On Umberto Eco – Why Progressivism Is Fascism

Umberto Eco has written on fascism, and his writings are very relevant today, when Left spends time screaming that anything and everything is “fascist, racist, mysognistic” and so on. But fascism in Italy, as Eco recognizes, had no solid ideology: its ideology was whatever its leader said it is, and was enforced by the state. But that is too broad of a definition, and would imply that all modern states are, essentially, fascist: and modern COVID regime would definitely be fascist by that measure. Fascism itself however was a collage of various ideas, which ranged from internationalist-socialist to nationalist and industrialist.

Eco thus reduced the qualities of what he terms “Ur-Fascism” or “Eternal Fascism” to 14 typical features. Umberto himself wrote that “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.”. This last sentence – “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it” – is where his definition falls apart. Because at that point, there is literally no ideology which is not fascism. (In fact, Umberto himself recognized this).

So let’s look at the 14 features:

  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. “Irrationalism also depends on 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. 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 Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. 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. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”
  5. Fear of difference. “Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for 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.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why 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. “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. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside…”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, 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. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “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. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.”
  13. Selective populism. “Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view — one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. 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. “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. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.”.

So let us look at these elements in turn, what their implications are and how they compare to actual fascism.

The Cult of Tradition

According to this point, every traditionalist or reactionary ideology would be fundamentally fascist. This at least is a very typical Leftist (Marxist, Progressive) talking point: one either belongs to the Cult of Progress or he is a fascist and thus has to be eliminated from the public life. Fact remains, however, that the cult of tradition was something fairly typical for human societies until very recently. Ancient Romans literally worshipped the spirits of their ancestors. Ancestor worship is also an important point in Confucianism and Taoism. Traditionalism as an ideology was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia. This new culture had to be syncretic, able to tolerate contradictions. Thus there could be no advancement of learning. Truth already had been spelled out, and only interpretation is possible.

Moving to the respect of tradition, Christian Amish as well as the Orthodox Jews reject majority of the progressive elements in the society. They have many children, reject a lot of advanced technology, and live according to their traditions. According to Eco, this would make them, too, fascists.

Fascism itself had a cult of tradition that was much weaker than what is generally assumed. Nazis respected the “blood and the earth”, but also worshipped technology.

The Rejection of Modernism

The rejection of modernism would again define every single traditionalist / reactionary ideology as being fascist. Amish reject modernist almost in its entirety, and Orthodox Jews also reject significant portions of modernism as well. According to Eco, both groups would thus be fascist.

Progressivism clearly does not fit this, but one has to ask, why is rejecting modernism somehow worse than rejecting tradition? Traditional solutions may not be perfect, but they work. New, progressive, solutions, may work, not work, not work well, be counterproductive, or work but have a yet unknown cost down the line. Therefore any kind of experimentation is dangerous, and once that is understood, rejection of modernism makes sense. Actual fascists, however, did not reject modernism: rather, they sought to coopt it, to utilize modernism (such as the extensive state apparatus and industry) to promote their goals.

The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake

According to this, Progressivism would be a fascist ideology. Cult of action for its own sake is a defining point of progressivism, and one of reasons why it is so successful. To them, consequences do not matter, the purpose and outcome does not matter, the only thing that matters is that the society is “progressing” – even if it is into oblivion. Progressives do not care to think about the implications and consequences of their actions, nor how everything can go wrong: they only care about doing everything they can in order to bring about their ideal world. In fact, for Progressives, thinking is something that should not be done: thinking is dangerous. Instead, one must unqestioningly follow the tenets of progressivism. This is the very basis of the “action for action’s sake” mentality.

Many traditionalist and conservative ideologies reject this idea. Action has to have purpose, or it leads to destruction. It is progressives who nearly always distrust critical attitudes, and consider thinking to be dangerous, because it does not allow them to enforce their beliefs. This is not an attitude that is unique to progressivism – some traditionalist and conservative ideologies, and many people, have such an attitude – but with progressivism it is aggressively pronounced, while at the same time being formally denied.

Disagreement is Treason

This point is one of fundamental aspects not of Reactionarism or Conservativism, but of Progressivism. Of course, it is something that can – and does – appear in any ideology, but in the current day it is the Marxist-Progressive Far Left that is most frequent and successful employer of this trope.

