Blog written by Finn Boyle
Umberto Eco closed his immortal and resonant essay Eternal-Fascism by declaring; “Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the street somebody saying ‘I want to reopen Auschwitz’… Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and point the finger at any of its new instances – every day and in every part of the world.”
What Eco means by ‘Ur-Fascism’ is the potential, almost-fascism that exists in every society and epoch, the kind that resides “in plainclothes”. It’s often difficult to fight Ur-Fascists, physically or otherwise, simply by virtue of the fact that one could say ‘but they’re not real fascists!’, as if the only qualifier for being bad is being a Nazi.
This protection-by-No-True-Scotsman has allowed Ur-Fascist groups to grow and Ur-Fascists to become increasingly prominent in recent years. Ur-Fascism could be seen manifest in Anders Behring Breivik in July of 2011, and in the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of 2017.
But, unlike Breivik, it wasn’t the demonstrators and white nationalists themselves who embodied Ur-Fascism. They were proud and open Nazis, “real” fascists. No, Ur-Fascism could be seen in the reactions outside of Charlottesville. Ur-Fascism could be seen in the media and government officials who tried to deflect blame from the (I feel the need to stress this) literal Nazis to the counter-protesters; the victims of the Nazi violence.
Ur-Fascism could be seen in the White House, when President Trump initially condemned “many sides” for the violence that occurred, only to eventually bow to pressure and specifically condemn the Nazis (only to then later renege and again blame “both sides”). Ur-Fascism could be seen in Breitbart, which quickly published articles claiming that the Governor of Virginia refused to condemn “leftist political violence” and that the organizer of the rally in question was an Obama supporting Occupy activist.
The Nazis in question, a group called Vanguard America, are particularly relevant to the project due to their tactics. Nary a year old, Vanguard America’s members are young, with most reportedly in their early 20s. This is no accident; Vanguard America recruits predominantly from University campuses, searching for young, disenfranchised men in search of a purpose. Men who are, in our current socio-economic system, disposable.
What Vanguard America has done with these men is a business transaction. They pledge to Vanguard America their loyalty and lives, participating in its so-called ‘cult of death’ and ‘contempt for the weak’ (hallmarks of Fascism and its Ur- counterpart), and in return, Vanguard America gives them something the modern world can’t – an identity.
This is where the AB Project can act as a powerful force for good. For while Nazism and Ur-Fascism endow in their vessels identity, art does as well. The difference being that art doesn’t require death and subjugation. Rather than let these men become potentially dangerous to large groups of people, their minds twisted by hate and a fetish for power, they can be reached out to and made into that most dangerous of persons: artists.
One of the reasons why Eco might’ve thought of Ur-Fascists and their ilk to be eternal is because that suits the Powers That Be. Far-right groups have always received less attention from governments simply because those far-right group’s ideology often hold that the current power structure must be maintained, by any means necessary. In that way, groups like Vanguard America are merely acting as an extreme extension of Washington, keeping down all those who pose a threat, especially the young and artists.
One of the reasons artists are so threatening to traditional power structures is precisely the fact that many of their numbers include these young and disaffected men. And of course, one more artist means one less Ur-Fascist – one less soldier for the powerful. The AB Project, by actively engaging in themes of youth disenchantment, can directly threaten the powerful and engage in these at-risk people.
I would like to refer back to the quote from Umberto Eco regarding Ur-Fascism. He is right, in that it is our duty “to uncover it and point the finger at any of its new instances”. When he said “our”, he meant all humankind. However, we, as artists, are in a unique position to combat Ur-Fascism. Because unlike those in the White House, we can actually do something.