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Painting Totality

Nazi leaders and Politics of Culture

 

 

 

 

By

Dana Arieli-Horowitz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

 

Illustrations

 

Acknowledgments

 

Introduction: Why Politics of Culture?

 

 

 

Part A:  Toward Theoretization:  Art, Ideology and Politics in Nazi Germany

  Nazi Politics of Culture:  Continuity, Uniqueness, or Change?

  The Interrelations between Politics and Aesthetics in Nazism

  Characteristics of the Modern era in dispute:  Degeneration, Alienation and

  Kitsch

 

 

 

Part B: An Artist in Politics: The Case of Adolf Hitler 

              The Artist turns into Politician, 1889-1918

                    A failure at the Academy of Arts

                       Early fantasies on the Gesamtkunstwerk

                      An admirer of conservative art

            Hitler on Modern Degenerate Art

                     Modernism, Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism, Avant-Garde

                     The Weimar Republic as the herald of Kulturbolshewismus

                      Wagner’s Legacy: The Jew as destroyer of Culture

                      Jews and Bolsheviks conspiring to destroy German Civilization

               Art and Politics in a Dictatorship

            How to paint a Dictatorship?: Hitler’s Volkish Alternative

                   Classicism: Optimal Past

                    Early Romanticism versus Late Romanticism

                    The Contents of Art and Leading Artists in the Third Reich

 

 

 

Part C: A Zealot of Nazi Aesthetics:  Alfred Rosenberg

                From the study of architecture to the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

            Weltanschauung And Art

             Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts

             Trying to put ideology into Praxis: The Combat League for German Culture

             Tangled in the Power Struggle: The Argument over Expressionism

             Ideals and alternatives: Volkish Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part D: An Architect of Race – Paul Schultze-Naumburg

            The Road to National Socialism

            Toward a theory of art, race and degeneration       

                     From Nordau’s Cultural degeneration to Schultze-Naumburg’s Racial Degeneration

                      Insanity and modern art

                     The History of degeneration and its causes

                     Degenerate artists

           The Racial Ideal of Beauty

                         Ideal Volkish Art: From Ancient Greek to the German Romantic Movement

                         Art and Politics

                         Art and Artists in the service of the regime

 

 

Part E: The Propagandist as Artist: Joseph Goebbels 

             Revolutionary Ideas turns into propaganda

             Romanticism of Steel

             Degeneration delayed

             A Minister of Illusions: The case for Expressionism

 

 

Part F: The Politics of Culture in dispute:

            Nazi Art Critics between Degenerate Art and the Volkish Alternative

             Assault on Modernism

                   The origins of Artistic Degeneration: Chronological Framework

                 “Esperanto art”: Liberalism, Modernism, Degeneration and the Metropolis

                   Cultural Bolshevism as Marxist-Jewish conspiracy

      Different stands in the debate over Expressionism

            Nazi Aesthetics in the Service of the people

                   Ideological and aesthetical foundations

                  The Artist in a Marching Society:

                   Depicting a Dictatorship: The Contents of Volkish Art

      The Interrelations between Art and Politics

 

 

 

Summary

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations

 

Figure 1:     Adolf Hitler, Landscape with Farmhouse, 1907.

Figure 2:     Adolf Hitler, Village in the Wachau, 1910-1912.

Figure 3:     Adolf Hitler, The Minorite Church and Minorite Square in Vienna,

                   1910-1912.

Figure 4:     Adolf Hitler, “Vienna Ratzenstadl”, 1910.

Figure 5:     Adolf Hitler, The Franz Ring with Parliament and Burg Theater,

                   1910-1912.

Figure 6:     Adolf Hitler, Lamberg Castle in Steyr, Upper Austria, 1910-1912.

Figure 7:     Arno Breker, Bust of Richard Wagner, 1941.

Figure 8:     Adolf Hitler, Kg. (Königliches) Hofbräuhaus, 1913.

Figure 9:     Adolf Hitler, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna with Figures, 1910.

Figure 9a:   Cover page of Der Stürmer, June 1939.

Figure 10:   Adrain Ludwig Richter, In June, 1859.

Figure 11:   Adrian Ludwig Richter, Mein Nest is das Best, no date mentioned.

Figure 12:   Moritz von Schwind, The Honeymoon Journey, 1855.

Figure 13:   Arnold Böcklin, Self-portrait with Death the Fiddler, 1872.

Figure 14:   Arnold Böcklin, The Island of the Dead, 1883. 

Figure 15:   Karl Spitzweg, The Poor Poet, 1839.

Figure 16:   Albert Speer, Reich Chancellery, Berlin, 1938-1939.

Figure 17:   Arno Breker, The Army and The Party, 1938. Entrance to the new

                   Reich Chancellery in Berlin. 

Figure 18:   Cover page of the Nazi daily Völkischer Beobachter.

Figure 19:   Cover page of the art journal Kunst und Volk.

Figure 20:   Ernst Barlach,  Magdeburg Memorial, 1929.

Figure 21:   Cover page of the art journal Die Kunst im Dritten Reich.

Figure 22:   Philip Beker, The Fuehrer’s Bust, Bronze, 1939.

Figure 23:   Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Kunst und Rasse, 1928.

Figure 24:   Adolf Dresler, Deutsche Kunst Entartete “Kunst”, 1937.

Figure 25:   A page from “Degenerate” Art Exhibition catalog, 1937, including

                    works from the Prinzhorn collection.

Figure 26:   The Bamberg Rider, 1235.

Figure 27:   A page fromPaul Schultze-Naumburg’s book Nordische

                   Schönheit, 1937 including paintings by Adrian Richter depicting

                   Non-Arians. 

Figure 28:   Hans Schweitzer (“Mjölnir”), Horst Wessel on his death bed

                    A caricature included in Goebbels’s book Kampf um Berlin, 1941.

Figure 29:   Nazi Kitsch

Figure 30:   Hitler on the entrance to the house of German art, 18.7.1933.

Figure 31:   Gallery in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung, 1937.

                   View from room 4, Entaretete Kunstasustellung, 1937.

Figure 31a: Ernst Barlach, Der Berserker, 1910.

Figure 32:   Wolfgang Willrich, Säuberung des Kunsttempels, 1937.

                   A table marking Jewish artists with the letter “J”

Figure 33:   Wolfgang Willrich, Säuberung des Kunsttempels, 1937.

                   A Collage of “degenerate” art,.

Figure 34:   Hans Thoma, Sunday Morning, 1866.

Figure 35:   Adolf Wissel, The Peasant Woman, 1938.

Figure 36:   Adolf Ziegler, The Goddess of Art, 1939.

Figure 37:   Hans Schmitz-Weidenbrück, Farmers, Soldiers, Workers, 1941.

Figure 38:   Paul Herrmann, And victory is also yours, 1942.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

          At a dinner in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1990s George L. Mosse stated that as the years went by he was more and more occupied with the question what would have happened if Hitler had been accepted to the Academy of Art in Vienna.  This question has bothered me throughout the fifteen years I have devoted to research into the connections between art and politics in Nazi Germany.

          The works of Mosse were my main source of inspiration in attempting to understand the unusual importance the Nazis placed on art, culture, and aesthetics.  Mosse’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary research approach produced generations of scholars many of whom share a willingness to break down disciplinary boundaries.  I have also tried to build here an interdisciplinary approach combining political science, the history of ideas, and the history of art.

          Over the years of my studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem I found many scholars who were open to this sort of combination, especially  in the Political Science Department. They were extremely helpful and took me on a fascinating voyage through the world of knowledge.  I can only mention here a few of my wonderful teachers at the university:  Shlomo Aronson, Aryeh Unger, Yaron Ezrahi, Steven Aschheim, Itzhak Galnoor, Yehezkel Dror, Robert Wistrich, Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Barucn Knei-Paz, Mario Sznajder, and the late Bathja Bayer, who helped me find my way through the maze Wagner’s music.  A particularly dear man, the late Dan Horowitz, my son’s grandfather, came up with this topic.

          Special thanks go to Emanuel Gutmann, who is especially dear to me.  It seems to me that I particularly gained from his great experience and from the good will others extended to me as his student.  When I became a university lecturer this experience became an example to follow and something I particularly admired.

          During the last few years I have been able to once again examine, investigate, update, and especially focus in on the questions I discussed in my Romanticism of Steel: Art and Politics in Nazi Germany, which was published in Hebrew by the Magnes Press.  During this time, I have had the help of my colleagues in the Political Science Department of Tel-Aviv University, including Azar Gat, Eyal Chowers, Michael Keren, and Yossi Shain.  Their wise advice throughout the writing of this book, and especially their great friendship, were of immeasurable help.  I would also like to thank my students, who year after year forced me to rethink the foundations of this book until it received its present form.  Some of them, such as Yagil Eliraz, taught me how to rethink about this topic.

          I would also like to thank all of the librarians who helped me over the years, especially those in the Jewish National and University Library, the Israel Museum, and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Wiener Collection at Tel Aviv University; the Lord of Bath, Longleath House, Warminster, Wiltshire, who has graciously granted permission to include some of Hitler’s paintings in this book; Silke Schaeper;  Christoph Schmidt;  Jacques Ehrenfreund; Ruth Shalgi, Vice President and Dean for Research at Tel-Aviv University;  and Dan Benoviciof the Magnes Press in Jerusalem.  Special thanks go to the staff of the University of Wisconsin Press, especially Robert Mendel and Tricia Brock.

Amos Oz said once in a lecture he gave in London that he would like to apologize for the fact that in English he is obliged to say what he can and not what he wants. I wish to thank my dear friend and the translator of this book, Andrew Lang, for the many hours he put into the translation of the book but especially for enabling me to write what I want, although in English.

 

          Finally, I owe everything to my family;  to Assaf, who inspires me every morning with his wonderful smile, to Vita, who is always ready to help and especially to listen, to Neri, without whose long talks on this topic I have no idea as to what might have turned out, and to my late father, Arieli, who was always an example as I grew up and who will always be with me.

 

 

Jerusalem, June 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction:  Why Politics of Culture?

 

          For the first thirty years after World War II, discussions of the connections between art and politics in Nazi Germany mainly focused on the plight of the oppressed.  Works on the subject dealt with the fate of modern art and emphasized the barbaric persecutions which took place there.  They often detailed the tragic fate of many artists active in Weimar Germany who were forced into exile, or even executed, after 1933. However, the Nazi art produced between 1933 and 1945 was not the focus of these studies.  The main explanation given by historians of art for this lack, perhaps the result of the moral dissonance stemming from the examination of the works, was that there was no point in studying them, as they lacked all aesthetic value.  Nazi art was described as “non-art”.

