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Umberto Eco: Ur-Fascism (1995) [pdf] (theanarchistlibrary.org)
238 points by asterialite 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 191 comments



I returned to this essay when I saw the photo of the Jake Angeli in the Capitol - a Q-supporter wearing an Indian buffalo mask and a tattoo of Odin, storming the capitol alongside evangelical Christians. Relevant quote:

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 sliver 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.

[...]

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.


My critique of this essay is that Eco implies that it is a contradiction for there to be an external enemy which is overpowering and humiliating, and yet at the same time easy to defeat if our people would just stand up to them. That is not a contradiction. If a people have been demoralized and degenerated, it is actually very easy for them to be in such a state.

A really great example of this phenomena is China.

A century ago, the Chinese were indeed oppressed by foreigners, who humiliated and dominated them. However, these outsiders were paper tigers, when the people were united and stood against them. The only reason these foreigners were oppressing them was because of the weakness of their leaders, compromising with the outsiders instead of kicking them out and putting up walls.

China is a Fascist success story, and it undermines Eco's essay.

Indeed, many anti-colonial struggles can be described that way. Foreigners ("immigrants") oppressing a local population in collusion with corrupt local elites and chieftains. And an indigenous population too divided to do anything about it. Fascist scholars would say that Fascism would have protected the American Indians. Plenty of Black nationalists like Marcus Garvey were actually self described Fascists, and wanted to use Fascism to resist European colonialism.

Indigenous tribes that have had their social fabric and identities compromised by foreign influence and corrupt elites allow themselves to be colonized. Usually it is capitalism that corrupts them. A flood of cheap goods completely undermines them, and destroys their way of life. They almost always outnumber their oppressors, and if they could just reclaim their sense of national identity, they could easily rise up and take back their country.

Anyway, I'm not saying that I agree with Fascism, but I do think that Eco is presenting a straw man of it, which is not a good thing if you are opposed to Fascism and want to defeat it.


I think it was one of The Exiled writers -- John Dolan, Matt Tiabi, or Mark Ames -- who said something to the effect of:

"All nationalism is, by definition, wounded."

You're either avenging a real or perceived loss, humiliation, or simply taking umbrage at the fact the world isn't kneeling to you as deeply as it should; "Make America Great Again".


> A century ago, the Chinese were indeed oppressed by foreigners

and now, the Chinese are simply oppressed


> A century ago, the Chinese were indeed oppressed by foreigners, who humiliated and dominated them. However, these outsiders were paper tigers, when the people were united and stood against them. The only reason these foreigners were oppressing them was because of the weakness of their leaders, compromising with the outsiders instead of kicking them out and putting up walls.

This is not a contradiction. In china's case, it did not last long once they realised the actual weakness of their oppressors. They were never in a situation of being both overwhelmed and (perceived as) more powerful than their enemies. Chinese governments were not in a position of force when colonialists were in place. You could argue that it applies to post-colonialist China, and certainly to Maoism, and I think that is a valid point. What Eco describes is broader than just Mussolini's Italy or Hitler's Germany.

The difference with totalitarianism (not only fascism) is that the contradiction is a way of functioning and thinking over the long term. This is actually a fairly common idea and is central to Orwell (both 1984 and Animal Farm), for example.

> Indeed, many anti-colonial struggles can be described that way. Foreigners ("immigrants") oppressing a local population in collusion with corrupt local elites and chieftains. And an indigenous population too divided to do anything about it. Fascist scholars would say that Fascism would have protected the American Indians. Plenty of Black nationalists like Marcus Garvey were actually self described Fascists, and wanted to use Fascism to resist European colonialism.

I don't really see where the contradiction is. There is nothing preventing Black people from being fascists or exhibiting fascist tendencies. Being oppressed at one point in time does not prevent anyone from becoming an oppressor in other circumstances.

> Indigenous tribes that have had their social fabric and identities compromised by foreign influence and corrupt elites allow themselves to be colonized. Usually it is capitalism that corrupts them. A flood of cheap goods completely undermines them, and destroys their way of life. They almost always outnumber their oppressors, and if they could just reclaim their sense of national identity, they could easily rise up and take back their country.

Yes, and plenty did without going all the way to a nationalist, totalitarian regime. Patriotism is not unique to fascism, or even nationalism.

> Anyway, I'm not saying that I agree with Fascism, but I do think that Eco is presenting a straw man of it, which is not a good thing if you are opposed to Fascism and want to defeat it.

I actually think you agree with him more than you might think, but some vocabulary has shifted slightly over the decades. And, as has been pointed out several times, this is not a rigorous equivalence, as in "all fascist regimes do this, and any regime that does this is fascist". It is a spectrum.


QAnon is a sort of syncretism for conspiracy theories. It's managed to bring every conspiracy theory into its fold. (And conspiracy theories themselves were already very syncretic!)


Conspiracy theories tend to encourage syncretism. It's as easy to disbelieve the official narrative on one subject and to substitute it for a theory, as it is to do the same to another. Different theories are but different crimes from the same culprits.


And fun, when you start finding links between different theories.

Eco wrote novels about it.


As did Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.


Basically the premise of the original Deus Ex. Life imitates art?


Funny enough, the design of Deus Ex was built from researching real conspiracy theory at the time.

> We did a vast amount of research into "real" conspiracies -- the Kennedy assassination, Area 51, the CIA pushing crack in East L.A., Dwight Eisenhower's UFO connection, and of course Freemasons tunneling below the Denver airport and building abducted-baby cafeterias for alien invaders at George Bush's direction. Only a fraction of this stuff ended up in the game, but it gave us a peek into the minds of conspiracy buffs that was both scary and useful.

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131523/postmortem_ion...


I watched a little mini-documentary on QAnon the other day, and I was struck by how diverse the adherents are. I figured it'd be mostly older, middle-class white people, but footage of some of their protests revealed them to be a cross-section of all kinds of ages and races. It really does seem to have some kind of universal appeal.


Oh, it's not as chaotic as you think.

If you have not read it already, check out Numero Zero by... hmmm... Umberto Eco.


Or maybe Foucault’s Pendulum even?


Intersectionality is at its root a similarly syncretistic idea and praxis, though obviously it sits on a radically different "side" of the political spectrum than the Qanon nutcases.


Intersectionality is different and it’s really disappointing how little general understanding there is of the other side of the political spectrum.

Intersectionality isn’t about making any disparate set of things singular, it’s about making solidarity a core principle. Solidarity being inherently an expression of valuing other.

Sure, the other side of the political spectrum has a lot of unifying language but if you spend any time in it you’re quite likely to experience sharp division and disagreement, likely insurmountable. But its center of gravity is solidarity and that keeps even violent threats to bonds at bay.


New Age has been a broad band of beliefs for decades and without central tenets or leadership it just hasn’t gotten that dangerous.

The thing about this era is more contrarian cultism. Lots of disparate groups that are syncretic seem to be able to mold Trump as a central figurehead. They really haven’t had anyone else to attach to (Jimmy Carter, H. Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Palin maybe).


This sort of thing struck me reading gulag archipelago. The courts used the class struggle dialectic to make any enemies of Lenin or Stalin criminals, regardless of what they'd actually done. I see this sort of thing all throughout our culture, not just Qanon.


Archipelgo Gulag seems more like Stanislaw Lem’s procrustics in “Eden”.


I agree on the procrustics. I would say the traditionalism is just an accident of the more fundamental problem which is sacrificing truth to the cause. Look at all the crazy things believed by both Nazi and communist regimes, and how maintaining the personality cult at expense of the truth was paramount, e.g. the Nazi belief in an orbiting ice planet that housed the true race, or the communist agriculture theory promoted because a son of peasants came up with the idea. I see this same thing happening in our culture on all sides.


Every religion is syncretic at some level. And being inspired by various incarnations of human religion is hardly a symptom of fascism.

What an inane comment from an apparently well-educated writer.


I am not sure I understand your use of the word "symptom". Being syncretistic, by itself, is clearly not indicative of fascism (as you point out all religion is syncretistic to some extent, so is art, etc.), but if you see many of the symptoms that Eco describes - not just syncretism, but also traditionalism, irrationalism, uniformity of thought, fear of difference, populism, nationalism, etc. - then syncretism becomes part of your "fascism" diagnosis. By themselves these things can be part of various strands of political thought, only together are they Ur-Fascism.

Just like a headache, by itself is not indicative of a disease, but can be a clue in combination with other symptoms.


I was just replying to the last line of the comment:

But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge—that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

That, to me, is just an unacceptable statement that is clearly wrong. Plenty of modern pagans, for example, draw some ideas from Christian writers like Augustine and combine them with symbols like Stonehenge. That certainly doesn’t make them fascists.


It is a symptom, as in "fascism makes this type of combination of ideas more likely", not as "all syncretism is fascism".

A=>B, not A<=>B, if you will. B can result form many other things.


By that measure, virtually everything is a symptom of something else. Sorry, I fail to see how that is a useful statement.

And again, I have a deep problem with the idea that only “pure” religious beliefs are somehow less likely to lead to fascism.


The medical analogy is useful. Tons of disease cause headache, or joint pain, or fever, or rashes, or stomach pain, or runny nose, or cough.

Some combinations of symptoms help diagnosing a specific disease. It's not the parts taken in isolation, it's the sum of it, and how it evolves over time. Some symptoms that worsen suddenly should be taken seriously.

> And again, I have a deep problem with the idea that only “pure” religious beliefs are somehow less likely to lead to fascism.

And you should be deeply suspicious of anything linking religious purity with anything. But he does not say that it leads to fascism, just that fascism feeds on it. Also, I think in this specific instance he lets his own religion cloud his argument, and that he should have said "ideologies" instead of religious beliefs. People do not need religion to be terrible to other people.


No it doesn't make them fascist, and that's not what Eco is saying. Combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge is syncretism, which is a symptom of Ur Fascism (as discussed) above. Symptom does not equal implication.


There is a trend, where persons religion is treated as evidence of stupidity and root of evil. If it would have a name it would be called ultra-atheist.


HN is clearly not the place for open mindedness about religion, that’s for sure.


I humbly disagree! Although most folks on HN seem to swing atheistic, I have found them to be comparably respectful, considerate, and open-minded.

Just because someone disagrees doesn't make them close minded. Perhaps your experience has been different than mine. But whenever I've brought up my (ever evolving) beliefs, I've found people to more respectful here than in the world at large, and certainly more respectful than the web at large.


The fascist bit (in Ur-Fascism) is the resistance to reconciliation. Bits are taken on piecemeal due to historical accident or on a whim. There is no notion of consistency or inconsistency - no notion of tolerating inconsistency for a reason, even. There's just "our way" with no room for reason.

(The essay is taking the concept of syncresis to an extreme to make a polemical point)


Syncretism is part of what makes these movements appealing, though. Same as for conspiracy theories: it gives a broad appeal because everyone can come with their pet theory which will find a neat niche within the arch-conspiracy framework. There needs to be some flexibility otherwise everything crumbles under the weight of the contradictions and cognitive dissonance.


This pisses me off for the same reason as “In the Beginning was the Command Line”


Explain why this pisses you off and why Neil Stephenson's work also pissed you off?


They seem to have an axe to grind against syncretic cultures like India’s “Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb” and Eco in particular is conflating it with behavior of people like Savitri Devi


This Eco fellow is a little sloppy. The same underlying phenomenon often looks very different from perspective to perspective. The history of science has born this out repeatedly. The works of Newton being a superb counterexample to:

"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"


He is indeed. Every time I read something by Eco I'm both surprised by how pleasant he is as a writer, and by how handwavy and poorly supported are his arguments and conclusions.


