Final Response: On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny, asks us to reflect on a lot of the issues we have discussed over the course of the semester. I think that there is an overlying message in this small book, which addresses issues from the necessary defence of democratic institutions to fake news. Overall what this book is asking people to do is to think, and to think critically at that.

This book highlights the fact that nothing happens in a vacuum. It asks people to be aware of historical precedents and to question the things going on around them. For example, the tenth thing Snyder asks is that people “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.” I think this request is a very logical one considering the barrage of ‘fake news’ and accusatory stories in today’s media. Facts are important because they prevent people from taking power who will likely abuse it. We have seen this over the course of the semester, as people spread misinformation that helps them create a sense of an Other.

Snyder’s book is clearly a reaction to the recent election in the United States. I think what he does in the book is important in light of this, because he puts the onus back on individuals. By asking average citizens to think about these things, it is possible to prevent the rising of dictators and authoritarian governments. As we have seen, these regimes require extensive manpower, so if people don’t buy in it will be harder for them to succeed.

In conclusion, this book was an appropriate way to tie up everything we have discussed this semester because it asks us to reflect on how these issues have unfolded over the course of the 20thcentury. It also asks us to look back and consider the actions we can take in the future to prevent history from repeating itself again.

First Responder – Eastern Europe

In a couple of this week’s readings I found that there was an interesting connection in theme between a couple of the assigned pieces. Looking at G.M. Támas’ article as well as the speech from Viktor Orbán there is a somewhat shared idea that liberalism, as we understand it, is on the way out. Now, both these pieces address this in very different ways, but the fact that it is present in both readings is interesting.

Much of Támas’s piece looks at how the term populism is applied to broadly, and that many people who are labelled this are just repeating old patterns of life. I found it especially interesting that he questioned whether or not Donald Trump was a populist. In the final paragraphs of his article, he notes that the political left are disappearing and that this is in part due to the fact that the practice living up to their own standards and ideals has been corrupted.

The speech given by Orbán is much less academically critical in its description of liberal politics, but rather states that being liberal and economically prosperous and content are incompatible things. At one point he states that liberalism can only be put into practice in the realm of ideas.

Both these pieces are interesting because they highlight the feelings about liberalism in Eastern Europe. Orbán’s speech does not seem out of place, seems relevant when considering more recent issues such as debates about free-speech in Poland. These readings raise interesting questions about the function of liberalism, and whether it is truly suffering in the way that these authors say it is, or whether these opinions are based on the history of their own political climates. I was interested to see how different these perspectives are from those we commonly see when discussing Western Europe and North America.

China’s new dictator?

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The recent repealing of China’s two-term presidential policy has concerning implications. U.S. President Donald Trump commented how he thinks America should also allow this option. These actions and statements are disquieting because they echo past totalitarian regimes. The rise of these kinds of governments has worrying historical precedents.

Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has moved to become a dictator for life. The current government has essentially allowed him to do just that.

In an attempt to increase the party’spower, Chinese censors have banned many words and phrases. The title of George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, the word “disagree”, and the phrase “ I oppose” are example of newly censored items. This highlights the level of control the government is seeking to have over its people.

An inability to criticise or question the country’s leader seems more like fascism than true communism. Much of the opposition to this new move has been met with interrogation or punishment. The claim that this shows “Chinese Democracy” is unequivocally false. There is clearly no room for a democratic process in this setting.

The banning of a book like Animal Farm speaks volumes to the intentions of the country. The plot of this book shows the rise of a group of pigs to what is essentially a fascist or authoritarian position of power. A book like this allows for critical thinking about these types of government. Banning the book signals that there is resistance to this kind of criticism.

It is not clear whether the current Chinese government can truly be called fascist. However, there exists a historical precedent of this kind of movement in the country. In an article titled “Blue Shirts, Nationalists and Nationalism: Fascism in 1930s China,” Jan Hong explores the rise of a fascist movement in China that mimic similar movements in Germany and Italy in the period. He notes how this brand of fascism was unique to China because it added elements of Confucianism in order to appeal to the Chinese people. This was also a period when those considered to be too liberal or radical were punished.

Hong notes that the movement of the Blue Shirts exemplified many fascist ideals. Similar to in Italy and Germany, there was a cult of personality surrounding the leader, Chiang Kai-Shek. He focused on the militarization of society and promoted movements that mirrored the Hitler Youth in Germany. Even when fascism fell out of favour, he was able to stay in power by cultivating a different image of himself as a Christian leader.

