In the aftermath of the United States’ 2016 presidential election, both citizens and scholars began asking “How could this happen?!” How could someone like Donald J. Trump, with his propensity for violent and insulting innuendos and his frequent and sustained attacks against reputable American journalists be elected as the so-called “Leader of the Free World”? And, perhaps more importantly, have we seen such surprising shifts in popular political culture before, perhaps in Europe’s fledgling democracies following the shocks of the First World War and the Great Depression? If so, what lessons can we learn from interwar European history? How can “historical thinking … inform civic opposition to the New Right“?
Responding to these questions, Dr. Elizabeth Heineman (University of Iowa) began assembling what, initially, was intended as a common syllabus for a new course on the history of Germany during its transition between the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the Third Reich (1933-1945), but what gradually became a larger, and more ambitious, collection of materials and resources intended for academics, journalists, and the broader public. The New Fascism Syllabus, as Dr. Heineman and her partner Dr. Jennifer Evans (Carleton University) describe it, is intended to hazard responses to the following question:
Are we seeing a revival of fascism? Some of the contributions conclude that the answer is “yes” or “no,” and explain why. Others revitalize debates about what, exactly, fascism is: what it was in specific historical instances, whether there exists a transhistorical prototype of “fascism,” and whether the current historical moment can give us new insight into these questions. Yet other contributions take the term “fascism” as an entrée to a discussion of populist-nationalist movements which, in the end, we may or may not label “fascist,” but which nevertheless demand all the urgency that the label suggests. Our concern is to use history to understand and intervene in our present, dangerous moment, regardless of the terminology we choose. Any number of other words I’ve used in this post – nationalist, populist, right – could also be subject to the same kind of inquiry, but as that inquiry goes on, we remain aware that real bodies are on the line now.
The project’s organizers intend to gather as many resources from contributors (including myself) as possible via their Facebook group page and, eventually, assemble a comprehensive syllabus of reading materials and other resources addressing a wide range of questions regarding the possible resurgence of Fascism and/or authoritarianism in contemporary American politics, and beyond. “What lies ahead?,” Evans and Heineman ask, continuing:
First of all, a curated & frequently updated bibliography – the “syllabus.” Other possibilities have emerged: a database of classroom syllabi, guest blog posts, a book-form collection of resources – the ideas have been rolling in, and we’re only three days old. The resonance which this project has attracted underscores its urgency. I am energized by the intelligence and seriousness of purpose of our contributors, even as I remain horrified by the need for this project. And I look forward to difficult but important discussions with my students next semester, helped along by this collaborative effort.
For additional information on the New Fascism Syllabus, see the following URLs: