Goal vs Means

D. Khaznadji

It is so easy for our brains to make shortcuts. It is a good way to make the complex — and sometimes scary — world more understandable and more reassuring. It is hard to take the time to think about the contingent nature of our world, to admit that it is not necessarily A alone that leads to B. 

This is exactly what the readings this week showed me: Humans simplifying complex social, economic and political phenomena with shaky historical parallels in order to serve a certain end goal. But while that goal might be totally legitimate, the problem arise when we confuse the goal and the means. The notion of confusing goal and means was introduced to me through psychologists, who argued that we humans suffer in love because we confuse the goal (to love and be loved) with means (verbal affection, physical affection, gifts, etc). In our context, the goal is a strong liberal democracy, and one of the means we came up with was the eradication of fascism. The problem comes when the eradication of fascism becomes the goal, and the strengthening of liberal democracy is relegated to the backstage. 

This is how I made sense of De Grazia, who argued that the victory in 1945 and after was more than just military. Countries had to adapt socially and economically to address the problems fascism claimed it could solve. “Beating” fascism meant not only to win on the battlefield but also to change the environment it thrived in. If there is a “new fascist phenomenon” today, it is because of a failure to implement a proper socio-economic adaptation to our current problems. My point is that we have confused the goal (strong liberal democracy) with the means (eradication of fascism). The means became the goal. Vietnam, Libya and Iraq were all about dealing with the flames of fascist resurrection. The means became the goal. 

This confusion is what led so many people into dropping that F bomb so easily. Which is why Finchelstein felt the need to clearly define and differentiate fascism and populism. Though they certainly do have links, they are in the end two different experiences. Finchelstein reminded me of last week’s readings in a certain way. She asserts that one of the main features of fascist regimes is that they replace History with political myth, aiming at serving a specific agenda. Last week we saw how some leaders forge a shared heritage with a white, Christian Europe. While those leaders would fall more into the category of populism rather than fascism, it also shows how those two can be linked. What I also liked about Finchelstein is that she has a view of fascism that is a bit more complex than the other authors, who seem to be limited to Mussolini as one of the only measurements of a fascist state. 

Illiberal Democracy

By: Alison Miller

   “Illiberal democracy” came up in some of the readings this week, and I think it is this concept that best helps to define populism, but I also felt that adding Mudde’s argument that the populist affiliation comes second to a person’s “Host ideology” adds necessary nuance to the idea. These concepts simplify ways that populists interact with the political systems that they are a part of, allowing the term populism to remain at least partly amorphous in order to remain flexible in accordance with the need of the scholar. There very little use in a word meant to label that is so inflexible so as to not recognise new forms of itself arising without putting a name to it.

That same thing is part of my frustration with the opinion of most of this week’s authors. The question of how we use the word fascism in the modern day seems to be a sticking point for most of them. While I don’t disagree that the term ‘fascism’ is overused, the pedantic idea of only using it when it is either referring to historic fascism, or if the occasion perfectly matches that of Mussolini’s Italy is a bit of a means the word becomes so inflexible so as to be useless. I think that there must be a middle ground somewhere that allows certain sets of actions to be related to fascism without needing to pepper the word in absolutely everywhere, as well as recognising that academia will be using words like fascism in different ways than groups like antifa, social media users, newsgroups, etc.

Of all of the articles this week, I enjoyed Gavriel Rosenfeld’s the most, as his analysis of illiberal memory is at once new to me while also being completely recognisable. His critique of liberal memory-making was convincing, alongside multiple international examples of where memory-making has been co-opted by illiberal and populist leaders. What I felt was the strongest part of Rosenfeld’s argument was the concept that liberals were so focused on the creation of memory that they failed to acknowledge the real politics going on around them.

One of the things I would have enjoyed reading is an analysis of illiberal democratic leaders and their treatment of newer events. It feels as though if an event happens that counters what a populist leader wants, they are quick to say that the event did not happen, or it happened differently than the way it did. It would be an interesting study to see the treatment of events by liberal democratic leaders versus illiberal, and whether it is personal bias that leads me to think that illiberal leaders are more prone to re-writing even recent history in order to promote themselves.

Given the contents of this week’s readings, I feel like adding a version of the tradition anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” is not out of place.

