Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” informally outlines the most striking qualities of fascistic theory and practice. It remains one of the most popular tool-kits for intellectuals in discovering where the barbarity of fascism might once again materialize, for Eco was convinced fascism did not die at the end of the second World War. If there is an “eternal fascism” inherent to Western life, the critical observer must ask: in which groups is it most fostered? Is it limited to bald-headed neo-Nazis manufacturing methamphetamine by moonlight, the poor white lumpenproletariat of godforsaken boondocks, the aged reactionaries of the Mediterranean and the Rhine? To the chagrin of sanity, the evidence suggests otherwise: one can trace the fascist tone to one of the most politically active regions of the United States. The American South features in abundance all the tendencies of proto-fascism, from its enduring historical disadvantage following Reconstruction, reverence for the redemptive firearm and the punitive crucifix, hegemonic tendencies in matters of race and religion, and perhaps most importantly, the affinity for hero-worship. If fascism finds its formal renaissance anywhere in the twenty-first century, it will be in the Southern Ideology, which still mutters vaguely the threat that “the South will rise again,” confuses faith in the God of Abraham for the will to power over man, and sees fit to solve its social ills with paranoid gun-toting, capitalist republicanism, and social excommunication rather than the humane critical understanding of the Other.
To begin this analysis of the Southern Ideology, it is necessary to point out that “ideology” is not identical with “culture.” Culture is a metaphor quite aptly likened to the situation of a bacterium being cultured in a petri dish; the bacterium can sense nothing other than that substance in which it is being grown, and as such, does not recognize it as anything but a natural, eternal verity. To humanize the metaphor, consider ideology to be the words written on the walls of the petri dish. Then consider these words are inscribed in culture only by those who hold power. As such, all Southerners are not fascists-many, perhaps most, are well-distanced from this theory. The ideology is fostered by, and fosters, those already in power, those not citizens by default but rather citizens by assertion.
Eco’s first tenet of “eternal fascism” has it that
The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counter-revolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but it was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism… This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, ‘the combination of different forms of belief or practice;’ such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth. As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
Such a description no doubt boggles the mind of any native Southerner. Traditionalist conservatism is the dominant political form from Florida to the majority of Appalachia to Tex-Arkana. The reigning political agenda, stemming from the mid-century Republican platform onto the neoconservative administration of former President Bush, sees modernism as something to be defended against, as though the progressive agenda were intimately tied to some imaginary Red Plot. Since the 2000s, the Southern peculiarity has been nationalized. Any politician antagonizing traditional values will not be elected to office; nor will any non-Christian politician survive the culture of criticism pertaining to his religion. Tradition is seen as possessing more utility than mere historical value, while progressiveness and modernism are seen as dangerous attempts to re-instate state socialism. In the familial sphere, the traditional patriarch-submissive wife-obedient children triad still stands dominant, while non-traditional families, like homosexual or poly-amorous families, are seen as undesirable, confused, and confusing. Home ownership is viewed as a key to political participation, with proletarian and other non-propertied classes being relegated to the ideological back-burner. There is no vivid unionization movement, nor political support for the welfare state. In fact, attacking the foundations of the welfare state appears to be one of conservativism’s chief weapons in his political arsenal-macroeconomics of the flunking polity is still seen as a microeconomic moral infirmity. All of these developments are seen-once again-as outgrowths of communist subversion dating from the mid-century, or as otherwise foreign intrusions into the classic Southern community. Of course, such forays into the 1950’s Golden Age are based on mythological assumptions of communitarian solidarity rather than statistical analysis of real historical social relations, when broken families, impoverished districts, and moral panics defined social life as much in the past as they do in the present. Romantic histories-the gallant South, the mystical Pacific-conceal and apologize for peasant suffering.
