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!


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.


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.

Introducing Myself

Hi everyone,

My name is Owen and I’m a fourth year history student with a minor in political science. I have an interest in art, geography, and D&D, as well as in sports like fencing and kayaking. I’m also a part of Carleton’s model UN team, where I’m currently acting as a Co-Director of Training. I’ve recently finished eight months of co-op so I’m still readjusting to academic life, but I hope to learn a lot from all of you in this course as populism is a subject that I’ve always had an interest in. I’m excited to see what everybody writes about!


Hello Everyone,

My name’s Laura Gardner and I’ve just started my masters in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies. I’m originally from the UK and have been in Canada for almost 6 years now. I’ve been working as an ESL/EFL teacher for the last 14 years, which has taken me across Europe, to Russia, and even to the North of Canada. I’m trying to change careers, so I’m coming back into full time education after a long gap, so please be gentle with me! I’m looking forward to getting to know you all in the coming weeks.

HIST4606A Introducing Myself

Max Janousek

Hello everyone! I’m Max and as I have already met most if not all of you, I’m glad to be a part of this course and hope to open my mind to the many concepts and topics that this course will cover! As I mentioned in class I’m a final year history major and a bit of a 20th century military history nerd, but what I didn’t mention was that I’m a huge Halo fan so feel free to hit me up if you wanna play!


Students – welcome! This is where we will be doing the digital work for our class, including where you will post weekly commentaries and upload your Op/Ed assignments. For the actual blog assignment, you will create your own separate site, with separate address. It seems confusing at first, but it will be clear enough soon!

You are not required to post anything for our first class September 8th. I will need to set up your ID and profile here on WordPress, by sending you an email to join this page. For ease’s sake, I’ll use your cmail account. Once you are inside, you will set up your profile and start uploading some text. Don’t worry, it takes a few kicks at the can but WordPress is really intuitive and you’ll figure it out quickly!

Here are some things to bear in mind when you go to make your posts each week. When you go to our site, and log in, you will see your dashboard on the left hand side of the page. When you want to create a new entry, select post (not page). Clicking it will open a window for you to compose your thoughts. You can add images or just use plain text – be as creative as you want. To the right of the text box is a vertical with several options. I have set up a series of categories to organize your entries each week. For your first post, tick box 1: Students Introduce Yourselves (important, and confusing, don’t tick blog entries – a weird WordPress thing). This is important, because it helps curate your posts according to theme. Also be sure to add your name just under the title for each post you make each week. It allows us to see who is writing what.

Once you have written a few things about yourself, and selected box 1, you are ready to publish it. Maybe click preview to see how it looks. If you like how it reads, click publish and it will be live!

It is that simple.

Now, if you find it challenging and can’t figure it out, don’t worry. We’ll spend time walking through things. For next week, write your reflection piece as well and upload it to our site. 

Try it out! Don’t forget to click 2. Defining Terms for the second week’s reflections (repeat: not Blog Entries!). And send me an email if you are having trouble.

See you in a week! (I’m away – but remember there are two guest speakers and I’ll be taking attendance too, just to keep it interesting). 

Normalizing Nationalism through the Language of Human Rights.

By: Ali Yasin

Columbus Day has always courted controversy, more so than nearly any other holiday. Its celebration across the Americas, as well as in Italy and Spain, has often been a battleground for activists and scholars on both sides of the political spectrum. This year the debate seems to have reached new heights as US President Joe Biden weighed in on the subject. He’s the first American president to acknowledge the “painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations”, during his commemoration of Columbus Day. [1]

Many Americans see this recognition as overdue and somewhat timid considering the extent of Columbus’ personal cruelty, let alone the countless other crimes committed over the centuries of imperialism in the Americas. On the other side of the Atlantic however, a host of current and former Spanish politicians have harshly criticized Biden’s comments. Members of the conservative Popular Party and more hard-line populist Vox have come to the defence of the long dead Spanish Empire and its brutal conquest of the Americas. Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, argued that Spanish people should feel a sense of pride when remembering the actions of the Spanish Empire, what he described as “an empire of human rights”.[2] This line of thinking was echoed across the Spanish political right, with colonial conquest being portrayed as a noble quest to discover the new world, create prosperity, and spread Christian humanism.