This has been making the rounds lately, and the use of it hasn't sat well with me. I've struggled to articulate why; gonna try to do so here.

The analysis is good, and finally getting to see the original source is better, because what tends to get circulated is way more reductive than this. But it seems like the list gets wielded in a way to stick the 'fascist' label on someone, and not much else.

If someone hits 12 of the 14 markers, does that make him a fascist? What about six, or three, or one? Am I 1/14 fascist because I critique various aspects of modernism?

To the extent they someone does match the list, all that really does is note that he'd match the characteristics of a few governments in the early 20th century. But that's only one kind of totalitarianism, and obsessive focus on it allows other kinds to slip through the cracks.

> 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 contra- dictions. 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.

This is a bit ironic, no? He's amalgamating aspects of different cultures into a generalized descriptor of a culture that's still being referenced decades later.


From the PDF:

> 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.

Think of these not as "prerequisites for Facism", but rather, "common features of many Fascist societies, systems and beliefs".

Of course, this is just one view in an actively studied subject. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_fascism has a survey of various perspectives.

Somewhat related: This video essay on the relation of modernist and fascist art was where I first encountered this essay. While I don't agree with all of the author's conclusions, I found it an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5DqmTtCPiQ


> But it seems like the list gets wielded in a way to stick the 'fascist' label on someone, and not much else.

Hmm, maybe that's the way some people use it, but it doesn't seem to be Eco's intent, and I assume most people who share this article these days are mainly trying to broaden out our understanding of history, in all its complexity.

At least, that's my intent in chiming in here to recommend this slightly more in-depth perspective:

http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/pdfEuropean/Paxton_Five...


The first page or two was promising, I'll try to get through it later.

> it doesn't seem to be Eco's intent, and I assume most people who share this article these days are mainly trying to broaden out our understanding of history

Yeah, I agree with this. One way I've been starting to look at it is that anthropologists/sociologist will study this stuff academically, observationally, but then some distortions can happen:

- In an attempt to provide a tidy narrative, various shades of gray get lumped into the black and white columns

- The results of the research get weaponized. Guilt by association.


> Am I 1/14 fascist because I critique various aspects of modernism?

No.

Nevertheless-- isn't it your responsibility to know the intersection between your own personal beliefs and what's being used by, say, a neofascist movement in order to gain more followers? (Say, if that were the case.)


Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Is it the responsibility of a running clock to know the time that the stopped clock displays?

That is, I am not so worried that I'm a fascist that I'm going through the list, making sure that I share no points of intersection. I could have a point in common (syncretistic beliefs, say, or criticism of modernism) as part of a completely benign worldview. The fact that there is one point in common does not render my worldview fascistic or otherwise malignant. (In this, I am disagreeing with Eco, who said "But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.")

Now, the closer I get to all the points in common, the more concerning it is (and also the less likely I am to honestly do the comparison). But no, I'm not worried about "1/14 fascist"... at least not in myself, because I'm pretty sure my worldview is benign. (On the other hand, everybody thinks that...)


> at least not in myself

I'm not worried about HN users' ability to assess their own internal beliefs.

I am worried about HN users beginning and ending their self-reflection at a mere assessment of whether they think their intentions are good/benign/etc.

To go old school with your broken clock example-- if everyone's unset VCR eternally reads "12:00", you probably want to know whether the current time is exactly 12:00 when you try to convince a neighbor you programmed yours. (Well, theirs would blink, but you get the idea.)

It's a bigger deal when a benign belief intersects with the beliefs of neo-fascists or other asshole ideologies.

That may or may not require one to do anything in particular in response, depending on the context. But to not realize the intersections with asshole ideologies, or-- worse-- to actively resist caring (not saying you are, but that seems a growing pattern on social media)-- seems at best like electing to be a willing troglodyte in a complex world.

Edit: clarification


This is a thoughtful reply; thanks for it. I know that my framing is a sorites paradox, and won't have a tidy answer.

But maybe that's my point: Fascism is but one particular flavor of malicious totalitarianism, and totalitarianism can coagulate around a vast variety of beliefs across the political/religious/cultural spectra.

Studying the commonalities of particular flavors can be helpful, but it's tremendously unhelpful to whip out the list, check some boxes, and decide that someone is A Bad Person as a result.


I think it's at least as often used to decide that I am not A Bad Person...


What do you mean?


You said:

> Fascism is but one particular flavor of malicious totalitarianism, and totalitarianism can coagulate around a vast variety of beliefs across the political/religious/cultural spectra.

I can go through a list like that, make sure that I check none of the boxes, and decide that I am verifiably not A Bad Person. (As if the only kinds of badness are fitting Eco's fascism checklist.) Or that the movement I'm attracted to is verifiably not A Bad Movement.

(All that said, it's not a totally bad list, and it does cross over some between different flavors of politics. Even Antifa checks more boxes than they would be comfortable with, if they seriously considered it.)


Thanks for clarifying!


>isn't it your responsibility to know the intersection between your own personal beliefs and what's being used by, say, a neofascist movement in order to gain more followers?

I would say...no? Maybe in some cases, but I would think it rather unsustainable for humans in general to have to 1) keep records on what fringe elements believe and 2) be held accountable for people who share the same beliefs but also do things that are bad.


Taking on the responsibility to be clear about the context of one's positions doesn't mean one would be "held accountable" for people who share the same beliefs. To me it just means taking on the responsibility to be clear, especially if it's in the context of something that quite glaringly intersects with neo-fascist or even nihilistic sarcasm rhetoric which often has the opposite goal. Unfortunately, I don't think those are fringe beliefs at the moment.

The other problem-- a whole lotta people are getting used to the social media economy of impressions and attention-keeping. Since the most effective current methods have to do with divisive and controversial content, it sure seems like there are a lot of bloggers and podcasters who go out of their way not to clarify positions that may intersect with a lot of nasty ideologies.

So at least until we figure out a way for social media to be less socially destructive, I'm going to take it upon myself to carry around a heavy backpack of context for all my online utterances. Otherwise I'm just leaving things to various dark patterns and algos which I know are up to no good.


> If someone hits 12 of the 14 markers, does that make him a fascist? What about six, or three, or one? Am I 1/14 fascist because I critique various aspects of modernism?

After carefully reading your comment I carefully read all the replies, just to make sure this hasn't been addressed: by focusing on whether this or that item from Eco's list qualifies you individually as a fascist is missing the point. The essay is about movements, not a checklist to asses individual leanings.


>This is a bit ironic, no? He's amalgamating aspects of different cultures into a generalized descriptor of a culture that's still being referenced decades later.

It's not the amalgamations, it's that that is the end of it.

To create an illustrator straw man

They say: All knowledge is already written and we just need to recombine it in new ways.

You say: Ah but here is a criticism of that, using new or different sources

They say: Those don't count we know all we need to know, everything know is already written.


I think you misinterpreted it. The intent is not to put labels on someone's forehead.

Some of these symptoms are not related to fascism, and are not problematic in themselves. But when you see more of these showing up, you need to be a bit critical and see how fascism has worked in other countries, because you might be in a position to stop its rise. It's more a warning about the need to be careful.

If someone ticks 12 of the 14 boxes, it means that person should be approached cautiously. Same way as someone believing in flat earth and fake moon landings makes them more likely to fall for QAnon.

> To the extent they someone does match the list, all that really does is note that he'd match the characteristics of a few governments in the early 20th century

There were a bunch of far-right and/or nationalists governments in the early 20th Century. It did not really end well and that is not something we should emulate.

Also, this definition does not only apply narrowly to self-professed fascists. It fits Stalinism and Maoism (and Xi-ism, Putinism, and Orbanism, if that is a thing) quite well, too. These regimes are fascist in all but name. I think if you want to swap mentally "fascism" with "totalitarianism", the essay is still instructive.

> This is a bit ironic, no?

No, I think he is right on point. This is how QAnon followers get over cognitive dissonance and how populists harness conflicting conspiracy theories and ideologies to their advantage. Not all syncretism is bad, but syncretism is a very powerful tool in the hands of an oppressor. This is how the Romans bought peace, and how the Church extended its power.

Look at how Trump (a notorious rich liar, divorced philanderer who ostensibly made fortunes in casinos and who never showed an ounce of religious belief) managed to unite Republicans, poor Whites, and Christians fundamentalists. He (said he) offered to everyone something they wanted, regardless of the consistency of it all.


> If someone hits 12 of the 14 markers, does that make him a fascist?

as with everything, depends on point of view.

If you are in a region/demographic being crushed by foreign powers, i'd say someone hitting even 1 of the 14 markers could legitimacy be considered one

Likewise, from your very comfortable point of view, even someone hitting 14 of the markers may not be considered one. I mean, you can have that one friend with the racist jokes that even have a couple black friends, right?


>If you are in a region/demographic being crushed by foreign powers, i'd say someone hitting even 1 of the 14 markers could legitimacy be considered one

I don't understand this, could you elaborate?

> you can have that one friend with the racist jokes that even have a couple black friends, right?

I don't know. I guess if a friend was exhibiting racist behavior, I'd be more interested in trying to get him to stop than trying to figure out if he's a racist, or a fascist.


> If someone hits 12 of the 14 markers, does that make him a fascist? What about six, or three, or one? Am I 1/14 fascist because I critique various aspects of modernism?

> To the extent they someone does match the list, all that really does is note that he'd match the characteristics of a few governments in the early 20th century. But that's only one kind of totalitarianism, and obsessive focus on it allows other kinds to slip through the cracks.

I think this comes down to Fascism just being a bit of an odd duck in the political discussion. Fascism seems to be an ever-present undercurrent of basically all Democratic and Republic-style societies, always there but not always apparent. There is always a subset of the population that believes their Government doesn't work, for any number of reasons, and to any given extent: Fascism plays well with a certain subset of those people. And the appeal is very easy to understand: if you perceive the systems that rule over you are fatally flawed, wouldn't it be so much better and easier to circumvent those systems and put in place people who would break the rules, but improve the nation?

But that of course alone does not constitute Fascism. I was listening to one of Robert Evan's podcasts where he and his guest (I'm sorry I forget the episode and show) were remarking that Fascism is less an ideology or even a movement, and more of just, an aesthetic that could be adopted by basically any ideology or movement, if the appropriate leader comes along, which is one of the reasons it gets thrown around so much, besides just the historical connotations to the Nazis, of course. They theorized that the values of most Fascist movements (appeals to tradition/a mythic past, hatred of weakness, hatred of the other) make them more compatible with those of a conservative bent, but leftists are not immune from it either.

People tend to forget that most of the Axis powers, save perhaps for Imperial Japan, were also extremely Fascist. Italy especially. And, prior to the United States' involvement in WWII, Hitler and Mussolini were renowned for their invigorating of their respective countries and their abilities as orators.

> This is a bit ironic, no? He's amalgamating aspects of different cultures into a generalized descriptor of a culture that's still being referenced decades later.

I mean, it keeps showing up. There are authoritarians seemingly all over the place at our particular moment of world history, many of which tick off numerous boxes on Eco's list. Does this mean they are all Fascists? I would say, yes, to a degree. I don't think one must wait for all the boxes to be checked before asking some questions. Does that mean they all merit interventions ala World War II? No. I just think it's something worth keeping in mind. And besides, America, the world police, are currently ticking far too many of those boxes ourselves to be throwing any stones out of our glass Fascist house anyway.


