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UR-FASCISM

by Umberto Eco
The New York Review of Books

In 1942, at the age of ten, I received the First Provincial Award of Ludi Juveniles (a
voluntary, compulsory competition for young Italian Fascists – that is, for every young
Italian). I elaborated with rhetorical skill on the subject “Should we die for the glory of
Mussolini and the immortal destiny of Italy?” My answer was positive. I was a smart boy.
I spent two of my early years among the SS, Fascists, Republicans, and partisans shooting
at one another, and I learned how to dodge bullets. It was good exercise.
In April 1945, the partisans took over in Milan. Two days later they arrived in the small
town where I was living at the time. It was a moment of joy. The main square was
crowded with people singing and waving flags, calling in loud voices for Mimo, the
partisan leader of that area. A former maresciallo of the Carabinieri, Mimo joined the
supporters of General Badoglio, Mussolini’s successor, and lost a leg during one of the
first clashes with Mussolini’s remaining forces. Mimo showed up on the balcony of the
city hall, pale, leaning on his crutch, and with one hand tried to calm the crowd. I was
waiting for his speech because my whole childhood had been marked by the great historic
speeches of Mussolini, whose most significant passages we memorized in school. Silence.
Mimo spoke in a hoarse voice, barely audible. He said: “Citizens, friends. After so many
painful sacrifices . . . here we are. Glory to those who have fallen for freedom.” And that
was it. He went back inside. The crowd yelled, the partisans raised their guns and fired
festive volleys. We kids hurried to pick up the shells, precious items, but I had also
learned that freedom of speech means freedom from rhetoric.
A few days later I saw the first American soldiers. They were African Americans. The
first Yankee I met was a black man, Joseph, who introduced me to the marvels of Dick
Tracy and Li’l Abner. His comic books were brightly colored and smelled good.
One of the officers (Major or Captain Muddy) was a guest in the villa of a family whose
two daughters were my schoolmates. I met him in their garden where some ladies,
surrounding Captain Muddy, talked in tentative French. Captain Muddy knew some
French, too. My first image of American liberators was thus – after so many palefaces in
black shirts – that of a cultivated black man in a yellow-green uniform saying: “Oui,
merci beaucoup, Madame, moi aussi j’aime le champagne . . .” Unfortunately there was
no champagne, but Captain Muddy gave me my first piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint and I
started chewing all day long. At night I put my wad in a water glass, so it would be fresh
for the next day.
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In May we heard that the war was over. Peace gave me a curious sensation. I had been
told that permanent warfare was the normal condition for a young Italian. In the following
months I discovered that the Resistance was not only a local phenomenon but a European
one. I learned new, exciting words like réseau, maquis, armée secrète, Rote Kapelle,
Warsaw ghetto. I saw the first photographs of the Holocaust, thus understanding the
meaning before knowing the word. I realized what we were liberated from.
In my country today there are people who are wondering if the Resistance had a real
military impact on the course of the war. For my generation this question is irrelevant: we
immediately understood the moral and psychological meaning of the Resistance. For us it
was a point of pride to know that we Europeans did not wait passively for liberation. And
for the young Americans who were paying with their blood for our restored freedom it
meant something to know that behind the firing lines there were Europeans paying their
own debt in advance.
In my country today there are those who are saying that the myth of the Resistance was a
Communist lie. It is true that the Communists exploited the Resistance as if it were their
personal property, since they played a prime role in it; but I remember partisans with
kerchiefs of different colors. Sticking close to the radio, I spent my nights – the windows
closed, the blackout making the small space around the set a lone luminous halo –
listening to the messages sent by the Voice of London to the partisans. They were cryptic
and poetic at the same time (The sun also rises, The roses will bloom) and most of them
were “messaggi per la Franchi.” Somebody whispered to me that Franchi was the leader
of the most powerful clandestine network in northwestern Italy, a man of legendary
courage. Franchi became my hero. Franchi (whose real name was Edgardo Sogno) was a
monarchist, so strongly anti-Communist that after the war he joined very right-wing
groups, and was charged with collaborating in a project for a reactionary coup d’état. Who
cares? Sogno still remains the dream hero of my childhood. Liberation was a common
deed for people of different colors.
In my country today there are some who say that the War of Liberation was a tragic
period of division, and that all we need is national reconciliation. The memory of those
terrible years should be repressed, refoulée, verdrängt. But Verdrängung causes neurosis.
