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Review of  Analysing Fascist Discourse

Reviewer: Rubén Moralejo
Book Title: Analysing Fascist Discourse
Book Author: Ruth Wodak John E. Richardson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.3992

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This volume, edited by Ruth Wodak and John E. Richardson, contains a series of studies which shed light on the continuities and discontinuities of European fascist discourse. Within the context of European politics, extreme right-wing populism is (re)presented as an alternative to the political, social and economic impasse. It seems necessary, from a discourse-analytical perspective, to critically approach their talk and text in order to determine whether a fascist “ideological core” (5) still constitutes such contemporary political practices and by which means the concrete historical conditions mediate a process of discursive recontextualisation.

Wodak and Richardson set up the main goals as well as the general theoretical and critical point of departure of the volume in “European Fascism in Talk and Text -- Introduction”. One of the first questions they ask has to do with the difficulty in reaching an agreement regarding a definition of fascism. Despite the apparent consensus among historians -- Griffin’s definition as “palingenetic populist ultra-nationalism” (1998:13) is considered the most accurate and encompassing -- a brief look into the literature shows that a critical, context-sensitive approach constitutes a more appropriate research strategy. One of the functions of (Critical) Discourse Studies is to situate a particular text (or talk) in dialectical relation to other texts and other social phenomena; that is, to contextualise it. However, for this process of reinterpretation to function critically, its focus cannot be reduced to synchronic, isolated, concrete social facts. On the contrary: one of the main epistemological assumptions of the authors is that processes of social transformation are in part processes of discursive transformation. They can be analysed in terms of chains of events which are usually involved in a struggle for social hegemony. Thus, the only way to give account of such changes is by adopting a historical-diachronic perspective that paves the way for conducting a longitudinal, comparative study that considers intertextuality and interdiscursivity as one of the main loci of such struggle.

In the second chapter, “Radical Right Discourse Contra State-Based Authoritarian Populism: Neoliberalism, Identity and Exclusion after the Crisis”, Daniel Woodley argues that when revisionist historiography considers fascism as a “totalitarian religion” (17) there is no space left for envisioning the reciprocal relationship between right-wing populism and neoliberalism. This misleading characterisation is founded on an idealised notion of ideology which considers it a separate, content-based set of beliefs, arguments and ideas that exist apart from the material conditions that in part determine the social reality of fascist discourse. Woodley’s aim consists of distancing himself from this academic obfuscation by examining the precise social function of extreme right-wing populism in the context of the current global socialisation of capitalist production as well as its inherent class antagonism. The definition of fascism provided by the author considers its capitalist-rooted instrumentality, in terms of how both the political and the corporate elites merge in the form of a dictatorship appealing to “fetishized identity-driven consumption” (23). These two apparently distinct positions, neoliberalism and neoconservatism, operate reciprocally; they are both counterparts, political commodities that collaborate with each other in constituting and securing the effective functioning of capitalist ideology.

In “Italian Post-war Neo-Fascism: Three Paths, One Mission?” (chapter 3), Tamir Bar-On focuses on the rise of three neo-fascist -- or “revolutionary right-wing” (43) -- strategies in post-war Italy: the creation or adoption of the institutional form of the party (parliamentary neo-fascism); organising and engaging in political practices outside the scope of institutionalised politics (extra-parliamentary neo-fascism); and the most recent “metapolitical neo-fascism” (45), which withdraws from practices directed at gaining immediate access to power in favour of a more cultural, theoretical approach. Such strategies are not mutually exclusive: they complement each other. They find their unifying principle in undertaking the eradication of liberal democracy and multiculturalism. Hence, it is in this sense of radical transformation where Bar-On identifies the revolutionary character of fascism. A further line of reasoning for the latter is provided by the author when he mentions the increased Europeanism present in contemporary fascist discourses, certifying the trans-national character of their future prospects. It is mainly via the parliamentary and the metapolitical paths that fascism (re)organised itself in Italy after the War; the result of a tactical displacement from the risky (and socially repudiated) directness of the violent revolt to the legitimising frameworks of liberal democracy and the European intelligentsia.

