Eco’s Echo: Resisting Fascism


I came across an article: Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism. Eco grew up in Mussolini’s Italy and is an irrefutably smart guy, so I was curious. Here is his list:

  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.”

I read this, and I thought, OK, if these are the common features of Fascism, what would happen if we inverted each of these features and took them as guidelines as we resist the rise of authoritarianism, white nationalism and our own brand of Ur-Fascism in the United States?

  1. Anti-cultic innovation. Or, in a word, art. What by its nature contends against traditionalist thought? What teases out and highlights differences by making them compelling? Art.
  2. Embrace, if not modernism, then at least rationalism. Or whatever we want to call that which contends with irrationalism. No alternative facts. Call lies, lies. Support responsible media with dollars and attention.
  3. Contemplation for contemplation’s sake. Rest, Sabbath, and time alone or in small groups in contemplation.
  4. The discipline of disagreement. Where we can, have public disagreements, even on hard issues. Seek out interaction with those with whom we disagree as a discipline.
  5. Embrace, and seek out, difference. This can be exhausting – resistance is exhausting. But this doesn’t just mean different ethnicities or sexual orientations among middle-class, educated progressives.
  6. Solidarity between working class and middle class. We have been taught to ruminate on our socio-economic frustrations, and they only deepen. Middle-class people must seek out working-class people and join with them as allies. If demagogues lose the ability to play off of our economic schisms, they lose. But we are the ones who have to bridge those divides – we being middle-class people.
  7. Openness and transparency. Those who believe they are always under siege foster this sense in order to lock down, stamp out dissent, and close off information. We have to do the opposite, which is to remain open and, yes, vulnerable.
  8. The enemy is composed of words, actions and people. Be specific and precise. Point fingers. Shout people down. But do so with precision. “They” aren’t neo-Nazi dirtbags; Milo Yiannapolous is a neo-Nazi dirtbag. Steve Bannon is a neo-Nazi dirtbag. Jeff Sessions is a neo-Nazi dirtbag. And we can say why, in detail.
  9. Pacifism is necessary. The slightest act of violence cedes the moral high ground, in the eyes of many, to the enemy.
  10. Take up the cause of the weak. We must look to the most vulnerable people in our society and take up their cause. The disabled, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, trans people of color. Whoever is the most vulnerable must be the center of our attention and action.
  11. Everybody is educated to become empathetic. I actually agree that we should educate people to become heroes, but what kind of heroes?
  12. Sex-positive Feminism. We made a lot of progress here as a culture, and that’s part of what set these Ur-Fascists off, whether they are taking the Red Pill or GamerGating weaseling their way into the National Security Council, sans qualifications.
  13. There is no Voice of the People, no mandate. It’s so easy to feel like we are one of a vast number of people, because social media allows us to connect to far larger numbers of compatriots, even if one is a Flat Earther. Numbers don’t mean as much anymore.
  14. Build up instruments for critical thinking about complex ideas. We have to be unapologetically smart, and listen to unapologetically smart people, and ignore stupid people or people who talk down to their audience.

I can expand on each of these ideas, but I thought I’d leave them in this pithy form for now, and see what your thoughts are. So.

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