Transformation of Populism in Europe and the Americas: History and Recent Tendencies

John Abromeit, Bridget M. Chesterton, Gary Marotta, York Norman (Eds).

Transformation of Populism in Europe and the Americas: History and Recent Tendencies (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, 354pp.)

On 12 December 2015, Benedict Anderson;  the British historian, author of the widely cited 1983 book:  Imagined Communities died. In this influential study of nationalism;  he saw nationalism as a possible imaginative process that allows to feel solidarity for strangers.

He wrote “In an age when it is so common for progressives, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism;  its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, of its affinities with racism;  it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love and often profoundly self-sacrificing love…The cultural products of nationalism − poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts − show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles.”

The rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

As a cosmopolitan intellectual, looking at the reactions to the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe;  and to the results of some recent elections with a sharp rise in populist nationalism;  I am among those who stress the near-pathological character of nationalism. 

The editors share my fears. The longest section of the book is devoted to the way scholars analyze the rise of Hitler and the Nazis during the Weimar Republic. While nationalist sentiments and the Staklhelm predated Hitler;  Hitler and the small group around him were able to mobilize the periphery against the center;  even the conservative center;  and thus to give voice to those who found themselves excluded from a meaningful role in German political life.

Yet as Larry Jones notes,  in his contribution-one must not lose sight of the fact that “the Nazi assault against the Weimar Republic was not a movement that somehow arose spontaneously out of the frustration, hardship, and suffering  of those in German society;  who had been marginalized by the course of German political and economic;  development since the beginning of the First World War;  but a highly centralized and carefully controlled campaign that relied upon a party organization”… with an iron discipline that left little autonomy or capacity for spontaneity.

“Populism as an Identity: Four Propositions on Peronism”.

Only Juan Peron;  who came to power in a military coup in 1943 in Argentina;  consciously incorporated many of the Nazi techniques and symbols. However, as Mathew Karush stresses in his chapter “Populism as an Identity: Four Propositions on Peronism”;  Peron drew support from a fairly wide group of people,  which made his populism lack a specific and consistent ideology.  While Peron and similar Latin American leaders were not democrats;  they did not have the ability to kill those with different ideas on the scale of the Nazi.

populism

“Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe Today”.

As Cas Mudde in his analysis of “Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe Today” notes “Today populist radical right parties share a core ideology ; that combines (at least) three features: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism”.  Nativism entails a combination of nationalism and xenophobia − an ideology that holds that a State should be inhabited exclusively by members of “the nation” and that “alien” elements, whether persons or ideas, are fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous “nation-state”.

Populist radical-right parties are experiencing their biggest electoral and political success in post-war Europe,  but fortunately, neither Marine Le Pen nor Geert Wilders is Adolf Hitler. Therefore, there is a crucial role for us “cosmopolitan intellectuals”

Non-Governmental Organization and The “National Heros”.

The populist right parties play on a loss of confidence in the major political parties, as well as in the civil servants of the European Union. We have little influence on the ways the major political parties operate and even less influence on the European Union secretariat. 

Thus, our role is to develop strong civil society – non-governmental organization walls by protecting human rights;  and by dealing creatively with migrants and refugees. Our role is not only to defend but also to counter-attack. We need to develop more strongly our cosmopolitan ethos.

We need to develop counter-myth figures to the “national heros”. We need to stress the unity of humanity as opposed to national-ethnic identities. We must take the current  populist-nationalist efforts seriously and to develop an organized response.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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