Fascism is a category and concept that has had broad historical analysis. Based on European experience in the twentieth century, historians have reconstructed and analyzed its theoretical foundations, ideological components, and its political expression as a movement, and then as a political regime, that has radically upset constitutional liberal governments, repressed individual liberties (civil and political), and put an end to social conflicts through a systematic work of repression and violent coercion. Militarism, colonialism, and imperial expansion have accompanied the fascistization of some European societies to the point of becoming a fatal threat to international coexistence and peace. The decades between WWI and WWII have been the theater of this anti-liberal and anti-democratic regime; post-WWI economic unrest and the first Great Depression gave fascist movements and governments strong arguments against the moderate liberal governments' incapacity to tackle with social and economic crisis. Fascist regimes, as Ira Katznelson writes in his book Fear Itself (2013), challenged parliamentary systems and constitutional governments with the accusation of being incompetent to deal with radical crises because of their institutional and procedural structures, which relied upon consent, political pluralism, and accountability of political functions. The factual alliance of liberal government with capitalism made Fascist accusation quite successful since fascism nourished itself with a populist ideology that pointed to the “fat cats” of finance as the locusts that razed national well being, and to the myth of peace and liberty, which had meanwhile enervated both political elites and ordinary citizens. A new bold set of ideas and political projects based on nationalism, racism, and attacks against minorities coagulated into an anti-democratic movement that would change the face of Europe and the world in just a few years.
Although fascism as a regime disappeared in the West after World War II, it is undeniable that its ideology did not. In fact, the present economic crisis has the effect of stimulating the birth of new forms of fascist movements in many countries, not only in Europe. Just to mention the most threatening example: on 11 March 2013, the Hungarian parliament approved substantial changes to the constitution that limited civil liberties and the powers of the Constitutional Court.
Contemporary democracies are witnessing a striking paradox: the democratic political system enjoys the support of public opinion and even a universal allure (the same Hungarian reforms were propagandized in the name of defending "Hungarian democracy"), and yet, its existing mechanisms are under pressure and criticism principally as a result of a decline in trust. The growth of Fascist and nationalist movements in Europe and the decline of legitimacy of European Union are correlated phenomena that demand critical attention and analysis. Recent elections for the renewal of the European Parliament marked a turning point in the reappearance of the political right wing as a European phenomenon: xenophobia,ethnocentric nationalism, anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism are the basic components of this new form of cultural fascism.
These are the historical, theoretical, and culture premises that motivate the design of an International Conference on Fascisms across Borders. The conference looks at the constellation of concepts that fascism concocts historically – populism, nationalism, Nazism—and their renewal in neo-fascist movements and ideologies both in their specificity and their historical actualizations across the globe, but specifically in Europe and Latin America.
Made possible with support from the Title VI International NRC at Columbia University.
April 1: Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room
April 2: The New School for Social Research, Wolff Conference Room