Defining Terms

By: Andreea Gustin

The sources we explored this week set the foundation for some key terms which will follow us throughout the rest of our course. Given my basic understanding of fascism and populism, this week’s readings provided greater insight into some of the complex terms and concepts associated with these ideologies.

In recent years following the Trump presidency and all that came with it, many of us have seen the word “fascism” come up in regards to the American political climate. The article, “What We Don’t Understand About Fascism” by Victoria De Grazia, effectively showcased how contemporary events relate to the challenges and tragedies of the historic past. She argues that the problem facing America is not fascism itself, but rather a “crisis of a kind that historic fascism invented itself to address, in the most awful ways”. This week we also read the works of Moyn and Gordon’s which both aim to contextualize fascism and populism. Similar to De Grazia, both Moyn and Gordon discuss the use of comparisons of the past to contemporary situations, although their works point out some issues with comparing modern events to the past.  

This reading made me reflect on the fact that many of us attempt to understand modern issues by applying the lens of the past. They say history repeats itself, however, there needs to be greater understanding of how these ideologies change and how the meaning of these concepts develops over time. Today we can see ideologies like fascism and populism being used as labels to modern issues, however, modern issues can differ from those of the past and can lead to new consequences not outlined by history.

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/