Bundle of sticks
February 16, 2006 12:36 PM   Subscribe

We all know the Nazis picked, and ruined, a perfectly good basic geometric symbol. But what about other symbols of fascism? Not as well known, not as demonized, but interting for students of symbolism.

Oldest, and among the most interesting and enduringly popular, is the fasces, a bundle of sticks wrapped around an axe, from which fascism gets its name. It's pretty rare to see swastikas in public nowadays -- they're so associated with the Nazis that they were universally stripped off American sports jerseys, soda pop promoting watch fobs, and first ladies. And yet, in the United States, fasces can still be found everywhere: medals of honor, the doors to the Nebraska Supreme Court, even behind the president as he speaks at the U.S. House of Representatives.
posted by Astro Zombie (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Not that I think the fasces should be banned in public. I just think it is interesting one symbol can be so despised and another so ignored.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2006


Um, AZ, I may be wrong, but I think Edmunton is in a different country. Maybe you meant America as in the continent?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2006


The Flash And Circle icon reminds me of a certain band that's not at all associated with fascism, I believe.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:41 PM on February 16, 2006


A symbol is only as good as the imagery it presents to those who look at it. I guess if most people could see a swastika and think happy thoughts we could still use it everywhere, even though it had such a horrible use at one time. I can look at the fasces without batting an eye, but those old timey images of swastikas kinda make me shudder.

Great post.
posted by ducksauce at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2006


I remember taking a tour of the Nebraska state capital in high school shortly after learning about the fasces-fascism connection. I was freaked out and convinced I knew the real, underground truth, man, when I saw the fasces in the Supreme Court.
posted by COBRA! at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2006


Edmonton, sorry, spellcheck good.

Oh, and don't forget good old-fashioned all-American money.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2006


All high schoolers should be required to spend at least two weeks thinking they know the real underground truth. It builds character.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:44 PM on February 16, 2006


You know, I added the word "American" in last, because I realized I was talking about a mostly American phenomenon, forgetting that I had a Canadian example.

So I will instead claim that I was talking about the continent.

There's also a massive fasces on the floor of the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha, and swastikas built into the decorations on the ceiling. Once you know what a fasces is, its sort of amazing how many of them you see in governmental institutions.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2006


Interting? I though I canged that to "interesting." Will someone fix that, please?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:52 PM on February 16, 2006


Milan's Central Station, built in 1931 (aka "Anno IX dell'Era Fascista", Ninth Year of the Fascist Era), still sports (heh) in too-high-to-be-reached places massive fasci littori. basically, nobody bothered to tear them down right after the war, and they're still there, at least 20 yards from the street level.
posted by matteo at 12:52 PM on February 16, 2006


The public library in downtown Wilmington, Delaware is still adorned by swastikas. As I can't find any pictures online, you'll just have to take my word for it.
posted by Otis at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2006


Interting? I though I canged that to "interesting." Will someone fix that, please?

No worries. I'm sure someone will cange it.
posted by 327.ca at 12:57 PM on February 16, 2006


feces can still be found everywhere, eh?
posted by naxosaxur at 1:01 PM on February 16, 2006


I believe the difference is that the Swatsika is the primary symbol related to the Nazi party. The fasces, meanwhile, is more primarily related by most to connect back to Rome. Hrm. We embrace a symbol about a republic that became a dictatorship and then collapsed from within and without. Yay!
posted by Atreides at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2006


See also: 21680
& 43846
posted by spock at 1:09 PM on February 16, 2006


You know who else had swastikas?

The Nazis.

...oh, waitaminute.


Reminds me of Thor's hammer too.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:15 PM on February 16, 2006


I don't see the big deal about any of these symbols. They're only symbols... I guess I'm too young to care about the past that much for the Nazi/facsist links, for as I see it, attempted or successful genocide has been carried out many times in the past, and probably will continue into the future, and I don't understand why we make such a big deal out of one particular regime while happily ignoring all the others, or even those goings on carried out in the countries we may live in or nearby.

As for the symbols themselves - all the symbols have to be viewed within the context within which they're used.
posted by Jelreyn at 1:15 PM on February 16, 2006


As an American living in Japan at a younger age, I had to ask why there were so many "swastikas" on my tourist map of Kyoto. Heh.
posted by bardic at 1:20 PM on February 16, 2006


Many of the fasces in your examples, like old uses of the swastika, date back to before it was associated with "fascism". They certainly weren't put there out of a secret admiration for Il Duce; it's just that Il Duce appropriated them deliberately to associate his regime with the ancient history of Italy.

Hitler also liked the SPQR and eagle banner of the Roman legions. So what's your point? We should be looking sideways at the eagle?
posted by dhartung at 1:29 PM on February 16, 2006


The fasces are, rightly, a Roman symbol in America. Given the importance of the Roman republic in our Founders' understanding of their project, it makes sense to honor a Roman symbol.

Also, the fasces are just to freakin' awesome, not to use. I mean, damn, that's one helluva an awesome symbol.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:30 PM on February 16, 2006


You find them everywhere in India (self link) although I think their rotational symetry is reversed.
posted by rhymer at 1:34 PM on February 16, 2006


Actually, maybe it (the rotational symetry) is the same. I dunno.
posted by rhymer at 1:35 PM on February 16, 2006


interesting post, thanks.
posted by Dreamghost at 1:40 PM on February 16, 2006


Hitler also liked the SPQR and eagle banner of the Roman legions. So what's your point? We should be looking sideways at the eagle?
posted by dhartung at 3:29 PM CST on February 16 [!]