            This sort of argumentation has faded over the years as intensive study of dictatorships in general and more specifically Nazi Germany have made it clear that culture and aesthetics played particularly important roles, and supplied the “repertoire of images”[1] available to the citizens of the Third Reich.  It is therefore not surprising that since the 1980s researchers, influenced by the strengthening of interdisciplinary trends, have focused on the art and aesthetics produced in Nazi Germany, and not just on the avant- garde modern art that was rejected.

            The main theses found in these works are considered in detail in this book, yet some fascinating questions have been left untouched.  Why was aesthetics so unusually important?  Why did questions of culture and art bother the leaders of the Third Reich, especially Hitler?  How did the Nazi regime use culture and art to mobilize millions of citizens?  What was there in Nazi art which allowed it to present a compensating view of the world to its audience?

          This book presents a new angle on art in Nazi Germany;  it does not emphasize the activities of artists there but rather focuses on the Nazi leadership, or, as I describe it here, on those who developed and shaped the Nazi politics of culture.  These figures are clearly important in totalitarian regimes which encourage the cult of the leader and eliminate political, social, and cultural pluralism, but in Nazi Germany their role was particularly vital.  The central assumption here is that the discussion of the image of alternative art, often referred to as volkish art, started before the Nazi seizure of power and played a central role in the worldview of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture.  The Nazi case is unique in that visual means were not just used to establish the regime, but were instead a central factor in Nazi ideology;  they were presented as indicating historical, philosophical, and intellectual continuity.  Art was therefore mobilized not only as part of a desire to increase the legitimacy of the regime;  art and aesthetics were described as basic to a worldview in which they were not infrequently seen as having higher priority than politics. Increasing legitimacy, though it did bother the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture later on, was only a small project derived from a much broader and comprehensive weltanschauung.

            Research on dictatorships has generally presented art as subservient to politics, and the leadership as those mobilizing art in order to answer the needs of the regimeI see this type of argumentation as providing only a partial explanation of the German case.  Even though German cultural policy was dictated and controlled so that it would fit the needs of the regime, the Nazi regime was certainly characterized by a worldview giving aesthetics, art, and culture unusual weight, so much so that Nazism can be described as having not only a “visualization of ideology” but also a “visual worldview”.  This visualization did not remain a matter of ideas alone;  it was expressed in the praxis of the regime.

            The main goals of this book are thus to outline the boundaries of the Nazi politics of culture and to examine the main characteristics and components of Nazi aesthetics as they developed both before 1933 and in the dictatorship which followed.  The book is based on the assumption that the different ideological influences onthe Nazi politics of culture led to the creation of different stands and opinions on the nature of the ideal art.  These differences led to the development of a vague consensus, and not to a complete Gleichschaltung, as has commonly been argued. This consensus was meant to provide an alternative for all of the existing cultural and artistic systems which were defined as hostile to Nazism;  the hope wasthat it would lead to the establishment of a complete Gleichschaltung.  

I have intentionally chosen the expression “vague consensus” in order to emphasize that even in Nazi Germany, generally described as the best example of the ideal-type dictatorship to appear between the wars, no full agreement was achieved over the nature of the ideal volkish art.  Disagreements over the politics of culture among the leaders of the Nazi Party were eventually settled, but their very existence, together with the differences in ideas and content which they reflected, is a fascinating discovery which undermines those researches which have emphasized the homogeneity of ideas which supposedly characterized dictatorships.

            The many definitions which have been offered for the terms culture, art, and aesthetics make a clarification of the issue necessary.  Scholars have made use of terms such as the politics of aesthetics, the politics of art,[2] metapolitics, and even mobilized art, art in the service of the state, and political liturgics.   In this book I have chosen to use the term the politics of culture (Kulturpolitik), not only because it connects “volkish” aesthetics to the social reality of Germany and in this way hints at the continuity of ideas,[3] but particularly because it emphasizes the inseparability of politics and culture.  The claim that the two are inseparable leads to an explanation different from the existing Marxist and neo-Marxistinterpretations which have emphasized the subservience of culture to politics.  Consideration of the Nazi worldview clearly shows that aesthetics is so central to an understanding of Nazi politics that the attempts to explain the mobilization of the muses as only meant to increase the legitimacy of the regime are insufficient.  The Nazi demand for the total subservience of German society placed culture at the center and even went so far as to claim that without the cultural side Nazi ideology could never be established.

            Unlike the Marxist and materialist approaches, the idea of the politics of culture is based on the assumptions that aesthetics, art, and culture cannot be separated from politics and that sometimes they even become a sort of metapolitics when they are part of a worldview focusing on order and form.  From this point of view the Nazi politics of culture is a more developed version of social analyses produced by the German right of the fin-de-siècle.  These analyses display a yearning for order and consider aesthetics to be a replacement for normative categories.  In the context of their consideration of German society the very existence of the term is a reaction to the Weberian tradition dominant in political science before World War I.

            The politics of culture as a tool for the analysis of the National-Socialist worldview leads in two contradictory directions.  One is the pessimistic, “degenerate” view of the world, while the other is the desired “volkish” view which would compensate for the various kinds of alienation.  This distinction is also made here, as it allows an examination of the worldviews of a large proportion of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture and also of part of the praxis of the regime as expressed in the “Degenerate” Art exhibitionand the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung, which opened on two consecutive days.

            The Nazis made frequent and varied use of the term “degeneration”.[4]  Three categories were mentioned in an attempt to create a typology of degeneration;  these characterized the Nazi worldview and drew on different sources.  According to Nazi ideology these three categories had been expressed in different ways in German culture from 1848 to the 1930s.  The first sort of degeneration was individual degeneration;  it was connected to madness, perversion, and physical deformations.  By the end of the nineteenth century it had already been applied to creative individuals;  the introduction of psychiatric concepts to the European intellectual world at the turn of the twentieth century led to certain changes in its definition.  The views of men such as Max Nordau and Cesare Lombroso were of great importance in the development of the idea of individual degeneration.  The Nazi worldview saw it as applying mostly to individuals associated with modernist avant-garde movements.  For example, Impressionist art was criticized, claiming that only a disconnected and mentally-unbalanced artist could adopt such artistic techniques in order to describe reality.

            The second type of degeneration was collective degeneration;  the Nazis saw it as reaching a peak in modern society (Gesellschaft).  Collective degeneration was used to describe several groups of people, including those who found refuge in the big city and those who did not belong to the rural racial community (Volksgemeinschaft).  This sort of degeneration was ever more common in the big cities where it was supported by racially-inferior social groups who suffered from alienation and a lack of creativity.  The city, the ground on which internationalist ideas developed, sprouted subversive views which undermined the foundations of German society and threatened its very existence.  Collective degeneration even led to the dissolution of art and culture, and therefore the Nazis attacked artistic schools such as “The Blue Rider” (Der Blaue Reiter) and “The Bridge” (Die Brücke), which tended to depict the urban scene;  Rosenberg called these groups “asphalt culture”.

            The Nazi politics of culture described the third type, racial degeneration, as dependent on racial origin and mainly as a Jewish conspiracy to distribute degeneration in order to destroy German society;  the latter claim used language similar to that found in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  This type of degeneration was based on the overrepresentation of inferior races (blacks, Asians, etc.) and especially the Jews.  It drew its inspiration from Romantic traditions in German linguistics from the beginning of the nineteenth century and from the works of Richard Wagner.  The carriers of such racial degeneration defaced German culture, but were not capable of creating culture themselves.

          After the seizure of power the Nazis made frequent use of the ideas of collective and racial degeneration;  they also expanded the term degeneration to cover political groups which were often described as intentionally subversive and as having connections to the Communist Left.  The Nazi worldview called this sort of degeneration “cultural Bolshevism” and saw it as the most dangerous form.  In this context they attacked, among others, modern art movements such as DADA, the November Group, and The Red Group.

            The distinction made here between the different types of degeneration comes from a systematic examination of the writings, speeches, and statements made by the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture.  This typology is necessary because of the extremely frequent use of degeneration as a general description of fundamentally different phenomena.  It is not merely a term used by the Nazis to indicate their discontent with modern art, but rather was derived from a comprehensive and developed worldview distinguishing between those belonging to the Volksgemeinschaft and those rejected by it.  Degeneration represented different aspects of the modern Gesellschaft.  The attacks on the “degenerate” became sharper and more dangerous as the Nazi politics of culture developed;  the use of collective and racial degeneration, whose meanings clearly extended from the aesthetic into the political, became most popular.

            Unlike degeneration, the term “volkish” as used by the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture was vague.  This vagueness has led some scholars to see Nazism as an opportunistic movement which selectively rejected modernism.  However, the lack of agreement over what was volkish does not mean that the content of the term was not discussed systematically or that its meaning was unimportant.  The opposite is the case;  volkish art as an alternative to modernism is central to an understanding of the Nazi politics of culture.

The lack of agreement over the nature of volkish art is evident on two levels.  One is the placing and nature of the anchoring of such art in German history, while the other is the tension between harmonious and militant contents in the interpretation of this Nazi alternative.  The different interpretations of the history on which the Nazi politics of culture was based were characterized by disagreement over the way in which Ancient Greece was seen.  Some of the developers of the Nazi view described Hellenism as an early form of Nordic culture;  they based their opinions on vulgar historical, anthropological, and racial analyses of the past.  Other approaches based their views on the mythology and history of the early Germanic tribes.  The decision which approach to adopt had great implications for a politics of culture which aimed to prepare a visual version of Nazi ideology. 

The early Romantic movement in Germany was also a source of disagreement.  Some saw it as a foreshadowing of the desired volkish art while others dismissed it as an art which had declined, even degenerated, according to certain interpretations.  The argument over premodernist schools of art was pointed, but the lack of modernist alienation in their works prevented unbridgeable gaps in the Nazi politics of culture, and therefore certain well-known medieval works were generally seen as acceptable sources of inspiration.

