On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is very clearly a book written in the wake of the Trump election, Brexit and other worrying events by a historian with experience studying fascist/authoritarian governments. Even without being able to gain that information easily, the book is a combination of useful advice to prevent and survive fascist governments and a look back at influences in societies that allowed this to happen.
He primarily uses the experiences of other survivors of fascist governments to provide examples of effective resistance. There are twenty main pieces of advice, most of which get a few pages of elaboration, but several main themes emerge, especially towards the end of the book.
Snyder stresses that complacency has oftentimes been a major component of fascist states. The first piece of advice warns against ‘pre-emptive obedience’. If citizens allow or ignore the first steps fascist states take towards undermining democracy or dehumanizing their enemies, it has emboldened them to be able to continue down that path. In the later parts of the book, he turns this more to the idea of ‘exceptionalism’ within American society. To believe that fascism will be held back by American institutions and that there is no way that similar corruptions would happen within the American electoral system is disregarding history. While this was not discussed in the book, his examples of how an ‘emergency’ gives an opportunity for a fascist state to implement anti-democratic measures reminded me of the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While the Bush administration did not perpetuate this attack and did comply with election results, they were allowed to implement state actions that disregarded both American and international laws, while massively increasing government invasion into the privacy of citizens.
This theory of complacency aiding fascism culminates in his critique of views of society and history. After the end of the Cold War, according to Snyder, ideas about ‘the end of history’ emerged and created a narrative that history always progressed to a positive end. This idea has been disproven by the continued conflict of world politics, therefore giving space for fascists to push the idea of history as cyclical to support their aims.
Overall, this is an ideas-heavy book and therefore hard to sum up. These were just a few of the ideas that I felt were most present and therefore worth exploring.
While Brexit might have come as a shock to the rest of the world, history teaches us that its sentiments have been around for a long time. This weeks readings and videos circled around the idea that Brexit has historical roots, with a long past of Britain feeling anxiety about their economy and immigration.
A major factor in Britain’s decision to leave the EU, is its fear of immigration. In Enoch Power’s speech, “river of blood” we begin to see how the anti-immigration sentiment is one that is present in the past. We see how the fear of immigrants and the idea of losing national identity has been something that has effected prior times as well.
Britain’s involvement in the EU has also been historically problematic according to the Meon and Selter article which highlights how Britain was not apart of the European coal or Steel community and that they still used the pound as currency. This disconnect is also a factor in rising tensions between Britain and Europe.
What I found interesting about this week’s readings was the Hobolt article, and the explanation of how Brexit occurred due to many differences in its demographic. Some of these factors include difference in age and education. This idea of old and new mentality and its impact on citizen’s political opinions was fascinating to me, and something I can see in other cultures as well. We can see how many older citizens feel nostalgic to times when Britain was a superpower. This idea of importance of nationality and superiority is something that we have discussed in our class, and it is interesting to see it played out in our time. Just as though immigration has been a fear of the past, it is a fear that is still evident in the present.
Will Britains exit from the EU lead to more nationalism amongst its country? Could this been seen as a problem? What does Britains need to stop immigration over its economic security say about how its citizens feel about immigrants? Is this an example of the “fear o the other” sentiment that we have discussed at length in class? In Brian Lewis’s video, he discuses right wing politicians used strategies such as support of same-sex marriage as a tool for political gain. Is it fair for the government to alley with groups such as same-sex supporters as a political tactic? What does this say about the government and its willingness to do whatever it takes to win a vote? Is this democratic?
Our readings and videos this week focused on the rise of the Brexit movement and why/how such a movement could have come to pass. What I found interesting was the anti-immigration sentiment within Britain that has been around since before the “river of blood” speech. As history students, we know that Britain is probably the largest exporter of immigrants since the Early Modern Era. Canada, America, and others were once considered “British Colonies” and as a result our most prominent populations are white, all with claims to British or UK heritage. Do you think that the British past will play a part in the British image in the future? Do you think that Britain still considers their past as “colonizers” their ‘great past’?
Brian Lewis’s speech was particularly interesting as he navigated the strategies the British government uses to gain support for their movements, such as allying themselves with the Gay/Lesbian community for political gain as opposed to genuine support. Do you think these communities will see through political schemes such as this? The British population was almost perfectly divided over Brexit, as Brexit won by approximately a 1% lead. Do you think minority populations were in favour of Brexit? Or do you think persecutions of the past have made them wary of all government?