And while this idea was present in Fascism, it was also present in the Communism, Nazism and many other ideologies. In fact, the Communists have purged more people for intellectual disagreement than Nazis, Fascists and various militarists put together. Victims of Communism number in hundreds of millions. And this is not just Stalin being Stalin. Karl Marx was the original racist. To him, Slavic peoples were – along with non-european peoples such as Algerians and Mexicans – reactionary trash that ought to disappear from the scene of history. The main reason for Marx’s racism was that he saw Slavs (specifically, Croats, Czechs, Serbs) as a naturally (genetically) reactionary peoples, with no revolutionary potential. After 1849., and the victory of ban Jelačić, this hatred especially intensified – towards both Croats in general and ban Jelačić in particular (whose monument was removed in 1945.). Hitler’s Nazism is, in fact, directly based on the racist ideas of Karl Marx himself.

Marx’s racism is based on nothing but these peoples’ opposition to revolutionary ideas. And this continued later: Stalin, Mao, Tito and other Communist dictators were in the constant search for the “enemies of the people”. Tito, in a speech in 1945. in Varaždin, said that “To Varaždin I did not come in an official capacity, nor to talk about the politics, but to visit the units of the Yugoslav People’s Army, who in the surroundings are carrying out the important task of a final reckoning with the Croatian filth”. Soviet Union itself and Communists in general have imprisoned or killed more people than any other country or ideology on Earth, for nothing more than disagreeing with them. Dekulakization alone – according to Soviet numbers – killed between 500 000 and 5 million kulak peasants.

As such, Marxism definitely checks out both the “racism” and the “disagreement is treason” boxes – as does the modern-day Progressivism. Progressivism implements pseudo-intellectualism and pseudo-humanitarianism in order to justify its behaviour, but this does not change the fact that any kind of disagreement is seen as a treason. Of course, progressives do not use this label: they prefer to label heretics as “racists”, “fascists”, “Nazis” and so on. But the reason why they are doing this is precisely to a) label them as traitors and b) avoid even the possibility of a level discussion. They do not want to allow even a possibility of analytical criticism, especially since it would uncover Left’s own anti-white racism. Instead, the discussion is forcibly shifted to the emotional field, or simply shut down. And Progressivism itself is definitely a syncretistic faith, and it really promotes syncretism via multiculturalism and multiethnicism.

Fear of Difference

Fear of Difference is a fundamental aspect of Marxist Progressivism. Progressives in fact both deny and seek to erase any kind of difference: be it biological, sociological, psychological, psychosocial or cultural. Its claims of diversity are actually hidden attempts to erase it.

Diversity needs isolation, which means borders. But progressives promote globalism and cosmopolitanianism. The result of this is that different populations mix. As a consequence, biological diversity of human species is slowly being lost, as recessive traits common in certain populations are being lost thanks to arrival of immigrants which lack these traits. Difference between men and women is being denied, on both psychological and physiological basis. As a result, Left actually promotes various forms of psychotic behaviour, especially among the women, while women are forced to compete against men in areas where they are at significant disadvantage physically (such as sports). Sociological and cultural diversity is also lost thanks to the globalized world, and the phenomenon of mcdonaldization.

And if one defines difference merely by the genetic diversity, then the countries such as Japan, Korea, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea and the entire Middle East, and so on, are by definition fascist.

But the greatest fear any progressive has is a fear of intellectual and ideological difference. They are, in fact, using immigration as a weapon to make certain ideologies and ideas impossible, and thus ensure the sustained dominance of the leftist ideology. Cultural and ethnic “diversification” is used as a tool to ensure politicial and ideological unitarism, by forcibly creating a society in which only the (Marxist) state will be a guarantee of safety and of a (somewhat) functional society.

Appeal to Frustrated Middle Class

Most politicians have appealed to this group, and are, thus, fascist. Barrack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden would all be fascists according to this definition.

Of course, since Mussolini – the inventor of Fascism – was first and foremost a Socialist, this actually is an element of fascism. Mussolini declared himself a socialist and in opposition to capitalism. But again, this is not something that is uniquely fascist. Nazis were also socialists. Adolf Hitler, in 1927., said that “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions”. Adolf Hitler allowed private property to continue, but only because its owners were under auspices of the Party: “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.”. Much like modern-day West, there was a marriage of the state and the large businesses, aimed against the free market and freedom in general. Hitler allowed “free” market, but as soon as the business was no longer serving the state, it was nationalized. Mussolini likewise allowed free market, but enforced state control in the questions of national interest.

Obsession With a Plot

Obsession With a Plot is something that is fairly common among both Left and Right. While it does appear to be far more common in right-wing circles, this is simply because such behaviour is always more common within the group that is, or feels to be, disadvantaged by the system. And the system itself is solidly left-wing, thus obsession with plot is more common among the Right.

