Back in 1995, around the time I was becoming a young father, the author Emberto Eco wrote a short article warning of the dangers of ‘Ur Fascism‘ or eternal fascism, outlining it basic features. He did this so we can use it to spot when new forms of fascism arise.
The fascist party of Italy derived its name from the Fasci movement, a political force formed by a grouping of organisations known as fasci, which were like guilds or syndicates. These ultimately derived their name from the Latin fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of a magistrate. This was a bundle of rods strapped to the handle of an axe, which could then be used for both corporal and capital punishment.
Whilst historically the term tends to be limited in usage to the Italian political party, its allies in other nations, and their more recent apologist groups, Eco identified a broader fascist theme, and a checklist of traits by which it could be recognised.
In this article I compare this list to the current state of play, as I perceive it, in the US and UK. This is not to say that other nations are less fascist, a lot are probably worse. But it is for readers in other countries to apply this same kind of analysis to the nations in which they reside or have familiarity…
1. Syncretism and the Cult of Tradition
As the author of ‘Chemical Serpents‘, a book that examines a common thread of symbolism found throughout the worlds mystical and religious mythology, I want to stress that I do not mean to imply that there exists such a thing as a ‘true revelation received at the dawn of human history’. In fact, in the book itself I try to keep any kind of conclusion vague and personal, warning that the same symbols that tell the story of personal enlightenment have been used by authoritarian systems of oppression and enslavement for creating spectacle. Eco warns however that a fascist interpretation would be to attempt to combine all traditions into one whole, ignoring contradictions. Indeed the actual fascists did just this, both with religious beliefs and political philosophies.
Whilst many people think of both the Italian Fascist party and the German National Socialists as the ‘Far Right’, they were actually both known for creating a political syncretism of left and right economic ideologies. Their extremism lay in the authoritarian traditionalist stance they took on social issues and control of peoples personal lives. In the US and UK today this has manifested in the ‘Capitalism for the poor, Socialism for the rich’ mentality of taxing the people to bail out big corporations, primarily banks. Indeed Iceland may have been the only country in Europe to buck the trend of this new fascism.
This syncretism stems from the authoritarian need to reconcile the conflicting ideologies of a big enough base of authoritarian factions to assume power, and the need to ignore or turn a blind eye the various contradictions this uneasy union creates. In the UK this stems for a strange blend of Royalism with the trappings of democracy dominated by two authoritarian right wing parties, the Conservatives and Labour.
Labour may once have enjoyed a fairly accurate description of being a party of the centre left, but since the ‘Third Way’ of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, an echo of the Falange, and its “Third Position”. In embracing this ‘third way’, Labour and the Democrats have paved the way for the kind of contradictory syncretism that makes possible the “Capitalism for the Poor, Socialism for the Rich” policies we have seen enacted as a result of the recent financial crisis.
However we should not let their main rivals, the Republicans and the Conservatives off the hook either. These parties have in common that they tend towards a syncretism of an authoritarian and conservative interpretation of Christianity with a less authoritarian faction that favours libertarian style economics. These two form the syncretism of neo-conservatism, where the most authoritarian policies of the Christian conservative faction get blended with the neo-liberal economics of the libertarian faction.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate are focused on promoting the rightness of a syncretic and self-contradictory ideology, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
2. Rejection of Modernism
On the surface ur fascists may appear to worship the achievements of science and technology, but this only tends to disguise an attitude deeply mistrustful of anything that distracts from the truth of their tradition. As science and technology come into conflict with their ideology or attempts at control, they display their true colours as fearful and mistrustful of innovation. Thus we see reactionary populist movements, often with an anti-science or anti-technology agenda making their influence felt on the political arena. For example, the irrational, anti-science stance of the drugs prohibition lobby (eg PM Gordon Brown not only rejecting the findings of Professor David Nutt, on drug reform, but sacking him from his unpaid role as a government advisor on drugs policy), to anti-abortion protestors, the anti-evolution lobby and all those that use economic ideology of one kind or another to ignore the realities of environmental science.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate are focused on promoting the rightness of their ideology, rather than being open to the findings of science and possibilities of technology, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
3. Action for action’s sake
Ur fascists have an innate distrust of intelligence, seeing intellectuals of all kinds as weak. For them strong leadership always stems from acting, not thinking. It doesn’t matter how irrational their actions, since they distrust rationality anyway. This is quite evident in the alchemical teachings of the fascist alchemist Julius Evola, who compared the final stage of the great work, the rubido, to the Hero, who acts, as superior to the reflective thinker of the albido, the preceding stage. However in alchemy the rubido builds upon the albido, which means good actions only result from a foundation of good thinking. Rubido without albido would be considered false.