The most obvious symptom of this ideological syncretism is the marriage of biblical Christianity and politico-economic conservatism. Especially within the Fundamentalist strain, biblical morality posits that poverty is less a moral problem than a problem in distributive justice; yet the conservative critique of poverty lays its blame on sinful individuals. That the poor ought to be supported by the wealthy does not pass muster in the conservative worldview, no matter how much it thinks itself biblically grounded. Both the communism of the early Christians and the socialism of nineteenth-century Christianity are cast aside in pursuing Christian capitalism (a distinctly twentieth-century phenomenon). These contradictions stand to Eco’s reason-truths are not dialectical and do not come from debate, but rather are found in sola scriptura biblical exegesis of a characteristically conservative pattern. It does not matter that state welfare programs are categorically more effective than church services in alleviating local working-class poverty: it only matters, for the Southern conservative, that state intervention is destructive by definition. Compelling comparisons might be made of historical feudal social relations to the Third Estate and the modern status of poverty in the South, given that nobility and the clerical class-when not engaged in class warfare-saw themselves as sole paternal caregivers to the poor. Limited-government ideologies proliferate, insisting the government is not designed to care for the well-being of its people in the aggregate, but rather to bolster and maintain the property relations of its upper class and maintain their singular dominance in the most impoverished region of the country: the sprawling hills and mountains of the South.
Eco continues his critique, saying that
Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon Blood and Earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
While there is not a proper anti-technology movement in the South per se, there is a pervasive climate of anti-intellectualism and anti-scientism, as foremost expressed in the popular disagreement with the neo-Darwinian synthesis. In fact, Tennessee is home to the most aggressive anti-evolution movement of the twentieth century, while Texas is home to the most vocal opponents of the theory of environmental decline as a result of industrial activity. Darwinian-derived evolution, environmental concern, and the more worrying insights of sociology are all seen as species of false consciousness-with some even going so far as to label environmentalism a Marxist invention. The Southern Ideology forgets that, once upon a time, the parsons and the preachers were the only men of letters to be found. Beyond this, the traditionalist identification of self with land is a strong cultural current throughout the rural areas of the region, along with its inevitable accompaniment of xenophobic racism. The homeland institution wars with the anonymous drifters of the city-culture. Given that historical fascism did not, in practice, limit the excesses of capitalism, but merely aimed its roaring engine to the benefit of the state, Eco’s position that fascism was not co-incident with capitalism is faulty. Nevertheless, Southern republicanism allies itself wherever possible with high capital, even if it is to the detriment of its population. From its tourist towns to its metropolises, Southern governments support capitalism enthusiastically-usually in the form of importing business for the exploitation of its cheap, half-educated labor force. The irrational practices of racism, patriarchal social relations, and misinterpreted biblical religion all link the American South to Eco’s understanding of eternal fascism: just consider the Rebel Flag, a militant relic of the Civil War and reified symbol of slave republicanism, and then consider the tilted swastika of the Germano-fascist regime. The only difference is one can still see the Rebel Flag touted through township and city, pasted on university dorm walls and tattooed on shoulder blades, flashing the ancient petulance in the public eye. The Southern proletarians who exhibit this rebellion live in cramped living quarters even while supporting their betters; in mistaking the cause of the misery in multicultural initiatives and liberal movements toward equality, the poorest in the region bolster the social positions of their real oppressors and universalize squalor among their young in a nationalist delusion.
In discussing fascistic disdain for the intellectual in society, Eco writes
Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (‘When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun’) to the frequent use of such expressions as ‘degenerate intellectuals,’ ‘eggheads,’ ‘effete snobs,’ ‘universities are a nest of reds.’ The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
There is, perhaps, no better characterization of Southern culture than Eco’s description of fascism here. Southern culture is largely heteronormative, and given that it has only recently industrialized since the 1970’s, it is still largely based on reproducing social relations based on athletics rather than intellect. In an economy of pure muscle, this survival might be understood as once having value; but in an Information Age economy that values thought-work over grunt-work, it has little practical utility beyond willing wage-slavery. Right-wing media is popular in the South, with its usual targets of the “liberal intelligentsia,” the secular university, racial minorities, and the specter of communism issuing from all of the above. Masculinity is viewed as an end in itself, with all deviations therefrom being devalued or derided. Military culture, the chief characteristic of fascist social life, is prevalent-given that much of America’s standing army comes from the South, due in part to there being little opportunity for lower-middle class youth to establish a future, this is not surprising. Post-WWI German fascism came to prominence after Germany began to feel itself existentially and economically threatened after the Treaty of Versailles ruined its national vitality. Given that the South remains an economic under-achiever in the domestic arena, and that culturally it is seen as subordinate to the general Northern zeitgeist (Southern English is not standard, but is rather a basilect which hopeful emigrants quickly learn to forget), it is not surprising that, in their discourses, Southern ideologues and fascist ideologues sound startlingly similar in their aims and rhetoric. Social science dare not enter.
