Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

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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.
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
dri­ves. Is there still anoth­er ghost stalk­ing Europe (not to speak of oth­er parts of the
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
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
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
imper­cep­ti­ble, dis­sent because the Fas­cists sim­ply did not pay atten­tion to such arcane
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Free­dom and lib­er­a­tion are an unend­ing task. Let me fin­ish with a poem by Fran­co
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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