Alex Grab and Nathan Godfried talk “reactionary populism” in Europe and the United States

On the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 16, Emeritus Professor of History Alex Grab and Professor of History Nathan Godfried presented a talk on right-wing ideologies and movements in Europe and the United States. This talk was a part of the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series (Controversy Series) Spring 2017 which is held every Thursday in the Bangor Room in the Memorial Union from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. at the University of Maine.

This series is sponsored by the Marxist and Socialist Studies Minor and co-sponsored by the Maine Peace Action Committee and the Division of Student Affairs. Dr. Alex Grab is a professor of history at the University of Maine and focuses primarily in Early Modern and Modern European history. Dr. Nathan Godfried is also a history professor at the University of Maine with a specialty in 20th century American history.

“I’m the one who came up with the term reactionary populism when Alex asked me what we should call this talk because he was reluctant to call it fascism, which I’m less reluctant to do,” Godfried said.

“I came up with reactionary populism because, in fact, one of the leading historians of the second Klan in the United States, Nancy MacLean, used that term to describe the holistic worldview of people that were attracted to the Klan in the 20s,” Godfried said.

Grab focused on Europe and explained the rise of right-wing populism and the parties throughout Europe, offering a number of examples of this rise. He specifically focused on European countries, Holland, France, Germany and the Brexit controversy.

“Right-wing politics is nothing new in Europe,” Grab said. He then discussed the fascist movement that rose to power in Italy in 1922 and the Nazi party in Germany, which rose to power in 1933.

“The way I look at the fascist movements in the 1920s and the 30s is primarily as being aimed against the rise of the left parties, the communists and the socialists in both Italy and in Germany were both pretty strong when the fascist parties were rising as well,” Grab continued.

Grab explained that there has been a decline in the number of people who feel positively toward the European Union. He presented a 2007 statistic, demonstrating that throughout Europe, 52 out of 100 people felt positively toward the European Union while in 2015 this number dropped by approximately 15 percent.

“This is one important element in the propaganda of the right-wing populists; the other important element is immigration, which is also tied to the European Union and the fact that they allow this movement from place to place,” Grab said.

Godfried focused on the historical roots of the current right-wing ideology in the United States. “In particular I’m going to draw a parallel between the merchants of what is often referred to as the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the Tea Party in various groups that have come to support Donald Trump in recent years,” Godfried began.

Godfried explained that for the Klan of the 20s, the reactionary part was a belief of subordinating whole groups of people. “The obvious group for the Klan were African Americans, but in fact the Klan of the 1920s also looked down upon immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe and Catholics and Jews.”

“There are two things that helped to give rise to reactionary populism in the United States, both in the case of the Klan in the 20s and the Tea Party more recently and that is economic crisis as well as a social crisis and we can see that in both periods,” Godfried said. He believes the Klan was very much a reaction to the left in the United States.

They ended with an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.

The next talk is on Thursday, Feb. 23 in the Bangor Room in the Memorial Union. The topic is “The Myths and Realities of Authoritarianism and Economic Development: Stories from East Asia” by Professor of Political Science, Kristin Vekasi.

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