The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism

In 1995, Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books on fascism.

As part of the article, Eco listed 14 features of what he called Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. He began the list with this caveat:

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.

Here’s an abbreviated version of Eco’s 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 humiliation by the wealth and force of their enemies. “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 found this list via Paul Bausch, Blogger co-inventor and long-time MetaFilter developer, who writes:

You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I’d like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.

It difficult to look at Eco’s list and not see parallels between it and the incoming Trump administration.

We must resist. Disagree. Be modern. Improve knowledge. Welcome outsiders. Protect the weak. Reject xenophobia. Welcome difference. At the end of his piece, Eco quotes Franklin Roosevelt saying during a radio address on the “need for continuous liberal government�:

I venture the challenging statement that 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.

And Eco himself adds: “Freedom and liberation are an unending task.�Fascism is an authoritarian Nationalist political ideology that exalts nation (and often race) above the individual, and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. It often claims to be concerned with notions of cultural decline or decadence, and seeks to achieve a national rebirth by suppressing the interests of the individual, and instead promoting cults of unity, energy and purity.

In economics, Fascism sees itself as a third way between laissez-faire Capitalism on the one hand and Communism or Socialism on the other. It acknowledges the roles of private property and the profit motive as legitimate incentives for productivity, but only insofar as they do not conflict with the interests of the state. Fascist governments tend to nationalize key industries, closely manage their currencies and make massive state investments. They also tend to introduce price controls, wage controls and other types of economic planning measures (such as state-regulated allocation of resources, especially in the financial and raw materials sectors).

The term “fascismo” was coined by the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945) and the self-described “philosopher of Fascism” Giovanni Gentile (1875 – 1944). It is derived from the Latin word “fasces”, an ancient Roman symbol consisting of a bundle of rods tied around an axe, used to suggest “strength through unity”. It was originally used to refer specifically to Mussolini’s political movement that ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, but has subsequently also been used to describe other regimes.

Fascism usually involves some degree of some or all of the following elements:

  • Nationalism (based on the cultural, racial and/or religious attributes of a region).
  • Totalitarianism (state regulation of nearly every aspect of public and private sectors).
  • Statism (state intervention in personal, social or economic matters).
  • Patriotism (positive and supportive attitudes to a “fatherland”).
  • Autocracy (political power in the hands of a single self-appointed ruler).
  • Militarism (maintaining of a strong military capability and being prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests).
  • Corporatism (encouragement of unelected bodies which exert control over the social and economic life of their respective areas).
  • Populism (direct appeals to the masses, usually by a charismatic leader).
  • Collectivism (stress on human interdependence rather than on the importance of separate individuals).

It usually also expresses opposition to the following:

  • Liberalism (policies of minimal interference by government, both politically and economically)
  • Communism (specifically Marxism, but generally any communal social organization).
  • Democracy (majority rule and competitive elections with freedom of speech, freedom of the press and some degree of rule of law).
  • Individualism (stress on human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty)

  • Italian Fascism (in Italian, Fascismo) is the authoritarian political movement which ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). It is the original model which inspired other Fascist ideologies, and is generally referred to simply as Fascism. It grew out of Mussolini’s desire to re-affirm Italian national identity and pride after so many centuries of disunity leading up to the unification of 1870. Similar movements appeared throughout the world (including Europe, Japan, and Latin America) between World War I and World War II.
  • Nazism (or National Socialism) refers to the ideology and practices of the German Nazi Party (or National Socialist German Workers’ Party) under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) between 1933 and 1945. It was a strongly nationalist, totalitarian, racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist movement, which grew up in the aftermath of German humiliation after World War I, which was partly blamed on Germany’s Jews. Hitler published his political beliefs in “Mein Kampf” in 1925 and, inspired by the Italian Fascism of Mussolini, assumed dictatorial powers as Chancellor in 1933. His belief in the superiority of an Aryan race and the possibilities of eugenics (racial purification), his fierce anti-Semitism and anti-Communism, combined with his militaristic and expansionist ambitions led to World War II, with its atrocities and genocide, eventual military defeat and the subsequebt abandonment of Nazism as a viable ideology.
  • Clerical Fascism is an ideology that combines the political and economic doctrines of Fascism with theology or religious tradition. The term originally emerged in the 1920s referring to Catholic support for the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, but has since been applied to various regimes and movements, particularly in Europe and South America.
  • Neo-Fascism is any post-World War II ideology that includes significant elements of Fascism, or that expresses specific admiration for Benito Mussolini and Italian Fascism, again particularly in Europe and South America. It includes various Neo-Nazi movements, which can be found almost worldwide.