Jeff Kottke reminded me of a 1995 New York Review of Books post written by one of my favorite authors, Umberto Eco (well before this election season, mind you). In the article, Eco outlines fourteen features of “Eternal Fascism” — historically essential components of a fascist (severely intolerant and/or authoritarian) regime.
Adopting a single strategy on the list wouldn’t make you a fascist, but if your goal is to be a good fascist, adopting as many of these strategies as possible will put you on the road to fascism. Some choice items include:
Reject reason. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of depravity.” If you’re raving against science and demonizing scientists, or if you’re frustrated by facts that conflict with your world view, you might be fascist. (See also, “Climate change? What climate change?”)
Favor action for the sake of action. “Action … must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.” Don’t question whether having everyone remove their shoes at airports actually makes us safer. Just do it! Don’t question whether a law or a program is effective. Just repeal it!
Position disagreement as treason. Use phrases like, “If you don’t support the war, you don’t support the troops,” or “If you think America’s so bad, just get out.”
Encourage a fear of difference. “The first appeal of a … fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.” Jews, blacks, gays, refugees, immigrants … anyone will do, as long as they can be identified as different at a glance.
See plots everywhere. Energize the base by making them feel persecuted; the easiest way to achieve this is by generating an “us vs. them” mentality. Any scapegoat — including the usual suspects (gays, Jews, immigrants) — will do. They’re out to get us — and it doesn’t really matter much who “they” are.
Appeal to social frustrations. “Historical fascism [appeals] to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation” and frightened by the idea that lower social groups are encroaching on middle-class turf.
Practice “selective populism.” Position the emotional response of a small, shrill group of citizens as “The Will of the People.” Characterize minor wins as “landslide victories.”
Use very simple words. Don’t confuse folks by using lots of syllables and academic words. By limiting vocabulary, you can limit people’s ability to engage in “complex and critical reasoning.
If you’re looking for a recipe for whipping up a fascist state, this list gives you the essential ingredients. If you’re on the lookout for fascism in America, you can use this list to play an engaging game of “Fascist Bingo.”