Saturday, January 28, 2017

Umberto Eco on Fascism

Some people are calling Trump a fascist. They say we have moved into an era of fascism here in America. I'll not deny the disturbing tendencies in our new president, some of which partake of trends that have been in place on both sides of the political spectrum. For example, it is an aspect of fascism to demonize all opposition. That is certainly going on today on both left and right. It's going on within the culture, too, with friends and even siblings disassociating because of political differences. 

So I looked up fascism on Wikepida and found this page listing various definitions. The definition that interested me here is the one from Umberto Eco. He lists 14 key factors. 
  • The first two are a tandem: the Cult of Tradition and the Rejection of Modernism. All the talk about going back, regaining some past greatness.
  • The Cult of Action for Action's Sake: in Trump's case, this may manifest itself initially in rule by Executive Order (much like Obama's second term). Eco doesn't mention "the cult of the Strong Leader," but this goes hand and hand with the Cult of Action. Eco does connect it with anti-intellectualism. 
  • Disagreement is Treason. We're getting pretty close to that on both sides of the spectrum.
  • Fear of Difference. Yup, plenty of that going around. 
  • Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class. A kind of mantra, it's been going on for years.
  • Obsession with a Plot. Oh my, yes. Eco writes, "This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society."
  • Contempt for the Weak. Check.
  • Selective Populism. This is an interesting one. Both sides practice it. Both sides are for the people, but some people qualify for that label, while others remain outside the magic circle.
  • Newspeak. Eco remarks, "Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning." This is close to the anti-intellectualism mentioned above.
Note: I don't think anyone ever knowingly, after forethought, decides to become a fascist. These things that Eco lists are more like a tendency that, taken together, and given the spark of some sort of national crisis or sense of peril, could flare up in a paranoia-driven response. I think enough of these characteristics are in place to give us pause. Our new president has a lot of these troubling tendencies, and I suspect that under pressure they will tend to come to the fore. Something to be wary of, anyway.

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