When I was in high school I thought Utne Reader was the bees knees and one summer I even managed to stumble through Foucault’s Pendulum all the way to the end. Didn’t understand a goddamn thing, but Umberto Eco took on the mantle of intellectual superhero in my imagination. So picture the waves of nostalgia that came washing over me this afternoon as I rediscovered an Eco piece published by Utne, squirreled away amongst ancient file folders full of xeroxed articles.
The fall semester of 2002 I was a greenhorn grad student and I shared full responsibility with another grad for a service-learning course on American multiculturalism called UNITAS — the twist was all the enrolled students lived together in a themed dorm. So this was at the peak of post-9/11 hysteria. Good times. Required reading included this essay that by its date, November 1995, must have first caught my eye as a freshman in college. It’s still a keeper, so I thought I’d share it with you. Here it is in precis.
Eco, Umberto. 1995. “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” Utne Reader, No. 72. Nov-Dec 95. Reprinted from The New York Review of Books (June 22, 1995).
Eco acknowledges that many of these traits are contradictory and representative of other kinds of despotism, nevertheless he feels it is possible to outline the qualities of an “Ur-Fascism”. I especially keep my eye out for #8.
1. The cult of tradition. “There can be no advancement in learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”
2. Rejection of modernism. “Even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements… The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
3. Action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”