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Pierson Lecture 2018: Dr. Geoff Eley, “Fascism and Antifascism, 1920-2020: Slogan, Impulse, Theory, Strategy.”

Eley is the author of dozens of books and articles on the history of class and politics in modern Germany and Europe generally, a body of work that explores the histories of fascism, imperialism, socialism, democracy, citizenship, nationalism, and memory, among many other topics. His publications include the field-changing essays on modern German historiography he published with David Blackbourn in 1984, The Peculiarities of German History. In Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-1900 placed communist, socialist, and feminist movements at the center of Europe’s modern evolution toward democracy. More recently, he has turned his attention to reexaminations of fascism, violence, and consent during and after the National Socialist period. His latest book, Nazism as Fascism: Violence, Ideology, and the Ground of Consent in Germany, 1930-1945, appeared in 2013 with Routledge.

The Pierson Lecture honors Stan and Joan Pierson, two exemplary citizens of the university and the Eugene community whose dedication to history was inexhaustible. The Pierson Lecture, which they founded way back in 1993, was only one expression of that dedication. The talk is free and open to all.
“All history is contemporary history,” wrote Benedetto Croce in the late 1930s. “The true image of the past,” Walter Benjamin reflected at around the same time, is the one that “flashes up in a moment of danger.” Together, these aphorisms are my taking-off point. How might the history of fascism in the early 20th century help us with an understanding of politics today? These are two very different times, so we can’t expect treatment of the one to map directly or straightforwardly onto treatment of the other. But we can still see some similarities. My talk will make two main moves. First, I’ll historicize fascism as carefully as possible to the very specific conditions of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. In other words, what was different and particular about that earlier 20th century context? But second, how might we abstract a concept of fascism from this history that can be portable for other places and times? What theory of fascism might we be able to take away for use elsewhere, including today? It’s this double task of “historicizing” and “abstraction” that describes the historian’s role and responsibility, and enables us to contribute most constructively to current debate.”