Eco, discussing the value of critical theory, continues:
No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
What better description of fundamentalist religion and socially-embedded opposition to scientific inquiry? In questioning the reigning dogmas of capitalist competition, anti-welfare government, and the nuclear family, the Southern activist is instantly marginalized or linked to the boogeyman of socialism. In the sphere of political theory, criticizing the marriage of conservatism and an essentially socialistic religion-a contradiction in terms-is sure to paint the critic as an uninformed, ahistorical dissenter. But analyzing the surface of Southern culture’s conservatism by relating to its rather proletarian past reveals it to be what it is: a logical paradox unsupportable by thinking people. The philosophic tendency subordinates to the religious tendency, if not for intellectual value, then for mere social utility-Southern Christianity is a shibboleth, and as such, an entryway into power that defies the very foundations of the faith it cynically uses. The original Christians were outcasts from Roman hegemony, poor and diseased, marginal and pathetic. They were mytho-revolutionaries, not conservatives; at any rate, the early Church was awash in heresy and doctrinal battles, not unified in theoria. In the South, the only “liberation theology” extant is a variation on right-wing anarchism, while the general religion preaches the long-outdated theme of obedience. As roving bands of cash-poor Christians addicted to the fetishism of authority flock and flit from one city to the next hoping for a better turn of fate, they are categorically denied by Christians who pay their property taxes, sent to live in downtown wastelands and fret the police whose patience grows as dim as their hope for this life. Religion disintegrates when actually confronted with the moral dilemmas for which it was designed. Even the bigger cities have the small-town feel of isolation, the distinct impression their denizens have not yet left the outer bounds, and catercorner to every liquor store there are two churches which deliver much the same.
Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
The Southern syncretism is globally renowned for its pathological racism. Nineteenth-century theories of racialism are still common currency in the South, as is the lay understanding of racial essentialism. Families still see fit to bar their young from interracial dating and marriage, and whiteness, as a social fact, is still viewed as a supreme value. The typical habit of denouncing foreign influences, especially with immigrant Mexican labor, melds comfortably with the denunciation of models of sexual difference. Homosexuality is mistaken for an incarnation of “Hollywood Values” rather than a natural human phenomenon and is beaten or prayed away. Diversity and the Rawlsian difference principle, in general, are decried as liberal intrusions into a primordial white capitalist paradise founded not in actual history but in the pseudo-historical imagination. Even as municipal services decline in breadth and quality, Southerners worry more of an incoming horde of Babel, a Brown Plague come to undo their immemorial caste system and expand their multicultural nightmare. Race-horror is more prevalent than the horror of war, which is why they support the second by decrying the first. In exclaiming the virtues of First World aristocratic philosophy, Southern thought closes in on itself, and ignores how much of the region resembles the underdeveloped world when exposed to realist scrutiny unsympathetic to the romance of white property.
The fascist impulse owes its prevalence to Eco’s next observation:
Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
In Germany and Italy, fascism was specifically a lower-middle class development. Fundamentalist Christianity and institutional racism do not find much expression in the Southern lower class, which tends to have more divergent religious views and more tolerant views on interracial marriage; rather, the Southern parallels to fascism find their most vocal expressions in its middle class. Especially since the financial crisis of 2007-08, the Southern middle class has returned to a thorough-going religious atmosphere centering on the family and private property, racial rhetoric is abundant even now as President Obama nears the end of his second term in office, and the decrying of socialistic policies (which are actually centrist policies according to the global political spectrum) rallies in the popular domain. Rather than recognizing that middle-class precarity depends on corporate malpractice and right-wing government, the Southern middle class understands only that it is endangered, and so sees fit to vent its worries on its classic targets: those who are different. Economic difficulties are due to the black president’s corruption, not an essentially unstable national-economic way of life, just as threats to culture are due to outside influences rather than internal contradictions. To study these contradictions is to incite the charge of red-baited communism, even as accusers forget who first coined the term of their beloved capitalism. Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered in the same state that gave birth to the Klan for preaching that both the white man and the black man were exploited in common. Even in the university towns, ten-story tall crucifixes dot Alpine highways in robust mimesis of the theocratic pretension as symbols wholly antithetical to King’s message: they signify authority, not inquiry.
