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The Dark Face of Charisma: Fascism

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

“2012... I am lying in bed with my parents on both of my sides, watching a movie. The movie is about a Nazi German industrialist, Oskar Schindler who is a perfect opportunist but soon comes to show great courage and desire to save thousands of Jews from this prosecution.

It was not my first introduction to Nazism, Hitler, or the Holocaust, I had been introduced to these very early in my life but surely it was for me the very first cinematic expression of the horrific events that were taking place in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Earlier these were mere words in books but now it transformed into a reality, just seeing the gravest extremities of human nature. Every time I saw an innocent Jew being shot or tortured, I could throughout the movie feel as if my emotions were ready to rip apart my soul that was trying to contain them. Just when the movie finished my emotions burst and I ran out of the room to the lobby where I suddenly felt very feeble from what I had just experienced. My dad came running to console me but all that I could ask at that moment was,” Why papa why?”.

Time since I have grown to see what one may call a treacherous decade for my nation. These heinous decades have made women the targets of horrific crimes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2021, there were more than 4,28,278 reported incidents of crime against women, as against the 228,650 reported incidents in 2011, an 87% increase. A decade where institutions like the Media, Enforcement Directorate, and others that held Indian Democracy on the heights of its citadel have been targeted and have been turned into instruments of few. What followed was a show of puppeteering, the influential pulling the strings of decisions, as they willed.

Perhaps if we avert our eyes to the carefully drawn parallels between Post-World War I Germany and the present-day condition of our country, India, it is brought to our attention that the problem is that we aren’t trying enough to stop its rise. A rise in polarization roping our society into segments and fundamental tendencies is evidently being noticed. There is an immaculate rise in hatred and intolerance, values that were once not the bedrock of this society for centuries, and then I feel the same kind of pain that I felt that day as a child. And all these indicate only one thing and that is, the rise of fascism (or at least fascist tendencies).

Image credit: iStock

The Beauty of Fascism

We aren’t oblivious to the fact that fascist tendencies are quite evil. Fascism has been forgotten. Yes, indeed we lost a sense of what fascism as a concept and reality truly is. We have forgotten what Umberto Eco, an Italian novelist and a popular thinker on fascism called the common archetype of fascism in his celebrated 1995 essay Ur-Fascism, we use the term as a kind of general purpose abuse while the truth is that it is far more complicated than that. We tend to depict fascism as a hideous monster, as a weapon that shall bring the apocalypse, but the truth is that this is a depiction of villains as mean, ugly, and cruel Christian Art depicted Satan as gorgeous and this was why it was so difficult to resist the temptations of Satan and what fascism is. It makes people see themselves as belonging to the most beautiful and important thing in the world: the nation, the race or the civilization…

What is far more scintillating is the fact that when one views oneself in the fascist mirror, one sees oneself as far more beautiful than one actually is! Looking in this treacherous mirror the Germans and Italians saw themselves as superior beings and of the greatest races. The perception of one as the strongest and the “purest” of all led to Völkisch nationalism in Germany. The blame for Germany’s fall was put on the Jews, who were deemed as Untermenschen (subhumans) or the “traitors to the nation” that fed off the host nation and poisoned its culture.

History repeats itself. Or, does it?

The horrific events of 1930’s and 1940’s Europe were thought to be best buried and moved on from them, the need was believed to reconstruct Europe and for national reconciliation. The monstrosity of these terrible ideas was to be Repressed, Refoulée, Verdrängt, but as Eco states this feeling only causes a “neurosis”.

It would be oblivious and ignorant of us to assume that we would be seeing police states run by the Gestapo (though, one might contradict the same idea with the notion of surveillance states, remember Pegasus).

We aren’t probably going to witness the singling out of one community, the construction of a Bogeyman in their existence, and a brutal desire to exterminate them. We will not see the whole nation being regimented in Black and Brown shorts (Khaki shorts, anyone?). However, that is not what he is arguing about. He does believe that “there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts and unfathomable drives'' or that there shall always be dormant desires for fascism because come on who doesn’t like to be told ‘it's not your fault’, ‘it is them who are causing it all’ or even ‘you are the purest’.

He claims that Fascism is actually nothing but “fuzzy” totalitarianism, which in fact was a “beehive of contradictions”, it tried to bring in as many people under its fold (even by making contradictory appeals, eg- Mussolini was originally a militant atheist but later signed the Convention with the Church.)

Image credit: iStock

The eternal fascism

Even though one isn't going to see exact copies of the Draconian states we can and how the trajectory seems to be, we will see reflections of these desires in our beloved nations.

This is pensively why fascism is so dangerous because it becomes more often than not an all-purpose term because one can eliminate certain elements and aspects from a fascist regime but it would still remain fascist. As Eco explains:

“Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.”

But in spite of all this ‘fuzziness’ there exists what is known as Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism. Umberto Eco outlines its features as follows:

1) Cult of Tradition

2) Rejection of Modernism

3) Cult of Action for Action’s Sake

4) Disagreement is Treason

5) Fear of Difference

6) Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class

7) Obsession with a Plot

8) Humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies

9) Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy

10) Popular Elitism

11) Everybody is Educated to become a Hero

12) Machismo

13) Selective Populism

14) Newspeak

It's not the end

Fascism returns, with its dark charisma. As Umberto Eco told us, fascism has shown up in different shapes in different countries and at different points in time, however, it's not without evolutions to suit its time. The Pegasus scandal just made us realize that fascism is about control of the most important resource and gone are the times when land and machines were the most important resources when the fascists were blindly fighting wars for them.

Today the most important resource is data and that is what fascists thrive to control from a single node that is why we today have the Pegasus scandal, they want to not dictate to you the terms but to manipulate you using your data, they don’t want you to question them but manipulate you to exert you anger and reservations against a common enemy (remember the Bogeyman?). The fascists hate nothing and fear nothing more than dissent, diversity and questions so express your dissent, display to them your diversity, and never...never be afraid to raise questions.

Just remember what Umberto Eco said, fascism is still around us, sometimes in civilian clothes. “Our duty”, he says, “is to unmask it and to point the finger at each of its new forms – every day, in every part of the world…. Freedom and liberation are never-ending tasks. Let this be our motto: ‘Do not forget’.”


By: Jaibir Singh Brar

Jaibir Singh Brar is a second-year student of B.A. (Hons) Political Science at Hindu College with a fervent interest in both domestic and international affairs, trying to navigate the complexities of power, diplomacy, and societal dynamics.


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