What makes you think Japan wasn't Fascist ? It was a military dictatorship. All the Axis powers were explicitly Fascist, as were neutral Spain and Portugal.


I dunno if I'd qualify a military dictatorship as Fascist though, since the typical hallmark of a Fascist government is the singular leader who enthralls the public. Which I guess you could say the emperor, but I dunno, it doesn't hit the same way for me.


> People tend to forget that most of the Axis powers, save perhaps for Imperial Japan, were also extremely Fascist. Italy especially.

Nobody forgets this.


99.9% of the people throwing around the word fascist today have little to no understanding of what that political ideology means.

The exact same situation happens with the word communist, excerpt with the roles reversed. Both are symptoms of falling educational levels, lack of historical knowledge, and an increasing drive to dehumanize and polarize the opposition.


If 99.9% of people missunderstand what a word means, then maybe it doesn't really mean what you think it does, or has no clear meaning at all.

Webster didn't get his dictionary from a discrete meeting with some cave spirit.


Good point. Words are means of communication.

Though there is a problem of ambiguity if word is reused (adjusted) for different meaning, while books (and people) from 1940 still continue using the old meaning.

(just pointing out that meaning of words of dead people also matter)


Then what’s the new definition? Anyone with right wing opinions I don’t like? And I can redefine communist as anyone with left wing opinions that I dislike?

Do you see why this is a dangerous path to go down?


New words appear constantly or old words are re-appropriated to fill the semantic necessities as they appear

Seeing it as a dangerous path implies some voluntarily action and that is not exactly the mechanism at hand.


I think it’s a dangerous path because it leads to dehumanizing the other. As I said, the exact same thing happens when people on the right call anyone left wing a communist. Exactly same phenomenon, just as dangerous.


What I'm saying is that it's going to happen regardless of the consequences, because of how languages evolve. Coming from a culture that likes to regulate language, I find that any effort in that vein tends to fail pretty spectacularly. At best, you can mandate spelling reforms.

If dehumanization occurs, and people then counter that phenomenon, new words and new meanings will appear naturally just like they always have. Old words will stop being employed. There will still be confusion for a while but it's never really a significant problem. Semantic differences are a symptom of fundamental disagreements rather than a cause.

Look at the word "alt-right" for instance: it filled a need, appeared quickly, was initially criticized as a euphemism but rapidly took on more specific and non-euphemistic meaning. For the younger generations, calling anyone left-wing a communist in the way you describe is already hilariously passé and associated with boomers.


People can choose what words they decide to use. They simply have to be educated enough to know the difference and concerned enough to care.


But that's the point. They don't have to do anything. They will use words in certain ways, and the meaning will change. And if enough people support that meaning, they will be eventually be correct.

Consider how the meaning of epicurean has evolved due to Christian influence over time. Now matter how much education people get on the topic of the original philosophy, it will not be sufficient to erase the alternative meaning of the word.


Well, people like to throw around the term Nazi much in the way. I think in general society does a pretty good job of containing the spread of that word so that _for the most part_, when somebody says Nazi, you can assume they are referring to a party that existed in Germany ~1935, or something very close (self-declared decsendents of Nazis etc) .. Further, I think you will often be checked if you try and mislabel something as Nazi, and rightly so..

It's certainly not the same as with Fascism and I would probably agree with the OP in this thread that the main is reason is that while people have seen plenty of movies about Hitler et al, the same can't be said for Mussolini. The Italian origins of the word seemed to have been lost largely due to historical ignorance..


Essentially, you have the answer already. Since actual Nazis are still very much a highly relevant cultural reference, there is not yet enough inertia for Nazi to become a generic term. Conversely, since few care about Italian fascism, the need is not felt.

The difference here is that this is not something that an intervention can fix, unless it could somehow compete with decades of cultural interactions and signifiers from billions of people. It's not a case of containing anything: that's essentially an anthropomorphization similar to seeing evolution as having intent. That is why the idea of wanting to educate people in the hopes of enforcing "correct" wording is fundamentally flawed because it has almost nothing to do with how words actually change or stay the same.


Well.. I think if there was a blockbuster movie that came out with Brad Pitt starring as Il Duce and it clearly articulated the origins, I think it would have a significant effect.

The prescriptive/descriptive discussion doesn't mean much to me (although DFW has a great essay on it if you are so inclined). I just wanted to throw my 2c in with the guy being downvoted, because I think he's right. I think the extent of Average Joe's historical knowledge is basically whatever Hollywood has made movies about. AverageJoe thinks that the Nazis are Nazis, and Fascism is a more generic term which contains the Nazis and other 'far right' groups.. and who knows, maybe _it is that_ now, but lets be honest how we got here - that nearly everybody, even the most vocal 'anti-facists' are historical ignoramuses. They think that by merely existing they have the necessary information to assert their opinions on historical/political movements. It's a joke


I suspect you may have meant "discreet" rather than "discrete" (although I suppose the latter could make sense). I mix them up quite often myself.


Considering that the label of fascism is usually being used with reference the the Nazis (ironically almost never to the actual Italian fascists themselves - a symptom of the historical ignorance I mentioned), I’m gonna say yes, the word has a specific meaning.


You say "actual Italian fascists" as if the Nazi party wasn't "actually fascist".

I would say it's pretty clear that you're the one with the poor understanding of fascism.


I said actual Italian fascists because... that’s where the word came from. They invented it. The Nazis copied many ideas from Mussolini, who was in power for a decade or so before the Nazis.

Apparently historical facts are downvoted now?


I don't down vote on here but if I were to guess, it's not for stating facts, but for asserting your rigid interpretation of those facts as if it were the only obvious conclusion.


I'd suggest reading the article before going 2012 era TCOT


Collected from your various comments in this subthread:

>99.9% of the people throwing around the word fascist today have little to no understanding of what that political ideology means.

The author explains in the first line of the article, that he was a member of the fascist youth wing. Do you really think he doesn't know what it is? If you think he doesn't, I'd certainly be interested in hearing why.

>I’m relying on the definition from dictionaries and historians

The author is a historian.

>Considering that the label of fascism is usually being used with reference the the Nazis (ironically almost never to the actual Italian fascists themselves - a symptom of the historical ignorance I mentioned), I’m gonna say yes, the word has a specific meaning.

The author is Italian, so again it seems strange to accuse him of conflating Nazism with Italian fascism. Especially because the article compares the two in detail.


This essay is from 25 years ago. I was referring to people today.


Then, luckily there is an essay from an Italian who saw fascism up close to explain to you how it works.


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Sigh. One can’t even point out historical facts without being accused of being a Nazi. The level of discourse really has fallen here.

I merely said it was ironic that people calling others fascists don’t usually refer to the group who invented the concept.


>you seem suspiciously personally invested in this narrative...

He didn't call you a Nazi. What he said was: you're alleging the misuse of a term, but you're doing so while being very vague and giving brief, angry replies to comments all over the place, and this... pattern... is characteristic of bad-faith and/or extremist commenters on threads about anything posted almost anywhere.

If you have some information you want to talk about in detail, I suggest you do so; it is much nicer to carry out discussions when we don't have to guess what the point is.


I think words have meanings, and labeling everyone you disagree with as the most negative adjective possible is dangerous for democracy and society. It is dehumanizing, which only leads to further polarization.

Why that is controversial, I have absolutely no idea.


>labeling everyone you disagree with as the most negative adjective possible is dangerous for democracy

I generally agree, which is why I tend to have a very high bar for calling someone a Nazi.

However, "fascist" is a rung below that. I have generally taken the definition to mean "ideologically selective disrespect for [democracy/rule of law/both] motivated by both a claim of victimhood and a belief in the superiority of [some ethnic/cultural heritage], where particularly the claim of victimhood involves some kind of secret manipulation on the part of [political activists/foreigners/minorities]".

It is unfortunate that a major political party in my country has come so close to satisfying this definition ever since the Ukraine affair (confirmed extensively by John Bolton in his recent book), which I spent some time studying/developing around 2016 mostly to ensure that I would be intellectually consistent in determining whether there were actually fascists in the US government. It has never been with eagerness that I called anyone a fascist.


Just like how Facebook isn't a social media website, since MySpace Tom already "invented the concept". Do I have your logic down right?

What kind of argument is this, exactly? Nazis were Fascists in an objective, demonstrable way. That's not something that's up for debate, and it is extremely suspicious for anyone to attempt to correct the record on this.

It's like people who are "skeptical" of the holocaust. That's not skepticism, it's antisemitism, because the Holocaust isn't up for debate. There are millions of pieces of evidence that it occurred to the degree we understand it to have occurred, just as there are millions of pieces of evidence that the Nazi party was fascist.

Italians may have "invented" fascism (mostly just coined the term), but they were not historically unique, and they certainly aren't the only fascist movement ever to have occurred.

The arguments you make sound like the kind of cryptofascist politics that come out of white nationalist groups that aim to normalize modern day right-wing extremism. If you don't want to get grouped together with those people, consider not talking exactly like they do about far-right nationalism and authoritarianism


You’re reading a ton of stuff into my comment that isn’t there. The origin of the term fascist comes from the Italian Fascist party. That’s what it was called. That’s where the word comes from. This is a historical fact. That is literally all I wrote. Absolutely no where did I say the Nazis weren’t fascists or defend them in any way whatsoever.

Thank you for reminding me to never, ever discuss politics on this website. No one even reads what you wrote and instead projects their own inane political universe onto you. No thanks.


I agree, I think the word has lost it's instrumental value today, I read lately about "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" are fascist and that people who believe in truth "realism is a fascist" is fascist. The discourse today is a discourse of accusing people of things to exclude them from discussions


I don't understand what's controversial about your statement or why it's being downvoted.


Well, in the case of this particular piece, the very first lines are the author explaining that he was a member of the youth wing of the Italian fascist party. So it seems to me a strange context to complain about people who talk about fascism without knowing what it is.


Perhaps the parent was referring to the GP commenter's

> the list gets wielded in a way to stick the 'fascist' label on someone, and not much else.

rather than throwing shade on Eco's specific usage.

For what it's worth I agree with the sentiment that most people using the word "fascist" couldn't give you an accurate definition of the original meaning of the term. You could argue that there's a new word "fascist*" that means "authoritarian and mean", but when making specific historical reference to the original term "fascist" it's sometimes important to strictly use the original definition (inasmuch as there was a strict original definition; part of Eco's thesis I think is that Fascism has always been somewhat amorphous).

For example if you're comparing and contrasting the rise of the Nazi party in Germany to modern Trumpism, or making a claim about historical communist systems of governments leading to tyranny, then you need readers to interpret you as using "fascist" or "communist" (no *). If you're trying to get your tribe riled up on cable news then you are probably using "fascist*" or "communist*".

I think it's OK to rail against people mis-using "fascist*", but I think it's about as futile as complaining about people mis-using the words "literally" or "comprised of".


with the 99.9% of people opinions are wrong but mine it's the perfect instance of "everyone else is wrong but me"


If only 0.1% of people agree with your definition of fascism, maybe you're the one with the incorrect definition.


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fascism noun

fas· cism | \ ˈfa-ˌshi-zəm also ˈfa-ˌsi- \

Definition of fascism

1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism

Does the definition of the 99.9% not fit in with that?