Us Vs. Them: A Simplistic and Reductive Division of Society

Declan Da Barp

In the modern historical arenas of Twitter and cable TV terms like Populist, Fascist, and Authoritarian are being thrown around largely without their historical context. As Victoria de Grazia states “calling people ‘fascists’ has been as American as apple pie for as long as I can remember.” With that said, the arguments in this week’s readings fail to agree on a definition for any of these terms but rather discussed them as processes gleaned from historic events. Robert Paxton, Federico Finchelstein, and Cas Mudde underline that these ideologies are innately fluid enterprises that morph based on local contexts. The common line drawn between their arguments is that fascism and populism have transnational similarities, but an individual regime cannot be exported. As Paxton writes about Fascist regimes, though it could as easily be written about Populist ones, “Fascism, unlike the other “isms,” is not for export,” (20). This can is because the idea of the “people” changes based on the local context.

Mudde outlines that populism divides the world into two groups the “pure people” and the “corrupt elites” (578). The definition of people varies from regime to regime and is based on the political persuasion of the state but across the populist movement, the monolithic people are to be protected by the state while this same protection is not extended to the elites. In Fascism, scientific racism and social Darwinism are harnessed to create the “people,” blood matters before any other distinguisher (Paxton, 16). While innately tied to the post-war context that gave birth to the ideology, there is a clear line between both Fascism and Populism. Proponents of both see the state existing to serve the monolithic majority while leaving no space for minorities. The dividing line being the use of violence, which Finchelstein sees as the divide between both fascism and populism (23-24). There is no discussion of violence within Mudde’s piece and while this cannot be understood to say that violence does not factor within the populist worldview it does not hold the centrality that it does in fascism.

From the reading, I come away with a simple question: how has the violence that is so central to the fascist ideology clouded our understanding of it? And due to the popular conflation of the two, how has this impacted populism?

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/

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.

Oversimplification, incorrect labels causes a resurgence of populism confused with fascism

Wesley M

            The central linking argument for this week’s readings and podcast is that the terms fascism and populism are often (either because of intentional bias or just genuine ignorance), commonly conflated within public discourse resulting in the majority of people incorrectly believing that the two terms mean the same thing; an authoritarian dictatorship, instead of their very different definitions. This incorrect labelling is in fact distracting from the real current issue: the fact that populism is resurging throughout Europe and North America and appears to be quickly gaining ground primarily due to discontent while more traditional political parties seek to maintain their relevance.

One of the most interesting things about these readings is that scholars are also divided on the issue of whether populism or fascism can be applicable terms for what we are dealing with in the world today. As the podcast of Professor Rogers Brubaker, the book by Robert Paxton, and the articles by Cas Mudde and Victoria de Grazia all show their own unique perspectives on this issue through their own separate discussions of the history of fascism as well as several deconstructions of the meaning of fascism and/or populism. Despite some minor differences in argument or focus, all of those mentioned above, appear to share the belief that populism can in fact be an accurate representative term for contemporary events around the world, but only if the term is used correctly.[1]

In contrast the article by Federico Finchelstein seeks to downplay the possible underlying correlation between the two terms by arguing against Paxton’s view on Trump not being a fascist, by viewing populism as being a post-fascism response to the perceived failures of neoliberal democratic institutions.[2] Professsor Brubaker discusses how the politicians failing to respond adequately to recent crises (2008 crash, Eurozone, 2015 refugee crisis, 2015-2017 terrorist attacks, Brexit) have allowed for those issues to become united and in turn strengthened populism’s appeal to the discontented masses, who don’t understand the danger populism due to not understanding what populism actually means.[3]

The best way to explain the danger of confusing populism and fascism with each other is by looking at the five steps of the fascist cycle: “(1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.”[4] populists and fascists being different is irrelevant because the terms being conflated together has allowed their original meaning to become joined in the public’s opinion and as the past years demonstrate populists being elected could gradually erode that country’s democracy, which in turn could ultimately create a dictatorship. So the best way to prevent this is to give an accurate explanation of the terms to show why populist leaders are able to appeal to the public.[5] This may allow the opposition to effectively counter them than just sticking them with the fascist/populist label.


[1] Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000:; Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), 23.; Cas Mudde, “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” (The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture 2019). Government and Opposition, (2021): 581.; Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

[2] 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).: 11-12, 18-19.; I wonder if Paxton’s viewpoint is changed following the capital riot on January 6, 2021?

[3] Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes).

[4] Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 23.

[5] de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism”.

