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Long Reads

Our Increasingly Fascist Public Discourse

Though “fascism” generally evokes images of jack-booted thugs and mass rallies, fascist movements first politicize language. And, judging by the arguments and vocabulary now regularly used by mainstream politicians and thinkers in the US and Europe, their strategy is bearing fruit.

NEW HAVEN – “Populism” is an innocuous-sounding description for the xenophobic nationalism that is now sweeping much of the world. But is there something even more sinister at work?

In The Language of the Third Reich, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish scholar who miraculously survived World War II in Germany, describes how Nazism “permeated the flesh and blood of the people through single words, idioms, and sentence structures which were imposed on them in a million repetitions and taken on board mechanically and unconsciously.” As a result of this inculcation, Klemperer observed, “language does not simply write and think for me, it also increasingly dictates my feelings and governs my entire spiritual being the more unquestioningly and unconsciously I abandon myself to it.”

A similar phenomenon exists today in countries where a far-right politics has achieved success, be it Britain in the age of Brexit, Poland under Jarosław Kaczyński, or the United States under President Donald Trump. In recent weeks, politicians with such ideologies in these countries have increasingly found themselves painted into a corner, and have resorted to ever more outlandish lies. While the Brexiteers remain insistent that crashing out of the European Union would not be devastating for the UK economy, Kaczyński has been busy trying to blame the murder of Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz on the opposition, instead of his own party’s rhetoric. Trump, for his part, has continued to manufacture a crisis on the Mexican border to justify his demands for a wall.

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