In an era of social disruption and economic change-when “all that is solid melts into air”-the eternal fascism finds its home. Eco writes
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
America is no longer a white, protestant, wealthy country; those who do fall into this category, having their social identity threatened by a changing cultural climate, seek more and more intensive ideologies with which to understand the world. The politics of the American South are, still, overwhelmingly white and protestant, but many of its subjects are not. The misattribution of this change to recent developments rather than diversifying historical currents-in the Melting Pot era, the whiteness of Irish immigrants was not yet an established social fact, but became one over time-reveals that historical ignorance is one of the many vices of dominant Southern culture. The vague idea that some obscure subculture is constantly threatening American virtues (ISIS, crypto-Marxist senators, “the Left Coasts”) routinely crops up in Southern discourse, even as poverty and under-employment grows within the Southern states due to its inherent infrastructural and social deficits. Instead of Jews, Southern discourse focuses on the plots of racial, sexual, and religious minorities from nearby and abroad. In offloading responsibility to outlanders, the Southern status quo is maintained in all its contradictions.
The Southern Ideology expresses the contradiction between its opponents, its leaders, and the people who subscribe to it:
The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.
Southern discourse is pro-capitalist, but its adherents are more often than not in poverty themselves. Rather than distrusting their better-off superiors, however, the Southern conservative poor prefer to distrust East Coast liberals as symbols of wealth-a perversion of what wealth is for, the establishment of a family, or for wealth stolen through socialistic redistribution. The rhetoric of “Wall Street versus Main Street” is a populist example of this (Tea Party on the right, Occupy on the left), but the emphasis tends to lie on the idea that Main Street represents a social minority, when in fact it does not. Most Americans either live or aspire to live middle-class lifestyles, and most government attention is paid to this group, with the rest looking out for the interests of high capital and the limited interests of the working poor. Imagining that they are persecuted lends their ideology credence, given the current zeitgeist of identity politics (replacing proletarians and women with white Christian patriarchs in a muddled, illogical algebra of oppression); but they are, in reality, no more persecuted than normal people ever have been. Actual minorities have vocal defense groups defending their interests against normative onslaughts, and sensing that their own group lacks this special defense, the white Southern middle class invents one for the sickly purpose of special pleading. The idea that there is a cultural war against their lifestyle is preposterous, but leading media outlets, like Fox News, continue to insist that the typical American way of life is under threat from non-white queer Bolsheviki. Of course, the only threat to this lifestyle is the capitalist economic model it itself supports, and the rudderless antinomies the Southern Ideology preserves.
In fact, Southern political culture is rather Hobbesian in the most alarming sense of the word:
For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.
In “right-to-work” states, employment is seen as a privilege rather than a right or a mere path to survival, and welfare assistance is seen as a deep taboo suggesting moral incompetence. The South overwhelmingly supported the Iraq War-elements of racism and Islamophobia aside-in the most jingoistic manner possible. Neoconservative policy has as its direct and stated aim that “democracy,” an abstraction, ought to be violently spread throughout the whole world. This teleological end to history, once seen in the Jacobinite-Hegelian view of the French Revolution, finds its next expression in the economic policies of globalization, by which Washingtonian economic models are assumed to work in disparate economies the world over. In short, America assumes it holds the key to global problems, and sets itself up to manage them. The most vocal applause for these globalist efforts resound from the militaristic South which, despite its native diversity, cannot imagine a world that operates according to social laws different than its own. Southern thought-leaders preach that leftism is a conspiracy theory even as they scour the doctrines of the holy book of the West’s very first conspiracy theory.
