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.
Written by Conrad Yiridoe
The theme of this week’s readings focused primarily on the terminology of populism and fascism. With a few of the readings, the main focus was on the comparison of fascism to the modern day and why this may not be the most effective strategy to address current events. In the United States specifically, the comparison of the republican party (or rather this specific version of it) and especially soon to be former president Donald Trump has become to the historic days of fascist regimes (Italy’s Mussolini) has become rather “fashionable”. De Grazia, Moyn and Gordon all argue (to differing degrees) that the constant comparisons may in fact actually dilute and even to some degree even insult the “actual fascism” that was present in the past. Moyn and Gordon argue with a broader approach, that the trend of comparing current events (regardless of their degree of horror and general disapproval), may in fact serve to be counter intuitive to a certain extent.
With regards to Moyn’s analysis, I am inclined to both agree and disagree with his opinion. Specifically, I concur with his overall message that the main objective with comparisons to the past need to take into consideration not only the context of what occurred, but also examine the weight with which these comparisons should be taken into account. As Moyn states, “charging fascism does nothing on its own. Only building an alternative to the present does…” and hence the idea that simply drawing the comparison between Donald Trump and fascism without actually providing context for why specifically the comparison is being made and furthermore what should be done about it, needs to be readdressed.
As a final note, I also agree with De Grazia’s main point which I feel was the fact that once again, another “trendy” term (this time being fascism) is in a sense not being fully appreciated, due to many of those using the term, not fully appreciating its weight. As a question going forward, I wonder if perhaps these analogies to historic events would become more useful and meaningful by first ensuring that the definition of the term (fascism in this case) is fully understood by the audience (whether it be a specific person, or the general public). Furthermore, I postulate if perhaps it would be worth while to always follow up said comparison with more actionable concepts
Onwards to populism briefly and here I found the DEMOS study to be quite surprising (at least to my less historically experienced eyes) in that they were able to divide up the different movements into four distinct types of populism. In addition, these types were all over the political spectrum, from the far left and right, to in-between, which surprised me as I figured based on the limited definition of populism (essentially charging a “the people” vs “the elite” anti-establishment mentality), that the specific ideology of populism was fairly rigid (which of course is not the case). I also do not completely understand the significant difference between the illiberal compared with the anti-establishment populist movements. In particular, I wonder about the “radical democratic appeal” that the authors charge is present mainly in the anti-establishment movement yet lacking in the illiberal movements. I also wonder how the use of “conspiratory explanations” with the illiberal charges is also not strongly reflected in the anti-establishment movements.