As a glib riposte to your last statement: Truth may not be a matter of upvotes, but language definitely is.


Absolutely. From my reading, it’s being used to describe everyone from anti-government libertarians to rationalists, to nationalists to people who think religion is an important part of civic society. I’d like to point out the complete absurdity of describing those wanting smaller government as fascists, but alas, here we are.

As I said in another comment, it’s become a byword for “person with right wing opinions that I disagree with.”


You primarily come across as someone who hasn't read Eco's influential essay or doesn't want to talk about it and instead makes up various straw man arguments. Eco describes fascism very well, based on personal experience with it and a deep knowledge of its origins and appearances.


Language is not defined by dictionaries and historians. It's defined by how people use it.

If 99.9% of people disagree with you on the meaning of a word, you are wrong. You are the one incapable of communicating your ideas in a way that others can understand.

The opponents of Hitler in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party called Hitler and his party "Fascist". The namesake of Antifa, "Antifaschistische Aktion", was founded in Germany in 1932. To insist that Nazis were not fascists isn't commitment to linguistic accuracy, it's Nazi Apologetics and historical revisionism.


The Behind The Bastards podcast has just finished a special run called Behind The Insurrections where they examine how various fascist movements came to power.

They briefly discuss Eco's essay before delving into quite detailed accounts of various insurrections.

The series has episodes on The Beer Hall Putsch, The March on Rome, The Spanish Civil War (with the usual caveats about Franco being a fascist or not) and the assault on the French national assembly in 1934.

The historical parallels, while perhaps a tad exaggerated by the hosts, are quite interesting.

https://youtu.be/erbyCO6QcX8


And that is what I came here for! Thank you.

In case you are not aware of it, the podcast Revolutions by Mike Dunkan is a great way to learn about, well, revolutions.


Duncan also did 'The History of Rome' podcast. Which was amazing. I'm still grinding through 'Revolutions' and am only on the Haitian revolution still.

But, this early on, one thing I've noticed is that the cycle of revolutions is, well, pretty easy to predict. Brett Deveraux of the ACOUP blog has a good few on the greek idea of stasis. https://acoup.blog/tag/stasis/ . It's application to Duncan's 'Revolutions' is perfectly fitting.

One other thing I've noticed is that in a Revolution, unless you are very wealthy or very lucky or very cunning, the best way to get through a revolution is to get out of it. Go somewhere else, be an expat, write some essays, just don't be anywhere near the mobs or the soldiers.


I remember reading this in the Utne Reader in the 90's.

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.


Well met

> Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4,1938, are worth recalling:I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move for-ward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot ofour citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.

A very interesting quote that should be taken seriously today. Many Americans view our federal government poorly, on both sides of the aisle, and in the last 20 years 'working' across the aisle has become a meme rather than a reality. We just impeached the same president twice, and congress has a what, single digit approval rating?

Earlier in this essay the author states that a disaffected middle class can lead to fascism but I don't think he nailed why. I think it is this:

When people stop believing democracy can function, they readily look for alternatives.


> Many Americans view our federal government poorly, on both sides of the aisle

One side believes that government can be, and should be, improved by collective effort.

The other side believes government cannot be improved because government itself is per se bad.

There is zero equivalence between the two.


I know this is usually how americans explain democrats vs republicans, but is it really how the parties function? As an outsider (not american) looking in, and judging by the policies of the last couple decades, it seems republicans always increase government spending (therefore they don't actually believe in "small government"), and democrats pretty much rule for the oligarchs (therefore they don't really believe in the better of the "collective")?


It is possible to be too cynical. One party has this in their 2020 platform:

_____ believe that the interests and the voices of the American people should determine our elections. Money is not speech, and corporations are not people. _____ will fight to pass a Constitutional amendment that will go beyond merely overturning Citizens United and related decisions like Buckley v. Valeo by eliminating all private financing from federal elections.

In the meantime, _____ will work with Congress on legislation to strengthen the public funding system by matching small-dollar donations for all federal candidates, crack down on foreign nationals who try to influence elections, and ensure that super PACs are wholly independent of campaigns and political parties. We will bring an end to “dark money” by requiring full disclosure of contributors to any group that advocates for or against candidates, and bar 501(c)(4) organizations from spending money on elections. _____ will ban corporate PACs from donating to candidates and bar lobbyists from donating, fundraising, or bundling for anyone they lobby.

Guess which party. You may say they don't mean it. But there is no symmetry in the parties in this issue.


You're making the mistake of believing that the parties represent the sides that exist in America. Most people on the right would disagree that the Republican party represents them, and most of the left would disagree that the Democratic party represents them.


> Most people on the right would disagree that the Republican party represents them, and most of the left would disagree that the Democratic party represents them.

Most of those people would say that the party they vote for represents them "enough", which is at the end of the day what matters electorally.


People are mostly voting against the other side today, not in support of one party, but to prevent the other from gaining power.

For example, Biden. A lot of people voted for Biden not because they think of themselves as Democrats but because they don’t want republicans in power (this includes former republicans)


That's basically what the original poster said - "Many Americans view our federal government poorly, on both sides of the aisle".

I can imagine Americans of both sides don't see the parties as representing them. This seems to be a theme these days, no matter if the party in power is left/right/center, and it's not only contained to democracies either (it's pretty clear by now that turkish and russian folks aren't happy w/ their dictatorships either, for instance). It somewhat feels _distrusting centralized forms of government_ is the (new?) trend?


> It somewhat feels _distrusting centralized forms of government_ is the (new?) trend?

I think it is more that people recognize that many parties and politicians exist to serve those with power, and act to enforce plutocracy over those without power.


Most people aren't particularly left or right wing!


As an American, I can say that what OP is saying is not at all how the parties function, but it is maybe what most Americans think.

I think, the real answer is that both parties rule for the oligarchs, just different ones, and they also take on opposing sides in certain culture wars that Americans care about to win votes.


>> One side believes that government can be, and should be, improved by collective effort.

>> The other side believes government cannot be improved because government itself is per se bad.

> I know this is usually how americans explain democrats vs republicans, but is it really how the parties function? As an outsider (not american) looking in, and judging by the policies of the last couple decades, it seems republicans always increase government spending (therefore they don't actually believe in "small government"), and democrats pretty much rule for the oligarchs (therefore they don't really believe in the better of the "collective")?

IIRC. Republicans pretty much always try to cut or reduce social spending, regulation, and programs meant to help poor and middle class Americans; and their stated reasons are basically "government itself is per se bad." They don't mind military spending, and tend to increase the deficit through tax cuts (despite making a big deal about how deficits are bad whenever Democrats are in power).

The Democrats generally believe the government can perform useful social functions, so they pursue social spending, regulation, and government programs. However, they're often milquetoast about it and tend to preemptively cave to anticipated Republican objections.


Which oligarchs do you have in mind?


The right is absolutely not anti-government. They're just against the use of government to disrupt existing hierarchies or interfere with tradition.

For concrete proof look at Federal deficits and spending under right and left wing administrations, or the corresponding growth in the size and scope of government. There is at best no difference, and in a few cases government actually shrank in nominal terms under more left-leaning administrations.

The left believes we need government for pragmatic reasons, but most of them could be sold on the idea of giving up state power if alternative mechanisms to achieve their goals could be found and demonstrated to work in real life. The right on the other hand worships hierarchy and authority as a good in and of itself and almost deifies the state and its hierarchy as a manifestation of a divine order. The right would never let go of the state even if it were no longer needed, for doing so would mean there would be no mechanism for enforcement of divinely ordained hierarchy.

(This is why libertarians are neither left nor right.)


> (This is why libertarians are neither left nor right.)

I'd have to say that the Americans that adopted the libertarian label are on the right, but the original anarchists for whom the term 'libertarian' was coined were on the left. That dichotomy is where the labels right-libertarian[1] and left-libertarian[2] were derived.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-libertarianism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism


>That dichotomy is where the labels right-libertarian[1] and left-libertarian[2] were derived.

This is not quite accurate.

The descendants of anti-authoritarian radical labor-pricing (communist, etc) theorists are generally now called libertarian socialist or simply anarchist.

The term left-libertarian is more often used for derivatives of Georgism (Steiner-Vallentyne, etc) and frameworks promoting employee ownership and union bargaining power within an essentially capitalist economy (mutualism, etc). It might be more appropriately called "center-libertarian", although the bevy of unconventional ideas therein is difficult to reconcile as "center-" anything.

Some libertarian socialists do call themselves "left-libertarian" but more often they seem to reject being lumped in with people who like capitalism (at least a little).


I mostly agree. A lot of American libertarianism also comes via Ayn Rand, whom I consider to be more of a liberal heretic than a conservative.

"Racism is the lowest form of collectivism." - Ayn Rand

I've read Randian / Marxist where there is broad agreement as to many humanistic goals. There's just a deep disagreement about how best to get there.

(I'm not a Randian, though I do think she's worth reading and had some valid points about a number of things.)

In the past few years alt-right types have started trying to bogart the term libertarian as part of their broad recruitment efforts. I no longer use the term much for that reason. I did back when words meant things.


> In the past few years alt-right types have started trying to bogart the term libertarian as part of their broad recruitment efforts.

I was part of the effort to rid r/Libertarian of the literal fascists that took over the sub a couple of years ago. It is apparently really easy to turn an Ayn Rand libertarian into a full blown fascist.

At the heart of it, and to touch back on your previous points, is that right-libertarians worship hierarchy as much as their right-wing peers do. Yes, they seem to have disdain for political hierarchies, but they love market-created hierarchies. They also have no problem using state violence to enforce those hierarchies, either, so long as the state is shooting at people to protect private property.

It doesn't take much to push right-libertarians into supporting the use of state violence in a very Hoppean[1] manner, either. Most right-libertarians view anyone to the left of them as an existential threat, so it isn't hard to get them to support Pinochet's helicopter rides[2] for "communists" and other perceived threats from the left.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans-Hermann_Hoppe#Expulsion_o...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_flights


> I was part of the effort to rid r/Libertarian of the literal fascists that took over the sub a couple of years ago. It is apparently really easy to turn an Ayn Rand libertarian into a full blown fascist.

That's because Ayn Rand's ideas are juvenile. They boil down to "You're special, and They are jealous of your specialness, and so keep you down." (See Fountain Head. See Atlas Shrugged.) This same idea that everything bad that happens to you because a bunch of plebes that can't stand you because you're better than them. This folds directly into to fascism's doctrine of the weak, but all oppressive scapegoat. The specifics of the scapegoat change according to time and place, but the formula remains the same.


This sort of onesidedness is exactly the cause of the issue. Virtually all of the great crimes of the last century were conducted by governments. While I wouldn’t consider myself an anarchist/libertarian/anti-government, it seems eminently reasonable to me to be deeply skeptical of centralized governmental authority. Whether that’s actually desirable or practical is a different matter.


Virtually all the great crimes were conducted by people. Let's just kill them all...

Seriously though, large-scale crimes are committed by people with power, so it's not surprising to see governments in there. But that would be ignoring all gangs, guerrillas, sects, etc.

You cannot really put in the same bag dictatorships and democracies. Not to say the latter are perfect. There are many examples of atrocities committed under democratic regimes, which are indeed cautionary tales of government gone wrong. But under a dictatorship, the state serves one person or clan, it's a completely different beast. The lesson from these is more like "don't ever put a strongman in power".

