Spoiler Warning: Do not read if you want to avoid spoilers for Fire Emblem: Three Houses!!!
I am a very big fan of Fire Emblem (FE) and I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about it since I first started this blog. It’s just been difficult to come up with something that might appeal to a general audience and not just FE fans. Today is the 30th anniversary of Fire Emblem so now feels like the best possible time to finally talk about this game I love. On top of this, I think I have a topic that anyone (not just FE fans) can enjoy.
The most recent installment in the FE franchise, “Fire Emblem: Three Houses”, was released for the Nintendo Switch on July, 26th 2019. The reception has been widely positive, with strong sales, positive reviews, and several prestigious awards. Like with all games that have any degree of success, this game has spawned plenty of internet discussions. The most popular conversation topic revolves around a character named Edelgard. She’s one of the game’s main protagonists (or antagonists depending on what route you play) and people love arguing about whether she is good or bad. People who dislike Edelgard often accuse her of being a fascist. That is what I would like to explore today.
Quick disclaimer: In response to anyone who may be upset that I’m dragging politics into their video games, I have 2 things to say. First off, this conversation already exists. I did not create it. I’m only responding to it. Second, Fire Emblem is inherently political because literally every game in the series revolves around one or more political conflicts. I can’t insert something that is already there.
Fascism is a word where the definition often changes, depending on who you’re talking to. Unfortunately, words can’t just mean whatever a person wants them to mean so someone has to be correct and someone has to be incorrect. This is where Umberto Eco comes in. Umberto Eco was a famous Italian novelist and academic essayist. In 1995 he published an essay called “Ur-Fascism”, where he listed 14 commonalities that can be found in fascists regimes from anywhere in the world and any period in history. He argues in his essay that fascism comes in many forms and no form of fascism is completely identical. For this reason, a person or government does not need to possess all 14 of these features in order to be considered fascist, “But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” For the purposes of this article, I’m going to say that 70% is a passing grade since that is the most common baseline for a passing grade in at least the United States. This means Edelgard will have to meet at least 10 of the 14 points listed in order to pass the fascism test.
I’m going to use Eco’s 14 commonalities as my definition for this essay but before I can do that, I have to justify using this over the many other definitions for fascism that are out there. What Makes Mr. Eco the expert? For starters, he was born in Italy, January 5th, 1932. He lived through Benito Mussolini’s regime. The majority of people agree that the Mussolini regime was undeniably fascist which means Umberto Eco had first-hand experience with fascism. For this reason, he obviously knew what it was. He was also an accomplished Academic who had multiple college degrees. In addition to being a novelist, and academic writer, he was also a successful literary critic, philosopher, and professor of semiotics. All this tells me he probably has a much better understanding of what words mean than most people. My 3rd and final reason for using this list is that, while there are plenty of other good definitions out there, it’s a lot easier to write around a 14 point list, than it is to write around most other definitions so, yes, convenience did play a role in my choice. Now, I can finally get to the meat of the article.
- The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
-No. Edelgard HATES everything the Church of Seiros stands for and that includes traditionalist thinking. The also hates the traditionalist class structure that grants those with crests so much power over those who don’t. She dislikes tradition so much that she refuses to use a Hero’s Relic despite being able to do so thanks to her two crests. For those of you who don’t know, a crest is basically a fancy blood type and your place in society is determined by whether or not you have one. Her axe, Aymr, is composed entirely of man-made materials.
2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense, Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
-No. Edelgard is a character who is defined more by what she’s against than what she’s for. She’s against the church, she’s against the current class structure, and she’s against unreasonable ideas of justice but she’s not against modernism. She’s all about reason. The game even gives her a budding talent in reason magic and faith magic is a weakness for her. I’d argue that her goal is, essentially, to replace a traditionalist society with a modernist one.
3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
-No. Edelgard and her closest ally, Hubert, plan out everything they do. She’s a very meticulous person who refuses to act until she has a plan, a backup plan, and a backup plan to that backup plan. In this way, she is diametrically opposed to Dmitri, another main protagonist/antagonist who acts almost entirely on impulse. Dmitri is angry so things must die.
4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture, the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
-Yes. Edelgard feels she has, “no choice but to eliminate anyone who clings to unreasonable ideas of justice.” She will trample anyone who gets in her way and in her mind, merely disagreeing with her is getting in her way. I’m pretty sure this mentality and the fact that she started a war are where the majority of claims that she is fascist come from.
5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
-No. This is a tough one since I want my argument to be stronger than, “She’s not racist! She has a non-white friend!” There isn’t a whole lot to go off though. She does have a non-white friend in the form of Petra and she’s capable of promoting Shamir. She speaks well of Claude and his ideology/dedication to his people. She never says or does anything in the game that could be interpreted as racist to the best of my knowledge. She also believes that anyone can be capable of great things no matter who they are or where they come from and I think that’s an inherently not racist ideology.
