Fascism and Populism: Open Discussion with Roger Griffin

On October 21 the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science and International Affairs hosted a discussion called “Fascism and Populism: Open Discussion with Roger Griffin.” Professor Roger Griffin is Emeritus Professor at Oxford Brookes University, and his main research interests are fascism, populism, terrorism, and, overall, the way modern society generates minority movements of extremism and fanaticism.

Roger Griffin

Roger Griffin

Griffin opened the discussion by establishing that populism is not linked to the left or right, nor any particular class. Because of this, Griffin asserted that there should be an increased emergence of left-wing populism, in order to promote a society that is healthier, more humanistic, and more democratic. As it currently stands, right-wing populism is more prevalent and runs the risk of infiltration by fascism. Griffin expressed his concern that fascists who are unable to achieve power through revolution may do so through populist movements. This phenomenon may explain the popularity of far-right radical groups like QAnon, the motivation behind the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the election of Donald Trump. Right-wing radicalism and fascism are related ideologies, and it is a slippery slope from one to the next. Right-wing populism poses a threat to the very fabric of democracy, but Griffin holds hope in the possibility of left-wing and democratic populist movements.

Griffin then opened the floor to questions and was given the challenge of defining “healthy” populism. He responded that it should focus on liberal humanism and be a movement that evokes a mass effect of irrational popularity against the dehumanization of others. One example he provided of such a movement was the Me Too movement. He then made sure to clarify that such a movement need not be viewed through western or secular ideology, but needs to focus on humanism.

The next question brought up the discussion of whether it would be possible to put checks and balances on populism so as to ensure that diverse voices within the movement can be heard. Griffin asserted that the key to ensuring that diverse voices are heard is to have humanists at the core of the movement. The ideology of humanism can break down pluralist and institutional divisions in a group and promote healthy populism. Griffin also suggested that there is no one way to spark healthy populism; it cannot be synthetic, but is natural and born out of passion, courage, and outrage. Finally, he asserted that one of the best ways to ensure that a populist movement is healthy is to be aware of historical mistakes of previous populist movements and to work consciously to avoid them.

Professor Roger Griffin is best known for The Nature of Fascism (1991), Modernism and Fascism (2007); Terrorist’s Creed Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning (2012); Fascism: An Introduction to Comparative Fascist Studies (2018), and for co-founding the journal Fascism and COMFAS, the Association for Comparative Fascism Studies.

(Rebecca Halterman)