In chapter 4, “The Reception of Antisemitic Imagery in Nazi Germany and Popular Opinion -- Lessons for Today” Andreas Musolff assesses the extent to which the ‘parasite’ metaphor underlying Nazi anti-Semitic discourse impelled identification or acknowledgment within German popular discourse. The author embraces the interdisciplinary scope provided by Discourse-oriented Metaphor Analysis, which encompasses Cognitive Metaphor Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis and Discourse History. Metaphors call forth narrative and argumentative scenarios by means of which certain entities are signalled as unmarked, whereas others receive particular “socioethical evaluations” (58). These may, according to historical and discursive contexts, crystallise and function as action-guiding ‘tenets’. In the case of the ‘parasite’ metaphor, a schema of infection-crisis-therapy is brought about, yet transposed to Nazi anti-Semitic imagery: the Jewish race is portrayed as the enemy parasitizing the German body, the cause of the ‘illness’; as a precondition to the healing process, the parasite has to be annihilated. Musolff shows how the use of this metaphor was central to Nazi discourse from the very first moments of the Third Reich. In fact, the ‘Jew-parasite’ core of the metaphor has survived through the years. However, he also highlights the presence of discontinuities concerning the therapy-through-parasite-annihilation scenario, which has been subjected to variation depending not only on changes in the sociopolitical context but also in relation to the degree of acceptability granted by the public.

According to Jakob Engel and Ruth Wodak (“‘Calculated ambivalence’ and Holocaust Denial in Austria”), since the end of World War II, Austria has undergone a process of identity re-formation that has been characterised by the obfuscation of its involvement in the genocide against the Jews. This process has been expressed in Postwar Austrian legislation through the approval of the Verbotsgesetz (the prohibition law). Using a Discourse-Historical Approach, the authors inquire into the controversy around a series of public interventions made by two Austrian right-wing politicians from the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria), John Gudenus and Barbara Rosenkranz. Their denial of the Holocaust comprises “strategies of positive self- and negative other- presentation” and “strategies of justification and legitimation” (78). The authors focus on three discursive strategies: referential, predicational, and justificatory strategies. One of the conclusions they draw refers to the notion of calculated ambivalence, a dispositive intended to convey a twofold meaning to different audiences by means of the same utterance. The calculated ambivalence evidenced in the discourse of Gudenus and Rosenkranz is strategically construed to avoid the transgression of the Verbotsgesetz -- and thus avoid legal punishment -- and to effectively transgress it by means of justifying and reproducing, although in an ‘encrypted’, ambivalent manner, the denial of the Holocaust.

In “German Postwar Discourse of the Extreme and Populist Right”, by Claudia Posch, Maria Stopfner and Manfred Kienpointner, the search for an all-encompassing definition of fascism is raised again. They claim that the available, most widely accepted definitions may come in handy when trying to categorise empirical data as manifestations of fascist thought and propaganda. They give an overview of German-speaking countries’ history of extreme right-wing parties, and collect a corpus of texts recently broadcast in different media. This diachronic-historical contextualisation aids in identifying significant continuities or discontinuities among the discourses analysed. Posch, Stopfner and Kienpointner embrace a multifaceted theoretical framework: they combine Habermas’ Theory of Argumentation, New Rhetoric, Critical Discourse Analysis and Pragma-Dialectics. They attend to significant instances of fascist persuasive discourse and the strategic devices they comprise. Their analysis points to three distinct strategies of persuasion that have developed within fascist discourse in light of the context of legal and political conditions that constrain its more transparent manifestations: the strategic use of indirectness; of metaphor; and of argument schemes that may revolve around a causal fallacy. In the conclusion, the authors appeal to a broadening of the scope of the investigation as well as the necessity to build a more representative corpus.

