In his essay Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism, Umberto Eco addresses a common political problem: how to define fascism. The problem is the incoherence in fascism either as a philosophy or a movement. Anti-capitalist or pro-business, conservative yet revolutionary, contradictory both within and between movements which take the name. Eco identifies a number of characteristics which are common to fascist movements, while acknowledging that not all will be present in any one movement or philosophy, and that a number of perceived contradictions do not prevent movements being categorised together. These characteristics are described as Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism, the base on which fascist traditions may be built.
As a thought experiment I decided to check the Church of Scientology against the list and see how they fared up. If you don’t want to read the whole article, the Wikipedia article on definitions of fascism summarises the points as follows.
* “The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).
In Scientology, one of the gravest sins one could commit – and the “justification” for much of the cult’s aggression towards the Free Zone – is to become a “squirrel”, that is, to alter the practices of Dianetics and Scientology in any way from what Hubbard originally wrote. The documents were perfect when written and any attempt to change them in any way would be to render the Tech ineffective or even deadly. Things must remain as they always were, and history must be rewritten if necessary.
Scientology does not oppose capitalism, of course (quite the opposite).
* “The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
Scientologists are discouraged from questioning the effectiveness of the Tech or reflecting on how Scientology is working for them. The cult’s opposition to some branches of science (specifically Psychiatry and Pharmaceuticals) is well known. This, however, is perhaps the weakest fitting of the traits Eco lists.
* “Disagreement is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.
Scientology is forcefully authoritarian. Questioning or disagreeing with any Scientology doctrine is strongly discouraged – much less the possibility of any hostile thought towards the cult’s founder or leaders. Indeed, it is through this silencing of disagreement that the cult maintains its control, among other methods.
* “Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
The Church of Scientology is extremely insular. Members are encouraged to become staff (current estimates have around half of all Scientologists employed by the organisation) and only communicate with other Scientologists. A fear of the outside world is thus created – psychiatrists, pharmaceuticals, the IRS, various intelligence services.
* “Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
This is a point which I would be fascinated to know more of – the demographics of Scientology and typical economic makeup. A glance at the price list for Scientology auditing tells us that to get very far at all one would have to be at minimum upper middle class – much of their publicity shows executives and other professional types in relatively spacious homes.
* “Obsession With a plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson’s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
I’ll let the cult do my talking for me:
** Although the forty-year assault against Scientology assumed large proportions, the source must be remembered-that small but influential circle of psychiatrists and their government stooges. Nor did the means change over the years: false allegations selectively planted in the media, then seeded into even more federal files as background “fact.”
** It is a method, with small adjustments, that also served to cause trouble overseas. The international pipeline left the US, primarily through IRS and FBI links, and discharged among the voluminous dossiers of Interpol.
** Interpol (originally designed to coordinate criminal apprehension between countries) was convenient on three counts: First, as a private organization it is not accountable to the people of any country, as are government agencies, and is free to amass secret dossiers and spread them far and wide; second, files bearing the authoritative Interpol stamp are assumed to be true; and, third, it had a decades-old relationship with the IRS and the FBI, the main repositories of false reports on Scientology in the US. In fact, IRS and FBI files contained virtually every rumor ever disseminated about Scientology, further substantiating Congressional findings that these agencies were often used to launch politically motivated attacks against targets that had committed no crimes at all.
Rumour has it that David Miscavige, head of the cult, has recently declared Anonymous to be the fourth or fifth wave of the invasion fleet of the Marcab Confederacy, bad guys in much of Hubbard’s sci-fi-on-LSD scripture.
* “Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight.
** “We are not a turn the other cheek religion” – Scientologist Lawyer Earle C Cooley on CNN after the copyright raids of activists homes in 1995
* “Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.
Scientology teaches that the Tech is perfect and that any human being should be able to advance through the ranks. Failure to do so is thus a failure of the Scientologist rather than the Tech.
* “Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because “it no longer represents the Voice of the People”.
For an examination of the authoritarianism at the core of the Church of Scientology there are a number of sources; the Scientology Library gives a number of such articles.
* “Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.
This is another interesting point. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that “systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it.” More simply, it states that one’s perceptions are affected by, as well as affecting, the way we understand the world. With Scientology – as with Fascism – language is redefined according to a specific worldview, forcing the believer to internalise the ideology even on a subconscious level through our use of everyday words like game, clear, incident, implant.
And that’s the lot. Does this make the Church of Scientology fascist? Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t. Overall it need not effect the fight against the cult, or against fascism, as both are reprehensible on their own qualities. The comparison, however, has been an interesting one.