If reconciliation means compassion and respect for all those who fought their own war in
good faith, to forgive does not mean to forget. I can even admit that Eichmann sincerely
believed in his mission, but I cannot say, “OK, come back and do it again.” We are here
to remember what happened and solemnly say that “They” must not do it again.
But who are They?
If we still think of the totalitarian governments that ruled Europe before the Second
World War we can easily say that it would be difficult for them to reappear in the same
form in different historical circumstances. If Mussolini’s fascism was based upon the idea
of a charismatic ruler, on corporatism, on the utopia of the Imperial Fate of Rome, on an
imperialistic will to conquer new territories, on an exacerbated nationalism, on the ideal
of an entire nation regimented in black shirts, on the rejection of parliamentary
democracy, on anti-Semitism, then I have no difficulty in acknowledging that today the
Italian Alleanza Nazionale, born from the postwar Fascist Party, MSI, and certainly a
right-wing party, has by now very little to do with the old fascism. In the same vein, even
though I am much concerned about the various Nazi-like movements that have arisen here
and there in Europe, including Russia, I do not think that Nazism, in its original form, is
about to reappear as a nationwide movement.
Nevertheless, even though political regimes can be overthrown, and ideologies can be
criticized and disowned, behind a regime and its ideology there is always a way of
thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts and unfathomable
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drives. Is there still another ghost stalking Europe (not to speak of other parts of the
world)?
Ionesco once said that “only words count and the rest is mere chattering.” Linguistic
habits are frequently important symptoms of underlying feelings. Thus it is worth asking
why not only the Resistance but the Second World War was generally defined throughout
the world as a struggle against fascism. If you reread Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell
Tolls you will discover that Robert Jordan identifies his enemies with Fascists, even when
he thinks of the Spanish Falangists. And for FDR, “The victory of the American people
and their allies will be a victory against fascism and the dead hand of despotism it
represents.”
During World War II, the Americans who took part in the Spanish war were called
“premature anti-fascists” – meaning that fighting against Hitler in the Forties was a moral
duty for every good American, but fighting against Franco too early, in the Thirties,
smelled sour because it was mainly done by Communists and other leftists. . . . Why was
an expression like fascist pig used by American radicals thirty years later to refer to a cop
who did not approve of their smoking habits? Why didn’t they say: Cagoulard pig,
Falangist pig, Ustashe pig, Quisling pig, Nazi pig?
Mein Kampf is a manifesto of a complete political program. Nazism had a theory of
racism and of the Aryan chosen people, a precise notion of degenerate art, entartete
Kunst, a philosophy of the will to power and of the Ubermensch. Nazism was decidedly
anti-Christian and neo-pagan, while Stalin’s Diamat (the official version of Soviet
Marxism) was blatantly materialistic and atheistic. If by totalitarianism one means a
regime that subordinates every act of the individual to the state and to its ideology, then
both Nazism and Stalinism were true totalitarian regimes.
Italian fascism was certainly a dictatorship, but it was not totally totalitarian, not because
of its mildness but rather because of the philosophical weakness of its ideology. Contrary
to common opinion, fascism in Italy had no special philosophy. The article on fascism
signed by Mussolini in the Treccani Encyclopedia was written or basically inspired by
Giovanni Gentile, but it reflected a late-Hegelian notion of the Absolute and Ethical State
which was never fully realized by Mussolini. Mussolini did not have any philosophy: he
had only rhetoric. He was a militant atheist at the beginning and later signed the
Convention with the Church and welcomed the bishops who blessed the Fascist pennants.
In his early anticlerical years, according to a likely legend, he once asked God, in order to
prove His existence, to strike him down on the spot. Later, Mussolini always cited the
name of God in his speeches, and did not mind being called the Man of Providence.
Italian fascism was the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country,
and all similar movements later found a sort of archetype in Mussolini’s regime. Italian
fascism was the first to establish a military liturgy, a folklore, even a way of dressing –
far more influential, with its black shirts, than Armani, Benetton, or Versace would ever
be. It was only in the Thirties that fascist movements appeared, with Mosley, in Great
Britain, and in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece,
Yugoslavia, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and even in South America. It was Italian fascism
that convinced many European liberal leaders that the new regime was carrying out
interesting social reform, and that it was providing a mildly revolutionary alternative to
the Communist threat.