Aesthetic Definitions of Fascism

Dani Carron

Beyond the search for political or historical definitions, a common theme that struck me in this week’s readings was the authors’ engagement with the aesthetics of fascism. The readings touched on several prominent historical examples, including the recognizable coloured shirts associated with fascist movements & their followers (Finchelstein 18), as well as fascists’ interests in the aesthetics of architecture, modernity, race, health & body (Paxton 13). Several authors made these aesthetics fundamental to their introduction of fascism as a subject: Robert Paxton refers to fascism as “the most self-consciously visual of all political forms” (9), while de Grazia quotes Susan Sontag in referring to the United States “being beguiled by fascism’s kitschy aesthetics.” It seems that aesthetics are essential both to fascists themselves, as they pursue a power and cosmology rooted in particular aesthetics, and to the public interacting with them, as these aesthetics allow them to both admire and participate in fascist politics. As Paxton describes, fascism harnessed the power of emotions through dramatic displays and rituals, and while these images (falsely) dominate our notions of fascist regimes, this nonetheless points to the emotional traction of fascist aesthetics among various publics.

Having established aesthetics as an essential component of fascist power-wielding, I wonder if it might be worth pursuing this theme further into the realm of definition. What value might an aesthetic definition, rather than a political, ideological or literal one, offer both researchers and the wider public? To a non-academic audience, are aesthetics more easily communicated than complex definitions or critical debate? Do they leave room for nuance otherwise not enabled by finite definition? Within a contemporary context, having an understanding the aesthetic coding of fascism might prove useful within visual-centric media – and the contemporary far-right, more broadly, have already been using particular aesthetics to signal value systems that would otherwise be frowned upon (or easily identified) if made explicit.

There might be objections to this approach, despite the inclusion of aesthetics in nearly all of this week’s readings. Some authors expressed concern for studying ‘style’ over content, particularly in regards to populism (Finchelstein 2, and Mudde 578). Paxton raises issues with definitions outright, arguing that these present processes as a stagnant framed “picture” or “frozen statuary” (14). Despite this visual imagery, however, I’d suggest that aesthetics are more amenable to transnational connections, differences and transformations than strict ‘universal’ political definitions. In the case of fascism, aesthetics (and the emotions they invoke) appear to stand in for traditional ideology in the forms of discourse & literature, which Paxton questions even exists in the case of fascism (18) – thus, rather than trying to shape fascism in the image of traditional political thought, it might be more fruitful to learn to identify it by its own particular means of communication and power-making.

Works Cited

Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square, August 13th 2020. 

Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past.” In From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017), pp 1-30.

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.

Terms: How they are used vs. What they are. Is there a distinction?

Kathleen McKinnon

Rogers Brubaker’s “Why Populism?” podcast posed an interesting thought process of what makes populism and how it has been possibly overapplied in many instances as an evil racist machine. Not that is always true or untrue but it certainly makes clear that terms are not always clear and are not always used or portrayed correctly and thus become even more polarizing. Not only that but without proper definitions and with over applications what is going on in the determining of populism and authoritarian phenomena as eras or just periods, for example as pointed out in the podcast, are not so clear. It is better to understand these terms to determine or try to determine what is going on in the world.

Populism for example, as just the opposition to elites, is a broad definition and needs further exploration to be further understood otherwise it remains broad and in danger of misunderstanding. Both fascism and populism see themselves as the only legitimate form of government, both of these terms likewise have been historically overapplied and both have been seen as negative in a liberal democratic society but also these terms have some differences. (Finchelstein, 5). I get the sense that fascism is seen as more militaristic with the world wars and major revolutions (De Grazia) and that populism is what has risen to power in place to keep down the “other” while using information technology to prove legitimacy. It seems that over time that the authoritarianism which has manifested as fascism has seen a decline in favour of populism. But I would argue that the terms take on a life of their own as defined by popular media. The definitions can be fluid and change depending on how people perceive them and that is the role the media plays in this.

Works Cited

Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000

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).

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/

Nostalgia for the “isms”

Emma C

The readings this week discussed the terms fascism, populism and authoritarianism and how they have been historically used. The way in which we understand and use these terms today, is often based on figures and moments in history, but the history around these terms is ignored. Both the readings by Robert Paxton and Cas Mudde discuss the ideas of fascism and populism and their gained popularity today.

