How can you recognize a fascist system? Nowadays, many dictatorial regimes and political parties are labeled as fascists.

“Fascism has become an “all-purpose term” because you can eliminate characteristics from fascist regimes and they will still be recognizable as fascist,” wrote Umberto Eco in 1995. “Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustasha. Add to Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.”

Many names hardly mean anything to us today. They should be seen in the context of Umberto Eco’s time. As a consequence, fascist regimes can be very different.

So what constitutes the core of primitive fascism?

Umberto Eco, who grew up under Mussolini, drew up a list of 14 characteristics. It is worth comparing the individual points with the demands of parties such as the AfD, the FPÖ, the Front National, or Erdogan’s AKP. [Translator’s note: AfD is a right-wing populist party in Germany. FPÖ is a right-wing populist party in Austria. The National Front – now Rassemblement National is a right-wing populist party in France. Together with the far-right Nationalist Movement party, the AKP forms the People’s Alliance in Türkiye.]

  1. cult of tradition. Traditionalism as a counter-movement to syncretism (mixing different religions, denominations, and philosophical teachings) → “There can be no progress in knowledge, the truth has been proclaimed once and for all”.
  2. Rejection of modernity: despite the worship of technology, the ideology is based on blood and soil. The Enlightenment and the values of 1789 are rejected.
  3. Irrationalism: “Thinking as a form of castration”. Culture is suspected as soon as it becomes critical. Distrust of the intellect.
  4. rejection of analytical criticism: if science sees lack of agreement as useful, it is treason for primal fascism.
  5. Rejection of diversity of opinion and pluralism: the natural fear of difference is exploited and exacerbated. The first appeal of fascism or pre-fascism is directed against intruders.
  6. Emergence through individual or social frustration: the appeal to the frustrated middle class in an economic crisis or political humiliation.
  7. Nationalism: people who feel deprived of their social identity are accorded a single privilege: Being born in the same country. The root of the primordial fascist psychology is conspiracy. Supporters must feel besieged, preferably by strangers.
  8. Humiliation coming from the wealth and power of foreigners: Back then: “Jews are rich and have a secret network of mutual support”. Today, “refugees get everything, have iPhones and have conspired to ‘invade’ “.
  9. “Life is there only for the sake of fighting.” “Pacifism is collaboration with the enemy.”
  10. “Elite thinking”: You belong to the best people, the best race. The leader knows that power cannot be transferred to him democratically and that his power is rooted in the weakness of the masses. Every sub-leader despises his subordinates. The result is a mass elite consciousness.
  11. Education for heroism: A hero is an extraordinary being in mythology. In Fascism, the hero is the norm. Heroism is closely linked to a cult of death. The hero in fascism impatiently seeks heroic death as the best reward and in this impatience gladly sends others to their death.
  12. Transferring the will to power and heroism to sexuality: this is the origin of contempt for women and intolerance of unusual sexual practices (from chastity to homosexuality) and the tendency to “phallic substitute exercise”, playing with weapons.
  13. Selective populism: the individual citizen is replaced by the body of the people. The Nuremberg Reichstag site becomes Internet populism.
  14. Primal fascism speaks “new language”: an impoverished vocabulary with framing and interpretative sovereignty. From “lying press” to “repopulation”, new terms are being established.

The original fascism is still with us, sometimes in a very inconspicuous guise. It would be so much easier for us if someone came forward and announced: “I want a second Auschwitz, I want the brown shirts to march through our cities again.” Life is not that simple. Primitive fascism can reappear in the most innocent disguise. We must expose it and make each of its more recent examples recognizable.

Not every characteristic applies to every part of the New Right and some even contradict each other, but the direction of travel is recognizable.

These thoughts come from a speech by Umberto Eco in 1995, long before the resurgence of fascist movements in Europe.

The complete speech in English

A somewhat abridged translation from 1995