Authoritarianism is a product of its environment.

Jake Rooke

Since Trump’s been democratically booted, anxiety levels have plummeted, well, at least for now.

Claiming victory would be naïve, we have only experienced the 21st century’s version of Hitler’s 1923 Putsch when he failed to seize power. Unfortunately, this did not prevent his 1933 accession to the German Chancellorship. Like a passage from a DC or Marvel Comic, evil has to only win once. If we wish to foil other attempted Putschs, we have to take the fight to the rabble-rousers and not give them ammo. We have to soul-search, shore up our democracies’ and be proactive in addressing the economic and cultural root causes. This starts with every one of us. By labelling someone a racist, an authoritarian, or a Nazi only adds noise to a screaming match and only scratches the surface of the complexity.

THE BEER HALL PUTSCH, NOVEMBER 1923 (MH 11397) Nazi stormtroopers arriving at the Marienplatz in Munich amongst crowds of onlookers, 9 November 1923. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205066622

As history shows us authoritarian movements are persistent beasts that gain power through attrition, inflicting death by a thousand cuts. They break us down, echo fringe urban myths and conspiracies to create an illusion of truth. This is similar to chief Nazi propagandist Goebbels’ ‘Big Lie’, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This resonates well, as we are now in a post-truth era, that philosopher Nietzsche predicted, seen in the interwar period (1919-1939), and what is currently manifesting. Nonetheless, there has always been a variation of post-truth in fringe groups before authoritarianism’s historical rise and in post-WWII societies. What has changed, is it’s now becoming the mainstream again, from the shadows to the bully pulpit. The Covid-19 pandemic has only brought gasoline to the fire.

Authoritarianism, like a disease, is treated when our societies’ are resilient, whereas, when the disease becomes mainstream it’s a symptom of societal degradation. That is the big picture. Authoritarianism, populism, cultural, and economic backlash are symptoms of a system that is not working for everyone. Since the 1980s and the rapid expansion of economic globalization income inequality has skyrocketed, deindustrialization has hit blue-collar folks hard, all the while cosmopolitan elites have made off with large swathes of money. This is the spark.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhythms”. WWI had devastating effects, especially in Europe and in particular, Germany. This was then followed by the greatest economic collapse ever recorded, creating a tsunami of populist and authoritarian forces across the world. The powder was set, and the eruption resulted in the greatest war ever recorded. Not many historians will deny that an overwhelming factor in the surge of authoritarianism in the 1930s is tied to the economic crisis, but also the perception that the future prospective was shrinking.

After WWII the Western world built an ambitious democratic and liberal system that created a resilient societal structure and a generous welfare system. This was there to maintain a level of economic mobility and stability. Ultimately, this structure pushed the would-be authoritarians to the sidelines and back into their basements. However, this system was continually under-attack through little cuts. These cuts have increasingly morphed into a Frankenstein movement through issues with economic globalization, cultural change, and a broken political system. We are now looking down the barrel of mainstream authoritarian forces again.

With recent demilitarization after the Cold War, the failures of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and the long-term trend of deindustrialization, outsourcing, and surging costs of living, the fringe festers in this fertile environment. This is occurring more than ever with the introduction of social media and the misinformation campaigns by state and non-state actors. And although MAGA wearing skirmishers have been forced to retreat, there will be more, especially if we do not address the symptoms of this disease.

Masculinity and The Ideal Citizen

By: Andreea Gustin 

This week, we focused on the topic of Consent, Coercion and Acceptance in relation to gender and sexual identity – specifically how these ideas played a role in authoritarian and fascist regimes in Europe. The sources we covered all centered on the theme of understanding how authoritarian and nationalist regimes used gender and sexuality to create the boundary between the “ideal” citizen and the opponent. 

One of the main focuses regarding this theme was the concept of masculinity. Kühne’s article, Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich, stressed the importance of, what he referred to as, “hard masculinity” to the fascist ideology in Nazi Germany. There was a lot of pressure on the men to be physically, emotionally and morally tough. This masculinity made up the ideal citizen; strong, aggressive, resilient and in control. 

However, what I also found interesting was the discussion of protean masculinity and “soft” manliness. This, according to Kühne, could be displayed if one was ready to prove – or even better if he had already proved – “hard” manliness. Soldiers were facing difficult and tragic situations and there was acknowledgement that they faced periods of weakness. However, it was not the periods of weakness or “softness” that mattered, but the fact that they were “manly” enough to overcome it. This piece was the one that got my attention the most out of this week’s sources because it was interesting to gain some perspective on the fluidity and ambiguity of the experiences of masculinity in this kind of all-male homosocial setting. 

Europe’s Radical Right: Cultural Descendant of the Nouvelle Droite

By Absalom Sink

Two weeks ago, we read and discussed the rise of the Nouvelle Droite (ND), first in France, and then in a broader, pan-European context. Crucial to the formulation of the ND was its retreat from the political arena into the realm of culture, the realm of “metapolitics”. Seeing in the protests of 1968 the sway that the Left held over cultural institutions—particularly institutions of higher education—far right figures led by Alain de Benoist ostensibly abandoned politics and moved instead to open up cultural space in which later generations of Far Right thinkers and politicians might act; they appropriated from the Left Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, and worked to sow the seeds of a counterhegemonic bloc.