Also, limiting yourself to the last century is very reductive, because it was a period with strong governments and powerful nations, which limited excesses from private entities. But if you take government control away, those will back filling up the power vacuum. I am not certain we would be enthusiastic bout a 21st century version of the East India Company, and several corporations would have the resources to do something like that.


It seems to me that great crimes are only possible with centralized power sources. Typically that is a government, but it is often an unaccountable corporation, too. If power is distributed, you may have more gang and guerrilla activity, but that seems far less damaging than the Holocaust or the Soviet purges.

As I said, while I don’t follow the position myself, I think it’s pretty reasonable to be skeptical of powerful centralized governments.


Great crimes are possible with centralised power sources led by a single strong person who cannot be removed. If you spread the power amongst a committee and enforce a regular turnover of it as part of your political process, then you greatly mitigate the risk of "great crimes". In fact I regard this as a cornerstone of democracy.


> The other side believes government cannot be improved because government itself is per se bad.

I agree - it's clear that the social democrats and other leftists would clearly like to remove government entirely and achieve a stateless society.

Or did you mean the right-wing libertarian types who want to have no government so they can own nukes?

These analogies are just silly and not really the point - the goals don't really matter to the point. The point is that when there is less perceived legitimacy of government, people are more willing to look for other options.


Exactly. So many people want to seem enlightened and "above the fray" and blaming "both sides" is an easy way to sound smart and perceptive.

Only one side attacks democracy and government as concepts.


both sides are very ok with using power of government to further their agenda, and both sides are making the government as big as possible when and where it serves their interests. What worst is both sides are using power of majority to attack, instead of protecting, the rights of the minority. That usage of democracy as an attack weapon destroys public trust for democracy and transforms the democracy into ochlocracy, and thus moves the society one step closer to totalitarism.


> to better the lot of our citizens

It's crucial, however, to realize that we live in an interconnected global society and that to better OUR lot is called "Nationalism" and to do so at the expense of others is called "Imperialism", and as far as I am concerned they're synonymous with the worst ideological components of Fascism.


They single out a disaffected middle class as a key fascist constituency because that’s historically accurate. The Nazis in particular were built on the lower rungs of the middle class who had some status to lose, but not enough to fully insulate themselves from economic swings. Think small shop owners more than factory owners.

Poorer laborers during that time were more likely to be swayed by the communists, who had more to offer poor workers. Fear of these same communists helped also drive upper class tolerance for nazis and fascists too.


This is perhaps a tangent, but I always struggle in conversations about fascism. Wikipedia describes fascism as a specific collection of qualities:

* Rejection of liberal democracy

* Support for a totalitarian, single-party state

* Led by a single strong dictator

* Rejection that violence is automatically negative in nature

* Imperialism, violence, and war can rejuvenate the state

* Desirability for an economically self-sufficient state

* Frequently incorporates some notion of a "master race"

I want to be delicate with this next part because it's controversial and touches on people's deeply held convictions, so I want to be sensitive and disclaim that I'm trying to understand better and not offend:

So I understand that the collection of ills seems to denote fascism, but it often seems that the people who are the most vocally anti-fascist seem to be fine with many of those ills individually (or put differently, they seem not to be "ills" when they're unbundled from fascism). It seems like they're only against the whole package arranged in a particular way. For example, a lot of people who have vocally criticized America in the last 5 years as being a fascist country seem to be pretty opposed to liberal values like freedom of speech and nonviolence with many such people either rationalizing left-wing violence (BLM riots as well as general antifa violence) if not outright arguing that political violence and even (capital-R) Revolution is necessary. Many support communism and talk about how great life was in the USSR or how amazing China is, which suggests that they're not just referring to some abstract communism that "hasn't been tried yet", but rather specific instances of communist regimes that tick many (all?) of the 'fascism qualities' boxes. I don't know if they can be described as having some "master race" ideology, but the USSR and China are hardly paradigms of tolerance, and many left-wing Americans seem to have pretty segregationist views on race even if they don't have a "master race" per se (perhaps one could argue that "people of color" is their "master race" in the way that various European identities coalesced into "white" in prior centuries?).

So I guess I'm trying to understand what it is about fascism in particular that preoccupies us--why are we on such high alert for fascism specifically, but we don't seem to be concerned at all about other ideologies which incorporate many of the elements of fascism? To me at least it seems very horse-shoe like: the far right and the far left seem very similar in nearly all important respects, and I want to understand why it frequently feels like I'm the only one who sees things this way.

Again, I hope I was minimally offensive.


Again, I hope I was minimally offensive.

You were not, but your primary offence was of gross ignorance. This likely explains why you feel isolated in your view.

You have conflated complex and nuanced concepts—like, say, the recognition of a revolutionary imperative with a general rejection of violence, or the “liberal democracy” with “unrestricted free speech”—and as a result you aren’t able to come to any logical conclusions.

I would definitely recommend taking a step back and considering the validity of the ideas and preconceptions you hold.


> your primary offence was of gross ignorance

Well, I'm here now, trying to correct that.

> You have conflated complex and nuanced concepts—like, say, the recognition of a revolutionary imperative with a general rejection of violence, or the “liberal democracy” with “unrestricted free speech”—and as a result you aren’t able to come to any logical conclusions.

Isn't "liberal democracy" pretty incompatible with political violence (I don't think anyone--fascists or leftists--is talking about a general tolerance[^1] for violence)? And when I said "free speech", I wasn't talking about "unrestricted free speech", but rather the idea that we should minimize restrictions on speech (you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, but you can say things that offend). Note that there are people who assert that the government should enforce stricter speech codes, but the more common and more disturbing practice is cancellation (or defending the same) of livelihood and healthcare ("Social Consequences") for ideological transgressions while arguing in the next breath that these are basic human rights. I'm not a philosopher, but allowing citizens to deny each other their basic human rights seems (on the basis of speech) seems incompatible with free speech.

> I would definitely recommend taking a step back and considering the validity of the ideas and preconceptions you hold.

I agree, hence this thread. :)

[^1]: I assume you meant "tolerance of violence" rather than "rejection of violence"


Isn't "liberal democracy" pretty incompatible with political violence?

No, there is no simple conclusion to be drawn along those lines.

We can clearly observe circumstances in which the goal of political violence is to achieve liberal democracy in a situation where it is perceived to be failing. A functioning democracy is one in which political violence is rendered unnecessary by providing peaceful and effective channels for resolving political conflict. The existence of political violence effectively demonstrates the lack of a more effective channel for resolving conflict, and its existence does not say anything useful about the support (or otherwise) of those ideals by those involved.

And when I said "free speech", I wasn't talking about "unrestricted free speech", but rather the idea that we should minimize restrictions on speech (you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, but you can say things that offend).

There is no qualitative difference between these ideas – but there is a complex series of ongoing discussions and nuances. Most people in developed democracies would consider the general principle of "free speech" to be essential to a functioning society; further, most would assert that this freedom includes some level of right to cause offence. Beyond this there is likely to be little agreement on the extent and restrictions of such rights – this is why nuance is so important.

You may be entirely entitled to say what you wish; this right comes with the imperative that others are free to refuse to participate, and are free to object to those who support and promote speech you disagree with.

This is why complex issues cannot be boiled down to pithy one-liners. It would very obviously be contradictory to demand the right to free speech, while claiming it was incompatible for others to exercise that same right to object to you.


> We can clearly observe circumstances in which the goal of political violence is to achieve liberal democracy in a situation where it is perceived to be failing. A functioning democracy is one in which political violence is rendered unnecessary by providing peaceful and effective channels for resolving political conflict. The existence of political violence effectively demonstrates the lack of a more effective channel for resolving conflict, and its existence does not say anything useful about the support (or otherwise) of those ideals by those involved.

I'm having a hard time making sense of this. A precondition for democracy is that we submit to the democratic process. If one or more groups refuses to submit to that process (presumably because their vision is unpersuasive), it doesn't seem like an indictment of any particular democratic process. A perfectly good channel may exist for peacefully resolving conflict, but if one party to a conflict is utterly unwilling to peaceably resolve it then I'm not sympathetic to the idea that it's a deficiency in the channel. Moreover, that party may actively be sabotaging the democratic process (indeed, what is political violence in a liberal democracy but an extreme form of sabotaging the democratic process)?

> This is why complex issues cannot be boiled down to pithy one-liners. It would very obviously be contradictory to demand the right to free speech, while claiming it was incompatible for others to exercise that same right to object to you.

I wasn't debating whether or not objection or criticism are out of bounds of free speech--they are decidedly in-bounds. I think we're agreed on that much. I'm positing that threatening someone's livelihood and access to healthcare falls well out of bounds of free speech--that a society in which this is common is not a society that possesses "free speech".

So if you have a faction that advocates for speech codes and practices/condones cancellation and political violence, how can we credibly argue that that group is "fighting to restore democracy"? Aren't those behaviors among the ills associated with fascism, and if so, shouldn't we be similarly concerned about them? Or do those properties only become "evil" when arranged in the specific form that we call fascism?


> We can clearly observe circumstances in which the goal of political violence is to achieve liberal democracy in a situation where it is perceived to be failing. A functioning democracy is one in which political violence is rendered unnecessary by providing peaceful and effective channels for resolving political conflict. The existence of political violence effectively demonstrates the lack of a more effective channel for resolving conflict, and its existence does not say anything useful about the support (or otherwise) of those ideals by those involved.

TL;DR sometimes violence is ok, if I am not satisfied with our democracy. If people use political violence it must be our fault that they are doing it, not the fault of those committing violence.

I often see this trotted out when groups like BLM are committing armed insurrection, burning down court houses, police stations, etc.

BLM might very well burn down the MN state capital building if Derek Chouvin gets acquitted, at which point people people who were so upset about the Trump supporters protesting in the capital building will then cheer for another capital building to be burned to the ground by mostly peaceful protesters, because that is violence that they have decided is good violence.

The problem with this argument, is that you have lost the high ground. ANYONE who is unsatisfied with the government or society has the green light now to be violent. They can trot out the same definition you gave, word for word.

Indeed, if White nationalists don't feel represented in government, and feel all peaceful means of expressing themselves have been exhausted, why is violence wrong for them? Would you say that in those cases we are the ones to blame, for marginalizing their voices?


Yes you’re right, many of these people on Jan 6th believe that they had been denied their democratic rights. That’s why they were willing to directly attack and attempt to overturn the electoral process. In contrast no such extreme perception is present in the BLM movement, some are radicalised sure, but not entire protest mobs. It’s not a core belief of the movement that reform is impossible.

If it were true that democracy had been subverted, that the election had been stolen and that Trump had actually won then such action might even be justified. So then the question is, why are these claims being made and are they valid? That’s the fundamental issue the right needs to decide. Do you believe the electoral process accurately reflects the will of the people as the constitution intended, or do you not, and if not what is to be done about it. Also why wasn’t something done since 2016 when Trump made exactly the same claims of massive fraud. Why wasn't this tackled then?

The division between Republicans on whether the election was fair or not is the core issue. One of these sides is correct and the other therefore are reckless, irresponsible and enemies of democracy. Is it the ones negligently and corruptly handing over power to electoral cheats that have stolen an election through massive vote fraud right under their noses; or is it the ones making baseless, unsubstantiated claims with the express goal of undermining and subverting the electoral process. Or does factional unity take precedence, and whichever of these you believe, loyalty to the side is what ultimately matters.

Personally I'm a lifelong conservative, but democracy comes first and I know which side I'm on now.


