December 4, 2016

When Umberto Eco Defines Facism, We Should Pay Attention

In his 1995 essay "Eternal Fascism", Umberto Eco lists several general properties of fascist ideology. He argues that "it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it." Eco's properties of Fascism include:

* "The Cult of Tradition," characterized by a blending of nationalistic beliefs, even at the risk of internal contradiction. 

* "The Rejection of Modernism," which views the rationalistic development of Western culture since the Enlightenment as a descent into regression. Eco distinguishes this from a rejection of technological advancement, as many fascist regimes cite their industrial potency as proof of the vitality of their system.

* "The Cult of Action for Action's Sake," which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.

* "Disagreement should be Censored" – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action; such analysis will expose the contradictions.

* "Fear of Difference," which fascism seeks to exploit, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.

* "Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class," promising uplift with corporatist values to a middle class fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.

* "Obsession with a Plot," and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society.

* Fascist societies rhetorically cast their enemies as "at the same time too strong and too weak." On the one hand, fascists play up the power of certain disfavored elites to encourage in their followers a sense of grievance and humiliation. On the other hand, fascist leaders point to their decadence as proof of their  feebleness in the face of an overwhelming popular will.

* "Life is Warfare" – there must always be an enemy to fight. Both fascist Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini worked first to organize and clean up their respective countries and then build the war machines that they later intended to and did use.

* "Contempt for the Weak," which is uncomfortably married to a chauvinistic popular elitism, in which every member of society is superior to outsiders by virtue of belonging to the in-group. 

* "Machismo'" which sublimates the difficult work of permanent war and heroism into the sexual sphere. Fascists thus hold "both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality."

* "Selective Populism" – The People, conceived monolithically, have a Common Will, distinct from and superior to the viewpoint of any individual. As no mass of people can ever be truly unanimous, the Leader holds himself out as the interpreter of the popular will (though truly he dictates it). Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of "no longer representing the Voice of the People."

* "Newspeak" – Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

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