Nevertheless, historical priority does not seem to me a sufficient reason to explain why
the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different
totalitarian movements. This is not because fascism contained in itself, so to speak in
their quintessential state, all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the
contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of
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different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions. Can one conceive
of a truly totalitarian movement that was able to combine monarchy with revolution, the
Royal Army with Mussolini’s personal milizia, the grant of privileges to the Church with
state education extolling violence, absolute state control with a free market? The Fascist
Party was born boasting that it brought a revolutionary new order; but it was financed by
the most conservative among the landowners who expected from it a counter-revolution.
At its beginning fascism was republican. Yet it survived for twenty years proclaiming its
loyalty to the royal family, while the Duce (the unchallenged Maximal Leader) was arm-
in-arm with the King, to whom he also offered the title of Emperor. But when the King
fired Mussolini in 1943, the party reappeared two months later, with German support,
under the standard of a “social” republic, recycling its old revolutionary script, now
enriched with almost Jacobin overtones.
There was only a single Nazi architecture and a single Nazi art. If the Nazi architect was
Albert Speer, there was no more room for Mies van der Rohe. Similarly, under Stalin’s
rule, if Lamarck was right there was no room for Darwin. In Italy there were certainly
fascist architects but close to their pseudo-Coliseums were many new buildings inspired
by the modern rationalism of Gropius.
There was no fascist Zhdanov setting a strictly cultural line. In Italy there were two
important art awards. The Premio Cremona was controlled by a fanatical and uncultivated
Fascist, Roberto Farinacci, who encouraged art as propaganda. (I can remember paintings
with such titles as “Listening by Radio to the Duce’s Speech” or “States of Mind Created
by Fascism.”) The Premio Bergamo was sponsored by the cultivated and reasonably
tolerant Fascist Giuseppe Bottai, who protected both the concept of art for art’s sake and
the many kinds of avant-garde art that had been banned as corrupt and crypto-Communist
in Germany.
The national poet was D’Annunzio, a dandy who in Germany or in Russia would have
been sent to the firing squad. He was appointed as the bard of the regime because of his
nationalism and his cult of heroism – which were in fact abundantly mixed up with
influences of French fin de siècle decadence.
Take Futurism. One might think it would have been considered an instance of entartete
Kunst, along with Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. But the early Italian Futurists
were nationalist; they favored Italian participation in the First World War for aesthetic
reasons; they celebrated speed, violence, and risk, all of which somehow seemed to
connect with the fascist cult of youth. While fascism identified itself with the Roman
Empire and rediscovered rural traditions, Marinetti (who proclaimed that a car was more
beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace, and wanted to kill even the moonlight) was
nevertheless appointed as a member of the Italian Academy, which treated moonlight
with great respect.
Many of the future partisans and of the future intellectuals of the Communist Party were
educated by the GUF, the fascist university students’ association, which was supposed to
be the cradle of the new fascist culture. These clubs became a sort of intellectual melting
pot where new ideas circulated without any real ideological control. It was not that the
men of the party were tolerant of radical thinking, but few of them had the intellectual
equipment to control it.
During those twenty years, the poetry of Montale and other writers associated with the
group called the Ermetici was a reaction to the bombastic style of the regime, and these
poets were allowed to develop their literary protest from within what was seen as their
ivory tower. The mood of the Ermetici poets was exactly the reverse of the fascist cult of
optimism and heroism. The regime tolerated their blatant, even though socially
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imperceptible, dissent because the Fascists simply did not pay attention to such arcane
language.
All this does not mean that Italian fascism was tolerant. Gramsci was put in prison until
his death; the opposition leaders Giacomo Matteotti and the brothers Rosselli were
assassinated; the free press was abolished, the labor unions were dismantled, and political
dissenters were confin
ed on remote islands. Legislative power became a mere fiction and
the executive power (which controlled the judiciary as well as the mass media) directly
issued new laws, among them laws calling for preservation of the race (the formal Italian
gesture of support for what became the Holocaust).
The contradictory picture I describe was not the result of tolerance but of political and
ideological discombobulation. But it was a rigid discombobulation, a structured
confusion. Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly
fastened to some archetypal foundations.
