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McNeillFasces [1]

Graphic by Harold Arthur McNeill

1,158 words

Finnish translation here [2]

“In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society.”

—Situationist graffito, May 1968 [3]

As a political ideology, fascism was a mixed bag of 20th-century ideas. Its athletic presence hung with flirty, politically expedient schemes like universal suffrage, in many ways last century’s fascism was defined by its responses to other political movements of the time—like Marxism and liberal capitalism. 

But, just beyond the historical details of fascism, there is something eternal. Italian writer Umberto Eco called it “Ur-fascism [4]” —meaning [5] “primitive” or “original.” Unfortunately, his snatchy “fourteen points [6]” were overly concerned with the top-down totalitarianism of fascism’s notable dictators and their party boys. His “ur-fascism” wasn’t “primitive” enough. It wasn’t “eternal” at all.

The word “fascism” has become sloppy shorthand for any violent, intrusive police state. For most people, fascism evokes a people forced into lockstep conformity by an all-powerful government. 20th-century political fascism had many other features, and they were instituted differently in different nations. Oppressive, runaway governments are also not unique to 20th-century fascism. Marxism, Catholicism, and Islam have all produced cruel, iron-fisted police states. If being more afraid of your own government than you are of its external enemies is a measure of totalitarian tyranny, America’s own “progressive” surveillance state is headed that way. Fascism and totalitarianism may be confused in the popular imagination, but they aren’t the same thing.

The fasces was a powerful symbol before Mussolini was born, so it is possible to separate the symbol from his regime and see it in its own right. I am not concerned so much with the usage of the fasces as a symbol of magisterial power in Republican Rome. I am more interested in the phenomenon this pre-Roman symbol appears to represent. Fascism has been described as a “male fantasy,” and I agree that the fasces symbolizes a distinctly male worldview. What is it about the fasces that captures the male imagination?

Most people associate the “evils” of fascism with a top-down bureaucratic institution, but to me the fasces itself appears to symbolize a bottom-up idea.

The bound rods of the fasces represent strength and the authority of a unified male collective. That’s its “primitive” appeal. True tribal unity can’t be imposed from above.  It’s an organic phenomenon. Profound unity comes from men bound together by a red ribbon of blood. The blood of dire necessity that binds the band of brothers becomes the blood of heritage and duty that ties the family, the tribe, the nation. The fasces captures the male imagination because it appears to symbolize the unified will of men. Men prefer to believe that they offer their allegiance by choice, whether they truly do or not. Free association–or the appearance of it–is the difference between free men and slaves. If you can’t just walk away, you’re a prisoner. If you choose to stay, if you choose to align your fate to the fate of the group and submit to the collective authority of the group, you are a member, not a slave. As a member, you add the weight of your manhood to a unified confederacy of men.

The fasces became a popular decorative motif for American government buildings in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and its symbolism is consistent with an earlier Latin motto adopted by the union: e pluribus unum. “Out of many, one.” 20th-century political fascism itself was preceded by the Italian fascio—voluntary “bundles” or unions of men uniting to assert their collective interests. Mussolini was member of a fascio before he was a “fascist.” This idea of men choosing to band together and increase their strength was most eloquently explained by the ape “Caesar” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) [7]. Breaking a single stick, and then gathering a bundle, Caesar shows his imprisoned comrades that, “Ape alone . . . weak . . . apes together . . . strong.”

When the fasces is revered, it symbolizes “our power.” When the fasces is reviled, it is despised because it has become a symbol of “their power.”

Virile men do not unite to become sandbags. The fasces symbolizes men bound together with an axe, ready for action, issuing a threat of violence—of “or else [8].” The fasces is a warning, a promise of retaliation, a paddle on the wall for traitors, slackers and law-breakers.

In The Way of Men [9], I wrote that “The Way of Men is The Way of the Gang.” Primal masculinity is rooted in the practical, tactical ethos of a gang of men struggling to survive and triumph over external forces.

From this perspective, I see the fasces as a “universal gang sign.” It symbolizes, better than any other symbol I can think of, the moment when men tie their fates together and align themselves against nature, against other men, against . . . the world. The fasces depicts the genesis of “us,” of “our team,” of “our culture,” of “our honor”–the formation of a collective identity. It symbolizes then moment when the war of all against all [10] becomes a war of men against men, of “us” against “them.” The fasces symbolizes the moment when men create order from chaos.

This pure, primal manliness can only be realized under stress. It can only rise out of chaos, as a reaction to external forces. From there it matures, shaped by time, into an honor culture, and from that culture–that combination of collective history and custom that characterize the identity of a people–comes Tradition. Everything I recognize as good and worth saving about men and masculinity thrives in this cultural sweet spot between the purity of the warrior-gang and the spoiled, conniving depravity of complex merchant-based cultures.

With no more frontiers to explore, save space–which can only be allowed, even in fantasy [11], as a neutered [12] bureaucratic project–the modern, effeminate, bourgeois “First World” states can no longer produce new honor cultures. New, pure warrior-gangs can only rise in anarchic opposition to the corrupt, feminist, anti-tribal, degraded institutions of the established order. Manhood can only be rebooted by the destruction of their future, and the creation of new futures for new or reborn tribes of men. It is too late for conservatism. For the majority of men, only occupied structures and empty gestures remain.

The way of men can only be rediscovered in Night and Chaos.

Ur-fascism is the source of honor culture and authentic patriarchal tradition.

Ur-fascism is a response to anarchy.

The political position of The Way of Men is “anarcho-fascist.”

This anarcho-fascism is not an end; it is hungry for a new beginning.


The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.

—Milton, Paradise Lost