I was taught a new game the other evening. All you have to do is name something - absolutely anything - and say whether it is communist or fascist. For example, lager is fascist, wine is communist, ale is very communist. Snow is communist, but sun is fascist. Cricket is communist, football is fascist. Europe is fascist, South America communist. Etc etc.
One you get a feel for it, it is a very easy game to play. At first, you have to give each item some thought. An overland train journey, for instance. Communist or fascist? I would say fascist. But the Tube is communist, and the bus is even more communist. All air travel is, of course, deeply fascist. After a while, however, you get a feel for it, and you find that you can't stop.
The cinema = communist.
A gig = quite fascist.
Glastonbury = once communist, now very fascist.
In this game, not everything fascist is bad (though of course Glastonbury is), but there must be something immanently evil about it to make it fascist. I like wine, I like the sun, I travelled to South America by plane. But they are all still fascist.
Coincidentally, the day after I learnt this game, I read Umberto Eco's essay Ur-Fascism
, which sets out fourteen essential criteria of fascism. A fascist state may not contain all of these, but if even one is present, "a Fascist nebula will begin to coagulate".
1. The cult of tradition
... "it suffices to take a look at the syllabus of every Fascist movement and you will find the principal traditionalist thinkers. If you browse through the New Age section in American bookshops, you will even find Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a Fascist. But putting together Saint Augustine and Stonehenge, now that
is a sympton of Ur-Fascism."
2. The rejection of the modern world ...
"[In Nazism] the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason were seen as the beginnin of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism."
3. Action for action's sake
... "Action is beautiful in itself, and therefore must be implemented before any form of reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation."
4. Rejection of criticism
... "The critical spirit makes distinctions, and distinguishing is a sign of modernity. For Ur-Fascism, dissent is betrayal
5. Rejection of diversity
... "Ur-Fascism grows and seeks a consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference
. The first appeal of a Fascist or prematurely Fascist movement is a call against intruders. Ur-Fascism is therefore racist by definition."
6. The appeal to the frustrated middle classes
... "In our day, in which the old "proletarians" are becoming petits bourgeouis (and the lumpen proletariat has excluded itself from the political arena), Fascism will find its audience in this new majority."
7. The nationalist obsession with conspiracies
... "The easiest way to construct a conspiracy is to appeal to xenophobia
. But conspiracies must also come from the inside : the Jews are usually the best target, because they offer the advantage of being at once both inside and outside."
8. An enemy which is at once too strong and too weak
... "Fascist regimes are doomed to lose their wars, because they are constitutionally incapable of making an objective assessment of the enemy's strength."
9. Life as permanent war
... "This however brings with it an Armageddon complex : since the enemy can and must be defeated, there must be a last battle, after which the movement will rule the world. Such a final solution
implies a subsequent era of peace, a Golden Age that contradicts the principle of permanent war."
10. Popular elitism
... "The leader, who is well aware that his power has not been obtained by delegation but was taken by force, also knows that his power is based on the weakness of the masses, who are so weak as to need and deserve a "dominator."
11. The cult of death
... "The Ur-Fascist hero aspires to death, hailed as the finest reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, it should be noted, he usually manages to make others die in his place."
... Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power onto sexual questions. Since sex is also a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero plays with weapons, which are his ersatz penis : his war games are due to a permanent state of penis envy."
13. Qualitative populism
... "For Ur-Fascists individuals have no rights, and the 'people' is conceived of as a monolithic entity that expresses the 'common will.' Since no quantity of human beings can possess a common will, the leader claims to be their interpreter. In our future there looms qualitative 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.'"
14. The use of newspeak
... "All the Nazi and Fascist scholastic texts were based on poor vocabulary and elementary syntax, the aim being to limit the instruments available to complex and critical reasoning. But we must be prepared to identify other types of newspeak, even when they take the innocent form of a popular talk show."
Actually, many parliamentary democracies contain some of these elements, and in fact Eco only looses links fascism with totalitarianism. The idea of an persistent state of emergency promoted after September 11 adds permanent warfare to capitalism's canon. Newspeak was there before, and is implicit in the age of advertising, but has grown in stature this century. Not so much in Northern Europe, but in parts of Southern Europe and most of South America, machismo is a part of daily life. So, many of these themes are familiar to us, if not necessarily in an advanced form.
I'm not at all sure that the presence of one or more of these elements means that fascism is just around the corner. They merely indicate the repressive nature of certain liberal democracies. But there seem to be two elements which are not present in any modern-day democracies that I can think of. The first is the rejection of the modern world (anathema to any capitalist state), and the second is the cult of death. When the latter is combined with a state of permanent warfare, there can be only one final solution : auto-annihilation.