Monday, August 20, 2018

Trump, fascism and action for action's sake


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.
For most people questions of definition don't arise all that often. Maybe it's an instinctual "Ick" or a more thoughtful "this is bad," upon recognition. But not many people are watching the news and pondering the label or definition of what they're seeing and hearing. Thoughtful or emotional responses are limited (in time, not influence) to "I like" or "I dislike," with an occasional "WTF? Oh hell no." Once in a while, we're prodded, poked, guilted, or accidentally stumble upon a ballot and cast a vote and if asked at the polls, well, of course we're against fascism (and racism and tyranny and authoritarianism). But fascism, authoritarianism, tyranny, and to a large extent even racism are understood as a negative to be avoided, but not understood enough to recognized in subtle form. Throughout history fascists, authoritarians, racists, idiots, cynics, douches, and that one loud contrarian guy who reads CATO have their most crazy ideas and opinions elevated by this lack of depth to understanding. "Fascists" are things from history books and impoverished countries. "Real Racists" predate the 1960s. Dictators and authoritarians only rise to power in Central America and Africa. There will never be another Nazi rise or Hitler. Don't believe me? Ask around your workplace or bus ride home. Sure Trump is scary and crazy, but the next election is coming soon and the majority of Americans are wealthy enough, and comfy. 
This isn't an elitist criticism of those with better things to do than immerse themselves in politics, history, or theory. Just an observation. Nor is this some extreme warning we're on the doorstep of Nazi Germany. We ain't. So far. Still, Eco's writing of the Ur-fascist and fascism's constant elements amid it's variations seems important to understanding what's happening today and, most specifically, what the morons still cheering this president on are embracing and responding to in their excitement. His proposed definition offers a chance to really ruin your own afternoon spotting hints and elements of Ur-Fascism in the halls of state houses, Congress, and the words of President Stable Genius.
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.
Know anyone thinking this way? Of course you do. We all do. 
I recommend reading Eco's entire article. His distillation of fascism to a cult of tradition embedded in a rejection of modernism, embracing irrationalism as action for action's sake, and feeding on misplaced (or benefiting from misplacing) social frustrations and fear rooted in social identity will make it even more fun to read the news each day.
You're welcome.

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