Other versions of this idiom, such as “əlimin içindən gəlir” (meaning about the same) or “bacarana can qurban” (something like “fortune favors the brave”) were used more often in the past, but now they are temporarily out of fashion. In my opinion, the phrase “əcəb eləmişəm” is not always an emotional reaction. This expression is still dormant, although it has a dangerous tendency to wake up at any moment. “Əcəb eləmişəm” is the transition between a lack of arguments and pseudo-arguments, an intermediate stage, one step beyond which populism begins.
In recent years, one of the most oft-repeated ideas in our country, just like in the rest of the world, has been that nothing can be achieved by criticizing the people. In fact, the purpose of this rhetoric is to disable critical thinking by focusing the conversation on the “people.” Because when critical thinking is active, the work of those who spin nationalism, religion, and tradition gets complicated, it would be better to ignore it, devalue it, declare it anti-national and stigmatize it. For example, there are fair points in the recent criticism of the “Molla Nasreddin” school, but what is often offered in return for what is disavowed is not the experience of the future, but the past, older ways. The claim is that discourses based on criticism, reason, rational thinking are ineffective, so it is necessary to stay on the traditional, irrational, sentimental, lighter ground. As I said, it is true that many of the methods we cling to are no longer effective, but the main point is that the method of criticism is outdated, but not criticism itself. It is ignorant to claim that critical thinking is outdated. I believe we must make use of the analytical schools and methods that have emerged and proved themselves since the second half of the twentieth century and apply them to the problems of our society. Yes, we live in an age when Mirza Jalil’s methods are ineffective, however, it’s not because Mirza Jalil was wrong or because the “Molla Nasreddin” school is useless, but because we have failed to update our tools and methods.
The research of the Frankfurt School, which was born in the last century, can be a very good example to us on this path. After World War II, Max Horkheimer, one of the founders of the Frankfurt School, headed the “Studies in Prejudice” project sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. The results of this research project were published as a five-volume book series: Leo Löwenthal and Nobert Guterman’s Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator, Bruno Bettelheim and Morris Janowitz’s Dynamics of Prejudice: A Psychological and Sociological Study of Veterans, Nathan Eckerman and Marie Yahoda’s Anti-Semitism and Economical Disorder: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, Paul Massing’s Rehearsal for Destruction: A Study of Political Anti-Semitism in Imperial Germany and The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson and R. Nevitt Sanford. Theodor W. Adorno’s part of the same name in the 900-page The Authoritarian Personality became particularly popular and is now published as a separate book. It was also translated into the Azerbaijani language and released by Alatoran Publishing under the title “Avtoritar şəxsiyyətin necəliyi”.
The Frankfurt School thinkers began to parse the radio speeches of politicians to study the nature of authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and populism. For example, Adorno analyzed the broadcasts of Martin Luther Thomas, a radical right-wing radio preacher famous in the 1930s, in his book The Psychological Technique of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses.
Adorno and his colleagues based their study on identifying “potential fascist” individuals. The word “potential” is used here because it does not refer to those who openly declare their fascism or are members of any fascist organization. The purpose of the study was to determine the types of mindset that will easily adapt to fascism should it rear its ugly head again. The main questions of the study were: If there is a potential fascist individual, what kind of person is he/she? What distinguishes an anti-democratic thinking? What are the internal mechanisms that drive people to anti-democratic thinking?
Adorno describes nine traits of authoritarianism in The Authoritarian Personality:
- Conventionalism: A strong adherence to traditional, middle class values.
- Authoritarian submission: Obedience to ingroup authority figures, avoiding critical thinking.
- Authoritarian aggression: The tendency to condemn, reject, and punish those who violate conventional values.
- Anti-intraception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination.
- Superstition and stereotypy: Belief in mystical fate; thinking in rigid categories.
- Power and “toughness”: Thinking in dual categories of submission/domination, strong/weak, leader/follower; identifying oneself with power figures; excessive reference to the conventional traits of ego; exaggerated assertion of strength.