6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
-Yes. Everything she does is an appeal to social frustration. She goes to war with the Church of Seiros because she feels the church is responsible for an unjust class structure. Every reform she enacts within the Adrestian Empire is done with this thought in mind and almost all her speeches are about it. I don’t know what else to say. This one feels obvious.
7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
-Yes. Edelgard is obsessed with stopping two plots. There is the plot to control Fodlan through the Church of Seiros by The Immaculate One and the plot by Those Who Slither in the Dark to seize control of Fodlan.
8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
-No. I can’t recall or find any moment in which she views her enemy as weak, Every example I can find shows Edelgard taking her enemy very seriously. This tells me that she is consistent in her rhetoric.
9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
-Yes. This comes back to Edelgard’s “my way or the highway” attitude. If you aren’t actively working with her, she views you as a hindrance. Doing nothing is allowing the enemy to operate and if you’re allowing the enemy to operate, you’re also the enemy in her mind.
10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
-No. This is a difficult question to answer as we first have to parse what is considered strong or weak in the context of this game. I came to the conclusion that those with crests are perceived as strong and those without them are considered weak. Edelgard sees herself as a revolutionary and a champion of the crestless. She actively seeks to dismantle the class structure that is built around this ideology meaning she is ideologically opposed to the concept of elitism. This one can be interpreted in many different ways, though, so I can easily see someone coming to a different conclusion than I did.
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
-Yes. She does expect everyone around her to put in their best effort and if their best isn’t good enough, she expects them to get better. She’s all about heroism and self-sacrifice for the sake of her cause.
12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
-No. Edelgard is a woman who promotes and employs many women in all kinds of ranks and positions. To her, gender does not matter. Only the strength of one’s resolve does. She also harbors no disdain for nonstandard sexual habits seeing as she is one of the only five same-sex marriage options in the main game (I’m not counting DLC for the purposes of this article). The Black Eagle house that Edelgard is the leader of also contains two other characters (Lindhardt and Dorothea) capable of same-sex marriage. Seeing as team Edelgard contains 60% of the game’s gay community, I think it’s safe to say that she is LGBTQ+ friendly.
13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
-Yes. This is another close one. Edelgard does claim to be the voice of the people but I’d say more than half of the people disagree with her. But the people we do see in-game aren’t necessarily representative of the majority of Fodlan (the continent where FE: Three Houses takes place) but I can’t make a decision based on what I don’t know. Most people only disagree with her actions and not her reasoning for those actions but due to her actions, I’d say more people are probably against her than for her. This is why I believe she claims to speak for a population she doesn’t truly represent.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
-No. Edelgard employs a wide and complex vocabulary. She encourages others to do the same and will often scold her classmates for not taking their studies seriously enough. I can’t think of a point in time where she takes a stance on censorship which I take as meaning she has no interest in enacting it.
Edelgard meets a grand total of 6 out of 14 points. This rounds up to 43% which is 17 points short of the 70% score she needs to pass the fascism test. For this reason, I am going to declare Edelgard not a fascist. Even though she didn’t pass the test, six is still a pretty significant amount of these traits to possess. Even the author of these 14 points, himself, stated that someone can possess just one of these traits and still potentially be a fascist. I could potentially be setting my bar too high. The other thing I want to point out is that someone can still be a bad person without being a fascist. Jared from Subway isn’t a fascist but I would never let him near my kids.
But what do y’all think? Am I right? Am I wrong? Why or why not? Should I have used a different definition? What definition should I have used? Am I just so full of shit? I genuinely want to know what people think because this is a nuanced topic that I believe deserves an in-depth discussion. Aside from that, thank you for reading. If you enjoyed that article, feel free to like, comment, subscribe, follow me on social media, and so on. Thank you for joining me to celebrate Fire Emblem’s 30th anniversary!
- Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo. Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Nintendo, 2019. Switch.
- Eco, Umberto. “Ur-Fascism” 22 June. 1995. Found in The New York Review of Books. 14 Apr. 2019 https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/
- Wikipedia contributors. (2020, April 18). Umberto Eco. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:36, April 18, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Umberto_Eco&oldid=951760331
- Open Culture Contributors. (2016, November 22). Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism. In Openculture.com. Retrieved, 03:24, April 18, 2020, from http://www.openculture.com/2016/11/umberto-eco-makes-a-list-of-the-14-common-features-of-fascism.html
- Fire Emblem Wiki Contributors. Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In Fire Emblem Wiki. Retrieved 14:51, April 19, 2020, from https://fireemblem.fandom.com/wiki/Fire_Emblem:_Three_Houses
- Fire Emblem Wiki Contributors. Edelgard. In Fire Emblem Wiki. Retrieved 14:59, April 19, 2020, from https://fireemblem.fandom.com/wiki/Edelgard