Derrin Pinto, in “Education and Etiquette: Behaviour Formation in Fascist Spain”, describes the historical context of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain as a regime that put ideological investment in the domain of education and the instilling of the notion of etiquette. This concept was eventually granted the status of a curricular component, and served the regime as a means to produce and maintain a particular social configuration. Pinto relies on a corpus of 33 Spanish textbooks published during the period, related to the teaching of manners and politeness. His analysis focuses on two main features: the way ideology is embodied and constructed in terms of its particular contents, and the concrete discursive devices intended for legitimation and control. He contends that the texts evidence an ideology depicting a predilection for National Catholicism (values), high society and an urban, patriarchal way-of-life (membership), and an absolute respect for authority (activities and norms) based upon the realisation of personal and social objectives (goals). Pinto’s analysis shows how the expressions and mechanisms of persuasive discourse functioned as an ideological tool for legitimation, as in the case of the recurrent use of the deontic modality to communicate a sense of duty and obligation. He also explores the continuities and discontinuities of this ideology regarding contemporary Spanish textbooks.

Cristina Marinho and Michael Billig’s “The CDS-PP and the Portuguese Parliament’s Annual Celebration of the 1974 Revolution: Ambivalence and Avoidance in the Construction of the Fascist Past” brings into focus the insuperable distance evidenced in the simultaneous articulation in discourse of the rhetorical surface and the ideological depth -- calculated ambivalence that sustains a democratic façade while simultaneously addressing to the ‘old’ fascist ideological core. Through an analysis of parliamentary speeches of the Portuguese Centro Democrático e Social Partido Popular (Social and Democratic Centre Popular Party) which were given at annual commemorations of the 1974 Revolução dos Cravos, they show how this discursive duplicity manifests in a context-dependent fashion and, as they conclude, how the parliamentary-annual-celebration setting itself is a precondition for such ambivalence to function effectively.

The next chapter (“Continuities of Fascist Discourses, Discontinuities of Extreme-Right Political Actors?: Overt and Covert Anti-Semitism in the Contemporary French Radical Right”) aims at dismantling some implications of the discontinuity theory: the diachronically-evidenced idea that, given the transformation within French political discourses with regard to the non-acceptability of anti-Semitism, extreme-right discourses have withdrawn from signalling the Jew as the ultimate antagonist, favouring other new “ethnic tensions” (163). Brigitte Beauzamy critically analyses contemporary radical-right anti-Semitic discourses, such as those of Le Pen’s party, Front National, and the Nouvelle Droite, as well as the discourse of Kemi Seba, a French Afrocentric activist. She contends that there is a maintenance of the ‘old’ fascist nucleus regarding anti-Semitism, of which one significant instance can be found in the discourse of Kemi Seba. This discursive continuity leads, according to Beauzamy, to the reaffirmation of the traditional anti-Semitic ideology.

John E. Richardson’s chapter “Racial Populism in British Fascist Discourse: The Case of COMBAT and the British National Party (1960-1967)” deals with old and contemporary British fascism. The author proposes a framework informed by Critical Discourse Analysis and the Discourse-Historical Approach, especially regarding the latter’s conceptualisation of context as comprising four interconnected levels, which is crucial for the task of exposing the continuities and discontinuities of certain semiotic entities within discourse. Richardson focuses on the British National Party’s (BNP) anti-Semitic discourse. After offering a diachronic outline of the main strategies that can be found in British fascist discourse, Richardson concludes that, despite having abandoned univocal allusions to anti-Semitism, the discourse of the BNP still retains the traditional British fascist ideological core. The difference is that contemporary discourses rely on a recontextualisation that avoids any explicit reference to ‘old’ fascism (mostly due to legal constraint and a self-interest for gaining adepts), on the one hand, and rehabilitates the same traditional fascism, on the other.

“Variations on a Theme: The Jewish ‘Other’ in Old and New Antisemitic Media Discourses in Hungary in the 1940s and in 2011,” by András Kovács and Anna Szilágyi, considers the controversy that sprouted as a consequence of the appearance of extreme-right organisations in European post-Communist countries. Specifically, the authors focus on Hungarian media discourses. Determining whether these new political forces consist of just another variation of generic fascism (continuity) or constitute a singular, genuine political movement in its own right (discontinuity) has proved unsatisfactory. One of the possible continuities is the professed anti-Semitism of the current Hungarian extreme right. This connection is confirmed in their analysis, which distinguishes the main patterns of anti-Semitic discourses displayed in two Hungarian newspapers published during the 1940s. They look for similar discursive patterns in the case of two Hungarian news portals dating from 2011. To support their claim that ‘old’ fascist patterns continue to appear in the discourses of current extreme-right media, they examine discursive strategies of othering that appear to coincide in both cases: Jews are referred to as the relevant other, and the stereotypes employed in depicting the other along with the argumentation schemes at work -- such as the “victim-victimiser reversal” (209) -- are recurrent in both historical moments. However, Kovács and Szilágyi also point out some significant differences. For example, the Jewish ‘menace’ is now regarded not so much as being confined to the Hungarian borders as constituting a global threat. Finally, the authors also discuss the function of anti-Semitic discourse: whereas it served traditional fascism as a compelling means for mass mobilisation, nowadays it works as a medium to foster group identity.