Almost any historian of colonial Latin America would find these claims baffling as they’re in reference to the same empire which worked hundreds of thousands of Quechua people to death, operating a single sliver mine at Potosi Bolivia, the same mine which produced 80% of the worlds silver at the time, making the Spanish Empire the richest in Europe.[3] It’s difficult to see how any reasonable person could describe the colonization of the Americas as anything other than blatant and murderous exploitation. Columbus himself set this tone early as he routinely punished the native Taino people with mutilation, death, and infanticide when they failed to produce the tributes of gold and silver he demanded.

The Spanish right’s depiction of colonialism as a humanitarian undertaking is puzzling not only because of its misrepresentation of actual history, but also because it defends nationalist attitudes using the language of human rights. Although seeing Trump-style populists using terms like humanism to protect their sense of grassroots nationalism may seem strange to many in North America, scholars of right-wing populism in Europe have studied this trend for decades now. Unlike the far-right movements of the early 20th century, the “New Right” rejects the use of violence as an immediate means to seize power, while still seeing themselves as a revolutionary movement. They instead argue that their role as revolutionaries is to transform the cultural landscape and bring their views back into mainstream politics.[4] Ironically, this strategy was first proposed by Italian Socialist Antonio Gramsci while imprisoned under Italy’s fascist regime during the 1930’s, leading some to describe the New Right as the Gramscians of the right.

This may explain why the modern populist right has focused so much energy on what they call the “culture wars”. It may also explain why their use of humanitarian language to describe colonialism, so closely resembles the statements made recently by Emmanuel Macron in defence of French colonialism. Despite often being seen as a bulwark against right wing populism in Europe, president Macron took the same defiant stance when questioned on France’s colonial history in Algeria and the rest of Africa. He described the history of colonialism in Algeria as being “entirely re-written” and “based not on truths” but “on a discourse of hatred towards France”. Going even further to undermine the suffering inflicted on Algerians during their experience of French colonialism, which included having roughly one third of their entire population killed during the initial conquest, Macron stated “these are only stories of wounds… the problem is that many people are irreconcilable towards one another”.[5]

It seems that despite the supposed political gulf between them, both far-right populists and avowedly anti-populists liberals in Europe, feel compelled to defend not only the imperial pasts of their nations, but more importantly the historical narratives which have been built around them. Narratives that serve the purpose of unifying inherently diverse people around collective national agendas and justifying the exploitation which comes with those agendas, regardless of how divorced from the complex realities of actual history these narratives are. If both the most liberal and illiberal forms of our current political system are dependent on the same constructed narratives to justify their often exploitive actions, can neo-liberalism actually offer a compelling alternative to illiberal populism, or are both simply part of the same political spectrum and facilitating one another?

[1] Hedgecoe, Guy. “Spanish Right Attacks Biden over Columbus and Conquests.” BBC News, 12 Oct. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58882832.

[2] Casey, Nicholas. “In Debate Over Conquistadors 500 Years Ago, Spanish Right Sees an Opportunity.” The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/09/world/europe/spain-conservatives-conquistadors.html.

[3] Forero, Juan. “Bolivia’s Cerro Rico: The Mountain That Eats Men.” NPR, 25 Sept. 2012, https://www.npr.org/2012/09/25/161752820/bolivias-cerro-rico-the-mountain-that-eats-men.

[4] Roger Griffin, “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Modern & Contemporary France, vol. 8, no. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp. 35–53.

[5] Bensaid, Adam. “France’s Silence over Colonial Crimes Ensures Confrontation with Algeria.” TRT World, 14 Oct. 2021, https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/france-s-silence-over-colonial-crimes-ensures-confrontation-with-algeria-50756.

Photo Credit: Al-Jezeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/4/26/spain-is-in-danger-of-falling-into-the-hands-of-the-far-right

Women of the far right and the historic appeal of fascism

Michaela Bax-Leaney

Two women gathered at a rally in support of former President Donald Trump. “2017.03.04 Pro-Trump Rallies Washington, DC USA 00401” by tedeytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of the infamous images of insurrection from January 6th feature men – Podium Guy Adam Johnston, Viking Guy Jake Angeli, and the man with his feet propped up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk Richard Barnett all come to mind as the obvious examples. Yet there were also plenty of women there that day.

There was Gina Bisignano, who, to quote HuffPost reporter Ryan Reilly, “stormed the Capitol in a Louis Vuitton sweater.” There was Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, who as NBC News reported, were arrested in connection with a video in which they claimed to have been in search of Pelosi in order “to shoot her in the friggin’ brain.” Ashli Babbitt, the first reported casualty of the day, was a virulent QAnon conspiracy theorist, the New York Times reported

Following the 2020 U.S. election, a New York Times exit poll found that 55 per cent of white women voters cast their ballots for Trump, compared to 44 per cent for Biden. While there is plenty of discourse back and forth over what exactly to make of that number, and semantic debates about its accuracy, there is a simpler truth that the number tells us: the alt-right appeals to white women, and not just a few of them. 

In looking to the historic participation of women in fascist regimes, we see that there is precedent for the appeal of fascism and the far right to white women in particular, despite these being causes that, some would argue, are detrimental to their interests.

As historians Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez note, in seeking to understand the motives of women, too often that understanding relegates women to “merely supportive roles,” when the reality is that women were active and enthusiastic contributors to their causes. And those causes, as López and Sánchez explain, included active and enthusiastic support of fascist regimes such as in Francoist Spain.

Led by Pilar Primo de Rivera (center left), a group of Spanish women Falangist leaders, representing the Nationalists, were welcomed in Berlin by members of the Nazi Women’s Workers’ Division.

And yet while there are documented instances of this participation, López and Sánchez argue that these remain understudied. This is in large part due to the fact that the study of ordinary conservative women tends to exist in opposition to the values of gender-focussed historians. While the actions of women in leadership may be reviled, they can still be understood as some form of feminism.

Analogous to today might be someone like Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. While not a fascist, Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the highest court in the U.S. sparked many discussions about the dichotomy she embodies. She is only the fifth woman to serve on the court, out of the 114 justices in U.S. history, and yet for many women she represents a powerful threat to the rights of women, particularly around reproductive rights. But a degree of understanding is extended to her because, despite all of that, she is still a woman seizing power in a male-dominated arena; there’s an air of feminism to it.

Yet as the historian of Nazi Germany, Claudia Koonz, showed us in her book, Mothers of the Fatherland, ordinary women were both drawn to and complicit in fascism.

Feminist scholar Catharine R. Simpson writes that although “many societies deprive women of power over themselves, women still have power to exercise. Women, though Other to men, have their Others too.” She calls to mind the ownership of Black slaves, both men and women, by white women in the U.S., as well as Koonz’ point that women in Nazi Germany did participate in genocide, both actively and passively.

Italian historian Daniella Rossini describes how, in Italy from 1911 to 1912, there was a marked shift within the Italian feminist movement to more closely align themselves with Italian nationalism, throwing their support behind the colonization of Libya. Rossini argues that the war, and the promise of a new Italy, strengthened those bonds, and soon Italian women found themselves part of a regime which in turn sought to stifle them.

In shifting focus to the present day, many have theorized what appeal 21st century iterations of the far right hold for women, and notably white women. Annie Kelly argued that QAnon held a natural appeal for mothers, given the rhetoric within QAnon advocating “Freedom for the Children.” In the Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connolly, and Angela Giuffrida found that these allegiances are attributable to financial hardship, which disproportionately affects women, and populist messaging warning feminists that immigration will result in a women’s rights backslide.

But what is certain is that it is not a new phenomenon, and when seeking to ascertain motive and understanding, we should be reminded of the wide range of experiences and circumstances which have historically brought women into the fold of the far right.