The second tension inherent in the term volkish is connected to different definitions of its contents.  Some of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture wanted expressions of a warrior spirit which would provide a national compensation for the feeling that Germany had declined;  this feeling had started with the French Revolution and had then appeared intermittently up to the time of the Weimar Republic.  Others defined the contents of volkish art as counteracting personal alienation and as providing the absolute solution for it in a harmonious old-new world expressed in the image of the German village.  Saul Friedländer has defined kitsch, among other things, as the product of a psychological solution for this tension;  the opposing foundations were combined into a single creative framework.[5]

The Nazi politics of culture was an all-embracing program, vague for functional reasons so that its meaning could extend beyond the context of mere different forms of “aesthetic” or “artistic” expression to touch on a significant part of Nazi historical, anthropological, racial, and archeological research.  The different forms of leisure activities and entertainment available in Nazi Germany were also influenced by the politics of culture and cannot be analyzed in the limited context which some studies have offered, that of simple manipulation or mobilization.

The conclusions of this book outline the boundaries of the politics of culture as based on a consensus resting on a clear rejection of anything defined as degenerate.  The boundaries of degeneration were generally those which would be expected, although along the edges efforts to blur the distinctions can be seen, as in the attempt to include non-Communist German Expressionist art within the consensus. At the same time, it must be emphasized that almost all types of modern art were labeled degenerate.  The designation of pre-modern artistic schools is somewhat blurred, and without the modernist content the intensity of the arguments were reduced and no movements were labeled in a way which would have had bureaucratic or political implications.

          The consensus over the volkish alternative is even more vague.  This sort of vagueness existed for a number of reasons which were connected to the gap between the theory of the politics of culture and volkish creations, which seemingly had not yet sufficiently developed.  It may also be that the idea that Romantic and Neo-Classic art went together, as opposed to an alienated, unclear modern art mobilized in the service of cultural Bolshevism, a popular view among Nazi Party members who did not deal with art, helped maintain the boundaries of the vague consensus over what was volkish.

            This vague consensus was not intentionally dictated from above;  it was instead an expression of voluntary Gleichschaltung, showing a desire to solve the problem of alienation and replace it with a new cultural and aesthetic order.  The developers of the politics of culture imagined themselves, in the spirit of the title of a book written by a Nazi art critic, as the “cleansers of the temples of art”.  They saw themselves as wanting to correct Germany in the political, cultural, and moral spheres, but never as limited to creating tools for the strengthening of National Socialism as a mobilized totalitarian regime.

 

The Nazi politics of culture is mostly examined in this book through the visual arts, though other areas of Nazi culture such as architecture, movies, literature, and research on folklore are also mentioned.  The emphasis on the visual arts is the result of the need to focus the discussion, but can also be justified methodologically for a number of reasons.

            The most important of these reasons is that the visual arts allow an examination of one of the central questions about the Nazi politics of culture, the question of continuity.  Movies, popular music, and radio are “new” arts which cannot be placed in the broad historical context which painting and sculpture can, and therefore research on Nazi films has suggested that it is hard to find the point at which German films of the 1920s become Nazi films.[6]  The use of new media is also problematic in the present case because radio and movies were so instrumental in Nazi propaganda.  It is no coincidence that most of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture, except for Goebbels, did not see film as a form of high art because they could be reproduced.[7]  The visual arts, unlike film, could not be reproduced, and therefore they were seen by the Nazis as the highest representatives of high culture and even as the field which would be used to create the myth of continuity.

            The discussion of the visual arts also allows an examination of the evolution of Nazi thought during three periods:  the struggle for power (1920s-1933), the development of cultural policy (1933-1937), and the period of unity (1937-1945).  The “Degenerate” Art exhibition of 1937 and the first of the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen, which were held annually from 1937 to 1944, mark the beginning of the final stage, which can be seen more clearly in the visual arts than in other fields.

            Part of the discussion of Nazi architecture is connected to that of the visual arts, but the fact that the Nazis did not succeed in popularizing architecture and using it as a tool for penetrating the life of the individual helped lead to the decision to focus on the visual arts here.  One expression of this failure is the many Nazi architectural plans which were never built, unlike the massive presence of events such as German art days and the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen.[8]

            Another reason for focusing on the visual arts is connected to the attempt to isolate Nazi symbolism, which has often been described as a “secular religion”,[9] from a broader discussion of popular culture.  The nationalization of holidays, the illusion of the restoration of a volkish culture in the form of rallies, festivals, icons of Hitler, and the use of the Nazi salute and the swastika served psychological purposes.[10]  The Nazis were worried about the low, popular art which was distinguished from the high, ideal volkish art they desired as the main representative of race theory and saw as a replacement for degenerate art.

            The division on issues of the politics of culture was made here according to the distinction between degenerate art associated with the modern era and the volkish art which represented Nazi Germany.  This division does not imply the acceptance of these categories but merely serves the description of the Nazi worldview on the issue of the politics of culture as its shapers saw it.  This representation of the topic stems from the dialectic connection between the description of modern art as degenerate and that of the volkish alternative which was meant to correct the situation.[11]  This dichotomy, which was created by the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture, led to a comprehensive and total way of viewing the world which was based on philosophical assumptions about the place of man in society, his degree of rationality, and the parameters of good behavior.

            The consideration of “degenerate” art here focuses on terms such as alienation, madness, avant-garde, and internationalism;  these terms form a central axis in outlining the boundaries of the cultural framework which was rejected.  Social typologies such as the Jews or the purveyors of cultural Bolshevism, who were seen as the carriers of degenerate culture, were connected to this sort of art.[12]  The main claim made here is that the Nazis not only rejected avant-garde artistic movements but abandoned the discussion of modernist styles, contents, and artists for a much broader discussion of the Nazi worldview.  The rejection of the avant-garde therefore cannot be examined solely in terms of the styles of its works, but must be seen as reflecting a much larger rejection of the modern Gesellschaft and all that accompanied it.  The Nazis rejected the metropolis with its alienated residents, the foreign races living in its slums, and the modernist bohemians who were seen as representing alienation, degeneration, and of course madness.

          Volkish art or aesthetics, on the other hand, were described in the Nazi worldview through the discussion of a community living harmoniously close to nature and expressing organic views of “blood and soil”.  In the different works on volkish art special emphasis was placed on the artist and his place in National-Socialist society, both in the present and in its plans for the future.  The preference for a realist style was therefore a first step in ensuring the establishment of the Nazi worldview.  The style was to be clear, light, unambiguous in interpretation, and full of the symbols of Nazi ideology. It would reflect the utopian community which lived in the villages and was centered around the harmonious family group.  The Nazi family would be depicted not just with an emphasis on continuity, where each member maintained his or her traditional role, but with total loyalty to the Aryan racial ideal.  In most cases volkish art was described as representing a long artistic tradition and therefore a discussion of the Neo-Classic and Romantic movements as representing authentic artistic traditions was often included in this context.  The discussion of the golden age of German art was often accompanied by an appreciation of one of several different periods in German history.

            The dichotomy between degeneration and volkism also served an approach where the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture saw a sort of Kulturkampf[13] going on during the Weimar Republic.  This book gives special emphasis to the central place of this war of cultures, assuming that it sheds light on important historiographic, philosophical, scientific, and moral questions in the context of the politics of culture.

            The examination of the politics of culture in Nazi Germany is carried out here through a discussion of the views and works of a group of individuals who shaped it.  These figures, who dictated to a great extent Nazi cultural policy, were chosen as part of an attempt to cover many different levels within the vague consensus which provided the boundaries for the Nazi politics of culture.  The figures described here not only held key positions within the bureaucracies which dealt with the broad category of culture, but also expressed themselves on, wrote on, and designed the terminology and analyses on which the bureaucratic apparatus within which they worked was based.[14]

            The place of Hitler in the development of the Nazi politics of culture stemmed from the Nazi political system and government structure, but even more so from the role he gave to aesthetics and culture in his worldview and the great importance he gave them in the Nazi agenda.[15]  Even though I add no new biographical information here, the isolation of his views on the politics of culture places him within the intellectual context of National Socialism. The chapter dealing with Hitler is divided into four sections dealing with his early artistic inclinations, his attitudes towards modern art, the centrality of art in politics and the inability to separate between the realms, and his ideal of Nazi volkish art.

            The choice of Alfred Rosenberg stems from the fact that many of the Nazi elite saw him as the originator of a social-nationalist-racial theory which was used to evaluate aesthetics, art, and politics. Rosenberg, usually described as the “ideologue” of National Socialism, is generally seen as one of the main shapers of the Nazi politics of culture.  His works cover many different fields and are characterized by a fanaticism which did not take political issues into consideration.  To a great extent Rosenberg distilled the essence of Nazi ideology and worked to implement it completely within the framework of the National-Socialist regime.  He was the product of the formative years of the Nazi movement;  his theories on aesthetics and politics, which have never been the focus of a coherent study, need to be examined.  Even though he was pushed aside during the second half of the 1930s and given positions whose status far exceeded their power, his written works were a necessary reference in the development of the politics of culture.

            Paul Schultze-Naumburg was a contributor to the development of a theory about the connections between art and race;  his approach has never been examined systematically.  He worked together with Rosenberg to outline a common basis for the philosophy of the Nazi politics of culture.  Unlike Rosenberg, he did not come from the ranks of the National-Socialist Party but joined it at a relatively late date.  An architect by training, he focused on the politics of culture and did not deal with topics of a historiographic or theological nature, as Rosenberg and Hitler did.

            The influence of Schultze-Naumburg on the Nazi politics of culture stemmed from his sharpening of the distinction between degeneration and volkism in an attempt to combine them systematically with race theory.  His works were therefore better structured and included formulae which were fit the development of the politics of culture.  Traces of his dichotomy can be found not only in the literature on the Nazi politics of culture but also in Nazi praxis as exemplified by the establishment of the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen in parallel to the “Degenerate” Art exhibition, and even in the way degenerate art was displayed as connected to social perversion and madness. Hitler, Rosenberg and Schultze-Naumburg represent the radical hard-liners who shaped the Nazi politics of culture.

          Joseph Goebbels appears because of his role as the one who actually carried out cultural policy, but in his case there is a blurring of the lines between the politics of culture and propaganda.  The literature tends to overemphasize Goebbels’ role in the development of the politics of culture, which was the least systematic of all.  Even so, Goebbels was of great importance as the head of the organizations in charge of carrying out policy, and the overemphasis on his role may explain the conflict between Goebbels the propagandist and a group of ideologues and art critics.  The heightened interest scholars have shown in Goebbels as the head of the Propaganda Ministry fits a theory which describes the Nazi position on questions of art as instrumental opportunism and Nazi art as kitsch and non-art. The instrumental use of art went beyond propaganda into the politics of culture but, as I will try to show, it did not guide art.  It is therefore necessary to consider Goebbels in the context of the politics of culture in order to illuminate things in a different context from the politics of propaganda.

