Beyond the Paranoid Style: Fascism, Radical Right and the Myth of Conspiracy
Fifth Convention of the International Association for Comparative Fascist Studies (ComFas), Florence, 14-16 September 2022
The event is organized, in cooperation, by
the International Association for Comparative Fascist Studies (COMFAS)
University of Florence (Department of Political and Social Sciences – School of Political Science Cesare Alfieri)
Research Project of National Interest, PRIN 2017 (prot. 20172WZKW9)
Marco Bresciani (University of Florence)
Francesco Cassata (University of Genoa)
Fulvio Conti (University of Florence)
Constantin Iordachi (COMFAS – Central European University)
Silvia Salvatici (University of Florence)
2022 marks the centennial of the March on Rome, leading the first Fascist movement to power and paving the way to Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy. This represents a unique occasion not only for reflecting over the Italian events of October 1922 in the context of the post-World War I crisis and their European and global aftershocks in the interwar period but especially for debating and rethinking fascism and right radicalism more broadly. On the occasion of the centennial, and in the light of current public and scholarly debates, Comfas organizes an international conference framing the ascent and success of Italian Fascism within much broader thematic, chronological, and geographic horizons.
In the epoch of globalization through World Web 2.0, fake news, beliefs in conspiracies, and conspiratorial strategies have flourished; consequently, these phenomena have become research topics for sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, political scientists, researchers of cultural and media studies – and for some historians as well. This scientific and public interest has been fuelled, on both the shores of the Atlantic, by the rise of nationalist and populist forces which in the last decade have quite often referred to conspiracies in their propaganda, especially through social media. In this regard, a research agenda concerning the problem of theories and practices of conspiracy and their historical relations with the Right in European and global history seems to be timelier than ever.
From the French Revolution onwards, discursive models, imageries, and representations stemming from both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, socialist and nationalist, Left and Right political cultures and traditions contributed in many ways to legitimizing and popularizing theories and practices of conspiracy. Notably, different kinds and currents of Right relied on and were fed by, conspiratorial patterns identifying in many ways “enemies within” in the context of political, social, and economic instability and turmoil. As Paul Hanebrink has recently shown, for instance, the myth of “Judeo-Bolshevism” coalesced previous stereotypes of Jews into a new powerful driver of mass mobilization in the context shaped by the Great War and the ensuing collapse of Empires in East-Central Europe, by contributing to the massive dissemination of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and their uses in the fascist movement and regimes.
In the aftermath of fascism and genocide, Alexandre Koyré elaborated the notion of the “political function of lie” and Hannah Arendt appropriated it as a key analytical framework for understanding the totalitarian movements, while Franz Neumann pointed to the critical relationship between “anxiety and politics”. However, it was Richard J. Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964) to provide the most influential approach to the political concept of conspiracy understood as a “political pathology”. Nevertheless, current studies tend to consider this approach quite controversial as it overemphasizes the irrational, psychological, and pathological dimensions of such a crucial political and cultural phenomenon. Far from being a mere “pathology” (individual or collective) or the symptom of a cognitive fallacy, the myth of conspiracy is increasingly understood as the product of a social and political “physiology”, involving specific actors, well-defined communicative regimes, and concrete forms of mobilization.
Accordingly, the Fifth Comfas Convention aims to go beyond the “paranoid style” paradigm and verify how the myth of conspiracy works in concrete, specific contexts, how and which political imageries and cultures legitimized conspiratorial practices in increasingly nationalized and internationalized public opinion, and how they were related to fascism and more generally to radical rightist perspectives and forces.
The Convention brings together scholars and researchers from different fields and areas to focus on the cultural roots and forms, political strategies, and effects of conspiracy theories within counterrevolutionary, reactionary, fascist, and neo-fascist currents (from abbé Barruel to Steve Bannon). The paper address a wide range of issues: how did/do the conspiratorial modes play out, and to what extent they were/are inherently related to right-wing movements and groups? Which were, and are, the main sources for conspiracy theories, from the images of Jesuits and Freemasons to Jews and Islamists? How did the relations between right-wing forces and conspiracy theories change over time, alongside the technological chance of mass media and the synchronic evolution of public opinion? In which ways did right-wing versions of conspiracy theories interact and converge with left-wing ones?
For the Final Program, see Flyer Comfas Florence 2022
For further information on the program, contact
Marco Bresciani (University of Florence) Marco.firstname.lastname@example.org
Alfredo Sasso (University of Florence) Alfredo.email@example.com
The International Association for Comparative Fascist Studies is a nonprofit and nonpolitical scholarly organization dedicated to the comparative and transnational study of fascism (www.comfas.org). The Association is open to graduate students, researchers, and professors at whatever stage of their careers. Its aim is to promote new multi-disciplinary research approaches to this field, in a joint effort of scholars from various disciplines and historiographical traditions. COMFAS is based at Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies, at the Central European University, Budapest. The Association’s main publication outlet is the open-access peer-reviewed journal Fascism. Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies (Brill).