Via this article (Donald Trump is a Fascist) on Trump from Slate, I was reading a 1995 essay on fascism by Umberto Eco. http://www.pegc.us/archive/Articles/eco_ur-fascism.pdf
Eco is one of those writers who manges to combine clarity of ideas with an engaging style and imagination and he is nearly always a pleasure to read. In this essay he picks apart diagnostically the essence of fascism as an idea.
The core problem with fascism as a political category is that it is so full of contradictions and local variations that it generates its own counter-examples when you try to apply rules to it. Eco even deftly points out cases were absolutely-definitively Mussolini-led fascism was different from itself.
- The cult of tradition – in particular a kind of syncretic kind of tradition
- The rejection of modernism and rationalism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism”
- The cult of action for action’s sake. In particular action without thinking. “Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes.”
- Rejection of 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.”
- Rejection 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.”
- Appeal to 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.”
- The plot against the nation – fascism offers nation as the unifying identity and supposes an external plot against that identity.
- “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.”
- Life is permanent warfare. “Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.”
- 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.”
- The cult of heroism, strictly linked with the cult of 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.”
- Disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of non-standard 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.”
- 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. Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments”
- Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
Eco states overtly that none of these points are unique to fascism (e.g. point 14 is common to many totalitarian and authoritarian regimes) and that any given example of fascism may not show all of them.
Well worth a read.