This slim book covers a lot of territory in a little over a hundred pages. Its five essays address everything from warfare to faith to the media, and Umberto Eco insists that they are all linked: "Despite the variety of their themes, they are all ethical in nature, that is to say, they treat of what we ought to do, what we ought not to do, and what we must not do at any cost." Several of his views are provocative. In listing the characteristics of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," for instance, Eco describes many of the beliefs held by modern-day conservatives. He also remarks: "Europe will become a multiracial continent--or a 'colored' one, if you prefer. That's how it will be, whether you like it or not. This meeting (or clash) of cultures could lead to bloodshed, and I believe to a certain extent it will." Fans of Eco's bestselling novels won't necessarily be drawn to Five Moral Pieces
, though readers who have enjoyed his nonfiction will want to explore this small collection. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Most famous for his complex, erudite novels, semiotician and literary theorist Eco (Foucault's Pendulum, etc.) devotes these occasional essays primarily to the quest for tolerance in an intolerant world and to the intellectual responsibility of individuals to confront difficult moral problems directly. Eco observes, for example, that war contradicts "the very reasons for which it is waged" in a world where telecommunications technology and constant migration render traditional rationalizations for war (e.g., the defense of borders) obsolete. In the end, he argues, war cannot be defended, for, in addition to its manifold evils, it is a wasteful enterprise, squandering lives and resources. In another essay, Eco contends that ethical principles can indeed be articulated apart from any grounding in religious faith, though a natural ethic and a religious ethic may share common ground. Examining the reporting techniques of several Italian newspapers, he asserts that they share a moral responsibility to inform rather than to titillate with gossip and advertising. In the collection's most eloquent essay, Eco sketches the universal elements of fascism (such as "the cult of tradition" and a "suspicion of intellectual life"), emphasizing that such elements persist even today and can appear in the most innocent guises. Finally, he reveals the complex bond linking migration, with the resulting impact of one culture on another, and intolerance, concluding that the only solution is to teach tolerance from birth. Eco's fans will enjoy his perspective on these issues, but aside from his worthy reflections on fascism, these pieces neither ask new questions nor reach startling conclusions; some are even quite simplistic (e.g., "War is a waste").
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