Monday, September 04, 2006

Fascism 2 – Trust an Italian to know about fascists

Part 1 – Islamofascism? Oh, please…
Part 2 – Trust an Italian to know about fascists. (Eco 1)
Part 3 – Fascism cleans the sheets and takes out the trash… (Eco 2)
Part 4 – Fear the Gnomes of Zurich! (Eco 3)
Part 5 - An army boot stamping on an inhuman face -- for as long as we can get away with it (Eco 4)
Part 6 - Real Men Say Our Leader is DoublePlus Good! (Eco 5 and last)

OK – so Bushie Islamofascism isn't really fascism – what is? This is a tough question, and one that other, harder-working people have spent lots of time on. In my research for this series, I found an excellent source: Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism: An exegesis by David Niewert (perhaps better known by his blog, Orcinus). There are lots of good people out there who have written, and recently, about this topic – but let's have at it.

Umberto Eco's short description, "Fascism is: A fuzzy totalitarianism characterized by selective populism, contempt for the weak, fear of difference, obsession with plots, and a cult of tradition," is further laid out in his piece, Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, (1995) so that's where we'll be for the next few days. (Published at Utne.)

Let's see what his intention is:
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.

And here's the list:
1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.
4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.
5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.
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.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
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.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Whew! Quite a lot, and since Eco is one top-flight smart dude, it's somewhat academic. We'll take these one at a time.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This is just more than "Oh, we had it so good in the days of the white picket fence, the little red schoolhouse, and the church on the green." This mythic time is invoked by various kinds of political whores, but you can find it mostly in the Republicans. They never talk about the darkie side… oops! Did I say darkie? That's the problem – this time (anywhere between 1900 and 1950, usually) was not exactly a good one for blacks in America. Or Indians, or gays and lesbians, or women who didn't want to bear a child. But that generally goes unsaid. Generally.

Eco takes it farther. He traces traditionalism to late Greek times, when a sort of 'mystic one-ness with secret truth' was racing through the Roman empire. The whole idea of 'secret truth' is anti-intellectual; you either have the Truth or you don't, and there's no reason to go looking for it.

This puts the anti-science movement coming from the Republican evangelical base in new light, for me. (And sources the mythic white picket fence as before the Scopes trial in 1925.) These folks are not just pushing their interpretation of biblical mythology on us, they're trying to take us back to a time of cultural reaction and stagnation, where social experimentation or humanistic science are heavily discouraged. (Like, no thanks, dudes!)

Eco also takes a shot – or fires a warning shot, perhaps – across the bow of the New Age movement. "Combining St. Augustine with Stonehenge," he says, is a symptom of Ur-Fascism. Being a neo-pagan, this raised my eyebrows. My faith, while I certainly fall in the left end of the spectrum, is by no means perfect. Good thing for me that I heartily disagree with Augustine.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.

So if fascists are anti-science, howcome the Nazis had all those high-tech weapons?

Yes, says Eco, Nazis and other fascists grooved on technology. But generally only the death-dealing type. So the corrupted soul of Ronald Reagan can rest easy nestled on his hoard of space lasers, smart bombs, depleted uranium ammo and bunker-buster nukes. B'sides, with the usually tight relationship between fascist regimes and corporate capitalism, we need at least enough science to keep the weapons makers in dough.

And Hitler's traditionalism – Blut und Boden, Blood and Earth – underlay the technological gloss. Rest assured, the hatred of modernism also runs through the soul of the Republicans.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.

On this one, I'm just going to quote what Eco said:
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.

Replace the phrase 'official Fascist intellectuals' with 'the right-wing pundits of the Republican propaganda machine'. There's an entire industry, from Bill Bennett to Richard Mellon Scaife to the comment trolls at Little Green Footballs who do this. And 'action without thought' is a pretty good description of Bush foreign policy.

4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

There is no middle ground. You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists, you liberal traitor. Let's bring on the containment camps. (And think: the military runs only Fox News on base…)

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.

Eco again:
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.

Well, we've hated the Indians, the blacks, the homosexuals, the immigrants. They're destroying our white picket fence America. If we don't do something, they'll marry all our daughters and have brown babies, when they're not forbidding the straights to marry, or making black babies, or coming over the wall of the fort to scalp us all. (Sorry, the shifting target of the Dangerous Other makes for some confusion.)

More on Eco and fascism soon…

No comments: