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
Organizers: Marco Bresciani (University of Florence); Francesco Cassata (University of Genoa), Fulvio Conti (University of Florence); and Constantin Iordachi (CEU, Vienna).
The Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Florence will provide the main venue for the conference, in collaboration with the Department of Ancient Studies, Philosophy, History (DAFIST) of the University of Genoa.
2022 will mark 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. In 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 the 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 the 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.
Since the French Revolution onwards, discursive models, imageries, 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 context of political, social, 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 “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 overemphasises the irrational, psychological and pathological dimension 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, concrete forms of mobilisation.
Accordingly, this call aims to go beyond the “paranoid style” paradigm and to 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 Fifth Comfas Convention aims to encourage 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 call addresses a wide range of issues: how did/do the conspiratorial modes play out, and to what extend 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?
We welcome different possible areas for papers and panels, with a specific focus on fascism and right radicalism:
- Images of Jesuits, Freemasons and Jews and their function in the conspiracy theories
- Representations of conspiracy and apocalyptic cultures
- Conspiracy theories and counterrevolution
- Anti-Bolshevism and counterrevolution
- The myth of Judeo-Bolshevism in the 20th century
- Images of the “enemy alien” and wartime anti-conspiratorial strategies
- Conspiracy and panic over sovereignty, state collapse, and political transition
- Political economy of conspiratorial theories
- Conspiracy theories, Islamophobia and far-right terrorism (or counterterrorism)
- Great substitution theory
- Fake news, social media and far Right
- The myth of conspiracy in fascist and far-right visual culture
Scholars interested in attending or contributing to the conference should send a mail with an abstract, short bio, and contact information to email@example.com no later than 30 March 2022. We welcome individual papers as well as panel proposals. Conference participation is free for COMFAS members (see our Membership Policy). For non-members, a participation fee of € 50 applies. Conference participants will be invited to submit revised versions of their papers for publication in an edited volume and in the journal Fascism.