But as noted, it is not an exclusively right-wing thing. Left has their own obsessions with plots. In fact, it is the Left that is obsessed with the plots. Leftists (unlike Rightists) have an almost pathological need to cry about being oppressed by the system – even though the system has been on their side since 1960s at least.

The Enemy is Both Strong and Weak

Left sees the Right in precisely such terms. The Right is, to them, worthy of fear and ridicule alike, and at the same time. Right also appears, at times, to view the Left in similar terms, although they are overall more concerned with consequences of Marxism to the society.

Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy

This is one of rare points where Umberto Eco actually accurately recognizes a characteristic of fascism. Fascism did see pacifism as weakness and betrayal. War must be fought until the final battle, when Fascism will control the world.

But again, this is not an idea that is exclusive to fascism. Marxism (including Progressivism) also sees life as an unending struggle to impose its ideals, and sees any sign of allowing enemy to gain back the ground they lost as a betrayal. The entire idea behind Progressivism, in fact, is that the life is an unending struggle to impose Progressive ideals onto the society and the world. There will be no surrender, and no prisoners taken – the goal of an ideal society justifies all actions taken to reach it. And while for Fascism the ultimate victory will be control of the world by a national fascist regime, for progressivism the ultimate victory is creation of a world-wide supranational government.

Contempt for the Weak

First I need to correct Umberto here: elitism is not the same as contempt for the weak. Traditional elites in feudal societies often did have contempt for the weak, but they also often did their best to protect and help the weak. Code of Chivalry, while not universally held to, was far more than just a dead letter on the paper. On the other hand, fascism does offer elitism of belonging to the “superior people”: but this means that many ideologies which are described as fascist – such as ethnic nationalism – are not necessarily such, as loving one’s own tribal, ethnic or racial group does not automatically mean one considers it superior to others.

And elitism is in fact a typical characteristic of progressive ideologies. Marxism was, from its beginning, an ideology made by the elites, for the elites. Karl Marx was a son of a wealthy Jewish immigrant, a lawyer with a comfortably upper middle class income. Karl Marx himself studied law, but became a journalist and wrote for the radical-left newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. Friedrich Engels was also from a very wealthy family, as the Engels family owned large cotton-textile mills in Barmen and Salford.

Modern-day Progressivism meanwhile is designed to give a feeling of elitism to the crowd. The idea of “being woke” (a term that denotes awareness of ideas of social and racial justice) is precisely this: an ego trip which allows any progressive individual to feel superior to the poor, ignorant reactionaries. Rather than belonging to the best nation in the world (as fascists do), progressives belong to the best ideological group in the world. And every citizen ought to become a member of the progressive party. But this party is also divided into the elites and the crowd. The elites are the members of the Cathedral: media, universities, political establishment and so on. Masses are weak and they need a ruler – not an elected one, or one who has inherited power, but rather a technocratic ruler that was shaped by the Cathedral itself.

Everybody is Educated to Become a Hero

Fascism did have respect for heroism. But so did most traditional societies. In fact, many primitive societies have various coming-of-age rites for boys, which are little more than proof of the ability of the boys to become heroes. In the Amazon, boys of the Satere Maue tribe mark their coming of age when they turn 13 in a Bullet Ant initiation. Boys search the jungle for bullet ants which are the sedated by a leader through submergence in a herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves with the stingers pointed inwards. When ants wake up – angrier than ever – the initiation begins. Each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes. Enduring the pain demonstrates the boys’ readiness for manhood -so few cry out as doing so would demonstrate weakness. Each boy will eventually wear the gloves 20 times over the span of several months before the initiation is complete. At Pentecost Islands, the initiation is done by jumping from the tall platform, with only a vine to prevent death – and the vine is tied to be as long as possible without the boy dying. These jumps are repeated multiple times.

According to Umberto Eco’s definition, these tribes would be quitessential fascists. And if heroism is defined more broadly, then every traditional society in history would be fascist. This again shows the Left’s goal is to villify every sort of tradition and everything that makes humans actually human.

Yet Left itself does the exact same thing. Wokism has become a new mainstream religion on the Left, and its followers are taught that they become heroes by displaying their wokism out in the open as well as by doing what they can to move politics further Left. Left’s obsession with heroism is such that they pretend to be oppressed by “the system”, despite the fact that the system is actually promoting and enforcing their ideas.