The problem with defending violence, is that you have to defend the underlying grievances that led to violence. Can you blame people who engage in violence if they had a sincere belief that they were justified?

What if it turns out that actually the election WAS stolen? Would you retroactively excuse them?

> In contrast no such extreme perception is present in the BLM movement, some are radicalised sure, but not entire protest mobs.

I don't know how you can say that. There's absolutely no shortage of violence in BLM. I would assert that it easily eclipses anything by Trump supporters. Most of the Trump supporters were also peaceful. The reason they rushed the capital without masks is because they spent all summer watching BLM doing it, and they thought it was normal. They didn't understand that they will be held to different standards.

I think for every act of violence by someone on the right, you can find something worse by BLM. Where is the outrage about a high ranking BLM organizer engaging in vehicular terrorism? [1] It is dismissed as just another lone wolf, in a cascade of lone wolves.

1: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/917523942/woman-charged-with-...


Oh I'm not backing BLM, or Antifa particularly, there are those among them who are very far beyond the pale. I'm not even particularly going to pick sides as to which is more violent. I think it's 9 people that have been killed in BLM protests, although several of them were BLM protesters themselves. There's blood on people's hands on all sides, and I don't think there are even just 2 sides here.

The question is really about objectives. The BLM movement isn't fundamentally anti-democratic or revolutionary, it's reformist. Whether Trump explicitly incited violence I think is questionable for example, his incitement was reckless but personally I don't think it was criminal (Giuliani on the other hand...).

The core issue IMHO is the democratic process. Trump launched a deliberate, pre-meditated all out attack on the democratic process in America, and overturning that process was the explicit goal of the Capitol attack. He has made zero credible effort at electoral reform, if he can't win democratically he is entirely comfortably with winning undemocratically and so are a very, very large swathe of his supporters. This is the fact that cannot be dismissed withwhataboutist finger pointing.


> The question is really about objectives. The BLM movement isn't fundamentally anti-democratic or revolutionary, it's reformist.

I think you are judging Trump supporters by the worst of them, and BLM by the best of them.

When I look at BLM, I see black ethnonationalists, people who are eager to use violence, and just generally a lot of dangerous people. Are my eyes lying to me? How can you just dismiss that?

It's so easy to point to a peaceful nice subset of BLM, and say that that is all BLM is.

Indeed, people even go as far as to say "BLM just means that you think that 'black lives matter'", which is nonsense. I've seen Scientologists say "Scientology is just about helping people, if you agree with that then you agree with us", or "Feminism is just about believing that men and women are equal, if you agree with that sentence, you are a feminist". Of course most people already agree that 'black lives matter', but that is certainly not the same thing as agreeing with 'Black Lives Matter'.

I think it is quite a leap to simply call them "reformist". If you can focus only on the reformist elements of BLM, then others are completely justified in doing the same Trump supporters.


Well, as I said there are more than just 2 sides in this. There are multiple groups with multiple agendas. On the BLM side I see a subset of violent criminals in a movement aiming to reform policing and governance. I think they're largely wrong, but they're not a threat to the democratic process and they can be negotiated with or opposed institutionally.

In Trumpism I see a subset of violent criminals in a movement that, from the top, tried to overthrow democracy in America. Not in a sub-group, not an extremist sub-set or faction. From the top down.


> On the BLM side I see a subset of violent criminals in a movement aiming to reform policing and governance.

Again, the arson, the vehicular terror attacks, the kidnappings, and the mass shootings are bit too much for me to stomach. And no effort is made to distance themselves from the violence and coercion.

It is like trying to say that soup is really good except for the poop in it; 'mostly' peaceful.

I don't think there is any evidence that Trumpists wanted to overthrow democracy. The Trump supporters did a BLM-lite style protest of the capital building. They were actually much nicer than BLM usually is. They shuffled around the hallways of an empty building for 45 minutes and then left. A guy had plastic zip-ties, which people theorize that he was going to take hostages or something (but didn't). Their action was clearly symbolic, and the overreaction to it just shows how detached and insincere people are.

So no, I'm sorry I just don't see what you are seeing.


>And no effort is made to distance themselves from the violence and coercion.

and

>Their action was clearly symbolic

In the same post. Wow.

The personal testimony of a lot of the people actually there seems to disagree with your assessment. They seem to have known exactly what they were there to do and weren't shy of saying so.


> So I guess I'm trying to understand what it is about fascism in particular that preoccupies us--why are we on such high alert for fascism specifically, but we don't seem to be concerned at all about other ideologies which incorporate many of the elements of fascism?

Fascism attempted to exterminate races its adherents disapproved of and started a world war. It is perhaps unsurprising we view a combination of political philosophies and tendencies optimised towards achieving those goals as more alarming than other political philosophies which incidentally have a characteristic of fascism like preferring an economically self sufficient state or lacking some commitment to some aspect of liberal democracy.

I'm not sure why you refer to the well established concept of horseshoe theory in the one breath and ponder the possibility you are the only person who sees things this way in the next. Though perhaps nobody else is prepared to take it to quite such reductio ad absurdum extremes. Sure, it is well established that Soviet communists who had gulags of their own were amongst the most vocal antifascists and the Nazis were amongst the most vocal anticommunists (except when partitioning Poland...) despite some similarities, but Soviet communists are not exactly a significant portion of the people criticising America in the last five years.

If you genuinely are "trying to understand better and not offend", may I politely suggest you stop with ridiculous false equivalences like 'perhaps one could argue that "people of color" is their "master race"', as if somehow a bunch of mostly white people arguing some non-white people need some special protections is broadly similar to planning the systematic extermination of 'lesser' races.


This seems to be a fairly common perspective, and I'll try to take it at face value and respond to it in parts. Sorry if I'm late and you got a bunch of other lengthy responses already.

> For example, a lot of people who have vocally criticized America in the last 5 years as being a fascist country seem to be pretty opposed to liberal values like freedom of speech and nonviolence with many such people either rationalizing left-wing violence (BLM riots as well as general antifa violence) if not outright arguing that political violence and even (capital-R) Revolution is necessary.

One problem I've had with this perspective is that the BLM movement is ongoing and has developed into a more coherent (but still decentralized) organization. According to the The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (https://acleddata.com/2020/09/03/demonstrations-political-vi...):

"Between 24 May and 22 August, ACLED records more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country. Over 10,100 of these — or nearly 95% — involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570 — or approximately 5% — involve demonstrators engaging in violence."

I disavow the violence and rioting. The looting and destruction of storefronts is unconscionable. But it doesn't represent the majority of the movement.

As for Antifa, that ends up being a whole conversation unto itself—a poignant one given the main topic of fascism. Antifa exists as an idea more so than a formal movement. It's not something you are, it's something you do. It is a form of counter protest directed at fascists and (particularly in the US) white supremacists. It isn't a club with members that you join. The most publicized actions are violent, but more often there is no violence involved. You can counter-protest a white nationalist rally, but you can also call the hotel they are staying at and warn the management that white nationalists will be frequenting the establishment.

I'd recommend watching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgwS_FMZ3nQ for a decent summary.

> Many support communism and talk about how great life was in the USSR or how amazing China is, which suggests that they're not just referring to some abstract communism that "hasn't been tried yet", but rather specific instances of communist regimes that tick many (all?) of the 'fascism qualities' boxes.

Funny enough, there's a derisive term for this in progressive circles: "Tankies"

They're an exceptionally fringe group, especially in the US, and I would appreciate some additional evidence for the claim that "many" support the USSR and China. Even for people on the left who explicitly advocate for socialism, they do so in advocacy of social justice and workplace democracy, neither of which is reflected at all in the USSR or China.

> many left-wing Americans seem to have pretty segregationist views on race even if they don't have a "master race" per se (perhaps one could argue that "people of color" is their "master race" in the way that various European identities coalesced into "white" in prior centuries?).

Again, I'd appreciate if you could provide some evidence for your claim of "many" left-wing Americans holding these views. I agree that in the last 20-30 years there has been massive re-segregation of schools in the US, and a significant demographic of Biden voters are the people who live in these very segregated suburbs. However, this issue is a common talking point for progressives in this country. I'd argue they're the only group bringing it up and attempting to address it. As for the "master race" thing, I am not entirely sure how to respond to this. Of course you can find any sort of fringe belief on the internet, but I have never seen any traction for this ideology in any of the progressive movements in the US. I know it has been a talking point when criticizing BLM (e.g. countering with "all lives matter"), but this criticism to me is intentionally misunderstanding the movement. BLM is meant to be aspirational, not exclusionary: Black lives also matter.

Two final notes:

1. You talk about a horseshoe where the fringes of the political spectrum are closer together. This is, in my opinion, an incorrect projection of the political landscape, since it implies a single dimension between right and left. I would encourage you to look at https://www.politicalcompass.org. One could get more complicated about it, but I think the distinction on authoritarian/libertarian and conservative/liberal is important. You can be a right-wing or left-wing authoritarian (e.g. Stalin vs. Hitler) and you can be a left-wing or right-wing libertarian (e.g. Noam Chomsky vs. Robert Nozick).

2. I don't want to dismiss the possibility or danger of left-wing authoritarianism. We have plenty examples of that. I do what to emphasize that fascism in particular is not one of them. It is a specific form of conservative authoritarianism that relies heavily on conservative ideology, specifically the desire for hierarchy. In every political movement we would identify as fascist, progressives and communists were the first group to be attacked as the fascists rose to power.


> One problem I've had with this perspective is that the BLM movement is ongoing and has developed into a more coherent (but still decentralized) organization

Yes, let me be perfectly clear that I'm not arguing that the whole BLM movement is violent. I distinguish carefully and deliberately between peaceful protesters and violent rioters. Certainly the majority was peaceful. Even still, there have been a lot of people who participated in the violence and many more who justified it and rationalized it. I'm not trying to suggest that the majority of the movement practiced or condoned violence; I'm only talking about a particular subset of leftists who practice or condone political violence, including the BLM violence.

> As for Antifa, that ends up being a whole conversation unto itself—a poignant one given the main topic of fascism. Antifa exists as an idea more so than a formal movement. It's not something you are, it's something you do. It is a form of counter protest directed at fascists and (particularly in the US) white supremacists. It isn't a club with members that you join. The most publicized actions are violent, but more often there is no violence involved. You can counter-protest a white nationalist rally, but you can also call the hotel they are staying at and warn the management that white nationalists will be frequenting the establishment.

I do understand that Antifa isn't an organization. I'm saying that the people who identify with Antifa tend to practice or condone violence. Since it's not a formal organization with a formal, agreed upon set of values, there will be exceptions. Suffice it to say, there are many people who identify with the "antifa" moniker who practice and condone violence--these are the people that I had in mind in my original post.

> They're an exceptionally fringe group, especially in the US, and I would appreciate some additional evidence for the claim that "many" support the USSR and China. Even for people on the left who explicitly advocate for socialism, they do so in advocacy of social justice and workplace democracy, neither of which is reflected at all in the USSR or China.

I don't have any quantitative evidence on hand. I see a lot of memes about how America/capitalism is terrible because of toilet paper lines during a pandemic from people with hammer/sickles and roses in their Twitter handle. Recently there's been a meme going around about how aliens in soviet films looked more docile and human while American films depicted scary monsters, suggesting that Americans are inherently xenophobic relative to Soviets (also this thorough rebuttal: https://twitter.com/SlavaMalamud/status/1361314705550307331). People who deny to various degrees the atrocities that took place in the USSR or China (or who continue to deny or downplay the ongoing oppression in China) or who fail to place them in the context of socialism and communism. Similarly (not quite USSR and China, but same energy) people who wear/praise Guerva or Castro. Maybe there's a possibility that I'm in some weird "tankie" social media bubble, but I don't think that's the case considering that my own views are pretty moderate.

