that garner clicks? In other words, how do we utilize these terms?

In tandem with their utilization, the readings all question and analyze their characterization. These terms generally carry a very negative denotation with them due to their history, (particularly due to the events that transpired throughout the 20th century in Europe) and generally speaking most people would likely not want to be directly associated with them. A major point of contention when discussing these terms is questioning how we identify them? Do we label them as worldviews, ideologies, or can we even put them on the same level as an ‘ism’ like conservatism, liberalism, and socialism? One thing is certain, and that’s that all three terms define a strong political viewpoint regarding governance and equality.

Readings:

  • Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) 
  • 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.

Introduction…

Hey everyone! My name is Nicole and I’m in my fourth year of Journalism here at Carleton, minoring in history. History, especially European history and the history of WW2, is a subject that my parents engraved into my head as being both important and interesting since I was a kid.

I have always had an interest in European history, more so in England as my great grandparents came from there after the Second World War. Before everything that has been occurring in the news lately, I have also always been fascinated by the Royal family as a topic of history going back to King Henry VIII.

I am excited to see what this semester brings, and I look forward to getting to know all of you a little bit better.

Cheers!

Political Definitions are Nebulous

Owen Billo

All the readings this week offer some kind of definitions for “populism” and “fascism” as well as discussing the definitions of others. These definitions are used, among other purposes, to draw a line between populism and fascism, but the definitions and lines drawn differ such that I am still left wondering: which is the most correct? Mudde offers his own take on the dominant “ideational approach” for populism, where a group identified as “the people” must defeat a group identified as “the elite.” I personally agree with this definition, but it is incredibly broad (which is the intention) and could potentially describe movements which are not conventionally considered populist.

Finchelstein loosely applies the ideational approach to draw a line between populism and fascism, arguing that populism becomes fascism when “the people” becomes a race/ethnicity/nationality and tries to bend politics to the will of that group. It might also be added that fascism loses the democracy-focus of populism, and Finchelstein’s definition misses some aspects of Paxton’s description of fascism. In other words, the line between populism is thicker than we might think, but also very flexible.

Additionally, both Mudde and Finchelstein argue that populism is also an “illiberal-democratic response to undemocratic liberalism” (Mudde, 1) while also acknowledging that populism can vary in political orientation. But what is the possibility of liberal populism, especially in an illiberal political environment? In this case, I think their definition of populism could exclude some kinds of populism.

Perhaps “which definition is most correct?” is the wrong question for such nebulous concepts – concepts which might be better described by qualifiers than a definition.

Intro Post

Hi everyone,

My name is Jacob- I’m a fourth year student in the BGINS program here at Carleton, specializing in European and Russian studies. I very much enjoy analyzing the course of historical events and how they’ve shaped relations between the West and Russia, mainly since the inception of the USSR and beyond. I’ve recently returned from an internship in Florence, Italy for my IER and I’m very excited to finally be back in the classroom again. It was a pleasure meeting you all last week, and I’m sure this semester will mark a great return to campus!

Introduction

Hey everyone,

We may have already met briefly in class but he goes a brief intro about me. I am currently a fourth year history student minoring in Geography. I have plans on attending teachers education next year and becoming a highschool teacher in my future. One of my favorite things to do is cook and learn new recipes while trying different foods that I may have never seen before. I am looking forward to this class and the semester as well as learning more about you guys and working together over the next few months.

Adam Paquin

People Need Someone to Hate

What struck me with these readings is the lack of consensus shown by the writers with regard to the definition of the word “fascism”, and how easily it is used interchangeably with the word “populism”. Although the general impression of the word shows it to be synonymous with an authoritarian and restrictive regime, which, as stated, refers specifically to certain key countries within the early to mid-20th century, the wider interpretation of the word, and placing it in its correct historical context, are slightly less straightforward.

Finchelstein (2017) in particular lays out in clear terms the distinction between fascism and populism, but the understanding most people in society have regarding these movements is somewhat skewed. It makes me wonder whether people looking at the news today make links between current trends in populism across Europe and the United States and equate them automatically with fascism, as they are used to having a so-called enemy to hate. With the end of the Cold War, people are looking for a new enemy, as befits human nature. Society as a whole, especially in Europe, as stated by Mudde (2021), has been increasingly becoming liberal in mindset. As such, when a minority of people gain populist leanings, many of which trend towards the right end of the political spectrum, the average person may equate the “otherness” of their mindset with the “bad” right-wing regimes of the past.

 As the readings show, populism can be left or right, but I would assume that many people do not wish to identify themselves as populist to avoid any negative connotations the word has garnered. However, they would feel comfortable labelling those on the opposite end of the spectrum as such. As fascism and populism, outside of a historical and correctly analysed perspective, are often seen as synonymous, it stands to reason that the term would be erroneously used to label modern populist movements.

Bibliography

Finchelstein, F. (2019). Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past. In From Fascism to Populism in History. essay, University of California Press.

Schapiro, L., & Mudde, C. (1969). Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism. In Government and opposition (pp. 1–21). essay, London School of Economics.