Sunday, March 17, 2013

Trace it to the Tusci

This post derives from what began as a funny wake-up dream. In it I was back in the Army, but in my dream-army, soldiers moved about on skateboards. Then, quite suddenly (and this can happen in dreams), there was a radical change in uniforms—but I did not get the word at once. As I was skateboarding down a hall, an oddly dressed Chaplain stopped me, forbade me to use my skateboard, and accused me of atheism. Obediently I bent down, picked up my skateboard, and went outside on foot. Big surprise. All soldiers now wore black boots and breeches, the breeches held up by leather suspenders that formed an X across their chests; they wore leather jackets and shakos on their heads. These were American soldiers? Surely not! But there they were. Instantly I knew I was in trouble—but I still had three years to serve. What to do?  I would desert, I thought! The thought was strong enough to wake me up.

Dreams usually resolve into a dominant thought, therefore I waited for that thought to announce itself. And in a moment it came. “There are worse things than decadence—and fascism is one of them.” I was reading the paper minutes later and saw, without surprise, that the Cossacks are seeing a rebirth in Russia (front page, bottom fold). Yes, without surprise. Sometimes one dreams the immediate future. And the immediate past: and the fasces of fascism fit into yesterday’s discussion of heraldry.

The Tusci of my title inhabited north-western Italy when the Romans arrived, and Tusci was the Latin rendition of their name, the Etrusci a variant. Their realm is till called Tuscany; Florence is its largest city. The bundled rods, sometimes with, sometimes without an ax embedded in the center, was their symbolic creation and, probably, the oldest political symbol in the Western world.

It is an ambiguous image, to be sure. Through unity, power. How that unity is achieved—that is the question. For all I know it might have been one of the earliest images of rule by the people. Meanwhile, gradually, it has become ever more associated with unsavory dictatorship, fascism, in that “rods,” certainly in nature, do not cling like that. You need straps to hold them so tightly.  And the tighter the bands, the stronger the unity. Further, fear is a very efficient restraint. Realm after realm, as it has risen in power, has used the symbol in one way or another, not least ours. We find crossed fasces in the U.S. National Guard’s insignia; they feature spears rather than axes at their center. And a close look at the Lincoln Memorial shows Abe Lincoln seated in a chair fronted on either side by fasces. As for me, I prefer the Phrygian cap.

I must dream on, of course, Benito, but I certainly hope that some of my dreams will not come true.
My source is Wikipedia (link). The National Guard insignium comes from the National Guard (link).

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