Eco, Fascism and America

Umberto Eco essay on Ur Fascism.

Our on his Chief Blogging Office blog, Chris Locke has posted an interesting note on Umberto Eco’s essay on Ur Fascism. The essay is in his book “Five Moral Pieces”.

This is how Eco begins his enumeration. You’ll see why I was so excited to find this when you hit the last graf. In what follows, btw, the grafiks, links and emphasis are mine.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counter-revolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but it was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
[Greater Democracy]

Eco wrote an incredibly prescient article in 1995 entitled Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, that list 14 characteristics of fascist groups. It is full of things like this, that certainly seem to resonate in the US today:

  • The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity.
  • Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.
  • In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
  • Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference.
  • …there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.
  • For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.
  • Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
  • Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

All one has to do is watch CNN for the last week to see how far so many people in the US have taken the fascist route threat Eco describes. Ten years after he wrote the essay, its words seem to describe the attitudes of many. We have people advocating that a strong executive do ‘what is right’ in ways that can only be described as fascist. We have former presidential candidates using some of the same fascist arguments Eco describes on national TV.

In many ways, the US was saved from fascism in the 30s because it had an administration opposed to it and a President committed to finding another way. I would be more confident of where we were going today if the current President actually came out and condemned the rhetoric of violence spewing from the media, condemned those who clamored for violence, condemned those who want action that will rend the fabric of this nation. How I wish we had a President of the caliber of Roosevelt. We may need such a man to extricate ourselves from the clutches of the current fascist ardor expressed by so many in Florida, and around the country.