> Again, I'd appreciate if you could provide some evidence for your claim of "many" left-wing Americans holding these views

I don't have quantitative evidence, but people advocate for this stuff all the time, even here on this board. Probably the most extreme example was the recent thread about the SF school board explicitly rejecting a qualified PAC candidate because he was white. That happened, and people in the comments still went to bat for the school board. To be clear, I'm not talking about advocating for segregated communities--at this point, it's mostly segregation in terms of facilities at universities and policies or cultural norms that discriminate on the basis of race. I think these kinds of beliefs are common, especially among the leftists I'm talking about (those who practice and condone violence). In fact, these kinds of views are so prominent that I would be comfortable arguing that they extend generally even to nonviolent BLM protesters and beyond.

> BLM is meant to be aspirational, not exclusionary: Black lives also matter.

That's the marketing, but I don't think that's the "truth on the ground" so to speak. In any case, I'm less interested in that it excludes whites and more interested in that it teaches us to obsess over race, to identify first and foremost with our race rather than our common humanity, etc. I'm also disappointed that the movement is pretty happy to talk about how black Americans are disproportionately killed by police but they refuse to confront questions about violent crime statistics or police encounters (or rather, they will talk about how those things are also manifestations of historical racial oppression, which while true, undermines the original thesis that the disparity in killings is a result of racist police).

> You talk about a horseshoe where the fringes of the political spectrum are closer together. This is, in my opinion, an incorrect projection of the political landscape, since it implies a single dimension between right and left.

Yeah, I agree. Political spectrum analogies are universally crumby. Still, that doesn't address my broader concern about why "fascism" seems to be the only kind of illiberalism that raises our collective alarm. After all, history teaches us that far-left ideologies are every bit as capable of wide-scale suffering and devastation as far-right ideologies. I'm really not here to grind axes or to put down leftists even though I obviously don't agree with them, but rather I want to understand why society (including a great many moderates) are only alarmed by illiberalism when it's labeled "fascism" (and conversely why we tolerate illiberalism in the name of combatting 'fascism'). I guess I'm hoping that someone can provide a plausibly principled answer, because it kind of feels like we're trading the liberal foundation of our society for some short term political expedience or catharsis, and that's deeply depressing.

> I don't want to dismiss the possibility or danger of left-wing authoritarianism. We have plenty examples of that. I do what to emphasize that fascism in particular is not one of them. It is a specific form of conservative authoritarianism that relies heavily on conservative ideology, specifically the desire for hierarchy. In every political movement we would identify as fascist, progressives and communists were the first group to be attacked as the fascists rose to power.

So it sounds like you and I agree that left authoritarianism is just as abominable as right authoritarianism, but perhaps you don't think that left-wing illiberalism is prominent? I do agree that fascism is a right-wing ideology; my question was more "why do we seem very alarmed by 'fascism' in particular but not left-wing authoritarianism". From the sounds of it, you think fascism is the more proximate threat?


> I'm saying that the people who identify with Antifa tend to practice or condone violence

Who have you spoken to who is like this? I identify as an antifascist. I've never thrown a brick or punched a person. Virtually all of my antifascist action involves holding signs or calling businesses. This is true for basically everybody I've ever interacted with who considers themselves an antifascist.


Then I’m not talking about you. :)


But you were. You made a claim about the large majority of anti fascists. And I’d like to know which ones you’ve interacted with and where because it doesn’t match my experience as an anti fascist.


Mostly folks in Oregon and Chicago and elsewhere online. I'm not going to give you their names on the Internet when I'm not willing to give you my own name. Many weren't violent themselves but were condoning or praising those who were. They liken "anti-fascist" violence to allied forces at D-Day.

I'm sure you can argue if you like that these aren't a majority of antifa. Fine, I don't care, and my point doesn't hinge on that detail. Do you have anything substantial to add, or are you just here to nitpick minutia?


> I want to understand why society (including a great many moderates) are only alarmed by illiberalism when it's labeled "fascism" (and conversely why we tolerate illiberalism in the name of combatting 'fascism').

I suppose it's a matter of perspective. I don't know how much the sympathies for authoritarian regimes and the calls to violence on twitter would translate to people taking action. The calls for revolution just seem like role-play to me. I just don't hear this sort of rhetoric being voiced by people actually doing the work of advancing progressive political causes. Maybe it's easier for me to dismiss the illiberalism on the left because I genuinely am not exposed to that much of it.

> it kind of feels like we're trading the liberal foundation of our society for some short term political expedience or catharsis, and that's deeply depressing.

I feel the same way about the behavior of the right in recent months.

> From the sounds of it, you think fascism is the more proximate threat?

Yeah pretty much. I believe fascism is gaining political traction. I'm concerned about the increasing militancy of white nationalist groups and the significant number of people in the US who think the election was stolen.


> The calls for revolution just seem like role-play to me. I just don't hear this sort of rhetoric being voiced by people actually doing the work of advancing progressive political causes.

That’s sort of how I felt as well before the BLM riots and various antifa violence (no, not all antifa or BLM protesters are violent). To be honest I think I’m more concerned about the people who implicitly or explicitly condoned the violence than the violence itself. Indeed, I think that suggested to the Capitol Hill rioters that political violence was no longer out-of-bounds; rather, it was legitimate and necessary.

> Maybe it's easier for me to dismiss the illiberalism on the left because I genuinely am not exposed to that much of it.

I am sympathetic to this. With cable news and now social media we’re all being “bubbled” according to what Twitter et al thinks will keep us most engaged, and it’s hard to know how skewed our information stream really is. I’m certainly concerned about my own bubble, and I try to limit the threat of bias by subscribing to a diverse stream of content rather than letting the likes of Twitter curate for me.

> I feel the same way about the behavior of the right in recent months.

I agree. I think the right followed the left’s lead after the media, the academy, silicon valley, Hollywood, and virtually every other prominent cultural institution either condoned or ignored the violence over the summer. It often feels like the left makes/changes the rules and the right reacts/follows suit—with respect to moral relativism, epistemological relativism, in civility, and most recently political violence. I think it’s this perception that the left “leads” the cycle (by way of dominance over the aforementioned influential institutions) that draws my criticism leftward (although I take care to avoid being unduly lenient to the right).

> Yeah pretty much. I believe fascism is gaining political traction. I'm concerned about the increasing militancy of white nationalist groups and the significant number of people in the US who think the election was stolen.

I sympathize and to an extent I agree. The critical difference I think is that I see the rise of the extreme right as a direct consequence of the rise of the extreme left. I don’t think we’ll have much success re-marginalizing the right so long as we continue to condone and tolerate bad behavior on the left. I think we need to reestablish non-partisan norms of honesty, civility, and non-violence and consistently enforce breaches of those ethics whether from the right or the left. I think our double-standard is a powerful driver of the radicalization of the right, and until we correct it, I fear socially censuring the right will only fuel their persecution narrative and bolster their ranks. This is a long-winded way of saying that reigning in the far left feels like a prerequisite to reigning in the far-right. Of course, I remain vigilant to the possibility that I’m wrong.


>The critical difference I think is that I see the rise of the extreme right as a direct consequence of the rise of the extreme left.

The rise of the extreme right arguably began with the Tea Party, or possibly as a reaction to 9/11. What leftist extremism would either have been a direct consequence of?

I see the opposite - Antifa only became a thing as a reaction to the perceived extremism of Trump's base. BLM came about as a reaction to violence by the police (which as an institution is overwhelmingly right-wing.) Right-wing extremism then surged as a counter-reaction to that.

Even Trump's election, itself, was a right-wing populist reaction not to any kind of leftist extremism but to the status quo, and the existence of the left in general.


> The rise of the extreme right arguably began with the Tea Party, or possibly as a reaction to 9/11 ... Even Trump's election, itself, was a right-wing populist reaction not to any kind of leftist extremism but to the status quo, and the existence of the left in general.

I dispute this. The Tea Party and early 2000s conservatives weren't "extreme right", they were moderate, largely civil (if only because they were late adopters of the Internet), non-violent, and roughly "liberal" in the sense that they were more-or-less on-board with the liberalism contract (individual rights, settle conflicts non-violently, due process, freedom of speech, etc). There was always a fringe far-right element, but they were successfully marginalized. The idea that Trumpism was a reaction to the existence of the left doesn't make a lot of sense--the left has always existed and yet Trumpism didn't catalyze until ~2015.

That said, I suspect you disagree with this characterization, and that's fine. I don't think either of us can prove our positions, so perhaps we can agree on this much: liberalism is worth defending, and we should condemn illiberalism whether from the right or the left, irrespective of who cast the first stone?


>so perhaps we can agree on this much: liberalism is worth defending, and we should condemn illiberalism whether from the right or the left, irrespective of who cast the first stone?

We can agree to that.


> I think that suggested to the Capitol Hill rioters that political violence was no longer out-of-bounds; rather, it was legitimate and necessary.

I hadn't thought of that. I could definitely see it playing a role, especially since there was likely a much larger emphasis on the violence of the protests within their bubble. It probably imprinted stronger than it would have on anyone with less partisan sources.

I would like to draw a line here, though. The rioters at the capitol did not turn violent because they were primed by BLM or Antifa. They turned violent because they were fed a warped image of the protest movement, an image that demonized the left so thoroughly that they came to view them as (sometimes literally) devils seeking to undermine the fabric of American democracy.

> the media, the academy, silicon valley, Hollywood, and virtually every other prominent cultural institution either condoned or ignored the violence over the summer

This is definitely something I'm concerned about. The whole thing is suspicious to me as well because none of these institutions have much interest in actually aiding the movements they claim to support. Swapping your profile picture to a black square isn't support. It's just a cynical performative wokeness. They are not really allies to these causes, and have no interest in improving conditions for people in a way that would make the protests unnecessary.

> I think we need to reestablish non-partisan norms of honesty, civility, and non-violence and consistently enforce breaches of those ethics whether from the right or the left.

agreed.

> This is a long-winded way of saying that reigning in the far left feels like a prerequisite to reigning in the far-right.

I have the exact opposite view. I disagree with the perspective that we were in a well-oriented, moderate position on liberal democracy that is now being torn apart by equally radical right-wing and left-wing movements. The political trend in this country over the last 40 years has been more appeasement to right-wing policies, more corporate favoritism, and a weakening of social institutions (i.e. neoliberalism). People like Bernie Sanders advocate for policies that do not raise an eyebrow in any other developed country, yet he is vilified by supposedly centrist news sources (though I suppose it's relaxed now that he isn't threatening to run for president anymore). If we had a legitimate left-wing party advocating for policies that helped people climb out of their collective pits of despair, the BLM protests would never have happened, and the far right would never have had such ease in their recruiting efforts.

My perspective is that the progressive movement has answers to deal with the violence on both sides. The people on the far-right turn to these proto-fascist movements because they are desperate for change, any kind of change. The system is not working for them and they wish to return to some mythologized past where they could still have dignity and hope for the future. Many of the people who voted enthusiastically for Trump in 2020 knew he wouldn't fulfill many (any?) of his promises, but they felt that he saw them. He recognized that they exist, and he spoke to them directly and at their level. I believe the violent protesters and belligerent twitter users that you mentioned are also frustrated by the disintegration of the American dream. They're upset, they abandoned, and their solution is a rejection of the system.