“The Return of the Ukrainian Far Right: The Case of VO Svoboda” deals with the Ukrainian case. Per Anders Rudling studies the history of far-right political movements in the country, attending not only to the ideological, political aspects evidenced in their behaviour but also to the conditions that cleared the way for their rise and propagation. He argues that the current Ukrainian situation is the result of a strategy of rehabilitation of far-right ideology. This development was marked by the neo-fascist instrumentation of history: the glorification of certain, salient historical characters or events for both legitimating its existence and mobilising its audience. Such a strategy was not so much enacted within the political sphere but primarily fulfilled by the far-right Ukrainian intelligentsia, i.e. through the work of revisionist historians who have constructed and theorised a national cosmology that relies on the self-victimisation of Ukrainian fascists.

In “New Times, Old Ideologies? Recontextualisations of Radical Right Thought in Post-Communist Romania,” Irina Diana Mădroane analyses the multiple layers of meaning implied in contemporary, extreme-right Romanian discourses. Mădroane contends that, given the on-going process of fascist rehabilitation in Romania, these meanings are intentionally administered as part of the process. The author discusses the post-Communist context and the appearance of the New Right as the main representative of the increasing radical right manifestations in the country. This political movement is mainly informed by the Legionary doctrine. Mădroane’s framework comprises Critical Discourse Analysis and the Discourse Historical Approach, and she focuses on the ways in which intertextuality and interdiscursivity may serve to evidence a process of discursive recontextualisation. An analysis of a series of texts appearing on the New Right’s website shows that the process of identity reshaping is sustained by three discursively-mediated strategies: an ultra-nationalist rhetoric indebted to the Legionary mythology, discursive strategies of exclusion and rejection of the threatening Others, and strategies of transformation, which consist in the self-characterisation of the movement in messianic terms.

In the next section, Anton Shekhovtsov (“European Far-Right Music and Its Enemy”) considers the extreme right music scene. He specifically looks into the construction of the Enemy and the discursive resources mobilised to that end within the lyrics of various White Power songs. Shekhovtsov claims that the sources of inspiration of White Power music coincide with those of some extreme right political movements. For example, the Jew is usually portrayed as the pivotal element between the Other and the System. The study evidences the narrow relationship between White Power music and its political counterpart, arguing that far-right music should not be regarded as a ‘soft’ manifestation of extreme right ideology. On the contrary, its role as an inherent element of the ultra-nationalist political expression must not be underestimated.

The concluding chapter, “The Branding of European Nationalism: Perpetuation and Novelty in Racist Symbolism”, is by Mark McGlashan. Embracing a Discourse Historical Approach, he considers the significant rhetorical features that can be found in the symbolic practices of several political parties. The notion of political branding is foregrounded as a multimodal, analytic tool that may be helpful in identifying the “symbolic realisations of racism” (299) within the logos of European nationalist parties. McGlashan presents several case studies from different national contexts. He points to the continuities between extreme-right discourses and the visual symbolism involved in the branding strategies of political organisations. Not only do the logos point to similar referents, but they are also strategically constructed by means of similar procedures.


This volume can be regarded as a contribution to the on-going trend in Discourse Studies which focuses on the dynamics between language and other significant social phenomena. What is distinctive about this study is its interdisciplinary approach to the political discourses of the new European extreme right. No other systematic analysis is currently available in which such a comprehensive survey of the historical dynamics involving contemporary (neo)fascist discourse is provided -- with the exception of another volume recently published of which Ruth Wodak is also one of the editors (Wodak, Khosravinik & Mral 2013).