 

            In order to examine the more popular character of the Nazi politics of culture, an additional circle, those who disseminated these ideas, is considered.  This group includes prominent Nazi “art critics” who held key positions in implementing cultural policy;  their books were on recommended reading lists issued by the Party.  In their works, these art critics dealt with various aspects of the politics of culture.  Most of them had connections in the Party elite, and there is evidence that the latter knew of their works.  Some of them held positions within the bureaucracy which were connected to the implementation of the politics of culture.

            The importance of this group stems from the fact that it allows an examination of the way in which a sort of Gleichschaltung developed in the politics of culture, the evolution of the aesthetic components of race theory, and the development of the ideas of Hitler, Rosenberg, and Schultze- Naumburg.  An examination of the positions of the art critics shows the levels of disagreement which characterized the Nazi politics of culture. They present a path, though sometimes a contradictory one, which enables a discussion of the way in which the Nazi worldview was shaped.

In each case the biographical details relevant to aesthetics are considered and used to chart the intellectual environment which influenced the development of views and tastes.  The common background includes shared views on the connections between aesthetics and politics and shared claims about German nationalism in general.  This biographical discussion provides an introduction on which is built an analysis of texts written by these individuals starting at the beginning of the 1920s, including most of their works on the politics of culture, and not just those from after the seizure of power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toward Theoretization:  Art, Ideology and Politics in Nazi Germany

 

 

 

               A broad examination of the connections between art and politics indicates general agreement that a fertile analysis of the National-Socialist worldviewcan only be carried out by conceptualizing the political contexts of art and the aesthetic contexts of politics.  A great deal of work has been put into examining the art and aesthetics of Nazi Germany using the tools of many different disciplines and placing different phenomena under the same heading. For this reason there is no consensus over the definition and boundaries of the topic.

               A simplistic, schematic distinction divides the studies into history of ideas, political science, sociology, art history, and social psychology and considers each group separately.  I believe that such an approach is less appropriate than that which I have chosen.  This chapter focuses on three topics, giving it a double advantage:  these topics represent the main questions which the book discusses, and they also cover the main issues the literature has posed and therefore make use of the existing material from many disciplines.  The first section focuses on the question to what extent the Nazi politics of culture reflects continuity, uniqueness, or difference.  The second examines the existing literature on the relations between art and politics, using the case of Nazi Germany as an example. I also discuss terminology, including my reasons for preferring “politics of culture” over “engagement”, “politicization of art”, or “aestheticization of politics”.  Finally, I indicate how a discussion of fundamental terms characteristic of the modern age, such as kitsch, degeneration, and alienation, helps in understanding the Nazi politics of culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nazi Politics of Culture:  Continuity, Uniqueness, or Change?

 

               This section analyzes the historical background, both specifically German and more generally European, on which Nazi art developed.  It examines the depth of the historical roots of the Nazi politics of culture in the German nationalism of the nineteenth century, what has been called the German Sonderweg.[16]  This placing of the Nazi politics of culture in historical context leads to the question of how the years 1933-1945 fit into the flow of German history.  Was it a matter of continuity or perhaps a historical “accident”?[17]  The German art world will be used to attempt to answer this question here.

               Those who claim that German history justifies seeing it as having its own unique path through history generally describe the Nazi position on aesthetics as an elaboration and adaptation of views common among the German right.[18]  The present book makes a similar claim about the Nazi politics of culture;  it was a synthesis of existing ideas, but unique in the way in which they were combined into a developed worldview.  This worldview was expressed in a radicalization of existing views and in an attempt to implement them on the political level;  the latter was often accompanied by disagreements and did not necessarily lead to monolithic unity.

               When describing the Nazi politics of culture as reflecting the continuity of ideas, one unambiguous exception must be made.  The nineteenth- and early twentieth-century individuals whose views are presented here were not announcing the coming of Nazism and the Nazis often made use of their works out of context.  Historians of ideas who have written on this subject, such as Stern, Mosse, and Aschheim, frequently make the same point and emphasize that the claim that the roots of Nazism are a “natural development” of German nationalism cannot be proven.[19]

               An examination of the views on which the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture rested their approach is carried out here while accepting the assumption that there was indeed a German Sonderweg.   However, this does not answer the question as to which parts of history are relevant in tracing the nature of this Sonderweg. For this reason I believe that the thinkers who provided the basis for the reactionary side of Nazi ideology must be identified in order to determine how myths such as the Thousand-Year Reich were established and how much of the Nazi worldview was indeed original.  These goals become even more complicated given that the Nazis were interested in creating a myth of continuity and displaying Nazism as a natural development of German history, as Emmerich has correctly claimed.  It is thus not surprising that the Nazi saw their regime as the pinnacle of victory for the unifying forces of the Volk in German history.[20]

               Most works on the subject emphasize the end of the nineteenth century as critical.  Stern, for example, has suggested the term “conservative revolution” to describe the reality of life in Germany from the end of the nineteenth century until the seizure of power in 1933, when “an ideological attack on modernity, on the complex of ideas and institutions that characterize our liberal, secular and industrial civilization” took place.[21]  According to his explanation, 1933 was the peak of a conservative revolution in the Weimar Republic resulting from the unique combination of a conservatism characterized by nostalgia and a revolutionary enthusiasm fueled by despair over what was seen as the modern lack of order.[22]  The combination of the national frustrations around which nineteenth-century German nationalism developed and cultural dissatisfaction provided the conservative elite with the inspiration for fantastic nationalist utopias which were based on spiritual, though not necessarily material, longings.[23]

               The preference for the spiritual over the material as it existed in the conservative elite expressed tensions which had previously been seen in German history, for example in some of the arguments of the supporters of the Romantic movement.  Bracher has thus described the conservative revolution as a uniquely German phenomenon reflecting Romantic delusions.[24]  He sees Hitler not as an “accident”, but rather as a “German condition”.[25]  Explanations of the type offered by Bracher see the uniqueness of Germany as reflected in the case of Hitler as stemming from the fact that the dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic, bourgeois politics, and modern life in general could not be compensated for in material terms but rather needed balancing in spiritual, idealistic terms.[26]  Thus, Nazism, through German eyes, was a medicine, not an economic answer, for what Stern has called “cultural pessimism”.

               Some of the works emphasizing the existence of a war of cultures (Kulturkampf) in the Weimar Republic, such as those of Gay, have suggested that Wilhelmine Germany was critical.[27]  In their view, World War I only speeded things up at the height of a process which was expressed as an artistic, political, and cultural conflict.[28]  This view is especially useful because it describes the conservative revolutionary spirit as a development of the German right which reached a peak during the Weimar Republic.

               I accept the view that the Weimar Republic was the high point of a process which pushed culture to the extreme what has even been called a “latent civil war”.[29]  The lack of a unique and stable political culture pushed the political system in the Weimar Republic into controversies over the nature of the ideal political system.  The world of art played a not inconsiderable role in this process;  it was mobilized to express ideology in the uncompromising struggles between the factions.  However, the description of the Weimar democracy as the height of the cultural controversies indicates that the beginning must be found earlier.

               Herf, who describes himself as a student of Stern, has coined the term “reactionary modernism”, which helps in understanding the nature of the  “conservative revolution”.  By emphasizing the contrasts built into Nazi ideology, Herf has shown that the hostility toward modernism shown by German nationalism and Nazism was selective.  In this way he has bridged the contradiction inherent in Nazism, which drew its idealist inspiration from a view of the past yet did not reject technological progress.[30]  His explanation states that technology was effectively separated from the context of the values of the Enlightenment and combined into technical values which formed part of the foundation of German culture.  The latter values were not part of the phenomena of civilization but rather tended to be those of culture, as Spengler put it.[31]  Thus the contradiction between the acceptance of the tools of the Enlightenment and the rejection of its values was effectively solved.  It seems to me that even if Herf has clearly contributed to an understanding of this central principle of Nazism, the term Nazi politics of culture gives greater importance to reactionary ideas.  Herf’s description suggests that there was an inherent contradiction between modernism and reaction built into Nazism, while this book indicates instead that the use of modern technology stemmed mostly from instrumental motives.  Modern technology did indeed play a major role in Nazi praxis, but its role in understanding the Nazi worldview was less significant.

               Another explanation for the development of the conservative revolution is as the product of a social stratum with unique social characteristics and hostile to modern developments.  Grunberger sees this group as including craftsmen as well as groups holding conservative and chauvinist views.[32]  The Nazi art and culture bureaucracies provide a good example of this sort of argument because they expressed trends of continuity.  Steinweis, who has focused on artists’ organizations and unions on the eve of 1933, has confirmed such claims and has even demonstrated how they served as the basis for social organization in Nazi Germany. [33]  However, his book does not consider the large number of members of the National-Socialist leadership whose profession and the background from which they entered politics were connected in different ways to artistic-cultural production or its criticism.

               The bohemian background of Nazi leaders and supporters led Viereck to use the term metapolitics to describe the “half-political” worldview of this group.[34]  The origin of the term metapolitics may be found in the nationalist circles connected to Richard Wagner;  they presented this approach as a uniquely German ideal derived from various rationalist and non-rationalist sources.  Viereck has claimed that by using this term German nationalists distinguished themselves from Western civilization and the materialism of Western political theories and sees metapolitics as more Weltanschauung than ideology.[35]  Viereck’s pointing to the biographies of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture is a unique contribution to the field, but he did not go beyond this indication to examine the way in which these biographies were later reflected in the worldviews of the figures.  In addition, his claim that biography led to “half-political” views is not borne out by the present book.  While Nazi politics did place unusual weight on aesthetics, it did not derive partial or undeveloped political views from aesthetics.

