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IDSEMUG 1982 - Fascism and Populism: History, Politics, and Rhetoric

The central idea of this course is to look at two important movements and events—populism in 19th century U.S. and fascism in 20th century Europe—and then to trace how those events are used as tropes in political debates and media commentary about racial nationalism and political authoritarianism across the world, though we focus on Trump in the U.S. Our central concern is to trace political mobilization in the name of representing and saving "the people." Our task is to assess what "fascism" and "populism" were historically, and what "fascist" and "populist," as adjectives, signify in discussions about racial nationalism and hostility to elites now.In both regards, central questions in political theory guide us in analyzing each movement, and its after-lives and appropriations: First, how do we think about the relationship between capitalist crisis, mass mobilization, and (democratic) politics? Second, what is the relation between racial formation, nation-defining, and democratic politics? Third, how does narrative or genre (e.g. what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style”) intersect with political mobilization ? Fourth, what is inherited and what is new in white nationalism now and in protests against it? Having studied populism and fascism, we can assess recent media and scholarly claims that the “alt right” or white nationalism are “populist” or “fascist.” Our goal is not to fix a taxonomy but to assess consequential "speech-acts." For how we “name” (conceptualize and narrate) political events determines how we engage them, and thereby, what they end up meaning for the future we are making by that engagement. We also want to consider if the democratic meanings of populism can be salvaged or whether democratic possibilities require a radically different language. Authors may include: Richard Hofstadter, Lawrence Goodwyn, Michael Rogin, Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, Klaus Theweleit, William Connolly, Virginia Woolf, Sinclair Lewis, Phillip Roth. Readings include commentary about white nationalism and resistance in contemporary politics. Class Notes: Open to juniors and seniors.
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