Umberto Eco (1932-2016) was an Italian novelist (The Name of the Rose) who in his magisterial essay in 1995 outlined 14 common features of fascism.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
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.”
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
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.”
Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
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.”
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.”
How many do you guys check from the list? I’ve got 14 out of 14.
Again, this essay of his was published in the NYRB back in 1995 and is an adaptation of his earlier essay “how to spot a blackshirt” primarily dealing with the defining characteristics of Italian fascism.
That’s because people are idiots. It applies to right wing thinking. You can’t call people progressives and fascists at the same time. They are contradictory terms. In fact, fascism was a reaction against liberalism. Calling someone who believes in gender equality a fascist, is being incongruous.
Fascism could be called totalitarianism with capitalism while communism is totalitarianism without capitalism. So if some left wing idiot has a problem with free speech, it’s an expression of totalitarianism but it’s not based on fascist thinking.
It’s a silly list. Fascism is just militant socialism (of some kind).
A real list would be something like: (1) extremely strong, centralized, governmental control of all aspects of society – commerce, healthcare, military, religion, and family and (2) dislike of the “other” as an impediment to #1.
The “other” can be anything: Jewish people (always a favorite), Nazarenes (as is happening in Africa), white people, black people, conservatives, liberals, whatever.
I’d also opine that the difference between communism and fascism is a matter of style over substance. Stalin and Hitler were two peas in a pod. They did the same things (and were, in fact, allies for quite a while), they just did the same things differently or used different names for the same thing.
Both fascist and socialist societies didn’t care much about healthcare, despite American obsession that it’s a defining characteristics of the latter.
I’d have to disagree with this one strongly. I loathe both fascism and communism but there were substantial differences - co optioning of the middle classes and corporatism being the defining characteristic of both Italian and Spanish fascism for example.
I just read an Article this morning where a Transgender woman working as a barista Publicly berated a young conservative woman for her views, refused to serve her and told her to never come back. The said victim of this public humiliation had been going to this coffee shop for a long time.
Where does this Transgender person fall in this conversation?
I don’t see that as a different end goal. It just how they went about it. Style of play.
Also: yes, I agree the communists and national socialists were overly concerned with healthcare. The were always about control and control over the economy is part of that. Healthcare is now something like 25% of Western economies, so it’s much more relevant now that it was. The communists and national socialists were also big into railroads (like Ayn Rand was); important, but not so much a factor anymore.
Great article and I’ll have to add that book to my list.
I’ve never understood how fascism is linked to conservatism, except as a cynical ploy to draw false equivalency and smear your political opponents. The policy positions are completely different and the ideologies promote dramatically different levels of government power and policy. As you already touched on, this level of government control over the economy and society much more closely mirrors that of communism than any outcome we’ve ever seen in the United States.
What’s the line of thought that links National Socialism to modern conservatism or even the Republican party? A vague list to which vague parallels can be drawn? Some KKK or neo-Nazi’s voting Republican?
Yes, but the Big Government - Big Business alliances that manifested itself in fascist regimes ensured remarkable continuity of business entities through thick and thin - Bayer, IG Farben, VW, Hugo Boss…
There are no such parallels in the Soviet Union as their equivalents in the Soviet Union and other communist regimes were either killed off or neutralized through forced nationalization.