In any society with vast economic divides between rich and poor, Eco suggests the eternal fascism can erupt once again in elitist terms that deride elitism:
Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.
The Southern elite are, of course, the white propertied class that views all others as inferior and subordinate-hardly worth the political time, in fact. Even where this fails, Southerners take up the mantle of nationalism: “America is the best country in the world.” It isn’t the best country in the world by any statistical analysis, but such mythologies are common to fascistic ideologies. When not serving in the military, they serve in intensive capitalist industries (which themselves feature militaristic labor hierarchies) that bolster their notions that everyone has a place in society. In this respect the tone turns to Calvinism, and the moral realism of poverty, for those who fail to succeed in the capitalist environment, comes to the ascendant. No scientific critique of economic failure is allowed. Only criticism of moral failure is sanctioned-and thus to be poor is to become un-American. The mid-level employee, glad to have a job, detests the entry-level employee, as though the mid-level were any less an existential penalty. Below them all exist the unemployed and under-employed who rarely even make blips on the political radar except to remind the wealthy there are barbarians concerned only with use-value circling the borders.
Eco presses on one of his most salient points about everyday heroism next:
In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.
American popular culture is unequivocally heroic. The most successful films in its canon feature violent farces in which the white male hero vanquishes the egghead evil genius, or the syndicalist Soviet forces, or the alien (cargo-cultish immigrant) machinations of foreign powers. The hero looks like the typical viewer of these films: white males who want to be heroes. Since the world is not a fantasy, however, these children later grow up to think of the world in embattled terms of nation and enemy, Manichean reckonings of good and evil, gun-violence and double-standard law and order. The educational system grades students according to a hierarchical ability to integrate into capitalism, graduating top-ten heroes directly into the workforce and the rest into the welfare offices. Beyond education lies the whole sports industry-football has a monolithic presence in the South, with its university teams commanding higher budgets than entire academic departments combined-in which a few gladiators, selected from among the hoi polloi, are paraded in shows of athletic feat to audiences struggling at home for the means of subsistence. The collective struggle for existence becomes the individual struggle for existence against others-who this is, it matters not, so long as there are heroes and enemies to be fought. Behind all this lies a well-spring of nihilism that disallows the everyman to merely exist and be comfortable. The American way ensures that one is always fighting, whether people or their causes, oneself or some outsider figure dreamed up in the paranoid imagination of an Old Testament demagogue. This is a general product of the American monoculture, but it finds more grizzly embodiment in the South: anti-muslim sentiment mingles with anti-secular sentiments as some twin conspiracy from beyond the national borders in a nation that was, according to the conservative myth, founded on Christo-propertarian values. Once the culture war dissipates, the military absorbs and recruits them all: long live death.
Next, Eco focuses on the culture of uber-masculinity:
Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons – doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
Southern patriarchy is the norm, with non-patriarchal families being relegated to the cultural shadows, about which popular culture frightfully whispers. The overwhelming popular distaste for homosexuality in general, and especially the idea of gay-led families, speaks to the value the South places on masculinity taken to excess. A man is not his job, since most jobs there (retail, auto, maintenance, construction) are dismal: he is his sexual prowess, he is the distance between himself and the feminine. Gun culture is a massive feature of its everyday life, from its legal rulings (guns being allowed in high schools and grocery stores) to its tragedies (children shooting themselves with their parents’ handguns). Gunslinging plays as large a role in Southern culture as the consumption of literature might play in other parts of the world-they are the regional past-time, taken as an extension of innocence from home protection to gift-giving. Of course, this is due in part to the crime endemic to the region’s cities (caused, in turn, by poverty and political corruption) and in part to the practice of hunting in the rural hinterlands. It is not an uncommon rite of passage for a father to take his son to the shooting range, or indeed, even his daughter, for the paranoiac social climate co-extends in equal measures. The odd one out is the person who sues; the gunslinger mythos becomes universal as the South achieves an antic matrimony of the Nazarene with Sade.
