Theory course What is Fascism?: Economy, Society, and State


Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm

Goethe-Institut New York

30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

The word “fascism” is used frequently to describe intensely militaristic, racist, xenophobic, or repressive politics. Almost as often, fascism is used as a shorthand for a form of “totalitarian” government—where “jack-booted thugs” from “the state” control social, economic, and political life. With the rise of a dizzying array of far-right figures worldwide—politicians like Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Recep Teyyip Erdogan, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, among many others—understanding fascism appears more crucial than ever. Yet, questions of psychology and ideology tend to dominate much of the conversation without reference to institutions, civil society, economics, and policy. But, what is fascism?

This class will focus on what fascism looked like from an institutional point of view, how it worked as a governing system, what its economic policies were, and why and how it came to be. Looking at Franz Neumann’s Behemoth and his The Fate of Small Business in Nazi Germany with A.R.L. Gurland and Otto Kirchheimer, in conversation with selections from Theodor W. Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality and Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism, we will explore how (or whether) the state functioned in Nazi Germany and other fascist countries. How did their economies run and why? What role did civic institutions play in the fascist state? Does the “totalitarian” model adequately describe fascist societies? Additionally, we will consider these texts alongside reports that Herbert Marcuse, Neumann, Kirchheimer and others produced for American intelligence agencies during the Second World War. Finally, we will look at contemporary, comparative readings from scholars working on the transformation of economy and state under “neoliberalism” and assess the advantages and limitations of using our fascist past to understand our neoliberal present.

Instructor: Ajay Singh Chaudhary

Ajay Singh Chaudhary is the founding director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and a lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He holds a PhD from Columbia University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society through the MESAAS Department specializing in comparative philosophy.