               The term Weltanschauung in the context of the German right and German nationalism refers to a group of political, cultural, aesthetic, and historical questions.  The distinction between worldview and ideology was made even before 1933, as Smith has claimed.  He has described how culture and the sciences of culture (Kulturwissenschaften) in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany were seen as a new approach to political science and has indicated the uniqueness of this German phenomenon.[36]  The antimodernist tendencies of those dealing with the sciences of culture created the conditions for the development of the racial

components of Nazi culture[37] and affected the centrality of aesthetics in Nazism.  The latter centrality thus does not just appear; the contribution of German Romanticism was crucial, as can be seen in the figure of the artist- genius, who appeared during the middle period of the Romantic movement (1800-1815).  The artist-genius was described as a replacement for the statesman and the politician.[38]

               Mosse has focused on the development of historical, philological, and anthropological analyses commonly found in Europe;  he has suggested that different nationalist movements derived different ideological conclusions from the same seemingly scientific theories.  He has particularly emphasized the way in which scientists used of physiognomy and phrenology in order to create artistic stereotypes. “Anthropologists accepted the ‘facial angle’ as a scientific measurement.  But in so doing, they also accepted a standard of beauty as a criterion of racial classification”.[39]  These stereotypes would later become the center of Nazi race theory.  Nazi race theoreticians made use of visual physiognomic means to demonstrate the main points of their approach.  Thus the image of the ideal Aryan figure was not just a matter of laboratory study but led instead to the creation of exhibitions which were meant to identify the ideal Aryan head.[40]

               Stereotypic thought of this type was characteristic of the semi- academic circles which developed at the end of the nineteenth century and affected the development of the Nazi ideology of the Volk.  Bausinger has emphasized the contribution of these circles and the fact that they were not based on the research which formed the heart of Volkskunde.[41]  The semi-academic structure of these organizations led to a situation in the Third Reich in which ideology, science, and ideological distortions could not be separated.[42]  The popularity of the sciences of culture was therefore part of a desire for regression and the abandonment of history in favor of irrational myths.  Emmerich has explained that ideas about race, people, and Germanicity were accepted in alienated and rootless urban circles which wanted to consider the German race, feel the fatherland, and deal with the volkish peasantry.[43]

               The use of a compensatory view of the world was a phenomenon which had accompanied German nationalism since the struggle against Napoleon and throughout the nineteenth century.[44]  According to Mosse, considerations of beauty and the aesthetics of politics led to the development of an independent way of representation which was desired by the people.[45]  As the criterion for national behavior was connected to aesthetic and symbolic expressions, a “liturgy” was created which gave German nationalism the form of a secular religion[46] as a replacement for political language.

               The discussion of the Nazi politics of culture is based here on the idea that the symbols of the German secular religion were based on different sources:  Classicism, Hellenism, the Romantic movement, and occult sources.[47]  These sources themselves did not suggest anything new, but the synthesis created out of them was expressed by the Nazis in a new and monumental manner. For the Nazis, monumentalism was more than an architectural principle. Mosse has claimed that it helped them combine nationalism and aesthetics.[48]  A number of works dealing with Nazi architecture have demonstrated the importance of monumentality as expressed in the structures built by the Nazi regime and in those which they did not manage to build.  Scobie preferred the term colossality, which he saw as explaining both ceremoniality and the tendency to dramatization.[49]  Miller-Lane has presented a slightly different position emphasizing the existence of limited pluralism, including medieval, neoclassical, primitive-volkish, and even revolutionary-modern styles.  She has even suggested that the regime’s attempts to dictate a common style were less effective than had previously been suggested.[50]  Miller-Lane’s claims about the difficulty in achieving a common style in architecture are borne out by the present examination of the different views on the question of the nature of the ideal visual art.

               The difficulty in producing unity in architecture stemmed from completely different reasons than the difficulties in the visual arts.  Unlike the world of art, which had no significant economic impact, the principle of monumentality in architecture was put into practice, leading to investment in building and the creation of new jobs.  Jaskot has rightly stated that monumentality cannot only be examined in the context of ideology.  Monumentality had a function in Nazi Germany because policy was derived from it, and therefore Jaskot has criticized historians of art for tending to focus on the ideological meaning of monumentality without taking into consideration the praxis of the regime.  “Some of the most powerful officials and institutions used the building process at Nuremberg for the implementation of specific policies distinct from propagandistic concerns. Political and economic goals in particular were pursued through the mobilization of the massive resources required for the building process”.[51]

               An additional type of explanation for a possible connection between German nationalism and methods of aesthetic representation has been suggested by Eksteins;  he used the term “vulgar idealism”.[52]  This sort of idealism assumes that society and the world can only be corrected through an examination of the inner nature of man.  The result of this approach is a withdrawal from politics into what has been identified as an emphasis on order and harmony as a replacement for advanced political thought.[53]

               This explanation fits together with the psychohistorical analysis provided by Hanson according to which Nazism must be examined through the term the “hyperordered world”.[54]  Some scholars have gone even further, as in the case of Shoham, who has claimed that order and harmony in German idealist philosophy became a replacement for a civilizing set of values.[55]  Shoham, like Eksteins, has connected the replacement of Judeo-  Christian morality with values of order, harmony, and cleanliness to the distinction commonly made in Germany between culture and civilization.

               These psychohistorical analyses are naturally careful to avoid the claim that in addition to the German Sonderweg the Germans also had a “unique character” which led them to accept Nazi rule.  The question of a German character hit the headlines with the publication of Hitler’s Willing Executioners.  Goldhagen has emphasized the role of ordinary Germans and thus has demonstrated the theses about the banality of evil.[56]  This important question has clear moral implications;  it is not surprising that the publication of Goldhagen’s book led to pointed arguments.

               Many scholars, writers, and intellectuals have been bothered by the question of the mobilization of ordinary Germans.[57]  Wistrich has emphasized the dissonance he felt when he encountered the testimony of participants in the 1939 “Day of German Art”, just before the opening of the annual Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung.  He has examined the participation of random citizens in these pagan rites and has come to conclusions about the voluntary and total mobilization of ordinary citizens. “Their testimonies… offer an interesting insight into everyday experience under National Socialism. They remind us that most ‘normal’ citizens (which in the Third Reich automatically excluded Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Gypsies, the handicapped and mentally defective) could still live in comparative peace under a criminal regime.”[58]

The present book focuses on those who stayed in Germany and does not describe the positions of intellectuals and artists who choose exile or were exiled and therefore were more critical of the Nazi regime.  This focus might create the impression that all “ordinary” Germans voluntarily mobilized themselves to carry out the cultural policy of the German regime;  I see this line of argument as most premature and dangerous.

               In conclusion, the disagreements over the Nazi politics of culture examined in this section stem from different points of view and methodologies.  Even so, there is a certain line connecting scholars such as Mosse and Stern. Expressions such as “the politics of cultural despair”, “the crisis of German ideology”, “metapolitics”, and “the armed bohemians” indicate a focus on different sides of the questions of continuity and the uniqueness of Nazi ideology in German history.

               Considerations of the question of continuity illuminate the complexity of the distinction between art and politics in the Nazi case, not just because of the unique characteristics of German nationalism, the conservative revolution, and the Kulturkampf in the Weimar Republic, but also because the Nazi regime itself worked to create an illusion of continuity and to build an organic society using totalitarian means.  The process of Gleichschaltung in Nazi Germany made the distinction between aesthetics and politics there even more complicated.  A skeptical methodology, such as that suggested by Mosse, is therefore needed, one which claims that it is difficult to distinguish between ideas, aesthetic expressions, politics, and society.  Mosse has translated the term Gleichschaltung into the one used by Hitler:  “the nationalization of the masses”.[59]

               Despite the differences in methodology, Bracher has used a thought structure similar to that of Mosse in order to explain the inability to differentiate between different sectors in Nazi Germany.  Gleichschaltung thus helps both to understand aesthetics and art as propaganda tools which make use of symbolics and as a description of the background on which the Nazi regime acted to create “voluntary Gleichschaltung”.[60]

               The various scholars who are mentioned in this section have emphasized the importance of questions of aesthetics, but they have focused on the development of ideas and less on their development into an ideology with political implications.  This is their lack.  Their works can be distinguished  from those with approaches meant to examine the Nazi politics of culture through the prism of absolute laws covering the relations between aesthetics and politics.  In this the former reject the attempts made by historians of art and political scientists to compare Socialist Realism to Nazi art.  More indirectly the rejection of comparative methodology also includes reservations about the use of terms such as kitsch outside the German context.

               This book will outline the boundaries of the Nazi politics of culture, not by an examination of its origins, but rather by focusing on the views of those who shaped it.  From a methodological point of view I tend, though not exclusively, to accept the approaches described in this section and therefore this book is not comparative;  it focuses instead on textual analysis.  However, even though this methodology seems to me the most useful for examining the Nazi dictatorship and as having the ability to strengthen the arguments about the uniqueness of the German case, it does not do away with the need for a comparative analysis of art and politics in dictatorships.  The comparison is needed not only because of the visual similarities between Socialist Realism  and Nazi art, but also because both regimes used art as a tool for increasing the legitimacy of the regime and demanded complete mobilization of artistic life under government control.  This comparison strengthens the conclusions of the present book;[61]  while Soviet art was a tool for advancing the revolution, and class consciousness and bourgeois art were seen as producing false consciousness, in the Nazi politics of culture the distinction between politics and aesthetics was almost impossible to make.

               The discussion of the writings of Rosenberg, Schultze-Naumburg, and the Nazi art critics indicates that a claim can be made with a significant degree of validity that the intellectual foundation on which the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture based their views was broader than the immediate contexts of Nazi politics, the Weimar Republic, or even early twentieth- century German history.  From this point of view, despite the differences of degree among the various shapers of the politics of culture, they all took part in the discussion of historical continuity.  It is no coincidence that while outlining the boundaries of the ideal past they considered the Neo-Classicism of Winckelmann and the Romantic tradition of Herder, Fichte, and Wagner.  This continuum does not just express the attempt to anchor National Socialism in the ideal volkish spirit and the colossal historical visions, but is connected to the worldview and type of expressions of the people examined here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Interrelations between Politics and Aesthetics in Nazism

 

               The place of Nazi aesthetics in German cultural life has received a great deal of scholarly attention;  it has been examined from Marxist, Neo-Marxist, and other viewpoints and in the light of socio-psychological paradigms as developed by the Frankfurt School.  These works do not see reciprocal relations between art and politics but rather emphasize the subservience of the former to the latter. 