From this week’s readings, I would argue that the experiment is something of a qualified success. Certainly, most of today’s so-called Radical Right1 have not taken up de Benoist’s neopagan ritualism. And the populist, self-described “democratic” nature of Radical Right movements is inherently contrary to the ND’s anti-democratic, elitist formulation. But as the readings make clear, there are crucial threads linking the ND and the Radical Right. Chief among them is ethnopluralism. As Ina Schmidt explains, “Ethnopluralism is an ideology of the far right, which is no longer directed against foreign ethnicities, but rather against cultures—understood as being irrevocably connected with certain values, practices, and habits.” Essentially, it is a form of cultural racism, as opposed to the biological racism of yore, popular with fascists. By shifting the focus of their xenophobia from “race” to “culture”, Radical Right groups avoid the charge of racism and open ideological space between themselves and fascist forebears. It’s the ideological sleight of hand that lets Islamophobes respond to charges of racism with the stock sentence “Islam isn’t a race!” And as we’ll recall from Tamir Bar-On’s article, it is the same semantic shift that de Benoist and his followers made in the 1980s, moving from biological racism to the anti-multicultural “Europe of a Hundred Flags”.

It does not really matter that groups like Pegida or the Front National don’t adhere entirely to the roadmap laid down by the ND. Remember, the goal of the ND was simply to create the cultural space in which Far Right ideals might be taken once more into the political sphere—ideals like the abandonment of liberal democracy, and at least since the 1980s, of ethnopluralism over multiculturalism. By achieving broader cultural acceptance, as evinced by de Benoist’s Prix de l’essai from l’Académie Française and glowing coverage in Telos, the ND was able to open that political space it desired. It now needed political actors to take up the mantle. As both Zack Beauchamp—in his interview with our old friend Cas Mudde—and Pietro Castelli Gattinara show, a series of events in 2015 would provide the spark for an explosion of Radical Right movements to occupy that space, a sort of Far Right Big Bang.

According to Mudde, “the core of the ideology of the radical right includes three features: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism.” Nativism, he says, is essentially a form of xenophobia that dictates that a state should only be inhabited by people who are “native” to it.2 Authoritarianism revolves around the belief that society should be “strictly ordered”, and in which any social issue becomes treated as an issue of security—the example Mudde gives here is the treatment of drug crises as “something to be cracked down on” through law and order, rather than as a public health issue. Finally, populism boils down to another “us versus them” dichotomy, this time between “the elites”—typically mainstream political figures, but with a healthy helping of wealthy proponents of liberalism, like the far right’s bogeyman George Soros—and “the real people”.3 2015 brought a confluence of factors that served to empower nascent Radical Right movements throughout Europe. First, the refugee crisis, stoked nativist fears throughout Europe. Terror attacks, starting with Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, fueled authoritarian tendencies and calls for increased vigilance, particularly against ‘outsiders.’ Finally, the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the aftershocks that threatened the structural integrity of the EU undermined the existing economic liberal order and played into populist anti-elitist rhetoric.

Julius Evola knew he would never see a truly resurgent fascism in his lifetime; it is entirely possible that Alain de Benoist never thought he’d see the ideological seeds he sowed bear fruit. But a series of external shocks—a financial crisis originating in the United States, revolutions throughout the Middle East leading to a nearly decade-long civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIL, and the largest refugee crisis since the Bosnian War—provided the cover for a broad range of Radical Right political movements to spring up in the cultural niche carved out by the ND.

1Borrowing here from Cas Mudde’s differentiation between “Extreme Right” and “Radical Right”, in which the former rejects democracy outright in favour of revolution aiming for authoritarianism, while the latter merely rejects aspects of liberal democracy, like pluralism and minority rights, while still claiming to adhere to democratic principles. Castelli Gattinara helps to further clarify, explaining that radical right groups “locate themselves outside the political mainstream but without intending to replace democracy with an authoritarian order.”

2Remember, though, from our very first class, when we grappled with the question of “who is really ‘native’ to a given place?” The Magyar people claim ownership of Hungary, even though they are likely to have arrived significantly later that the ancestors of today’s Slovenes within the borders of Hungary. Likewise, how “native” is a person who calls themselves an “Anglo-Saxon”—itself an incredibly fraught term—to Britain?

3”The real people” has become something of a shibboleth for Far- and Radical Right groups, differentiating them from Left populists; as Jan Werner-Muller explains, the term serves to “other” any who don’t fit with the “majority”, while also delegitimizing any other groups and figures vying for power.

Works Cited:

Beauchamp, Zack. “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics”. Vox. May 31, 2016 https://www.vox.com/2016/5/31/11722994/european-far-right-cas-mudde

Bar-On, Tamir. “Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite.” Patterns of Prejudice 45, no. 3 (July 2011): 199–223.

Castelli Gattinara, Pietro. “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” South European Society & Politics 22, no. 3 (Sept. 2017): 345–364.

Schmidt, Ina. “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement.” German Politics & Society 35, no. 4 (Winter 2017): 105–17.

“The Dangers of Populism” Interview with Jan Werner Mueller, Council of Europe (March 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahtvsNU2bkk