- Destructiveness and cynicism: A generalized idea of the enemy, humiliating a person.
- Projectivity: The tendency to perceive the world as wild, cruel, violent.
- Exaggerated concerns over sexual practices.
Today, radio has been replaced by social media, and in an age of open sources, there is a need for patient, hard-thinking people who can do serious research to get rid of jeers and giggles. There is a need for more than just biting retorts and well-thought-out remarks: someone must seriously analyze the posts and speeches of agitators and populists. For example, there is no point in photoshopping words that come out of a phenomenon like Ata Abdullayev or some demagogue MP or journalist, what we need is to study their rhetoric and technique. It would be great if someone penned something like, say, “Elman Nasirov’s Statements to the Press: A Psychoanalytic Context.”
In modern times, the followers of the Frankfurt School analyze the populist figures of the new century. There is such an interesting phenomenon as Nicholas J. Fuentes, the so-called Donald Trump’s “unofficial press service”. He has been a vocal supporter of Trump on his podcast America First with Nicolas J. Fuentes. In February 2020, YouTube terminated his channel for hate speech, but Fuentes continues to speak out on various platforms. A collection of essays titled Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism (2018, edited by Jeremiah Morelock) analyzes the rise of populism in Europe and the United States, applying the insights of the Frankfurt School.
Using the methods of the Frankfurt School, the Austrian sociologist Christian Fuchs highlights four elements of right-wing authoritarianism in his work “Authoritarian capitalism, authoritarian movements and authoritarian communication” (2018): 1) authoritarians believe in strong leaders; 2) authoritarians believe in the supremacy of a particular group that supposedly forms a nation and ethnic group, and use nationalism and the friend/enemy dichotomic rhetoric to cover up the class conflict created by capitalism; 3) most things that are considered national are constructed in relation to one or more foreign groups, which are usually presented as “enemies to be fought and destroyed”; 4) they are patriarchal and militaristic, they believe in conservative values.
The book Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit and Authoritarian Populism (2019) by comparative political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart discusses three core components of authoritarianism:
1) The importance of security against risks of instability and disorder (foreigners stealing our jobs, immigrants attacking our women, terrorists threatening our safety);
2) The value of group conformity to preserve conventional traditions and guard our way of life (defending “Us” against threats to “European values”);
3) The need for loyal obedience toward strong leaders who protect the group and its customs, the emphasis on rallying around the leader.
Although according to most experts, there is no standard definition of populism, there are certain symptoms that are universal in nature and common across the globe. They can be summarized as follows: anti-intellectual rhetoric—appealing to and relying on emotions, not facts or analysis; media dubbing—behaving like “press”; generating the “I am the voice of the people’s hearts” rhetoric by presenting the society under the illusion of “pure, innocent people” and “corrupt elites”; a representative of one faction, one segment acting as a representative of all…
According to Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde, populism is not just an independent ideology that is the answer to everything; its main and dangerous feature is that it can adapt to any ideology, dress in its colors, like a chameleon.
Those using populist rhetoric always consider themselves one of the people, presenting themselves as a spokesman for the people, and declaring the other side to be non-national, dismissive of the people, indifferent. But the idea of people expressed in this rhetoric is limited, as that Trump’s sentence that makes all the world’s philosophers laugh: “The main thing is unity of people, because the rest of the world doesn’t matter.”
In Leo Löwenthal and Nobert Guterman’s Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator, populists and agitators are described through a much-popular “bus analogy.” A passenger in a crowded bus is squeezed into a corner and voices her dissatisfaction. A second passenger joins the conversation and says that the bus company should assign more busses to this route. A third passenger says that it has nothing to do with the bus company, this is all because of those “foreigners who do not speak our language,” and if we send them back where they came from, everything will be fine. The authors call the words of the first passenger “inarticulate complaints”, the words of the second the solution of a “reformist or revolutionary”, and the opinion of the third is the rhetoric of a populist, an agitator.
As one of the wise sayings of our people puts it, “If you want a seat on the bus, you have to get on it on time.”