My final question is this: What is the future of Britain? Will their government lean towards the less democratic?
It was a democratic vote that won Brexit the day. Should choices that affect the country on an international scale be left in the hands of the voters?
All three readings for this week deal with what an authoritarian government looks like in Zimbabwe. The first reading, Feeling Precarious by Rudo Mudiwa is more visceral than the other two readings and describes a street-focus picture of what everyday state violence looks like. There is a particular care paid to the concept of almost intuition, of people who have experienced so much of this violence that they can avoid it based on subtle cues. In particular, the article describes taxi drivers and sex workers as having this intuition
The second article compares Zimbabwe and Italian fascism. They share certain key characteristics such as a seizure and redistribution of land to party supporters and a focus on cleansing the nation of enemies. A revision of history in order to paint the party as the main liberators and real warriors of the nation is also found in both cases. So, is Zimbabwe similar enough to Italy to classify it as a fascist state rather than just an authoritarian one?
The third reading, Rethinking Chimurenga and Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Critique of Partisan National History discusses the specific context of the Zimbabwean dictatorship. It attempts to build a national hegemony in a way that conflicts with how linguistically, tribally and religiously diverse the country is. In doing so, it ties itself to past liberation from colonization and constructs a history of sharp dichotomies that group their enemies in with former colonists. The continued influence of these ideas hinders newer political theories that are starting to spring up in Zimbabwe.
Overall, these readings discuss both how the Zimbabwe dictatorship has factors in common with past fascist governments and how it is a unique state in itself. Which one do you think is more significant? How does this government complicate other discussions surrounding post-colonial Africa and the progression of the continent?
What happens to a dictator or members of their regime when it is overthrown? For those of you thinking about the Nuremberg trials, it may surprise you that the same type of outcome does not always happen for different regimes. In this weeks readings, both Teresa Meade and Temma Kaplan outline Chile’s fascinating political historical past– and how their former dictatorship walked away “scot free.”
Teresa Meade’s article, Holding the Junta Accountable: Chile’s ‘Sitios de Memoria’ and the History of Torture, Disappearance, and Death, discusses the interesting dilemma Chile found itself post-Pinochet (their former dictator). The new government lead by President Lagos failed to properly prosecute members of the former regime, many of who were still in positions of power. This lead to a lack of recognitions for the atrocities which were committed by the former government.
Temma Kaplan’s article, Reversing the Shame and Gendering the Memory gives a more chilling look into the realities of living under Pinochet’s rule, and the many atrocities women such as Nieves Ayress experienced. While many passages are difficult to digest due to their upsetting content, it is important to not only look at the experiences many had, but how the victims were often ostracized, ultimately giving the government more power in the end.
Finchelstein provides us with a background between the ideologies of both fascism and populism that can help us analyze what has happened in the past, both globally and in Chile. He discuses how both hold authoritarian notions, however fascism rejects the democratic process while populism works with it in order to establish power.
Politics are constantly in a state of change, Finchelstein poses the idea that populism is an evolved version of fascism, could this be true? Would you argue that Pinochet was a fascist or a populist? What were the benefits that the new government had to not punish the former government? How does this impact its people? What is the importance of properly acknowledging the past? How would you have acted in President Lagos’s place? What are the implications of not holding authoritarian powers accountable for their actions? Will this effect Chile in the future?
In the first reading, by Claudia Bruns, she outlines some of the interesting discussions that were happening in Weimar Germany surrounding the ‘acceptability’ of male homosexuality in some, largely academic, circles. Homosexuality at the time was heavily tied to deviance from societal norms in a way that also played into conceptions of race and the nation. Because homosexuality involved sexual deviance, white gay men were viewed as undermining the genetic makeup of the nation since they would not procreate. At a time when eugenics were a common belief, this was a big deal. Some gay men, including Bluher, advocated for ‘acceptable’ homosexuality by separating themselves from effeminate gay men and women. If they were masculine, they were still exhibiting proper behaviour for their gender and should therefore be embraced, as the argument went. Do you think this sort of thinking about ‘acceptable’ queer people can be found today in queer spaces? Bruns provides examples in modern Germany media where gay men are viewed as undermining the state when they are in leadership roles and how male political leaders are still mocked using femininity. Can you think of examples of this thinking today? How do these viewpoints impact women in politics?
