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Initial post: Aug 12, 2010 4:36:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2010 1:04:51 PM PST
Umberto Eco is an Italian philosopher and novelist born in 1932 (among his other works is "The Name of the Rose (Everyman's Library (Cloth))", later made into a movie--"The Name of the Rose"--starring Sean Connery). Unlike Mr. Jonah Goldberg, Professor Eco is a scholar who came to manhood in Mussolini's Italy. Like George Orwell, he appears to have a particular distaste for those who--like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking Glass"--use a word to mean "just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less".

The following excerpts are from Professor Eco's article, titled above, which first appeared in the "New York Review Of Books", 22 June 1995, pp.12-15; and was subsequently excerpted in the "Utne Reader", November-December 1995, pp. 57-59. The full article is included in a book length collection of some of Professor Eco's essays, published in 2002: "Five Moral Pieces". The following excerpts are used in conformity with `fair-use' provisions of applicable laws. The first sentences of numbered points have been cast as a series of statements, followed in most cases by the most pertinent (at least to me) supporting remarks. Alas, because of the limitations of Amazon's text formatting, the author's emphases, which were conveyed by italics in the original, have had to be converted to all-caps plain-text here.

Over to Professor Eco...

"In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features 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 first feature of Ur-Fascism is the CULT OF TRADITION."

"As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message."

"2. Traditionalism implies 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. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of ACTION FOR ACTION'S SAKE."

"Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values."

"4. 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. For Ur-Fascism, DISAGREEMENT IS TREASON."

"5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity."

"Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks 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. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration."

"That is why 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. 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. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the OBSESSION WITH A PLOT, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside..."


"However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy."

"9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle."


"10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies CONTEMPT FOR THE WEAK."

"11. In such a perspective EVERYBODY IS EDUCATED TO BECOME A HERO."

..."[T]he Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death."

"12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, THE UR-FASCIST TRANSFERS HIS WILL TO POWER TO SEXUAL MATTERS."

"This is the origin of... both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality. Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons..."

"13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a SELECTIVE POPULISM, a qualitative populism, one might say."

"There is... 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. Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be AGAINST "ROTTEN" PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENTS. 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."


"Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four... [it] made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show."

* * *

"Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, 'I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.' Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances--every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt's words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: '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.' Freedom and liberation are an unending task."

Umberto Eco (c) 1995 <end of excerpts>

"Submitted for your consideration...", as the late Rod Serling used to say in the voice-overs to episodes of his popular 1950's through early-1960's television series, "The Twilight Zone". <end>
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