Machismo and Weaponry

This is, out of 14 points, only the second or third where Umberto Eco kinda-sorta has a point. Fascists did focus on machismo and weaponry, but here again we have a problem with “one of them be present” part: machismo and weaponry are a significant element of all traditional cultures. And machismo and weaponry were also a major part of socialism: it is quite enough to see old Communist propaganda posters.

The “intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality” are, in fact, well in evidence in Communist states, who – having realized the destructiveness of sexual liberation early on during the Communist revolution – were quick to reintroduce the traditional roles. Of course, Progressives do not care about this, since destruction of society is their goal. But they would likely not take well to the idea that their revolutionary forefathers were fascists.

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.” is precisely how the Left operates. The Left believes, first, that the majority can speak for all: that something is correct simply because majority believes it, and because majority believes it, everybody believes it – or should be forced to believe it. But if the majority does not, in fact, believe in a certain leftist ideal, then the Left falls back to the argument from authority: because majority of politicians / scientists / celebrities believe it, everybody should believe it or, at least, not oppose it. This is a very good example of Eco’s selective populism. Majority speaks for all, and majority is in the alignment with the leader(s).

In fact, in leftist rhetoric and practice both, individuals have worth only as members of a group, and only people as a whole matter politically and ideologically. The Left’s ideal of democracy is based on the idea of people as a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will: the Common Will is always right, and anything opposing it is not just wrong, but also evil. Still, in the best self-contradictory nature of Fascism, progressives believe that it is ultimately the supranational technocrats who should be making all the decisions, and will of the people does not matter. Instead, the leaders act as interpreters of the will of the people.

The Left is, in fact, busy doing everything in can to make the above come true. Such things require, first and foremost, control of the media and crackdown on dissent. And the Left is doing both: from classifying moderate Left (civnat republicans) as “far Right”, to making sure the social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube censor any speech that is to right of Lenin. It is not impossible to lose a job and have a life wholly ruined simply because one disagrees with the Leftist hive mind.

Ur-Fascism Speaks Newspeak

According to Umberto Eco, “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.”. This is the very definition of the modern Left’s language of political correctness: they have made it illegal to use certain words or sentences or even just lines of thought, lest one be convinced of the hate crime. At the same time, all arguments of the opposing side can, and will be, discredited by simply calling them “fascist”, “racist” or similar. Thinking is irrelevant; only the dogma matters, and complex reasoning is evil because it opposes the dogma.

And in the Orwellian sense, newspeak is the invention of new words to take the place of the old, “bad” words. Again, Left is replete with such examples. Along with the old-fashioned change in meaning, the Left has outright invented a wide variety of gender pronouns, such as “ze/hir”, and are enforcing penalty on anyone sane enough to refuse to use them.

Conclusion

I will just quote Hermann Rauschnig, a reactionary-turned-Nazi-turned-reactionary: „I have learned a great deal from Marxism as I do not hesitate to admit… The difference between them and myself is that I have really put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it… National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with a democratic order.“.

5 Comments

  1. Q1: Is Eco’s work worth reading? I’ve meant to read something of his for a long time but haven’t gotten around to it.

    Q2: Does Eco think these traits do not apply to many ideologies other than fascism? It’s surprising he doesn’t see that these apply, for the most part, to many different ideologies.

    I enjoyed your point about language. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed how deeply programmed even I have been in regard to political correctness. Mencius Moldbug’s idea of replacing words like “racism” and “immigration” etc. with words that existed 100-200 years ago, or words that express their meaning clearly is very helpful. (“Affirmative action” becomes “preference for darker skin” or “preference against whites/Asians”, immigration becomes “colonization” or “moving from one’s own society to another, etc.).

    You also did good work pointing out how progressivism scores on Eco’s criteria for fascism. It seems many of these happen when (1) a group is in power, (2) trying to gain power or (3) times are just hard. Like you said, most of these are not specific to fascism and even those that are not necessarily its core characteristics.

    Like

    1. A1: Umberto Eco has some interesting works, but can easily mislead if you have not read other stuff as well. Or at least that is the impression I have gotten so far – I cannot say I have really put my heart to reading him.

      A2: He was writing about fascism specifically, so I think he was ignorant of how broadly his brush really paints. Likely intentionally, as from what I have seen of his works, he is definitely a Leftist, one could even say a Marxist.

      I am not really familiar with Moldblug, but from what I have seen (I have read some of his stuff), he seems to have very good ideas.

      Like

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