Umberto Eco on “Eternal Fascism” and fascism’s common features.


Simply stated, the late Umberto Eco is a great favorite of mine. To me, writers, intellectuals and thinkers matter.

They matter a lot.

Umberto Eco: “When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”

This website aims to present all the aspects of the Writer, Linguist, Philosopher and the Man UMBERTO ECO. Eco was born in Alessandria, Italy on January 5th, 1932 and died at the age of 84 in Milano, Italy on February 19th, 2016.

Umberto Eco is still best known for his novel Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose) which was published in 1980. The book is an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. In 1986 a movie by the same name, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery was released.

His 1988 novel Foucault’s Pendulum could be described as a “thinking man’s Da Vinci Code”.

Umberto Eco was President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, University of Bologna. Additionally he has written a multitude of academic texts, children’s books and essays.

Eco’s 1995 essay Ur-Fascism has exploded back into significance.

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism, by Josh Jones (Open Culture)

One of the key questions facing both journalists and loyal oppositions these days is how do we stay honest as euphemisms and trivializations take over the discourse? Can we use words like “fascism,” for example, with fidelity to the meaning of that word in world history? …

Let’s snip through to the list.

 … While Eco is firm in claiming “There was only one Nazism,” he says, “the fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change.” Eco reduces the qualities of what he calls “Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism” down to 14 “typical” features. “These features,” writes the novelist and semiotician, “cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

  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. The 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.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “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. 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. Appeal to social frustration. “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. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  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 abridged list (available in full at The New York Review of Books) comes to us from Kottke, by way of blogger Paul Bausch, who writes “we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.”