Characteristics of Ur-Fascism

On November 4th 1938, Franklin Roosevelt declared:

“I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.”

That quote about fascism was found in a 1995 essay by Umberto Eco for the New York Times Review of books. Fascist, like Liberal or terrorist, is a word so over-used and mis-used, it seems to me, that it may have lost it’s meaning. “Fascism became an all-purpose term” Eco argues, ‘because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist’. He argued that “it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism”

  1. The cult of tradition — “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism — “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. A cult of action for action’s sake — “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation… The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.”
  4. A rejection of analytical criticism — “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Exploiting a fear of difference — “Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. An appeal to a frustrated middle class — “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. An obsession with a plot of persecution. — “To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism… The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside”
  8. A Humiliation by the privilege of their enemies — “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Life is permanent warfare — “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak — “Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens…””
  11. The hero mythology — “In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm.”
  12. Machismo or ‘toxic masculinity’ — “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism — 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.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. — “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

This is a poor summary of a great essay. Read it.

Based on kottke’s post.