In recent politics we can see this worrying trend in the popularity of unintelligent politicians such as George W. Bush, who won two terms as President of the United States, and Sarah Palin, who became governor of Alaska and ran as a vice presidential nominee, both despite their obvious failings in clarity of thought. But we can also see it in all politicians that enact reactionary laws without thinking them through, often blindly kowtowing to the interests of corporate lobbyists or tabloid propaganda articles.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate are focused on being seen to be doing something, rather than being open to debate on what actually works, or even if anything need be done at all, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
4. Disagreement is treason
This point pretty much follows from the preceding three. Ur fascists consider their ideological dogma to be the only truth, distrust reason and thinking, and therefore see any form of disagreement with their agenda as treason. Therefore we see in recent politics the irrational arguments that to oppose the war against Iraq or against Afganistan was treason, unpatriotic, not supporting the troops and/or sympathising with the terrorists. We see it in the arguments of prohibitionists that see all reasonable discussion on the topic of drugs as giving in to the evils of drugs, and we see it in the arguments of all those that try to censor the internet for whatever reason (pornography, copyright, terrorism).
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate are unable to tolerate reasonable discussion or disagreement with their dogma, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
5. Fear of difference
All ur fascist doctine originates from a desire to exclude those unlike the ur fascist from society. This begins with an attempt to exclude them from the political process. Point four is a part of this. Since the ur fascist cannot engage in reasoned debate they need to resort to logical fallacies, such as appeal to emotion or appeal to authority.
Thus we get told nonsense that disagreement with the democratically elected leader is undemocratic. Apparently, once a leader is elected we need to abandon all personal opinion until the next election. Of course, notice how the ur fascist only uses this argument when the leader they prefer is elected. When they oppose the elected leader, they find 101 reasons why the elected leader is either illegitimate, a traitor, an usurper or otherwise not fit to be leader. We can find this behaviour in supporters of all of the main political parties.
We can also see it in the war on terrorism, and especially how a populist anti-Islam movement has arisen from it, and the almost all too common belief that believers in Islam are all fanatics, a view often spouted by those who would just as fanatically murder all non christians as heretics given the chance. I’ve even heard the view from some that should know better that the world would be better off if we just nuked all the Islamic countries! The absurdity of this being that those that spout such nonsense believe that they are not the extremist.
Taken to its very extreme, we see this fear of difference extend from difference of political and religious opinion to difference of gender, appearance, language and sexual preference. This is less tolerated in the political mainstream, which is a blessing, but watch out for weasel words in this regard, even from mainstream politicians. For example, when recent home secretary Jaqui Smith was found to have claimed expenses for pornographic pay to view films, she attempted to shift blame to her husband saying “I’m not naive. I know why men watch pornography”. In doing so she not only attempted to evade blame, but also imply that women don’t watch pornography, whilst almost all men do. Never mind the facts, it disagrees with her ideology that pornography is something men do to objectify women, rather than something men and women do for pleasure.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate claim some kind of superiority over others based on nothing but ideological label, religious belief, skin colour, gender, sexual preference or shows similar signs of fearing those different to themselves, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
6. Social Frustration
‘In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.’ – Umberto Eco
Ur fascists need an audience to succeed. Specifically they need an audience too frustrated with the problems of living to think critically about who or what it is they give their attention to. Thus they attempt to control avenues of attention such as newspapers and television, in particular so called ‘news’, where people often accept what the hear and read at face value and where debate can be easily controlled and manipulated. This also feeds into their distrust of the internet, and their attempts to control it by coercing everyone to join big corporate social media websites, whilst simultaneously attempting to pass laws that allow them to censor the rest.
Look at the way the financial elites effectively cut off the cash flow of wikileaks through their oligopoly of the means of transferring funds.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate hold up a single organisation, particularly one under any form of ownership or hierarchical editorial control, as the sole credible form of reliable information, or when they act to censor the free press, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
7. Obsession with conspiracy
A common thread of ur fascism is nationalism, a promotion of national pride to such unhealthy levels that nationalists see themselves as innately superior to members of other nations and see their national culture as superior to other cultures. Thus all other cultures, including sub-cultures, become seen as working together in a conspiracy to undermine the nation. All attempts of nations trying to cooperate become signs of an international conspiracy undermining the national interest.