Another, more recent, example of problematic Chinese leadership is the period under the leadership of Mao Zedong. He was one of China’s many “bad emperors.” This term refers to the issue of dictatorial power in China. Mao too developed a cult of personality, allowing him to remain in power for a significant stretch of time. China is still recovering from the problems created by his time in power.

Jinping is currently trying to promote a similar cult of personality. He has changed the existing system in order to make himself more powerful. He is also seeking to have his political ideology ratified in the constitution. Doing so would mean that it would be mandatory for schoolchildren to study his way of thinking. Along with the new forms of censorship and state control, this is another way to try and control the thoughts and actions of Chinese citizens.

Based on these historical precedents, the current situation in China is one that warrants close observation. I see worrying echoes of the past in the movements of the current government. I do not think that China quite deserves the description of fascist in its current state of being. However, I do see the potential for the country to head further in this direction. There are people who live in China that have stated in the past few years that they too see the potential for their country to head in this direction.

This situation will continue to develop. The continued censorship will be an issue for those that live in China, as they will not be as able to express dissent. China claims to be communist, but their current trajectory makes me think that they are more like the power structure described in the banned Animal Farm. I think that now it is very appropriate to reflect on Orwell’s quotation, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

First Response: Zimbabwe’s politics are a symptom of its history

A notable saying comes to mind for this week. Perhaps you can’t see the entire forest from the trees.

This weeks readings looked directly into the authoritarian ZANU-PF party that has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. To provide context, Timothy Scarnecchia’s piece, The ‘Fascist Cycle’ in Zimbabwe, 2000-2005 shows how the regime can resemble Italian fascism through the usage of paramilitaries, abuses of power and party membership as a necessity for success.

Lets unpack the nature of Zimbabwe’s extreme ideology and proclivity to political violence.

In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s article, Rethinking Chimurenga and Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Critique of Partisan National History, the idea of extreme ideology as an engine for violence against dissenting opinions is explored. Any black person who does not align with the anti-colonial cause is a target for violence. Anyone who is white is inherently dubious to the state (just look to the farm invasions when Mugabe first seized power).

Rudo Mudiwa’s article, Feeling Precarious explains the characteristics of the Zimbabwean youth, who can go from docile civilians to fearsome weapons of the state if the need arises.

Obviously a strong case could be made that Zimbabwe’s government has resembled and employed various fundamental tactics of fascist authority over the last 30 years. Today, we might use the term “populist” in following Finchelstein’s notion of populism as a modern variant of fascism in his book From Fascism to Populism in History.

So why has this occurred? Why has Zimbabwe’s extreme and radical political history unfolded in the way it has? Why is political violence the norm?  Look to its colonial history, look back to Rhodesia.  

The ZANU-PF should not be excused. However, we need context if we want to truly understand why fellows like Mugabe and ideologies like chimurenga could flourish.

 

First Responder: Multicultural Europe?

This weeks readings provide an interesting picture of Europe as a place that has an undercurrent of xenophobia and racism. Zack Beauchamp discusses the anti-immigrant policies of Europe’s far-right groups. Gloria Wekker addresses the pervasiveness of the image of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Dutch Culture. Nilüfer Göle examines how the presence of Islam in Europe destabilizes its postcolonial identity. These readings bring into question whether or not Europe can be as multicultural as it may seem, because it cannot handle the challenging of norms.

Göle’s discussion of European hegemony makes the actions regarding the issues addressed in the articles make more sense because it highlights a sort of inherent desire to hold on to that power. For instance, in the case of the Dutch and Black Pete, those in favour of the figure often argue that it is an important part of their culture, but fail to recognize that this attitude is unintentionally racist because it seeks to continue caricaturizing non-white people. There seems to be no understanding of the postcolonial power dynamic in these assertions.

In Beauchamp’s article, there is the explanation that anti-immigrant sentiment and far right parties began to rise as a result of increased immigration and multiculturalism. To me, this signals a desire of these groups to hold on to the past and an imagined way of life where nations are full of only the “right” kind of people. These views are inherently problematic, as we have seen, because they lead to violence and oppression against minorities. Europe is home to many liberal democracies, so it is important to recognize these issues in order to prevent this type of democracy, that is supposed to protect all citizens, from being undermined.

Olympics and Nationalism: Is North Korea another example? Op-ed

Recent headlines for the Olympic games have North Korea as their subject. What will happen to the Athletes that have failed to win medals is in question. It seems that in the past, North Korea has sent athletes who represented their country and failed to win medals to what has been termed “gulag” like places. There the athletes are to be to be punished for their poor performance and thus a poor representation of North Korea at the Games. Along with a large number of cheerleaders that accompanied the athletes to the Games, there is something to be said for how important it is for authoritarian regimes to project a certain appearance of unity and nationalism which is what will be seen here.

