Is Sovereignism a New Form of Fascism?: JCU Welcomes Professor Matthew Levinger

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The Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted a lecture called Is Sovereignism a New Form of Fascism? on September 24, 2019. Professor Matthew Levinger was the guest speaker and JCU History Professor Dario Biocca moderated the event.

Professor Matthew Levinger

Professor Matthew Levinger

Matthew Levinger is Research Professor of International Affairs and Director of the National Security Studies Program at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington DC. His areas of expertise are in the history of nationalism, revolutionary politics and genocide, and their role in generating both conflict and peace.

Professor Biocca kicked off the event by highlighting the timeliness of this lecture because concerns about the resurgence of nationalist and neo-Fascist movements in recent years have become a dominant thread in political discussions in Italy and other countries.

Professor Levinger began his lecture by saying that before answering the question of whether sovereignism is a new form of Fascism, it is important to look at the definition of the two terms. Sovereignism involves the idea that national sovereignty must be defended against supranational organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations. This term is typically used by political leaders to avoid employing more ominous terms such as nationalism and populism. The term Fascism is primarily used by historians to discuss Italy during the years from 1922-1945. Despite the differences between the two terms, Levinger argued that there still are similarities between the political dynamics that motivate these two movements. Extreme patriotism and the encouragement of right-wing violence against immigrants and other vulnerable groups constitute the most striking similarities between sovereignism and Fascism.

Professor Levinger drew a parallel between the way in which sovereignists and Fascists refer to national identity. The so-called “chosen traumas” become central in what Levinger calls mythic histories, which are used by many nationalist movements. These mythic histories are comprised of three parts: a glorious past (which describes the original natural community), a degraded present (which has fallen from its original state of grace), and a utopian future that can be achieved by recovering the original attributes of the glorious past. Manipulative leaders can use this rhetorical formula to mobilize their followers to commit acts of violence. ​Professor Levinger said that, by analyzing Benito Mussolini’s speech delivered in Udine on September 20, 1922, it emerged that he glorified violence as morally sacred and necessary in order to reach a utopian future. Therefore, another parallel with modern sovereignist movements lays in the extent to which violence is glorified by these movements. ​For Professor Levinger, today we live in a “Golden Age of conflict entrepreneurs,” those who seek to maximize wealth and power by exacerbating social and political divisions. Putin, Le Pen, Bolsanaro, Salvini, and Trump are among them.

Despite such similarities, Professor Levinger pointed out two key differences between sovereignist movements and the Fascist and National Socialist movements of the 1930s. First of all, Fascism and Nazism were state-centric ideologies that systematically sought to mobilize mass support and crush potential centers of political opposition, while many sovereignist leaders express skepticism about the role of the state. Second, aggressive militarism was central to Fascism and Nazism, but not to sovereignist movements. In the 1930s, Italy’s expansionistic policies led to an increased military presence in Libya and to the invasion of Ethiopia. In 2019, the Italian sovereignists are more focused on exclusionist policies to keep immigrants out of the country.

(Kamila Sabyrrakhim)