In Umberto Eco's "Five Moral Pieces" (RCS Libri / Harcourt, 1997) we get five short dense essays with a scholarly perspective on Clausewitz and war, media responsibility, emergence of the "Other," migration vs. immigration, and the signs of eternal fascism ("Ur-Fascism").
Eco, who died in 2016, was professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna – a deep thinker who used history, psychology, literature and philosophy to analyze the world and predict the future.
|Haitians get shelter material from DOD and International Organization for Migration in 2010 after an earthquake. (DVIDS)|
His conclusions can be uber-controversial, such as this one in his essay "Migration, Tolerance, and the Intolerable":
"...[M]igration is certainly different from immigration. We have only immigration when the immigrants (admitted according to political decisions) accept most of the customs of the country into which they have immigrated, while migration occurs when the migrants (whom no one can stop at the frontiers) radically transform the culture of the territory they have migrated to."He examines both tolerance and intolerance using examples such as (actual) witch hunts, tattoos, American political correctness, Hitler and Mein Kampf, anti-Jacobin theories of Jewish conspiracy, and immigration/migration.
Eco says when intolerance becomes not only inculcated but "uncontrolled," thinking people face a "pure unthinking animality." Then it may be too late, and intellectuals themselves become targets. "It is too late when war is waged on doctrinal intolerance, for when intolerance is transformed into doctrine the war is already lost, and those who ought to fight it become the first victims."
"Therefore," Eco writes, "uncontrolled intolerance has to be beaten at the roots, through constant education that starts from earliest infancy, before it is written down in a book, and before it becomes a behavioral 'skin' that is too thick and too tough."
|Mussolini's headquarters in 1934.|
His essay on Ur-Fascism comes from a speech Eco gave at Columbia University, April 25, 1995, in commemoration of the liberation of Europe – made possible by the United States military.
"However, it should be borne in mind that the text was conceived for an audience of American students and the speech was given in the days when America was still shaken by outrage over the Oklahoma City bombing and by the discovery of the fact (by no means a secret) that extreme right-wing military organizations existed in America. The anti-Fascist theme, therefore, took on particular connotations in that context, and my historical observations were intended to stimulate reflection on current problems in various countries..."Eco reveals the signs of Fascism, a movement defeated by the Allies in World War II but unfortunately making a comeback 24 years later. Madeleine Albright calls it the F-word. Today we see totalitarian leaders as well as deranged movements, including white nationalism, rising in Europe and the United States – flirting with Fascism.
Here are the signs:
1. "The first characteristic of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition." No open-mindedness, no advancement of learning, and reliance only on traditional thinking.
|The spirit of 1776 and 1789 is rejected by Ur-Fascists.|
3. "Suspicion of intellectual life," where thoughtless "action for action's sake" is valued and elite thinking is not.
4. No dissent. "For Ur-Fascism, dissent is betrayal."
5. Fear of difference. "The first appeal of a Fascist or prematurely Fascist movement is a call against intruders." This would include a perceived invasion of migrants.
6. "Ur-Fascism springs from individual or social frustration, which explains why one of the characteristics typical of historic Fascist movements was the appeal to the frustrated middle classes."
7. Nationalism and xenophobia. "At the root of Ur-Fascist psychology lies the obsession with conspiracies..." both international and "from the inside," as in an imagined "deep state."
8. Humiliation. "The disciples must feel humiliated by the enemy's vaunted wealth and power" – showing both fear and disdain, victimization and superiority.
9. An "Armageddon complex" and "permanent war." "...There must be a last battle, after which the movement will rule the world."
10. "Scorn for the weak." Power taken and enforced by force is based on a "weakness of the masses." Under an authoritarian hierarchy "each subordinate leader looks down on his inferiors, and each of his inferiors looks down in turn on his own underlings. All this looking down reinforces the sense of a mass elite."
|Orwell (top right) served in the British Home Guard during WWII.|
12. Sex as a power issue. "This is the origin of machismo (which implies contempt for women and a non-conformist sexual habits...)" Think antifeminism and a woman's right to choose as well as LGBTQ persecution.
13. Populism over democracy. "Every time a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament (Congress) because it no longer represents 'the voice of the people,' there is a suspicion of Ur-Fascism."
14. "Ur-Fascism uses newspeak." Coined by George Orwell in "1984," newspeak describes the language used by dictatorships to create distrust and mistrust. "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." Newspeak can be uttered by a leader or by state media, even in the "innocent form of a popular talk show."
|Eco had two homes, one with 20,000 books and another with 30,000.|
Interestingly, a scandal hit the authoritarian populists in Europe this week. Bloomberg reports on a video sting that caught far-right politicians Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus drinking vodka and making deals with a woman they thought was the niece of Russian oil and gas billionaire Igor Makarov. They allegedly tried to bribe her to provide funding to their party and invest in a far-right newspaper. The resulting videos caused resignations and a delay in elections in Austria.
"Nationalist populists often agitate against entrenched, corrupt elites and pledge to drain various swamps," Bloomberg reports. "In the videos, however, Strache and Gudenus behave like true swamp creatures, savoring rumors of drug and sex scandals in Austrian politics and discussing how to create an authoritarian media machine like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s."
Nevertheless, far-right leaders, including Italy's Matteo Salvini, France's Marine Le Pen and Holland's Geert Wilders, vow to "change history" in Europe again in this century.
|FDR and his secretaries on Nov. 4, 1938.|
He uses the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at two critical junctures: (September 23, 1944) – "The victory of the American people and their allies will be a victory against Fascism and the blind alley of despotism that it represents." And (November 4, 1938) – "I dare to say that if American democracy ceased to progress as a living force, seeking night and day by peaceful means to improve the condition of our citizens, the power of Fascism would grow in our country."
Can greater democracy, human rights and education provide a wall against Ur-Fascism and a solution to refugee migration?