 

It appears that participating in the Olympic Games is certainly a way to create nationalism as many countries experience the excitement behind cheering for one’s own country while their representatives compete. Social media battles ensue and everyone is talking about their country and how well they are doing or how well they should have done. However, The Olympics have had a historical connection to being propaganda for countries with authoritarian regimes as was seen in 1930’s Germany as well as in the 2008 games held in China (although technically a communist regime has many similarities to a fascist regime) and now with North Korea as examples.

 

For many countries, this is a fun and exciting time but when a fascist regime looks at something like the Olympics there is a much more serious tone put over the event. Nationalism can be seen through fascist history has an important component to keeping the support of the people and creating a feeling of unity. Many efforts can be seen in Nazi Germany, for example, to keep the people unified and promote nationalism.The 1936 Olympics is just one of the many ways this was done. Nationalism was promoted in Nazi Germany sports as they were seen to create unity among the youth. Another way the Olympics were used at that time was, as these games were the first ever to be televised, to show German ideals to the world and certainly how great Germany was including a stadium that was built with 100 000 seats to top the last Olympic games that were held in another country. North Korea, on the other hand, may not have been successful at winning metals but it did certainly show signs of its attempt to display unity and nationalism with its large number of cheerleaders.

 

The Olympics in China, (although not exactly a fascist regime it shares many similaterites to one) had some very negative headlines as well when it hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There have been many controversies over whether it had open media as it had pledged and not to mention the many human rights violations that have been reported as a result of the games. The cost of the games is high, along with controversies that usually ensue but for a resume like China, it can be understood there is an importance of the nation wanting to portray itself as powerful and unified for its own citizens and the world to maintain control of the country. As a result, bringing home no metals to North Korea in this years Olympics can be devastating to the image of power North Korea has been trying to build certainly in the last few months with the missile controversy between it and the US.

 

In short, the Olympics have proven throughout history up until today to be a platform for countries to not only strengthen nationalism within their borders but to display strength to other countries. This does not manifest itself more strongly than in those countries that have authoritarian regimes such as in 1930’s Germany, China or currently in the competing North Korea. For most people, the Olympics are a fun way to have national pride and competition with neighboring countries, albeit at times with some issues over things like doping and corruption, but the thought of the use of the Olympics as propaganda is usually far from the minds of people just having fun.

The Far Right’s Behavior Toward Women and Sex: Old Anxieties, Modern Settings

In the context of the worldview espoused through right-wing politics, women are definitely not valued to the degree that they ought to be. In the context of the worldview of the far right, the societal value of women amounts to little more than living property–house-bound baby-making objects of desire which need protection, especially from rape by men of other races. These attitudes are perfectly observable in the far right movements of the past as well as the present.

Let’s examine the word “cuck”, a popular insult among the alt-right. To be a cuckold involves deriving a masochistic pleasure from watching another man having sex with your wife. This concept is hardly a product of modernity, as we can find instances of cuckoldry in Shakespeare and Chaucer, but the meaning has been tweaked somewhat. In the context of modern pornography, cuckoldry involves a white woman having sex with a black man while her husband, who is almost always white, watches helplessly. Language being one of the many windows into the mind, this speaks volumes about the far right and alt-right’s mentality, especially about race–blacks being a threatening invasive species–perceived weakness–liberals being too weak to defend what is theirs, perhaps even enjoying the humiliation of it all–and women in general–helpless living sex dolls. This, of course, is hardly a new concept. Overblown (and propagandized) fears about black men raping white women can be traced back to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan, finding great inspiration in romanticized visions of medieval knights, believed in protecting the virtue of white women under their care, which meant protecting them from those depraved black animals that were roaming the streets. Heartfelt consent between two people did not mean anything to the Klan, especially with regards to interracial relationships, something which was only made legal in the United States in 1967. One example of the Klan taking it upon themselves to involve themselves in someone’s personal life took place in Canada, a country which had never taken a legal stand against interracial marriage, though it was frowned upon. In 1930, seventy-five hooded men marched through Oakville, Ontario and invaded the home of Ira Johnson and Isabel Jones–the former was a black man and the latter a white woman. The klansmen forced Ms. Jones into a car and delivered her to the doorstep of a Captain of the Salvation Army. Consider this section of the Canadian Klan’s creed:

“We believe that our white race has a ministry of supreme service to mankind, and that the introduction of elements which cannot readily be assimilated or fused into our racial stock will lead to the corruption of racial health and seriously impair the service we might render to our fellow men. We therefore avow ourselves to be ever true to the maintenance of our racial integrity.”

Such orders could have been found in the manifesto of an old knight order, perhaps even something more clerical or governmental. The unfortunate part is that despite the fact that Canada never had codified laws against interracial marriage, it was clearly considered taboo. The officer that was called to the scene of Ms. Jones’ kidnapping ultimately spoke highly of the Klansmen that kidnapped her and even shook hands with them. Making matters worse, the Mayor of Oakville, one A.B. Moat, complimented the Klansmen on how orderly their conduct was and that the town stood in objection to marriage between two people of different races.

Similar sentiments, though not always so bluntly stated, are still very much alive in racist and far-right groups and individuals as well. Take, for instance, Dylann Roof, the convicted ethno-nationalist terrorist who gunned down several African American parishioners during a Bible study.  Roof, who wore flag patches of the defunct Apartheid state Rhodesia on his shirt, who believed that current expressions of racial nationalist views and the Klan itself were inadequate, believed that blacks were taking over the world and “were raping our women”.

This obscene fixation on white women being raped by black men is a deeply rooted, arguably genetic (intellectually speaking) infection found only on the far right, whether they would like to admit as much or not. Proponents of the far right might look at this opinion piece and pull out one of their many buzz words–snowflake, libtard, perhaps even cuck, though that one does appear to have gone out of style. Such would be expected. Introspection is hard, I suppose.

 

Italian Populism, Two Sides of the Same Coin

The upcoming Italian election features two populist leaders who became famous through the entertainment industry. The Five Star Movement, founded by actor and comedian Beppe Grillo, is poised to make a push in the upcoming Italian election.  The party is an alternative to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. He became a prominent figure in Italian politics by running on principles such as anti-corruption and elitism but has since contradicted them after spending time as Prime Minister.  The five Star movement now carries the message of anti-politics, anti-elites and anti-corruption that the voters want.  The comparisons that can be made about the groups are palpable, although FI and Silvio Berlusconi are now political professionals.

Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi are more similar than they want to believe, Berlusconi has changed but his political rise and populist origins are eerily familiar.  Both leaders had immense fame before entering into politics which helped them build an audience that could be converted into political followers.  Berlusconi got his start working on cruise ships telling jokes and singing and now owns Italy’s three largest private T.V. networks that he uses to spread his message.  Grillo, too, is a product of the entertainment industry – a comedian, satirist and impressionist who was a frequent face on Italian national T.V.  Both men also use video formats to communicate to their constituents, Berlusconi through his T.V. networks and Grillo through his YouTube channel.  The leaders held public spotlight before entering into politics making it easier for them to amass supporters.

Italy has a long history of embracing populist style leaders who used popular media to appeal to the common man.  Inoslav Besker characterizes the two leaders’ approach as ‘populism, anti-party attitudes, demonization of opponents and an approach to the public and to politics focused on the leader.  Silvio Berlusconi started as an anti-politician and has described the politicians in Italy as to have never ‘worked’ a day in their life.  Unlike them Berlusconi has worked for his status and is thus shows himself as a worthy leader.  Grillo also despises the political class and refers to politicians as ‘zombies’ and ‘corpses’.  He would have one believe that he is not a politician and that his FSM isn’t even a political party.  They also share the similar sentiment that the political system in Italy needs to be reformed.  Grillo proposes bans on candidates convicted of crimes and limiting terms in office.  Similarly, Berlusconi, positions himself as a business man who is not at all like the politicians and that proportional representation needs to be replaced with a majoritarian system with more emphasis on the role of the Prime Minister.

Despite these anti-political origins, something changed once Berlusconi took power.  He became the very elite that he campaigned against causing him and his coalition to lose the favour of the public.  Berlusconi used his time in office to create laws that protected his own business interests instead of promoting the small business entrepreneurship of which was his platform.   The once anti-political populist who emphasised how corrupt the politicians and elites were became the embodiment of what he once despised.  By embracing the throngs of political leadership, he contradicted his original message and alienated his followers.  He created a political vacuum that afforded the opportunity for a party to propose the same anti-political message except this time he is the politician.  The upcoming election provides the perfect backdrop for an inquisitive look into the state of Italian politics, with the Five Star Movement polling so high, do they offer something new or is it the similar story of using the populist message for personal gain.

