“Ur-Fascism” written by Umberto Eco offers a personal perspective of what fascism truly is in its core. As part of his interpretation of fascism, he offers the idea that its meaning is often blurred or misleading depending on ones background. He continues to make many distinctions between Italian fascism as contrasted to German or Russian fascism. The initial distinctions he makes then leads into his outline of features that all forms of fascism typically share. While the first half of the article seemed unclear, the message Eco was attempting to send was delivered in this list. He then ends the article with a poem by Franco Fortini that reiterates to the readers that “freedom and liberation are an unending task.”(p. 9)
History and context are obviously essential to diving into Eco’s essay. While he gives his brief personal understanding of the historical context explaining his definition of fascism, it is important as a reader to take a deeper look. Eco’s perspective of post-World War II Italy is eye-opening, but I think it is also imperative to think about pre-war and pre-Mussolini Italy when fathoming exactly how fascism rose to power initially. While Eco does mention that “Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration”(p. 6), he does little to provide the historical development of how the first fascist organization came to power.
For Italy, the social frustration Eco mentions came in the form of mass unemployment, socialist and communist strikes, and overall political chaos following World War I. More than ever, Italians longed for a sense of unity and pride in their country, and this created the perfect opportunity for a central power to rise and take control of the situation at hand. Mussolini used his charisma to initially appeal to the people, and then soon began to lead by intimidation. It was this intimidation and forcefulness that pressured King Victor Emmanuel into appointing him as the prime minister of Italy in 1922. During his reign, much of his energy was spent enforcing the teachings of fascism onto the people of Italy. The people were basically taught that they came second to their country, but the country was a manifestation of the common will of the people. Violence and a “survival of the fittest” mentality were embedded into the everyday thinking of the people. The attempt to feel some sense of superiority and unity following World War I was overcompensated for in the hands of Mussolini. This piece of historical context clarifies some important features of fascism that Eco lists. In summary, national or racial insecurity is a breeding ground for fascism. The inferiority complex as exemplified with Italy’s fascist history gives us important insight into why it all began, and how we may predict its formation in the future.