At the extreme, the contemporary ur fascist might show an obsession with NWO conspiracy theories, but we can also see the same thing at play in the anti-EU sentiments of British and English nationalists. We can also see it in the media where all resistance to the US occupation of Afganistan and Iraq was presented as part of the Al Qaeda plot. Indeed it has been contended that the very name Al Qaeda was invented by the Americans in order to present Osama bin Laden as the leader of a criminal organisation so that they could charge him in absentia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate attempt to justify questionable actions or ideas with the excuse of unverifiable international conspiracy, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
8. Inconsistency in evaluation of enemy power
When discussing the power of their enemies, the ur fascist will show a marked inconsistency in the evaluation of their power. To convince their followers of the seriousness of the threat, they exaggerate the power of the enemy to the limits of believable proportions. They rely on their followers ignorance of the enemy to stimulate this level of fear. But then they must convince their followers of the opposite, that the ur fascists are stronger and superior.
Combined with the themes of the previous points, we arrive at the ur fascist narrative of an intellectual and cunning worldwide conspiracy, who control all the wealth on the one hand, with the contradictory idea that all we need to do to about it is attack some small defenceless and probably poor nation. We can also see it on a smaller scale in the war on drugs. Drug users are derided as irrational, pathetic addicts on the one hand, but part of a vast powerful dangerous and rich criminal underground on the other. The ur fascist strains of feminism demonise men as elitist intellectuals on the one hand but childish idiotic thugs on the other. This is almost a reversal of the male chauvanist portrayal of women as childish unintelligent weaklings that need protecting and dominant men on the one hand, and strong nurturing mothers on the other. It also resembles the European colonialist concept of the ‘noble savage’, celebrated for their physicality and strength on the one hand, but viewed as backwards and less intelligent on the other. Notice how this both plays to and contradicts the normal ur fascist narrative that action is better than thinking. All these positions originate from the fear of difference mentioned in the fifth point. And when we fear, we lose the ability to think things through rationally and recognise the contradictions in our own arguments.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate mock the weakness, stupidity, ignorance or inferiority of an enemy they also portray as cunning, wealthy and strong, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
9. Permanent warfare
This inability to judge the strength of the enemy, often only an enemy because the ur fascist provoked them into becoming one, combined with a distrust of forming rational plans and a need to for action for actions sake, leads to an attempt to win the war through brute force alone. Not without reason did the ancient Greeks depict Ares, the god of brute force warfare, always losing fights to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare.
The ur fascist strategy of brute force we can see in the Nazi style of warfare that the Western press gave the label Blitzkrieg or ‘lightning war’. The tactic was basically nothing more than a high concentration of brute force at a single surprise point to overwhelm the enemy lines and to take them by surprise. This works well in the short term but leaves the victor bogged down in the administration of a hostile nation for which they have no plan on how to govern. Guerilla warfare ensures. A determined ur fascist regime can perpetuate this state of affairs indefinitely.
We can also see this kind of permanent warfare happening in the ‘war on drugs’. Rather than being concerned with actually solving the perceived drugs problem and developing intelligent strategies to deal with it, the ur fascist prohibitions stick dogmatically to a rigid and dogmatic brute force tactic of demanding we stick to the same failed policies of criminalisation and tough prison penalties.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate stick dogmatically to policies and tactics that have proved not to achieve their stated aim, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
10. Contempt for the weak
Ur fascist leaders believe they are leaders because they are somehow stronger and superior to those that they rule. Therefore they think of those that they rule as weak and hold them in contempt. Therefore we would expect to see ur fascists promote and attempt to implement policies and laws that severely underestimate the strength and resistance of the people. It is as if they become drunk on their own power and assume they can get away with anything.
We saw this with the last Labour government attempting to bring in a massive privacy invading ID card tracking database system and 48 day detention without charge, probably the primary reasons they lost the last election. We saw it in the corporate controlled establishments attempts to bring in laws like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. We saw in the establishments violent response to the peaceful Occupy protests, or their assumption that the Anonymous movement would be weakened by arresting a few of its more active members. We saw it in 80s PM Margarat Thatcher’s Poll Tax.
But perhaps most evident of this is their inability to understand that a movement can be leaderless. They assume anarchist movements have ring leaders, they assume that if they target those they perceive to be ring leaders that the now leaderless movement will fall into disarray. Instead bottom up movements rally and become stronger and more determined in such situations. They ur fascists fail to learn from their mistakes in this, because to realise that people don’t need strong leaders makes their entire reason for being an ur fascist in the first place redundant.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate assume the people need to be strictly controlled by strong leaders in order to achieve anything, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
11. Everyone must be a hero
A mythological hero is someone who defies the odds to achieve remarkable things, often undergoing a long personal and transformational journey. In contrast in an ur fascist society, being a hero is an expected norm, but the concept of a hero is merely someone willing to die for the cause. This soon becomes twisted into the hero being someone willing to kill for the cause. Basically it comes down to brain washing those who job it is to enforce the ur fascist policies the unquestioning obedience required by making them believe this makes them an important hero. Therefore they may be excepted to commit acts of questionable ethics such as brutality and torture.