The Five Star Movement winning 25% of the votes in the 2013 election showcases a wider issue in Italy, the public’s distrust of politicians causes them to elect anti-government populists.  A positive feedback loop is created when an anti-government party is elected, they become the government causing the need for more anti-politics parties.  The Five Star Movements success means that they will become serious politicians, contradicting their platform.  After winning the election with not much of a party structure, clear leadership roles have been created and the founder has stepped down being replaced by Luigi di Maio.  Beppe Grillo once said his party was not even a party, but one look at the Five Star Movement, you can see that is changing.

By: Riley Bowman

Second Klan as a Case Study for Populism

Although every organization is different, Gordon’s article informs readers about some common characteristics of populist movements such as conspiracy theories, distrust of experts, extreme nationalism, isolationism, and victimization. The author writes that the Trump and Sanders campaign have been circulating discussions about populism. She also writes in detail about the KKK, and how its characteristics could fall under those of a populist movement. Indirectly, the author is trying to draw similarities between current American political parties, and the KKK of the 1930’s. Gordon however does not describe in detail the Trump or Sanders administration, their actions, mandates, or how they could be characterized as populist or similar to the KKK. If the message the author wanted to deliver was for us to be weary of present political atmospheres which could have devastating effects comparable to those of the KKK, then it could have been more effective if the author had specified some of the actions of ideologies of the Trump/Sanders administrations which she was concerned about.

Some connections can certainly be made between the Republican party and a traditional populist movement, for example the isolationist policies, the travel ban, and the conspiracy of ‘Islamophobia’, however Gordon does not go into hardly any detail of present American politics. If Gordon’s intent was to make warn people about the possible negative effects that actions and ideologies can have on parts of the population, then perhaps she could have spoken more about the current atmosphere in America, how people are being treated, and how they will be affected by upcoming policy implementations. If Gordon’s intent was simply to present current American parties as populist, then it is a wonder why she compared them to the KKK with it’s history of violence and human rights violations, as opposed to another populist movement which is more ethical, humane and successful.

 

 

 

First Responder: It Can’t Happen in the USA – Or Can It?

 

Many people believe that the United States is immune to populism due to their strong beliefs of personal freedom, democracy and their political and military history (for example, fighting with the Allied Forces against Hitler’s regime in WW2). Unfortunately, we are now seeing that this belief has generated a false sense of security. This has allowed populist roots to take hold in many different aspects of the country. Some citizens seem to be downplaying the presence of these roots – almost as a form of willful ignorance. This is reinforced by the belief that the United States oversees the policing of other parts of the world (they are labelled as leaders of the free world), but they themselves do not require intervention as they are the supposed role model. On the other hand, there are many who are not ignorant to the changes taking place but justify this shift as a necessary extreme for the greater good of the American people and to protect the American way of life (consequentialists).

This is further complicated by the great divide that is taking place not only in America, but all over the world. Not all, but some, label those on the other end of the political spectrum as extremists and state that they are out of touch with reality. They dehumanize each other and don’t see each other as fellow human beings with differing view points. All they see is red or blue, liberal or conservative – an enemy. Some are extremely indoctrinated in their nationalism because of the system that they were raised in. When a child acts inappropriately we don’t usually blame them, we blame the parents – can the same be argued for those on the extreme right and left? We cannot excuse the behaviour as it has severe (and sometimes violent) consequences for many marginalized groups, but this demonstrates the difficulty in bridging the gap between the two extremes and opens the door for understanding both ends of the political spectrum.

Populism functions on a variety of levels, but the largest and most powerful motivating factor, in my opinion, is victimization. If people felt empowered and didn’t feel like victims, the tactics used by many populists wouldn’t be able to take hold in people’s minds. It seems that the large majority of people still clinging to Trump and his beliefs are those who feel as though they don’t have any other options available to them. For example, there are those who state that the “liberals in the big cities” have forgotten about those inhabiting the rural areas. The most vulnerable to indoctrination of populist beliefs are those who feel as though they have nothing to lose (and everything to gain); this is further complicated by some of those who have racist and xenophobic tendencies. As discussed in the article, there was a heavily racialized aspect of the victimization process during the second wave of the KKK (and now, especially in regards to the topic of immigration and refugees), not solely economic disparity between the large “liberalized” cities and rural areas. There was – and arguably still is – a belief that the American dream and true freedom was only for a select group of people, and that allowing outsiders to take part would tarnish America. This mixture of denial and victimization, in addition to the dehumanization and constant labelling of everyone who doesn’t share the same opinion as themselves as the alt-right or the alt-left is a deadly combination, one that has created an environment that is allowing hatred to flourish and one which is further dividing us instead of allowing us to come together to create a dynamic society that attempts to cater to the different needs of each socioeconomic group.

 

Jay Countaway