The second reading, by Rio Otomo, is a very interesting look at how the Japanese state and corporations tied militaristic and nationalist narratives to their athletes. “By encouraging citizens’ self-governance of their own bodies, state power can operate more efficiently and thoroughly without manifesting itself as an oppressive authority” is a key quote from this reading and efficiently explains the thesis of the reading. Narratives of self-control, overcoming your own body and nationalist pride in victory were heavily present in how Japanese athletes spoke and were spoken about. These narratives are theorized to have replaced earlier militaristic narratives about the state in Japan and used as tales of ‘folk heroes’ to deal with the vast amount of change happening in Japanese society at the time. Women athletes in particular are described as training through their period and working through the cramps, in a way that feels like they are ‘overcoming’ their limitations that are viewed to come from a female body.
Finally, there is Valentin Sandulesco article. This one fully outlines how fascist societies in Romania had an ideological vision of a ‘new man’, fully masculinized and able to reform their ‘corrupted’ society. These groups put mechanisms in place, such as training schools, that would create this ‘new man’ at the end. These had the effect of diverting revolutionary feelings among the youth after WW1 towards their vision of a new society. How does this mirror masculinist movements nowadays? In feminist theory, this could play into the idea of a constant “crisis of masculinity. Is this accurate?
While many of us think of World War II and Nazi Germany, we rarely focus on the role that women played during the war. While one may believe that women kept to themselves and stayed out of the battlefields, in actuality many of these women did the exact opposite. In Wendy Lower’s: Hitler’s Furies, German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, she discusses how women in the Third Reich are largely a historical blind-spot, and many of them actively participated in the genocide of millions of Jews — while getting away with it.
Lower touches on some interesting points about what it was like to be a woman during the war, and their role in society. For many, the role of women was to continue the Aryan race and ensure the success of the German people. This is why mothers were glorified and others were taught how to find the perfect Aryan husband. Yet for many women this was not enough, and the need for adventure grew. For some this lead to travel and for others this lead to genocide.
What I found most impactful was how Hitler’s Germany created such a patriotic climate that women felt justified in participating in violence. Whether this was being a bystander or actively crushing jewish infants sculls, women were just as guilty of favouring duty over morality as the male Nazi counterparts.
As we have discussed in class, one of fascisms’ key components is its extreme nationalism, and Lower’s book is an excellent example of how far this nationalism can cause someone to act. Does this make Trumps “Make America Great Again” slogan problematic? Where is the line when patriotism goes too far? Another concept we discussed in class is the fetishization of youth which Lower also touches upon, since the terror regimes fed on the idealism and energy of young people. How are young people today being influenced by political agendas? The women in this book were effected by many different factors such as the political environment, and the economic crisis. Were they a product of their time? Or is fascism itself powerful enough to create such loyal and patriotic followers? Could this possibly happen again in the future? Finally, why do we tend to not look at women’s roles in the past? Is this still a problem today?
Italian fascism is credited with being the first fascist state in mainland Europe in the 20th century and for providing a model that other authoritarian states sought to emulate or expand on. While whether it was the first to engage in extreme state control can be debated, the impact that Italian fascism had on the ideologies of other authoritarian state is very evident.
One of the readings this week was a primary source document by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile that outlined what the considered some of the essential tenets of fascism. A key quote from this reading that embodies Italian fascism (and all fascism) is “he Fascist idea is embodied in the State. It is for the individual insofar as the individual coincides with the State, [which is] the conscience and the universal will of Man in his historical existence” . All individual needs and characteristics must be ignored for the benefit of the construction of the state. Mussolini, as shown as well in the Ruth Ben-Ghiat reading, was more pragmatic about the controls his state put into place. In comparison to Hitler, “For Mussolini and most of his officials, unlike the Nazis, national prerogatives almost always took precedence over racial ones” is used to describe the process in which they instituted anti-Semitic laws.
However, attempts to portray Italian fascism as the ‘nicer’ version is both useless to debate and also untrue. The casualties of their war with Ethiopia are examined in the Ben-Ghiat reading, as well as the lack of recognition of the atrocities committed. Comparatively, they pale against the holocaust but framing the atrocities of two separate regimes against each other in order to diminish the significance of one is not a fair examination of the events. Overall, the readings do a good job of outlining what was significant about Italian fascism and gives some context as to why it is often overlooked in popular understanding, at least compared to Nazi Germany and the USSR: their fascism was more pragmatic and focused the outright slaughter less on people inside the regime.