Another approach to the issue, one which is considered here, is found in works that compare aesthetics and culture in Nazi Germany to those in other totalitarian regimes and to other social movements in Europe.  Works on Nazi aesthetics distinguish between politics and art assuming that these are two separate areas.  These works, influenced by the various types of Marxist approach, see aesthetics as dependent on the political context;  it is part of the superstructure and thus influenced by the means of production.  Such works dominate the field;  only a few scholars have claimed that it is impossible to distinguish between aesthetics and politics. Friedländer was one of the first to suggest that Marxist tools were only of limited use in understanding Nazism. “It seems to me that any analysis of Nazism based only on political, economic and social interpretations will not suffice. The inadequacies of the Marxist concept of ‘fascism’, whether historical or contemporary fascism, are obvious.”  Marxist explanations mostly emphasized the anti-Communist side of Fascism.[62]  Friedländer’s criticism of Marxist explanations is aimed, among others, at approaches which saw visual ideology as the thematic and formal representation of a certain social class, as Hadjinicolau[63] has stated in claiming that the history of the production of pictures is the history of the ruling class.[64]

               The main criticism of Marxism as a research tool for understanding aesthetics and politics in Nazi Germany can be demonstrated using the works of the Frankfurt School.  I believe that the criticism is justified not only because of the intellectual limitations they imposed on themselves by accepting a clear distinction between art and politics, but also because their works were generally reduced to the dichotomy, originally posed by Benjamin, between the “aestheticization of politics” and the “politicization of aesthetics”.            The connections between the Frankfurt School and Marxism are complicated and beyond the scope of this book.  The Institute for Social Research established in Frankfurt in 1923 was supposed to be called the Institute for Research on Marxism.  However, some scholars have claimed that according to the methodology, language, and research tools used there the School cannot be called Marxist, but should be seen as having done “scientific work under Marxist influence”, as Lichtheim put it.[65]  The description of the Frankfurt School as homogeneous and as sharing a common platform is also problematic, as the School contained scholars with different views.[66]

The difficulties inherent in the use of the term “Frankfurt School” in the present context stem from the fact that the theories about Nazism produced by the School were varied and did not share basic assumptions about the place of culture relative to economics and politics.  For example, Neumann, Gurland, and Kirchheimer focused on institutional-economic changes as an explanation for Nazism.[67]  Neumann explained in Behemoththat mass culture and social psychology were part of propaganda and government control of free time.[68]

               At the same time, Horkheimer and Adorno presented an alternative focusing on research into culture as explaining why capitalism had not collapsed as a result of alienation.[69]  However, even the section of the Institute which focused on mass culture did not have a single approach, as Jay has explained, and was characterized by a refusal “to fetishize economics or politics” on the one hand, though it was “equally reluctant to treat culture as a realm apart from society” on the other.[70]  Theirs was actually a double opposition:  to Marxism, which saw art as part of the superstructure, and to the German sciences of culture, which saw art as occupying a higher sphere than daily life.

               Even though Walter Benjamin was not formally a member of the Institute, he had great influence on the members of the School in general and especially on Adorno in the area of cultural criticism.[71]  His 1936 “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” featured the dichotomy between the politicization of art and the aestheticization of politics.  This dichotomy became central to discussions of Nazi aesthetics.[72]  A large percentage of the scholars who made use of this division have ignored the fact the example Benjamin provided for the aestheticization of politics was the Futurist movement in Italy, and not Nazi art; “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves… the logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.[73]  Benjamin believed that the answer to the aestheticization of politics was based on false consciousness and could be found in the Communist model of the politicization of art.

               Even though there is no question as to the contribution of Benjamin to this discussion, adapting his theses to the German case definitely raises some questions.  The most important of these is in which category he would have placed Nazi art.  Although it would seem that the aestheticization of politics would better apply to the German case, this is only the opinion of scholars[74] and is not borne out by an examination of his book.  It may be that the lack of consideration of this question is connected to the motivation of the author;  his goal was to express his views on modernist aesthetic production in order to defend exotic forms of contemporary art, especially film.[75]

               Another figure connected to the Frankfurt School who influenced Adorno, Benjamin, and Horkheimer was Georg Lukács.  In his 1924 History and Social Consciousness he attempted to examine the effects of the capitalist production of goods on social consciousness in order to create a model of mobilized Marxist aesthetics resting on realist art.[76]  His vision of mobilized art, which was later called “Socialist Realism”, led him to claim a criterion for evaluating art according to its connection to objective reality.  From a formal point of view art had to rest on the traditional approach of nineteenth-century Realism.[77]  The demand for realism as expressed by Lukács has led scholars to argue that there was stylistic unity between the art produced in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.  These arguments ignore the clear ideological differences between the two dictatorships, emphasizing instead the demand for cultural closure which was an integral element of dictatorships.

               From 1934 to 1938 an argument between Lukács, Brecht, and Bloch over the Expressionist movement in Germany affected the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture, intellectuals of the left in general, and especially members of the Frankfurt School. Lukács saw the Expressionist movement as detached in a way that did not fit the criteria of mobilized art.  Some versions of this claim have led leftist critics to claim that Expressionism led to Fascism.[78]  In more recent versions, scholars such as Miller-Lane have noted the closeness between Expressionism and Nazism on issues such as cultural pessimism, especially in literature.[79] 

Bloch defended Expressionism and claimed that the members of the movement were anti-bourgeois and anti-imperialist and even made use of popular traditions in art and design.[80]  Brecht saw the position taken by Lukács as an attack on modernism in general and claimed that the experimental approaches in art in general were a condition for the achievement of revolutionary goals and not decadent subjectivism in an era of decline.[81]  Some of the claims made by members of the Frankfurt School during this argument were echoed in the works of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture and in the debate over Expressionism which occurred in the Nazi Party during the same years.  While the members of the School mostly appreciated Expressionism for its ability to faithfully reflect the new era, the Nazi rejected the movement precisely for its identification with modernism.

               Horkheimer and Adorno’s criticism of the “culture industry” developed through a constant give and take with the works of Benjamin and Lukács.  The approach of the former has made a double contribution to the relations between art and politics and to the analysis of the specific case of Nazi Germany.  The term “culture industry”, which they developed following Benjamin and Löwenthal, reflects the standardization of the creation of cultural products.  The way in which art is produced in the modern age separates the logic of production from the logic of the social system.  Unlike “low” popular art which grew from below and was characteristic of the era before the culture industry, production characteristic of the culture industry is dictated from above by economic or other interests.[82]  The worldview of the masses is passed through the filter of the culture industry and creates a deception according to which the world outside of the creation is nothing more than an evaluation of the same illusion.[83]

               Horkheimer and Adorno, following Kracauer, wrote that the trend toward the creation of illusions eliminated the ability to distinguish between real life and a movie. The strength of industrial society was embedded in people and reproduced by the agents of the culture industry.  This sort of view saw parallels between seemingly completely different regimes such as capitalism and National Socialism because the social logic of control through illusion characterized both.[84]

               The discussion of terms such as the culture industry indicates the great extent to which the Frankfurt School was an institution of the modern age and how much it reflected the age in which it operated.  However, the topics debated there are in the end inappropriate for an analysis of the Nazi politics of culture because the latter was characterized by a desire for reaction.  While the members of the School show the influence of the Communist Revolution in their analyses, and are aware of the roles of art as a cultural avant-garde and as a spreader of modern technology, the Nazis rejected any futuristic role for art.  They completely rejected turning the visual arts into a culture industry, and described them as a front which would help preserve the old order.  It is thus not surprising that those in Nazi Germany who supported Expressionism emphasized that the movement reflected Gothic and Nordic values.

               A more sophisticate Marxist approach to the study of the relations between art and politics has been suggested by Eagleton.  He has added to the discussion the claim that the attempt to separate between ideology and aesthetics is arbitrary.[85]  “The construction of the modern notion of the aesthetic artefact is thus inseparable from the construction of the dominant ideological forms of modern class-society, and indeed from a whole new form of human subjectivity appropriate to that social order.…  Aesthetic, understood in a certain sense, provides an unusually powerful challenge and alternative to these dominant ideological forms, and is in this sense an eminently contradictory phenomenon.”[86]  Eagleton has claimed that in certain historical conditions aesthetics can undermine the existing order and even suggest alternative worldviews or ideologies.  His is a more mild version of the Marxist approach which does away with the rigidity of the latter, and therefore he sees the connections between aesthetics, culture, society, and politics in a more balanced and sober manner.

               Non-Marxist views of the connections between art and politics generally tend to see Nazi art as one of the propaganda tools of the regime.  These approaches, which tend to blur the boundaries between art, aesthetics, and propaganda, are paradoxically similar in structure to the aestheticization of politics because they accept the assumption that politics is the first and most dominant factor in Nazi cultural policy.  For example, Rabinbach has seen art, architecture, aesthetics, the Nazi festival, and production as attempts at “aesthetic symbolization” aimed at legitimizing the regime through the production of a deliberate illusion.[87]  Adam, like Rabinbach, has clearly tended toward an approach seeing art and aesthetics as “a perfect medium for creating and directing desires and dreams”.[88]  He has even doubted, following Roh, if the Nazi artists showed any real artistic talent.[89]

               After the seizure of power Nazi aesthetics had a functional role in the creation of political symbols.  The same is true to a great extent for all types of mass governments, yet it seems that Nazism and Fascism were unique in terms of the amount and intensivity of their use of symbols.  Taylor and van der Will have stated that thought-out forms of symbolic expression created mass psychological responses.[90]  However, from the moment these symbols were accepted a separate dynamics began to operate which was connected to the theatricality of public life;  it turned the Nazi aesthetics into “more than mere expressions of a stage-managed rank-and-file movement or a dictatorial philosophy of mass organization and propaganda,”[91] into something that justifies, in my view, the term politics of culture.  Taylor and van der Will hint at the difficulty in distinguishing between aesthetics and politics in the Nazi regime because of the centrality of the use of symbols.

               Aesthetic brainwashing and the great use of symbols were of course influenced by the era of mass communication.  Selz has correctly claimed that these are central characteristics of the totalitarian state, although a claim can be made that symbols have made a major contribution to democratic states as well.[92]  Totalitarianism, which Friedrich has identified as a modern phenomenon, is characterized by a great awareness of the power of aesthetic ideas and expressions to define the socio-economic order.[93]

               The problematics of this sort of analysis stems from the placement of art and aesthetics in the same category with festivals and production.  While in the Nazi case there is definitely a need for a clear distinction between propaganda measures and aesthetic ones, most studies reduce all of the phenomena to a single description without stating the clear differences.  The Nazis made frequent use of symbols in order to strengthen the legitimacy of the regime, but they were aware of the difference between tools of propaganda such as film and other media, which were seen by most of them as “low” expressions of culture, and the visual arts, which were seen as being on a higher plane.   The shapers of the Nazi politics of culture thus distinguished between different levels of culture;  they were aware of the difference between mobilizing the masses and the deeper process of redesigning the worldview of the German citizens.

