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Fascism in sheep's clothing

Les nouveaux visages du fascism
Forfatter: Enzo Traverso
Forlag: Textuel, 2017
The concept of populism does not work – it is post-fascism that blames the world.


The progress from Brexit to the election of Trump in the United States and up against the French presidential election on 23. April this year calls for analysis. Ethno-national sentiment mingles with rejection of the established political system, which has suffered an ideological defeat because it has been unable to deal with the economic crisis other than by socializing the bill and continuing three decades of neoliberal politics. That's why people say. In Britain and the United States, voters rejected the so-called sensible election. In Britain, voters were in direct opposition to both the Conservatives, Liberals and Labor for British exit from the EU, and in the United States they voted for male chauvinist and racist TV star Donald Trump as president. Virtually all media and many leading Republicans had otherwise renounced the not only flamboyant, but decidedly blunt candidate who explicitly draws on a social Darwinian rhetoric about white America. In both cases, the election results came as a real surprise after months of election campaigns, with a large majority of politicians and the media explaining to the public how it should vote. But as American film director Michael Moore put it, the people of Britain and the United States gave one fuck finger to the established political system.

Post Fascism. The background of the fucking finger, of course, is the crisis. The economic crisis that erupted in 2007–2008 and quickly turned into a political crisis as governments around the world chose to buy the banks free and, in turn, introduce neoliberal savings programs that are already eroding thin-skinned welfare societies. So there is a clear element of protest over the cast – "You don't have our support," the message seems to be – but the resistance takes on a special form: Right-wing radicalism and protectionist nationalism today channel the rejection of neoliberal globalization.

It is so difficult to imagine a non-capitalist world that fascism need not pretend to be revolutionary.

How should we understand the mix of protests against neoliberal globalization and the explicitly nationalist and often racist emotions that are moving through the world? Italian historian and totalitarian researcher Enzo Traverso answers in a new interview book entitled The new faces of fascism, where he tries to explain Brexit, Trump and similar phenomena as the emergence of a new post-fascism.

Unlike many other historians and commentators who talk about populism and describe Trump as a populist, Traverso intervenes fascism as a collective term for the various right-wing national projects that are currently gaining traction in many parts of the world. The term populism does not work as it does not make it possible to distinguish between right and left, Traverso explains. It's a bad analysis that puts Trump / Sanders and Ciudadanos / Podemos in the same boat. Populism is a particular style, but not a specific content. Fascism, on the other hand, is a political ideology. And a political ideology that presents itself in a situation of economic crisis, as the one we are in today.

System belief. Fascism is the notion of an indigenous national community threatened by external threats that need to be removed. That is what the strong leader must do. That narrative is still the focal point of the narration that politicians like Trump and Marine Le Pen use, according to Traverso. But unlike "original" fascism, national rebirth is no longer a matter of suspending the parliamentary system and putting it out of force. That is why he uses the term mail fascism. Post-fascism thus differs, according to Traverso, from both historical fascism, first and foremost Mussolini's Italian fascism and Hitler's German Nazism, as well as from neo-fascism, which has existed in the West after World War II in various forms, but without achieving any significant political relevance. Post-fascism is not, in the same way as Nazism for example was, an extra-parliamentary movement, but instead takes the form of political parties fighting within the established parliamentary system. Thus, according to Traverso, post-fascism is fascism's attempt to clothe itself with parliamentary respectability and to distance itself from the worst fascist excesses.

Le Pen wants to protect the republic – not destroy it. This transformation gave birth to the idea of ​​post-fascism.

Transformation. The Front National is a good example of this development. The party has gone from being a subversive anti-party with clear links to French fascism and the French counter-colonialist movement to becoming an alternative within the established political system, a party whose leader today competes for the right to lead France. The post-fascist parties' rhetoric, of course, is still that the political elite is not good enough, that it does not protect the people, but lets multinational companies move jobs around at will and even worse allows large masses of immigrants to come to the country even if they cannot be integrated and in reality will destroy the national community. But the new post-fascism presents in a different way than before its project more as a continuation than as a break. Le Pen wants to protect the republic – not destroy it. It is this gradual transformation that underlies Traverso's idea of ​​post-fascism – that fascism is undressing, one might say. The point must be – although Traverso does not express it explicitly – that today it is so difficult to imagine another, non-capitalist world that fascism does not have to pretend to be revolutionary. There is precisely no revolutionary communist movement and therefore no direct threat that fascism must annul (or imitate). Fascism today works preventively counter-revolutionary, we can say.

New inner enemy. In other words, post-fascism is not as systemic as fascism was, according to Traverso. But it still takes the form of nationalist and racist exclusion. If the old fascism was characterized by anti-Semitism, then the new post-fascism, according to Traverso, is Islamophobic. Trump and Le Pen are both Islamophobes and play effectively on the threat of militant Islamism, which is totally blown out of proportion – there was a greater risk of losing their lives in the so-called red or black terrorism of the 1970s than in an Islamist terrorist attack today – and turns into a real Islamophobia that affects all Africans and Arabs in the West, including non-practicing Muslims. In the Islamophobic discourse, Islam assumes the form of a conspiracy, it is not just a religion, but becomes the part of the population to be excluded, the internal enemy that is in cahoots with the external enemies who want the national community alive. Fear politics knows no borders, and people fleeing war or migrating for a better life become the enemy themselves, a threat to our identity and to the national community.

Mikkel Bolt
Mikkel Bolt
Professor of political aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen.

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