Paxton’s point about how fascism is a cycle of five stages, but very few events/people make it to the fifth stage, “the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy,” interested me as I had never seen it broken down like that before. It had me thinking that while we may call many leaders fascists, using this cycle they were never true fascists, only echoing the ideology. Paxton also says, “The complex relationship between fascism and modernity cannot be resolved all at once, and with a simple yes or no. It has to be developed in the unfolding story of fascism’s acquisition and exercise of power.” This quote got me thinking about Mudde, as they talk about in their piece that “currently there is a period of nostalgia for the past.” While Mudde discusses the idea of populism, what both authors bring together is this idea that the ideologies of fascism and populism are gaining traction again today, because people want a change, and they see how these ideas worked in the past to make political change.

A question I have is: What harm can come from being nostalgic about the past, without having proper education about it or are people just romanticizing a history because they are unhappy with the present?

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.

A Plague of ‘ists’ and ‘isms’

M. Nagy

It is easy to make someone into an ‘other.’ The need to self identify and outwardly codify is as inherent to the human condition as the need for the safety and security of the group. In a sense, it is this form of ‘tribalism’ that has helped to establish the systems that we hold near and dear to our existence. Our ways of life and understanding have been compartmentalized and clarified down into subsets of singular terms that carry vast intentions and meaning.

The terminology that is applied against certain topics and ideas maintains a great weight against them in establishing the preconceptions that a term is typically associated with. As Brubaker put it in his lecture, ‘populism’ is the “Politics of Fear”.1 More than that however, the use of these terms of great ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ without clearly dictating the manner in which they are being applied is rife for problematic usage and manipulative logic. With each reading bringing a constant through-line of logic to the use of the terms of ‘populism’ and ‘fascism’, they nonetheless maintain keep points of deviation. While Brubaker, Mudde, and Finchelstein come to agree on the conceptualization that ‘Populism’ is a trans-atlantic issue which is characterized by the use of outgroup dynamics and the inherent reactionary nature of the policy that ‘populists’ develop; a major facet they cannot reconcile is the nature of how it develops and which groups can be assigned to the term.

These are central issues to the topic of term application as without them the use of the terms are, at worst, inherently meaningless; while, at best, they require constant affirmation of the context in which they are being used in. Brubaker takes the assumption that a ‘populist’ system is based around fear. Crafting an ideology of immediacy and responsiveness that rejects established forms and employs protectionist policies.2 Mudde takes the approach that it is an inherently secondary ideology that is used to further the goals of a main ideological framework and galvanize a public for the common cause of the people.3 With the assertion by Finchelstein that the current issues of ‘populism’ are driven from the historical nature of the adaption of ‘fascism’, that would maintain Finchelsteins argument that ‘fascism’ was a coalitionist movement against ‘leftist’ elements of the societies, then populism would as well.4 This is disputed by the straightforward argument by Brubaker that ‘populism’ is far too big a term to concentrate down along the political spectrum and is instead a cross-spectrum issue.5

These terms are weighed down from the abstract to the practical by the associations they are placed against in real, rather than the hypothetical, world. In doing so they are supposed to convey a greater sense of meaning and continuity between incidents that bare a similarity between them. This is not always the case though, as the overuse of terms can lead to their redundancy in an ability to clarify or codify various incidents. These terms have been too loosely applied to incidents which are disparate from one another to the point that the use of a term to link them becomes a pointless exercise of crafting a catchy byline or establishing a moral superiority.

1 Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/why-populism-rogers-brubaker/id1200474003?i=1000449389000

2 Ibid

3Cas 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.

4Federico 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).

5Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?”

Introduction: Nagy

Hello all!

My name is Matt, or really any derivation of Matthew as I’ve probably been called it before; and luckily for once there doesn’t seem to be another Matt in the class, so you will not have to learn how to pronounce my last name. I did a bachelor’s at Carleton in History and Political Science with a minor in Russian and I’m now a second year graduate student in EURUS. My research topic is on how Russia is structuring its foreign policy towards the individual nations of the Visegrád Four. I took this course in part because there are shockingly few courses that handle Central Europe to any significant degree. I am also fascinated with the use of language and terminology to establish oppositional relationships.

Introduction-David Damas

Hi I’m David and I am a fourth year History student. My primary interests lie in Anglo-Saxon England but they branch out wildly. I am interested in the class because of my heritage mainly, my dad is Greek and mums English and through them I have always felt a strong affinity with Europe. (my dad lived through the Greek junta in the 60s and 70s which relates to this course)

Interests outside school are rowing, hiking, camping and really anything else physical.