You just got one step closer to the real, underground truth.
posted by COBRA! at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2006


nice post, AZ.
posted by shoepal at 1:51 PM on February 16, 2006


yeah, good post.
posted by Miles Long at 1:53 PM on February 16, 2006


I love this picture.
posted by LarryC at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2006




The real Nazis are the Trilateral Masonic Jew Scientologist Moonies.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:07 PM on February 16, 2006


the Edmonton Swastikas
posted by blue_beetle at 2:08 PM on February 16, 2006


I don't think the poster is saying this is "wrong," dhartung, just "interesting"
posted by chaz at 2:11 PM on February 16, 2006


I think it's important (and rare) to understand that these lines are not clearly drawn - a lot of fundamental fascist ideas are not as alien or "bad" as we'd like: "united we stand, divided we fall" has always seemed close to the direct meaning of the fasces to me. "Unity" is a pretty big word at reggae festivals and fascist marches. Democracy and the rule-by-many seems in many ways to be the height of fascism - in the earlier sense of the word.

It's almost like the really powerful important ideas and symbols can apply equally to Good and Evil - or that they transcend those notions.
posted by freebird at 2:16 PM on February 16, 2006


Cool post!
posted by darkstar at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2006


more importantly, fascism ruined an awesome moustache.
posted by hypocritical ross at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2006



posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2006


One of the more familiar images of a fasces is little recognized as such. I'm surprised to be the first to post this! I wonder what it may have been meant to suggest.
posted by jam_pony at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2006


Jelreyn: I don't see the big deal about any of these symbols.

While these symbols shouldn't be a big deal anymore, they still are. WWII wasn't that long ago, and the generation of Jews living in the U.S. mostly know someone who perished in the Holocaust. Like it or not, the swastika will remain associated with that horror.

As long the majority of the world continues to remember what those symbols stood for, its unlikely their meaning will change. I look at it this way. When someone carved a swastika into my car, I don't think they were wishing me good luck.
posted by FeldBum at 4:04 PM on February 16, 2006


Jackie's wearing the wheel of life (counterclockwise), not the wheel of death(clockwise).
posted by sic friat crustulum at 7:22 PM on February 16, 2006


The symbol that freaked me was the eagle.
When I grew up, the eagle crested banner was, in a sense, a symbol of war and oppression - the Romans invaded under it, the Nazi's likewise saluted and slaughtered under it. The preditory eagle is the symbol of the bloodiest expansionist empires.

Then, when later in the USA, seeing children in class required to swear fealty to the eagle crested banner was a sight right out of the textbooks and films of Nazi Germany (I wasn't alive at the time). Adults en masse doing likewise. I assume that those who grew up doing this are used to it and don't give it a second thought, but to those not used to it, the resemblence to the Hilter youth and the nationalism of the third Reich can be discomforting.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:42 PM on February 16, 2006


The Fasci demanded total allegiance to the authority of the party. Under the guise of creating a great nation, patriotism was what the party said it was. There was no tolerance for other ideas or for individuals. People were part of the bundle and had no value except as fodder for the fight.

Why does this sound so familiar? I really don't mean to detract from the great comments about symbols as appropriate to the post; it's just... so... apt.

I've always wondered what the hell that symbol was, what it means, and where it came from. Thanks, AZ.
posted by effwerd at 10:16 PM on February 16, 2006


Great post. I can remember being utterly stunned when popping round for tea at Hindu schoolfriend's houses and seeing swastikas all over the place.

-harlequin- said 'Then, when later in the USA, seeing children in class required to swear fealty to the eagle crested banner was a sight right out of the textbooks and films of Nazi Germany'

Yeah, I think it's natural as a European to find that stuff, and the veneration of the US flag, pretty creepy.
posted by jack_mo at 7:10 AM on February 17, 2006


Fascinating!
posted by HTuttle at 7:17 AM on February 17, 2006


I saw the "bundle of sticks" headline through my RSS reader and assumed this was another legal post!

Great FPP, AZ.
posted by subgenius at 7:36 AM on February 17, 2006


Nazi symbols banned by Germany (and Microsoft), but not by the EU.

Eagles of Imperial Rome, Napoleonic France, Imperial Russia, the United States, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Russian Federation, and Iraq (to name a few - scroll down for more.)
posted by cenoxo at 8:29 AM on February 17, 2006


I learned recently that the Fasces in Rome came with and without the axe in the middle of the sticks. If the axe was present, then the authority presenting them had the ability to sentence people to death.

Another symbol of fascism that is interesting is the symbol of the black sun from the floor of Himmler's Wewelsburg castle.
posted by Xoc at 10:27 AM on February 17, 2006


The black sun is another very old symbol with an esoteric interpretation. It can be found in (this was a huge surpise to me) pre-Columbian cultures and also in Sufi poetry.

It has lately resurfaced in a weird, literalistic context: google "Nibiru" and "black sun".

The conspiracy theory is that there is a hidden sun that is heading towards our solar system (or is already inside it) that will disrupt the gravitational balance that holds our system together. The knowledge of the impending doom is being kept secret by our masters, to prevent massive panic.

Compare and contrast with the overly literal readings of Revelations by bible fundamentalists.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2006


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