In a way, I think we want the same thing. We cannot sustain our democracy while demonizing each other. But to me it seems you want to emphasize on improving the discourse. I think the discourse improves itself when the material conditions of people's lives are improved. I don't mean to imply we must choose to focus on one thing or the other, but that the latter choice will be more effective.

And also maybe Twitter was a mistake.


> Many Americans view our federal government poorly, on both sides of the aisle

Maybe the current instance of the government.

But as for the idea of government in general, the opinions are sharply different across the aisle.


No, I think both sides have an idea of the perfect government. It's just that the ideas differ radically (in fact, they are mutually incompatible). So we get the current situation, where neither side is satisfied with what they have. And I fear the degree to which both sides think they have to destroy the other side in order to get what they want...


i think there is a significant segment of the polity in the center that is unrepresented.


The less effective the status quo is, the more willing people are to try radical approaches, be it technology, politics, dieting, etc.

In my own small world of political banter, the number of people who have floated, or not disagreed with the concept of balkanizing the U.S.A is astounding. When I grew up, America was the greatest country in the world, and now my friends say - well we tried. Maybe balkanization would be easier since nobody can seem to agree on a damn thing, not even the budget!

The farther apart the two sides of the political sphere, the less the work together to actually produce tangible results for the average American, the less happy and healthy the average American - the more likely we as Americans are to support a scrapping of it all and supporting Communism, Anarchism, Direct Democracy, Fascism, Theocracy, or other ideologies, and not Republicanism (that is, being a republic).


Something that for many years I've seen as "Ur-Fascist" in our culture is the popularity and continuous production of relatively vapid superhero movies. The majority of these are power fantasy porn, and like porn the only focus is really on the fetish and the orgasm. There's little characterization and little plot, and the villains are always cast as either pure evil or as a straw man representation of some other point of view.

The rough cop and action movies of the 1980s and 1990s are far more subtile and intelligent than most superhero flicks. Watch Die Hard for example. It has actual characterization. You get at least a bit of a sense for who the characters are, their motives, and their flaws. I'm not saying it's high art but compared to the average comic book flick it's quite deep. The hero is a divorced cop who has obviously thrown himself into his work to numb his emotional pain. The villain comes off like a narcissist whose crimes are motivated by a burning desire to become the moneyed aristocrat he believes himself entitled to be. Throughout the film you can see the hero at least indirectly confront some of his personal demons while the villain's narcissism drives him further into depravity and in the end is his ruin.

I wonder if the rise of fascist thinking of the 4chan /pol variety among younger people can in part be explained by their entire generation having been raised on a steady diet of comic book flicks and of course similar "fanservice" Anime.


There was a really interesting paper [1] being circulated a bit last week in the circles I frequent on a few sites that dug a bit deeper into this. The villains are often very superficial and the consequences of the ensuing fight is very rarely shown in the movie itself, and if it is mentioned only in passing. There is this 'cleansliness' to the fight scenes that give you all of the enjoyment while removing any of the dirty human tragedies from the context.

Really interesting read, and something that I have thought about quite a few times while seeing how popular these movies are nowadays

[1] https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4...


I think this is spot on.

It certainly seems like a lot of super hero franchises were started as outright far right propaganda, even if now, the profit motives of the licensee corporations have dulled the messaging somewhat.

I think 'The Incredibles' is an interesting movie in this regard. It's probably the most family friendly pro fascist romp ever made.

The protagonists are literally Ubermensch held back by an ignorant and fearful society. The evil goal of the bad guy is to give everyone super powers. It wouldn't be possible to spell this out any clearer.


It's interesting you say that because 4chan is in general very critical of "capeshit" as they call it.

https://boards.4chan.org/search#/capeshit


>I wonder if the rise of fascist thinking of the 4chan /pol variety among younger people can in part be explained by their entire generation having been raised on a steady diet of comic book flicks and of course similar "fanservice" Anime.

4chan is a contrarian website. The "rise of fascist thinking" is directly related to younger people being brought up on a steady diet of social justice nonsense being forced on them from every direction, for which the obvious opposite and most contrarian stance is the one held by the one and only, the late Adolf Hitler.


Literal Nazis and fascists were on 4chan far before the social justice movement was popularized in the US.


That is wrong, given that the social justice movement in the US has been a thing since before 4chan existed.


How can "social justice" be "nonsense" if it's the opposite of Adolf Hitler's Fascist Nazism? Surely it's _sensible_ to diametrically oppose Fascism.


I agree with this deeply. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its ilk, are propaganda projects designed to push manipulative falsehoods into the public's understanding of reality. I am not talking about Dr. Strange's magic, or Superman's laser vision; those fantastical elements are such pure fiction that they stand in contrast to the allegedly "realistic" elements on which the world rests. This contrast has always been a mechanism of science fiction[0], but in these super hero movies, what's left to be assumed as "reality" against which fantasy contrasts? Fascist tropes, such as:

- the patronizing Übermensch (literally "Superman") on whom "the weak" must rely - moral nihilism of the "good" guys winning by force - patriarchal masculinity left and right - the untarnished benevolence of the Pentagon

Their entire purpose is to help American audiences perform the mental gymnastics (pun intended) of differentiating "good" Populist Nationalism from "bad" Populist Nationalism.

0. (e.g. the replicator is entirely fantastical, but allows Starfleet to make allegedly realistic points about the politics of abundance and deprivation)



Thank you. Do you just recall these off the top of your head or do you generally check each post that makes it to the front page, either manually or with a script?


I use HN Search manually but support that in a browser extension that I use for HN moderation. For example, I have keyboard shortcuts to open an HN search tab for the URL or title of a selected post, another to restrict the search to threads that got comments, another to convert search results into a list on HN itself, another to copy the title/URL of a selected post to the clipboard, and so on. (One of these years I will find a way to share this software with HN users, since it's kind of an HN power-reader, besides the mod functions.)

That lets me find and scan past threads fairly quickly to find the interesting ones. It's still too manual, though; I need to make more steps towards automation. I'm not sure it can be fully automated because you have to do human interventions to either track down relevant past threads or exclude boring ones. The endgame is probably not to fully automate these lists but to have software generate a starter version and then give the community ways to edit it.

The only place that recalling things off the top of my head (or somewhere in the poorly-lit middle of it) plays a role is that often I vaguely remember that there existed a discussion about $X in past years and then tweak the searches till I find it.


Perhaps you haven't noticed the search field at the bottom of the page?

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...


The “past” link at the top is more convenient for this specific use case.


(Edit: never mind I forgot how this works.)

That shows past HN front pages (in sort of a weird time-lapsed version that never actually existed) for particular days. How would you use that to get to past threads about a topic?


Sorry, I meant the _other_ past link at the top, the one associated with the article, between "hide" and "favorite".

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=Umberto%20Eco%3A%20Ur-Fascism&...

I'd somehow never looked at the very top past link.


Doh! I don't think I ever noticed that we'd overloaded that word that way. Damn it.

Of course you're right. I just never use that link because of the keyboard shortcuts I mentioned upthread.


I think it's (perversely?) a credit to HN's design that so many people never discover all of its features.

The core functionality is front and center, easy to find and use, so the extras don't get in the way.

(Having said that, the difficulty of tapping the correct up/down arrow for upvoting and downvoting on tiny phone screens continues to be a real sore spot.)


> 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.

A nice prediction – note the frequency with which news organizations list quotes from Twitter in this capacity.


Does anybody happen to know if there is an Italian version (by Eco himself) of this essay? I cannot find one searching and being written for The New York Review maybe there is not but...



Thank you very much!


There is the Italian translation by Eco himself, it's titled: "Il fascismo eterno".


Also see Eco's "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt".[1]

I'd also recommend reading David Neiwert's essays on his blog Orcinus[2], who (more than 15 years ago, long before the rise of Trump, Proud Boys, the alt-right, QAnon, etc) was already extensively discussing Eco's essays and related analysis of fascism and proto-fascism as it manifested in "patriot", militia, and "white nationalist" movements in the US, who Neiwert did extensive investigative reporting on (and published books on this as well).

His "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism"[3] and "Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism"[4] are good summaries of his work.

Also related are Sinclair Lewis' 1935 "It Can't Happen Here"[5] and Jack London's 1908 "The Iron Heel"[6].

[1] - https://interglacial.com/pub/text/Umberto_Eco_-_Eternal_Fasc...

[2] - http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/

[3] - https://dneiwert.blogspot.com/The%20Rise%20Of%20Pseudo%20Fas...

[4] - http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/Rush%20Newspeak%20%20Fascism.pd...

[5] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Can%27t_Happen_Here

[6] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Heel


It seems overly broad, but written in a really snarly way. I think the main popularity of this is how easy it is to apply to anyone who disagree with - just match the overly broad descriptors with your opponents (it will fit on almost any populist movement - i.e. any group that has protests) and you just need to snarl and line up why they fit the prerogative descriptions of populist movements.

Let's just look at the first bit:

> The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

Notice how snarly "cult" is. If you think people who eat pineapple on pizza are wrong (and a bit crazy) it's a "cult".

> 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.

So we've already admitted that "cult of tradition" is pretty meaningless, every group will have someone who traces elements of their "traditions" back to a previous group.

> 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.

But surely EVERY group has syncretic traditions. This is almost like saying "Fascists drink milk, not just milk but milk from mammals". I suppose you could argue that fascists drink milk (and combine elements from a variety of traditions) in an obnoxious, stupid and irrational way, so why not just say the three big warning signs of fascism are that they're obnoxious, stupid, and irrational?

> 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.

You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger syncretistic traditionalist than Isaac Newton. You'd also be hard pressed to find someone who create a more important advancement in learning.

> 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.

We've now gone from "talks about traditional" to outright occultism.

I think it's probably better to chalk this up to the totalising nature of fascism (as well as other totalising political movements like Marxism, and maybe even religious-political movements).

It's not the tradition (and certainly not the syncretism) that really matters here, what I think is a warning sign would be the totalising nature of fascism (and other dangerous movements) as it seeks to establish control over all aspects of life.


> The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

The word "cult" in the phrase "cult of tradition" serves as a synonym for "too much" in an attempt to avoid the question: How much is too much? Celebrating christmas? Easter? And: Is too little also possible? A too radical rejection of tradition, such as the ten day week in the french revolution?

> This new culture had to be syncretistic.

So, muslims celebrating christmas, for example? Are those ur-fascists?

> 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)

One almost gets the impression that Eco imagines Hitler and Goebbels as anxious to avoid being judged as fascist according to Eco's list, and therefore cleverly disguising their true traditionalism with a modernist facade.

> 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”)

That would be a very strange statement to make for someone who looted two hundred million dollars worth of art[1] and indeed google returns only Eco's essay when searching for this quote. But maybe, whenever he heard talk of culture he reached for his gun to steal some of it?

[1]: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-revelations-...


For an entertaining take inspired by the Eco essay, I recommend this recent video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M6CXhUS-x8&t=1s


This is "Checkmate, atheists"-grade rhetoric.


Hence why I called it "entertaining".


In a sort of dad-joke way, sure.


I got the gist of that whole thing after two seconds of looking at the image.


I haven't watched the video, but just in case you weren't aware, Beau of the Fifth Column's whole deal is that he subverts the themes associated with his image.




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