You know how to interpret....

"When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." (Matt 16:2-3)

Umberto Eco, in a forward to American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges (Free Press, NY, London, 2006) presented an essay titled "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." He began by saying,

"In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outlive 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."

His list of features included the following:

  • "Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

  • Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. In this context Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

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

  • The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

  • Disagreement is a sign of diversity. Thus Ur-Fascism is racists by definition.

  • Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. Fascism appeals to a frustrated middle class.

  • To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only priviledge is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

  • The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.

  • For Ur-Fascism there is not struggle for life, but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

  • Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies conte…mpt for the weak.

  • In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.

  • Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to paly, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

  • Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.

  • Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak."

So…given Umberto Eco's description of Ur-Fascism, where do we find outbreaks of this tempting range of social, political, relational and spiritual actions and reactions?

As a progressive I can easily see Ur-Fascism in the words of folk in the realignment crowd. Some from there have seen it in the attitudes of some of the Progressive crowd. Where do you see outbreaks of, say, "the cult of tradition"?

George Orwell gave us an image of a new fascism, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." Such a future, God help us, may be the future for human societies. Such societies will exhibit many of the characteristics that Umberto Eco described. But can we not imagine another future for the Church? Perhaps not as ekklesia (organized church) but as koinonia (community).


  1. The book is a good read despite the Foreword.

    John Henry

  2. Is there something besides a "selective populism"?

    Something I would love to know, but have only my own speculations to go on, is what exactly is the relation of the sort of thinking that we see in organisations like the ACN and ACC and that fostered in Italy, say, in its fascist period... which was a child of the Traditionalist Movement sired by Rene Guenon. There is no way to know unless some few will talk openly about the deeper movements of their hearts... and who they've been listening to.

    The fact is that people pick up ideas without knowing where they are coming from or who gave them their particular qualities. One of facts of this contemporary situation is more people should be educated in the esoteric streams of thought which are propelling a great deal of social opinion and activity. Religious people shouldn't be afraid of looking at esotericism... it played a powerful role in the Italian fascist movement and it remains a potent power for good as well.

    Mark Sedgwick has an interesting book on the subject... Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. I have a feeling that Umberto Eco knows about this.

  3. So it would appear then, that its a struggle between tradition, and self-agrandizing iconoclasm.

  4. Counterlight15/5/07 9:57 PM

    I read Umberto Eco's essay quite some time ago. I was struck by how surprisingly pro-America it was; though I suspect that the America that he remembered fondly defeating the Fascists in his native Italy was a very different country from the angry paranoid self-absorbed nation we have become. He quoted FDR extensively in his essay. I remember that he very deftly pointed out the contradictions at the heart of the fascist appeal, especially the idea that "our enemies dominate us and are pushing us into the sea" together with, "our enemies are despicably weak" in the same speech.

    Although I certainly worry about fascist temptations and leanings in this country that became alarmingly pronounced in recent years ( the villification of all opposition as treasonous; transforming the federal government into an instrument of the Republican party; a contemptuous indifference to the rule of law, especially in matters of military and foreign policy), I am very reluctant to use a political and ideological term (especially one as volatile as this) like fascism in the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church. I agree that the right wing schismatic elements have little in common with previous forms of conservatism in the Church; and that there is an ambition, a certain will to power in that movement, especially in its fond hope to overthrow the Church majority and supplant the General Convention of this Church that certainly looks like an old fashioned radical right wing political movement. But, I wonder if the term is really appropriate in this context.

  5. "As a progressive I can easily see Ur-Fascism in the words of folk in the realignment crowd." I appreciate this observation, because I often have the same reaction, but feel a little uncomfortable with myself for seeing it in these terms.

  6. Oh yes, the original essay Counterlight spoke of can be more conveniently obtained here. It's really interesting.


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Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.