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

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.

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

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!

Introduction: Jake Rooke, Populism and Grandpa’s lesson

My name is Jake Rooke and I am a first-year M.A. student in EURUS. My story originally began in South East London, the UK in 1990. I grew up in a working-class family, with a single mother that worked many precarious jobs to help feed, clothe and house my brother and me. Thus, adversity has been a large part of my life; coming from a single-parent household, being dyslexic and moving to Canada when I was twelve, I’ve learnt how to ‘roll with the punches’.

I have been fascinated from a young age with history, particularly on British imperial history, the 1930s and World War Two. I had two great grandfathers serve in WW1, and two grandfathers in WW2. As a boy, I would cherish the ‘war stories’ that my grandpa would tell me of his time as a ‘Desert Rat’, and his subsequent deployment to the Indo-China region. It was in Singapore, after a long fight through then Burma (now Myanmar) that my grandpa’s hair went white, horrified from the destruction that war had caused. Nonetheless, it was always a lesson learnt though for my grandpa, “the war taught us to listen to each other”.

Both my grandparents grew up in the 1920s and 1930s and taught me lessons of compassion, diligence and thriftiness, all in the face of adversity. They truly were the members of the Greatest Generation. But it was the haunting stories my grandparents would tell me of the rise of fascism that still disturb me. ‘The slow march’ into intolerance, the populist narratives and subsequent discrimination and destruction that it brought upon the world. “Where did this all come from?” For my grandparents, it was a mixture of complacency and polarization in our politics. My grandpa, as he’d watch divisive politics would point out “the further we get away from the war, the more we don’t compromise”. I knew what he was getting at. Partisanship produces polarization, and polarization produces further partisanship. The end results in a big bang, of sorts.

Where did this all come from?

It’s with this in mind that I have studied populist movements. I wrote my Honour’s Research Essay (undergrad thesis) with Dr Hurrelmann on Brexit, focusing on local rationales for leaving the EU in South East London. I focused on this area, as I lived there as a boy, but also worked there from 2014-2019, during the referendum. In Bexley (the borough I focused on) before and after the referendum I heard and saw attitudes that reflected an atmosphere of polarization, discrimination and post-truth hyperbole. These were mentalities I hadn’t heard since I was a boy when the skinhead ‘National Front’ and British National Party were popular in the area. I felt worried for my community and the direction they were heading. However, I also saw working-class people struggle to make ends meet and provide for their families. It’s with this in mind, I feel a need to turn the tide and prevent the resurgence populist narratives.