               An interdisciplinary approach is needed in order to create a research method which will be sufficiently sensitive to these differences.  Steinweis started such a new research direction when he focused on an interdisciplinary analysis of the economic aspects of Nazi cultural policy.  He tended to accept an approach understanding Nazi aesthetics as a meeting point between a creative and active regime and the German artists who responded to it.[94]  At the same time, he qualified this statement and added that the interaction between a community-building regime and order-following German artists occurred on a suitable ideological and aesthetic background.[95]  Steinweis focused on propaganda and the bureaucratic apparatus as tools for achieving the goals of the regime.  His analysis of the Reich Chamber for Culture displayed it as an institution carrying out policies which influenced the material environment in which the artists worked in the sense of the availability of exhibition and performance spaces and the materials necessary for creation.[96] Steinweis’ study focused on the mechanisms of culture used by the totalitarian regime to implement its policies.  While the contribution of such studies is indisputable, the focus of his book is on the period prior to 1933. 

               In his first book, Petropoulos provided a bridge between Steinweis’ approach and mine when he described the process of Gleichschaltung in the artistic world.  The competition over the control of culture led to the building of the Nazi cultural bureaucracy and even to the organization of the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung in 1937.  This pivotal event symbolized the change within Nazi cultural policy from the rejection stage, which Petropoulos has called Aryanization, to a radicalization of cultural policy, especially in 1938 and 1939.[97]  The claim for radicalization is supported in the present work by statements made by the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture.

               The uniqueness of Petropoulos’ work lies in his emphasis on Nazi leaders as art collectors.[98]  In the spirit of Viereck’s description of the Nazi elite as “armed bohemians”, Petropoulos examined the art collections of Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, Speer, and many others, and used them not only to indicate the greed of the Nazi leadership but mostly to show how they used art in an attempt to look cultured.[99]  In his second book, Petropoulos strengthened the claims for the existence of “voluntary Gleichschaltung”.  He examined the contributions of artists, museum directors, gallery directors, journalists covering the art world, and historians of art to the cultural standardization of the Third Reich and emphasized that “those in the learned professions were often among the first to be co-opted, not to mention frequently supportive of the Nazi regime right until the end”.[100]

               Jaskot has also used an interdisciplinary approach;  he has emphasized the problematic nature of an examination of the way the Nazi worldview was put into practice which does not take into account the economic policies of the Third Reich.   “This emphasis on ideological concerns needs to be extended to include an understanding of the developing political economic conditions that are key to analyzing the rise of fascism”.[101]

The uniqueness of his book lies not only in its interdisciplinary method, but mostly in the fact that it is the first to discuss the existing research on Nazi aesthetics and even to criticize leading trends in the history of art.  Jaskot has claimed that the lack of context is one of the main features that has led to the irrelevance of studies done by historians of art. “Art history cannot be in the business of forgetting this past by separating cultural products from the implementation of state and Party policy”.[102]

 

          Another branch of the research on the connections between art and politics in Nazi Germany does not come from the attempts to understand the uniqueness of the Nazi regime but draws on comparative perspectives based on the term totalitarianism.  These works, which appeared during the Cold War, see a resemblance between Socialist and Nazi Realism as seemingly academic, aesthetic, and antimodernist forms of art.  During the period after World War II historians of art tended to dismiss the artistic value of totalitarian art and claimed that totalitarian regimes produced non-art which was “unworthy of being the subject of scientific research”.[103]  Roh’s claims reflect the leading research trends of that time, which were meant to emphasize the similar dimensions of totalitarian regimes.  Research on totalitarianism in general and more specifically Nazi art has advanced since then to a point where his claims seem irrelevant.  In addition, it seems that the relevant questions in the case of volkish art are not its aesthetic value but rather how such art came to be established in Germany for twelve years, which artists represented the school, and whether they managed to offer the citizens of Germany a compensatory worldview.

The differences between the types of mobilized art in the various dictatorships can clearly be seen, another reason why Roh has become irrelevant.  While such regimes do prefer realistic styles, this does not mean that they preferred the same themes;  the differences between regimes must be understood by examining art as a tool in the hands of ideology.[104]  The avant-garde movements active in different countries on the eve of World War I and before the establishment of the dictatorships also had differing effects.  For example, the influence of the artistic avant-garde in the U.S.S.R., which for a number of years was seen as an ally by the Soviet regime, is particularly apparent.  During a certain period there was an overlap between the artistic and political avant-gardes.

               Harold Rosenberg has taken a somewhat unusual position in claiming the existence of a school of totalitarian academism whose goal was to deal with the modern world.[105]  Even though he ignored the different views on the time dimension in the two ideologies, he did indicate the adaptation of totalitarian art to the needs of the regime.  “Educating the masses and inspiring them to more heroic efforts are the stated purposes of the totalitarian art programs, and the pictorial and symbolic idealizations of academic art, are, of course, best suited to this end.”[106]  Rosenberg’s claim saw Stalinism and Nazism as political movements which used aesthetics as a tool in socialization.

This claim is of course correct, yet it seems that, given the importance of race theory, the process of visualization of the ideal life was more meaningful in Nazism.  Calinescu has also described totalitarian ideology as defining political enemies in aesthetic terms.  He has pointed to the dichotomy between Marxist interpretations of bourgeois anti-decadence, following Lukács, and anti-modern degeneration in the interpretations of the shapers of the Nazi politics of culture.[107]  This dichotomy is borne out by an examination of the Nazi case, but it must be qualified;  Nazism is not only an ideology based on rejection, as the Nazi politics of culture suggested an alternative in the form of volkish art.

               In the spirit of postmodernism, some studies continue to argue for the similarity between different types of mobilized art;  they have even taken this argument to the absurd, claiming that all the art of the 1930s was alike.[108]  This claim has been made, for example, by Groys in his research on Socialist Realism. “The turn toward Socialist Realism was moreover part of the overall evolution of the European avant-garde in those years. It has parallels not only in the art of Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, but also in French neoclassicism, in the painting of American regionalism, in the traditional and politically committed English, American, and French prose of the period, historicism in architecture, the political and commercial poster, the Hollywood film, and so on.”[109]  I see this claim as dangerous. The study of phenomena using only visual tools without a consideration of their context allows all political regimes to be compared, but this comparison is useless.

               The most clearly comparative analysis is that of Golomstock on totalitarian art.  It links art in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Maoist China.  Golomstock has characterized the art of these countries as “totalitarian realism”, which he sees as a natural product of totalitarianism just like the propaganda apparatus, order, and terror.[110]  However, he did not distinguish between the organization of artistic life and artistic products because he saw art as produced for political needs.  Golomstock has described five stages in the creation of official art, among them the recognition of art as an ideological tool, achievement of a monopoly on the control and direction of art as an ideological tool, and the choice of a certain movement as official art;  those who deviate from it are denounced as illegal.[111]

               I believe that the approach taken by Golomstock in his book is reductive and overly limits the phenomena studied.  Claims about the similarities between the different totalitarian regimes which created mobilized art are problematic because they do not consider the development of ideology or trace the different historical paths the ideas have taken in each country.  Golomstock did not take into consideration the different political cultures, and as a result did not distinguish between the different weight given art and aesthetics in the various regimes.

               Golomstock’s claim that art became a tool in the hands of ideology in dictatorships is an obvious one, but the nature of the ideology and the varying importance different ideologies gave to culture and art are not explained.  The claim that the art world in dictatorships is a controlled and closed one is correct, but it is presented as a characteristic of dictatorships in general without any examination of the arguments which took place in some countries or of the lack of agreement characteristic not only of the Nazi politics of culture but also of the discussions of the nature of Socialist Realism in the Soviet Union under Stalin.[112]

               Totalitarian regimes did indeed try, and succeeded, to limit artistic pluralism and the freedom of artists, but the process of unification and subjugation of the world of art to the needs of the regime was completely different in each country and was connected to the position taken on avant-garde movements in art.  The rejection of modern art took on different forms in the various dictatorships;  the conditions under which modern artists were persecuted in Nazi Germany were not the same as those in the Soviet Union, thus leading to different artistic outcomes.  The fear from and disgust with the avant-garde in Nazi Germany stemmed from completely different motives and led to much more radical measures.  On the other hand, in the Soviet Union there were many years of overlap;  avant-garde art was used by the regime in different ways, and some avant-garde artists were even appointed to key positions. 

It may be that the explanation for these differences lies in Hitler’s obsession with the world of art as opposed to the opportunistic approach of Stalin, who saw cultural policy as another way to mobilize artists, but they are also the result of different views of the place of culture in political revolutions.  The Nazis saw art as central and as a basis for their worldview without which the revolution could not be completed.  Stalinism saw art as a political tool.  The claim that art had great power for political mobilization is thus true, but it still requires more specific analysis and description.  Claims about the visual similarities of the mobilized arts in the interwar period are also inexact.  Even though there was stylistic similarity, the different themes portrayed were the result of different ideologies.

Golomstock continues a normative tradition in the history of art consecrating the political freedom of the artist to create as a condition for the existence of aesthetics.[113]  In coining the term “totalitarian art”, Golomstock is relying on Haftmann’s book, which rejects the uniqueness of Nazism.  Haftmann has claimed that “what was not so obvious, and it was veiled behind fine political equivocation, was that the attack on modern art was being unleashed at exactly the same time and with very similar arguments in the Soviet Union and by the Communist International, the same international that was proclaiming itself the van of the fight against Fascism”.[114]  Although Haftmann did not acknowledge the differences between the various dictatorships here, in an earlier book he did tend to agree that the Nazi case was the most radical. “The most vicious and ignoble attack on the freedom of the creative man was perpetrated in totalitarian Germany. It was inaugurated by fanatical crackpots drunk on Nordic mythology, who equated the true German spirit with ‘aristocracy of the sword’”.[115]

 

In conclusion, clear Marxist approaches and those resulting from Marxist influence in research into the connections between art and politics in Nazi Germany make only a limited contribution to the topic because they emphasize the technological uniqueness of the industrial era.  Film and the distribution of art were the main topics discussed by the members of the Frankfurt School.  Marxism by its very nature assumes greater autonomy for economics and politics;  according to the Frankfurt School, culture and art are visual expressions located in the superstructure and characterized by complex relationships with politics.  This sort of approach is aimed at a discussion of propaganda and the instrumentalization of art;  it places less emphasis on the expressive dimensions of aesthetics.