We see this in the acts of Police brutality against protesters in both the UK and US, the water-boarding and other tortures committed at Guantanamo bay detention camp, the callous executions of civilians and journalists in the occupied territories of Afganistan and Iraq, particularly brought to light by leaked video footage via wikileaks.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate promote or make excuses for atrocities, executions, torture and police brutality, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
12. Machismo, narcisism and psychopathy
Since an ur fascist society favours unethical behaviour, it stands to reason that it gives an advantage to those most able to commit such acts. Thus people with various forms of antisocial behaviour disorders rise into positions of power and influence. When society excluded women from positions of power, this manifested in the cult of machismo. Men bullying other men and worshipping weapons as substitutes for their inadequate sex lives.
The underlying principle of cruel bullies making ‘strong leaders’ remains however, and without the machismo we can see this behaviour for what it really is, signs of psychopathy, sociopathy and narcisism. Such people are good at making their way into positions of power, but make terrible leaders and decision makers. Ultimately their inability to accept criticism causes their own downfall and in many cases the downfall of their regime. These traits are especially evident not just in the enforcers of ur-fascist policies, but also those that rise up into positions of corporate and political power.
An ur-fascist slogan to look out for is ‘Might makes right’. Also watch out for variants on that theme.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate think bullying behaviour, or promote a might makes right ideology this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
13. Selective populism
This becomes most evident when ur-fascism has already done away with what it calls ‘rotten democracy’, but this doesn’t mean we can’t see its early warning signs as ur-fascism grows in power within a democracy. Basically, since even a dictator claims to represent the will of the people, it needs to create a theatre of ‘The People’.
A democratic society guarantees individuals certain rights and the populace a chance to hold leaders to account at elections, but once this has been done away with the only representation of the ‘will of the people’ comes from a media controlled representation of the peoples will, carefully controlled by the ur-fascist leaders. As ur-fascists rise to power within a democracy we can see early warning signs of this in the dumbing down and manipulated control of potilical debate in the media, the representation of social norms in soap operas and sit-coms, and the belittling of subcultures, the lack of any real diversity of view points between the mainstream press and political parties, with minor differences in opinion conflated as opposing ideologies we see this.
When most people get their view of the occupy movement, or anonymous, through the lens of corporate media, rather than looking at what these respective movements were actually saying or were really about, because the mainstream media fail to report what these movements actually stand for, instead portraying only a distorted an inaccurate stereotype as the truth, then this is ur-fascism.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate don’t actually need to engage in proper political debate, when their main detractors are denied a platform through which to express their views, only represented in the media as distorted charactures this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
A term from Orwell’s fictional book 1984, where the dictatorship IngSoc created a dumbed down version of English called Newspeak to use as the official language. But as Eco pointed out, the Nazi and Fascist school text books made use of a simplified vocabulary and simplified syntax as a means of controlling and limiting critical thinking. It would also help make old text books and intellectuals hard to understand for the new generation.
We can see how this flows from the anti-intellectual sentiments of ur-fascists. We can also see in this the will to dumb down the population in general. To this end the ur-fascists become the enemy of the education system, subverting it to a corporate training centre where they can, strictly controlling the curriculum and cutting funding for free education where they can. In the UK the attack on free education began with PM Thatcher, but continued under Major, Blair, Brown and now Cameron.
But perhaps the most obvious sign of this impoverished language in the political arena is the reduction of political debate to name calling, sound-bites and meaningless slogans. Since the ur-fascists want action without thought, they want any signs of thought from their politicians to be simple thoughts lacking complexity.
When politicians or other individuals entering political debate support an end to free education, talk in simplistic sound-bites and avoid arguments with name calling their opponents, this is a warning sign of ur-fascism.
Ur fascism is alive and well in the political, religious and corporate elites of the US and UK. The only thing really holding them at bay is peoples fragile belief in democracy and freedom. I hold out hope that this belief in the importance of freedom will win out, but this is no time for complacency. I wrote this article because I’ve heard too many people make the implication that calling the current US or UK political establishments ‘Fascist’ is weakening the term to meaninglessness. I hope this article shows that far from it, using the term is more than accurate enough. Waiting for a full on dictatorial police state to happen before we call it like we see it, will be leaving it too late. We can see they are fascists now and we must remain motivated and resourceful enough to stop them taking over completely.
 See the Gnostic Media interview with Jose Barrera for more info on the origin of the word magistrate.