Eco highlights a distinction between democratic practice and republican practice by examining the politico-theology of eternal fascism:
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view – one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
The South is not a democratic region-it prefers to elect republican elements, which, by nature, do not much defer to their Rousseauvian demos. The “common will” is filtered through popular right-wing media and deflected against actual parliamentary practice. It is a noted eccentricity that, in the South, elections are decided in the churches. Its populism is one which ignores the secular history of American politics and instead focuses on its religious fringe. No matter that most people do not want a President who decides which war to wage according to his prayers, or the scattering of tea-leaves in his breakfast cup-it only matters if the religious majority thinks it right. Right-wing pulpits condemn minority lifestyles as being non-religious, and therefore non-political. They ask: what use does vox Dei have for the vox populi of the poor, or homosexuals, or immigrants? The fictive majority aligns itself with God and his exact prescriptions, leaving the deviants to the shadows of civilization. Horse-mouthed small business owners refer to their own neighbors as trash as their own children sink into hedonism; unread, uncouth mercenaries of capital pretend to culture even as they skirt Mosaic law and condemn the universities that wouldn’t accept them. Patriarchal ontology has not yet been dismantled by the last stages of the Enlightenment: married man is below God, below him married woman, below him the offspring. The dreadful rest may do as they please provided they do not hog the political platform or scrounge from the public trough-that is for “people who deserve it,” which is everyone, not the people who apply. The private narrative of one alone being deserving of civilization’s benefits, and all others being thieving parasites, speaks to the Southern citizen’s identification with a personal God: they bear the burden of civilization and suffer for it so that the sinners may frolic with their grotesque families in abiding narcosis. They pay no heed to the actual aggregate population; only certain of its members have a say in the community, while the rest are rabble, even when the rabble outnumber them. To the rest of the country, the highest Southern citizen casts a pale lot in a contest against their lowest citizen-a king of the hill complex-but when one lives ascendant in the New Feudalism, surrounded by stranded and illiterate people desperate even for day labor, such comparisons little matter.
Eco ends his list on an Orwellian note:
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.
It does not take the reader long to glance through school textbooks in the South to note glaring inconsistencies, or worse yet, the home-school textbooks purveyed by its religiously-inclined companies. The lack of educational attainment in the South is nothing short of depressing, from illiteracy rates being the highest in the country (excluding immigrants who do not speak English), statistics concerning how many books households with children have (few to none), to cultural disrespect for intellectual endeavor (book-smarts are devalued as effete, while street-smarts are encouraged as masculine even in a world that has passed these values by). In fact, the Southern educational sector is the worst performing sector in the country by any relevant means of analysis. The Southern economy does not need many thinkers: otherwise, its factories would idle into rust. As for Newspeak, only the eternal fascist could think “democracy” means “American hegemony” or that “the land of the free” means “the Christian dominion.” Pertaining to Eco’s final remark-“even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show”-who is not reminded of Fox News, the radio butcheries of Rush Limbaugh, or the slew of political candidates wielding God and corruption with the same hand, whose respective audiences enthusiastically outnumber the populations of entire states?
The greatest misfortune of the Southern Ideology is that Southerners themselves suffer for it. By misplacing the blame for systemic poverty on communist specters and liberal spooks, Southern politicos impoverish their own constituents-both those who consent and those who dissent. By insisting on racist practices, unavowed but extant, white Southerners learn to distrust their own black neighbors while praising the capitalists who rent and exploit them both. In the middle of this dramatic race-to-the-bottom are children who, with under-funded educations, can expect little in the way of an agreeable future beyond the workhouse or the charities of church. Fascism by another name is not just a topic for punditry. Real, living people think and speak in its terms without the slightest idea of their affinity with the twentieth-century’s darkest movement. The will to fascism, masquerading as the Southern Ideology, stands to benefit only a very select milieu of the region’s population. Beyond these elect, it has such abundant victims they either live their lives in isolation or become finally convinced they must flee the South rather than fix it: because, they think, there is no fixing it. To the detriment of all concerned, reactionaries and regressives provoke this exodus with all too human satisfaction, as the project of Enlightenment moves first to dusk and concludes in night, suspending the somber South in the medieval gloom it deserves.