So we come to my second point. There was only one Nazism. We cannot label Franco’s
hyper-Catholic Falangism as Nazism, since Nazism is fundamentally pagan, polytheistic,
and anti-Christian. But the fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the
game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein’s notion of a
game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none,
it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some
“family resemblance,” as Wittgenstein put it. Consider the following sequence:
1 2 3 4
abc bcd cde def
Suppose there is a series of political groups in which group one is characterized by the
features abc, group two by the features bcd, and so on. Group two is similar to group one
since they have two features in common; for the same reasons three is similar to two and
four is similar to three. Notice that three is also similar to one (they have in common the
feature c). The most curious case is presented by four, obviously similar to three and two,
but with no feature in common with one. However, owing to the uninterrupted series of
decreasing similarities between one and four, there remains, by a sort of illusory
transitivity, a family resemblance between four and one.
Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one
or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from
fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have
the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism
(which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic
mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have
one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.
But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline 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.
1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is of course much
older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counter-revolutionary Catholic thought after
the French revolution, but it 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
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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 syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says,
“the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must
tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and
whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are
alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.
As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already
spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
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. The most influential theoretical source of the theories of the new Italian
right, Julius Evola, merged the Holy Grail with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
alchemy with the Holy Roman and Germanic Empire. The very fact that the Italian right,
in order to show its open-mindedness, recently broadened its syllabus to include works by
De Maistre, Guenon, and Gramsci, is a blatant proof of syncretism.
If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled as New Age, you
can find there even Saint Augustine who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But
combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge – that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped
technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional
spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements,
its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon Blood and Earth
(Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the
capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of
1776, of course). 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are
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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.
7. 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
na
tionalism. 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: Jews
are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time
inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found
in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many
others.
8. 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. Fascist
governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of
objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.
9. 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. This,
however, brings about an Armageddon complex. 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.
10. 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. 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. 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
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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. 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.
Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary
governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was
“I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples” –
“maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he
immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the
parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it
no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the
official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common
to different forms of dictatorship. 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.
On the morning of July 27, 1943, I was told that, according to radio reports, fascism had
collapsed and Mussolini was under arrest. When my mother sent me out to buy the
newspaper, I saw that the papers at the nearest newsstand had different titles. Moreover,
after seeing the headlines, I realized that each newspaper said different things. I bought
one of them, blindly, and read a message on the first page signed by five or six political
parties – among them the Democrazia Cristiana, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party,
the Partito d’Azione, and the Liberal Party.
Until then, I had believed that there was a single party in every country and that in Italy it
was the Partito Nazionale Fascista. Now I was discovering that in my country several
parties could exist at the same time. Since I was a clever boy, I immediately realized that
so many parties could not have been born overnight, and they must have existed for some
time as clandestine organizations.
The message on the front celebrated the end of the dictatorship and the return of freedom:
freedom of speech, of press, of political association. These words, “freedom,”
“dictatorship,” “liberty,” – I now read them for the first time in my life. I was reborn as a
free Western man by virtue of these new words.
We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-
Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us,
if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I
want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-
Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises.
Our duty is to uncover it
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and to point our finger at any of its new instances – every day, in every part of the world.
Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling:
“I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases
to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful
means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our
land.”
Freedom and liberation are an unending task. Let me finish with a poem by Franco
Fortini:
Sulla spalletta del ponte
Le teste degli impiccati
Nell’acqua della fonte
La bava degli impiccati.
Sul lastrico del mercato
Le unghie dei fucilati
Sull’erba secca del prato
I denti dei fucilati.
Mordere l’aria mordere i sassi
La nostra carne non è più d’uomini
Mordere l’aria mordere i sassi
Il nostro cuore non è più d’uomini.
Ma noi s’è letto negli occhi dei morti
E sulla terra faremo libertà
Ma l’hanno stretta i pugni dei morti
La giustizia che si farà.
(On the bridge’s parapet
The heads of the hanged
In the flowing rivulet
The spittle of the hanged.
On the cobbles in the market-places
The fingernails of those lined up and shot
On the dry grass in the open spaces
The broken teeth of those lined up and shot.
Biting the air, biting the stones
Our flesh is no longer human
Biting the air, biting the stones
Our hearts are no longer human.
But we have read into the eyes of the dead
And shall bring freedom on the earth
But clenched tight in the fists of the dead
Lies the justice to be served.)
– poem translated by Stephen Sartarelli
* * *

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