Today’s far right: Fascism 2.0?
The increasing popularity of far-right parties in the European political arena fueled a debate among scholars on whether it is worth to draw a parallel between 20th century fascism and today’s far-right parties. Considering the growing importance of these parties, I believe it is interesting to check out the standpoints of different historians in the debate and try to understand which one is the most reasonable.
Using the F word: is it a good idea?
Certain actions or assertions from the main representatives of the far-right parties that dominate European and global, politics, can spark a déjà vu taking our memories back of almost a century. Think of the racist, sexist and homophobic and authoritarian statements by the Italian, French or Spanish far-right parties leaders. Should we be worried that today’s politics is going into a direction of which destination we already know? Is what we see in the far-right sphere today too mild of an antidemocratic and antisystem behavior to be considered fascist? Is it even worth to draw the parallel between the past and today? Some scholars, as Albright, Nichols and Snyder, argue that the parallel is not only worth, but necessary. Taking as an example Trump’s behavior, they maintain that idealizing the ‘great past’, adopting and advocating xenophobe attitudes, setting a hierarchy of human worth, in which a part of the population is believed to be better than another are all clearly fascist practices that need to be denounced as such. So, according to this argument, using the term fascism is more than accurate and, it is the only way to protect democracy and avoid sliding into dictatorship.
So we could agree that we should call these behaviors and these parties fascist? Not really. According to the counterpart of this debate, there are great risks in using the term fascism in today’s politics. Scholars as Moyn, Bures and Bokat-Lindell hold that after the second world war, the term fascist became one of the most shameful terms. This is why using the term ‘fascist’ today only enrages the accused, alienates them and does not in any way favor dialogue. The term is also interestingly used both to accuse left and right parties of extremism. This shows that the term is often used to serve one’s own needs and confuses rather than giving a clear message. Moreover, the careless use of the term can legitimize extremism and distracts from finding and combatting the factors causing and fueling populism. So, the “f word” is not only inaccurate but also counterproductive in today’s political arena.
Populism: latest model of fascism
A more accurate view on the reality of fascism today is offered by some other historians who took part in
and pushed forward the debate towards a more refined definition of far-right parties’ nature, arguing that far-right parties are to be considered populist rather than fascist. Historians like Finchelstein, Piccato, Stanley and Payne, believe that fascism has evolved after the end of the second World War and changed its characteristics.
With the military victory of democracy and defeat of fascism, the latter political system has become reprehensible and socially unacceptable. However, fascism has not disappeared. It has modified itself throughout time, to suit society political standards and necessities and adapted to the success of democracy. Fascism has thus taken a new form: populism. Populism is therefore nothing but fascism through democratic means. And yet, exactly because of its embracement of democracy, it cannot be considered fascism. However, populists do not simply comply to the democratic system as it is, they aim to make the democratic system strongly authoritarian. Still, Populist parties refute fascist dictatorship and brutal violence.
Contrarily to the first fascist leaders as Hitler or Mussolini, who intended and did destroy the democratic system to install a dictatorship, the first populist leader, Juan Perón, aimed at destroying the dictatorship that had been established to form a new democracy. That new democracy was built by a former fascist, it was a democracy originated by a reconversion of fascism after the collapse of this ideology in 1945. Heirs of fascism and early populism, populist leaders today promise a new form of authoritarian yet, interestingly enough, more direct democracy, in which the people are closer to power. This is why it is not accurate to call today’s extreme right parties fascist, but it is important to take into account the 20th century fascist experiences and the way fascism has changed throughout the years, in order to understand the nature of far-right parties, which should rather be considered populist.
To sum up, the far-right today does echo certain aspects of fascism. But, if we think about the differences that were mentioned earlier between fascism and today’s far-right, which are huge difference, like their relationship with democracy, it is obvious that the current far-right parties cannot be considered fascist. But, rather, they seem to fit perfectly with the definition of populism. Yet, the fact that also left-wing parties can be populist makes me think that it would be worth to further research whether there are different kinds of populism or whether there could be an even more accurate definition for right-wing parties’ behavior. All in all, in their authoritarian aspects and in the system-changer promises they make to the voters, far-right parties are populist parties.