The combination of methodologies involving critical discourse analysis (CDA -- Fairclough 1995, 2001) and the discourse-historical approach (DHA -- Reisigl & Wodak 2009) responds to the necessity of theorising the context -- that is, to integrate the context-sensitivity potential of DHA into the general framework of CDA. This allows the authors to fulfil their goal of determining continuities and discontinuities regarding a fascist discursive nucleus and its contemporary manifestations by means of comparative diachronic case studies. They find that this nucleus has survived the passage of time, whilst some of its particular forms are highly context-dependent and vary in different ways.

Given their consensus on the importance of context in approaching discourse, the authors offer more or less exhaustive accounts of the historical conditions of the countries involved. This, along with the technical and theoretical sections, amounts to a widening of the potential audience for the volume, which already includes researchers engaged in the academic study of language, and also scholars and students interested in contemporary politics.

Certain common orientations can be found in the book: the aforementioned theoretical and methodological assumptions from which the case studies depart, their shared purpose of attending to the continuities and discontinuities of the discourses analysed and the critical perspective they adopt. The fact that almost every chapter is devoted to a different European country contributes to a general picture of far-right movements in present time. The results of some case studies presented in the book show how European far-right rhetoric is shifting from a nationalist to a more trans-national scope. The diversity of the case studies is helpful in perceiving the different modalities of the symbolic practices as well as the ways in which they intertwine and act simultaneously in the process of (re)production of the symbolic order.

The book was not conceived as a theoretically oriented work. Nonetheless, a more detailed account of some notions could have been useful. For instance, the idea that there is a core ideology seems to be broadly accepted, and even though there is much discussion about the difficulty of defining fascism and the idiosyncratic aspects involved in the very gesture of defining it, significant sources that could have been relevant concerning this issue are not discussed or just circumstantially mentioned (e.g. Thompson 1984 and Žižek 1989 onwards). Another aspect related to ideology involves the implicit idealisation of democracy that has a twofold function: because it works as the point of neutralisation of ideology, it stands for a zero-level from which the other discourses are characterised.

For future research on political discourse and the current status of the European far right, this volume stands out as a referent inasmuch as it provides readers with a wide-ranging perspective on the discursive resources on which right-wing political forces rely in pursuing their goals. A possible continuation of this study could be to approach these discourses not just as instances of (neo)fascist ideology that threaten the foundations of today’s democracy but, conversely, as complementary social phenomena that function within the limits of a common (globalised) ideological framework. An exceptional illustration of this point is provided in Pinto’s chapter. He sets up a preliminary comparative study involving Civics textbooks under Franco and current Education for Citizenship manuals, concluding that “the two contemporary books appear to employ many of the same linguistic devices with regard to the discourse structure and the mechanisms of legitimation and control that were found to be recurring in the Franco texts” (139). Moreover, the only significant difference he finds between these two texts has to do with the rhetoric of equality: “imbalanced relations of power, similar to those of the past, continue to exist” (140). How is it, then, that under the European allegedly-democratic framework and beside decades of legislation and social non-acceptability, fascism still thrives as a mobilising force? This apparent contradiction fades away once the complementarity between democratic and fascist discourses as well as their function under the capitalist global social order are acknowledged.


Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical Discourse Analysis. Boston: Addison Wesley.

Fairclough, Norman. 2001. Language and Power (2nd edition). London: Longman.

Griffin, Roger (ed.). 1998. International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus. London: Arnold.

Reisigl, Martin & Ruth Wodak. 2009. The discourse historical approach. In Ruth Wodak & Michael Meyer (eds.). Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Sage. 87-121.

Thompson, John B. 1984. Studies in the Theory of Ideology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wodak Ruth, Majid Khosravinik & Brigitte Mral (eds.). 2013. Right-Wing Populism in Europe. Discourse and Politics. London: Bloomsbury.

Žižek, Slavoj. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.
Rubén Moralejo is a doctoral student at the Universidade de Vigo (Spain). Currently, he is doing research on the role ideology plays within the context of (industrial) production. He focuses on the relation between language, ideology and society. His research interests have to do with the critical study of the ideology of capitalism.

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ISBN-13: 9780415899192
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