Benjamin’s approach distinguishing between the politicization of aesthetics and the aestheticization of politics does not fit together with the term politics of culture, which focuses on the symbiotic relations between aesthetics and politics.  In addition, the exemplification of the politicization of aesthetics in Communism, as opposed to that of the aestheticization of politics in Italian Futurism, does not add to the present discussion.  Marxist tendencies led Benjamin to a definition where aesthetics was differentiated from and external to politics, and therefore he, despite the problems with his definitions, explained Socialist Realism as the politicization of art because Soviet art reflected the distinction between art and politics;  unlike the Nazi case, there was no symbiotic relation between them there.

Comparative approaches dealing with the term totalitarianism look for the explanation for the nature of the connections between art and politics in the instrumental uses of a certain type of regime.  The present work is meant instead to locate the place of Nazi aesthetics and not just its uses.  I accept the contribution of Marxist and comparative approaches to understanding the other sides of the same phenomenon and even see them as the preferred approaches for a functional analysis of aesthetics in building the political power of National Socialism.  However, the claim on which this book is based explains the instrumental use of art as a secondary product of the politics of culture and not as the factor explaining the centrality of aesthetics in Nazi ideology. Unlike studies which have described Nazi art as a tool for mobilization, a method which stresses the subordination of aesthetics to politics, this book claims that in Nazi Germany aesthetics became politics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristics of the Modern Era in Dispute:

Degeneration, Alienation and Kitsch

 

The discussion of Nazi aesthetics cannot be disconnected from the term modernism with its aesthetic contexts, nor from the social processes which accompanied it, such as the rise of mass society and technological changes.  In this framework it is necessary to consider the literature on the Nazi politics of culture as a selective reaction to modernism, where the latter is not described as the achievement of progress or even as a chaotic lack of order, but in terms of degeneration and alienation. 

The accepted definitions of the term kitsch see it as describing bad taste;  the original German means to cheapen something.[116]  However, this vague mistake does not help to understand kitsch as one of the key terms in the discussion of culture and modernism as they developed in Germany since the 1920s.[117]  Kitsch entered the present discussion in the context of art criticism during the 1960s, but it only gained its present meaning when modernism began to be considered as a self-aware phenomenon.  It is a vague term which refers to the psychological feeling a work of art creates in the viewer.  The elements of kitsch which focus on the psychological response are often connected to the discussion of the effect of a work of art on the consciousness of time and place of the viewer.  For example, Kracauer has characterized kitsch as pseudo-reality which “betrays that thought emptied of realty which dresses itself in the appearance of the highest sphere”.[118]

Friedländer added to the discussion the juxtaposition between kitschy aesthetics and themes of death. He saw this as the cornerstone of Nazi aesthetics; the juxtaposition of these two contradictory elements represented “the foundation of a certain religious aesthetic, and, in my opinion, the bedrock of Nazi aesthetic as well as the evocation of Nazism”.[119]  He did not see Nazi kitsch merely as “simple pseudo-reality” which may be exposed by displaying it together with reality but saw kitschy art as containing within it a visual experience stemming from the conflict between opposing foundations of harmony and calm versus the loneliness and finalism represented by death.[120]  The solution to the conflict came from placing the hero, who has come to terms with his death, on the background of a premodern landscape into which he blends in the spirit of the Romantic idealism of the nineteenth century.  However, Nazi kitsch often produces an apocalyptic feeling achieved through visual means;  these works suggest approaching destruction.  Nazi kitsch deals in this way with the tensions inherent within Nazism, which stem from the fact that “modern society and the bourgeois order are perceived both as an accomplishment and as an unbearable yoke. Hence this constant coming and going between the need for submission and the reveries of total destruction, between love and harmony and the phantasms of apocalypse, between the enchantment of Good Friday and the twilight of the gods.”[121]  According to Friedländer, the Nazi aesthetic vision explained the indecision of man about modernism through its ability to calm the primeval fear of crossing the borders of knowledge and power.

Friedländer has made a useful distinction between “common kitsch” and “uplifting kitsch” in the Nazi context.[122]  Uplifting kitsch has pseudo- religious characteristics which helped in mobilizing the people; it was rooted in and based on the symbols of a certain group and connected emotionally to the values of that group, and therefore was not seen as cheapening aesthetics.[123]  On the other hand, common kitsch is universal.  The Nazis were evidently aware of the need for this kind of distinction, as can be seen from the “law for the protection of national symbols”, which was meant to prevent overintensive use of the symbols of the Third Reich and their subsequent turning into kitsch.  The organization of an anti-kitsch exhibition in Cologne by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry (1933) also supports the claim made by Friedländer.[124]

Nazi art can therefore be described as uplifting kitsch;  it was meant to express metaphysical yearning, or in more simple terms, the search for the lost Garden of Eden (weltanschauliche Sehnsucht).[125]  Scholars who wrote on this subject before Peter Adam already mentioned trends of continuity which the Nazis glorified in leading back to the Romantic movement.  Some scholars have described Nazi art as characterized by shallow Romantic inspiration, as Neo-Romanticism,[126] or as a sentimental combination of Romanticism and Classicism.[127]  These sorts of claims fit Hitler’s personal taste in art;  he admired many Late Romantic artists and also those of the Biedermeier school, which split off from the former.[128]  The developers of the Nazi politics of culture also made use of Romantic traditions and in this way strengthened their claims for the continuity of ideas.

Broch has well expressed the connections between kitsch and Romanticism when he explained that kitsch was the final product of Romantic logic.[129]  He claimed that if kitsch was the desire to unite the earth with the Garden of Eden in a completely false relationship,[130] then in the modern era this phenomenon was mass produced together with a tendency toward blood and saccharine.[131]  Broch opposed the classical aesthetic ideal, which saw beauty as an unachievable transcendental concept, to Romanticism, which proposed an aesthetic ideal creating the illusion that beauty was immediately obtainable.[132]  This description added the influence of time, or more correctly, processes of modernism, to Nazi art. The combination of the contents of Nazi art and the processes of making such art that enabled its distribution and reproduction and finally transformed it into kitsch and death.  Adorno added a Marxist-psychological aspect which saw the function of kitsch as a way of escaping alienation to the psychology of kitsch.  In an age of industrial reproduction of mass culture, kitsch created the illusion of nostalgic intimacy.[133]

               Macdonald has proposed a class historical explanation different from those of the Frankfurt School.  He explained kitsch as the result of ever increasing possibilities for the production of books, works of art, and furniture.[134]  In this way art dictated from above by the engineers of taste and forced on the masses was created.  This sort of art was different from the popular art which grew from below.[135]  It is thus possible that the Nazis’ choice of the visual arts and their display of them as one of the heights of culture was not accidental and was connected to their view of them as good for all time.  The visual arts were not capable of “express[ing] the times”, because they could not be reproduced. [136]   They relied on ancient methods of production, and therefore ended up serving the reactionary politics of culture in Nazi Germany.  This position is strengthened by the fact that the Nazis were worried about the possible cheapening which could result from the overuse of Nazi symbols;  the latter could then even become kitsch.

               The identification of kitsch with reproduction, or with modernism, was worrisome not only for members of the Frankfurt School.  In a 1939 article Greenberg described kitsch as a modern phenomenon having reciprocal relations with the avant-garde movements.  It was a reaction of the masses to that which could not be understood and showed their preference for immediate gratification.[137]  Greenberg called kitsch the rear-guard and explained that it was an answer to the avant-garde.[138]  He argued that while it would seemingly be possible to explain the acceptance of kitschy art by totalitarian regimes as hostility toward the avant-garde, they actually made use of kitsch as the cheapest and most appropriate medium for creating an integrative mass culture.[139]  He supported this claim with the fact that both the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany were connected to avant-garde movements in their formative years.[140]

Although this claim holds for Italian Futurism and Novecento,[141] the part about the Nazis and the Expressionist movement is only partially supported historically.  However, Greenberg may have written the article under the influence of the argument within the National-Socialist Party between 1933 and 1936 over the inclusion of Expressionism as an acceptable style.  The results of the argument and the fate of the movement lead to the conclusion that Expressionism was never really considered to be a true artistic alternative by the fanatic supporters of the Nazi politics of culture.  The rejection of the artistic avant-garde mostly symbolized the Nazi opposition to modernism, which also explains the total Nazi rejection of any identification with the Futurists even though the latter movement was seemingly identified with their Fascist allies in Italy.  The Nazis, who rejected any futuristic role for art, could not accept the future-oriented Futurist philosophy.

A slightly different approach to the psychological responses produced by Nazi aesthetics focuses on the tension between harmony and alienation.[142]  Hinz has based his work on an analysis of the themes in Nazi art.  The answer to alienation could be found in dealing with a series of themes meant to outline a “false harmony”, as Hinz put it, or an integral social utopia.[143]  The Nazi utopia was not defined in terms of modern social agreements but rather as an organic community leading healthy and organic lives in a framework which was fundamentally aesthetic.[144]  Hinz did not write about the dichotomy between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, which is considered in this book, but his work is groundbreaking in that he pointed out the main themes in Nazi art.

One of the main themes meant to express the aesthetic values which also indirectly reflected moral ones was the representation of the body.  Mosse saw the nude as a remedy for alienation and the unfairness of modern life and art, which were associated with uncontrollable urges.[145]  The nude as it appeared in Nazi art was connected to a popular racial tradition worried about degeneration and admiring of the Classical figure Winckelmann tried to achieve.[146]  Mosse thus claimed that the nude in Nazi art and sculpture expressed “a beauty without sensuality” which was appropriate to a fair and desirable public representation.[147] Mosse’s claim is supported by the Nazi art critics, who stated that the representative strategy of the nude in Nazi aesthetics was aimed at showing the racial ideal. 

Harold Rosenberg has described the same lack of sensuality as sublimation or depressed sex which raised the Nazi nude to a level above the erotic and achieved through it “ideological uplifting”.[148]  van der Will has described the nude in the context of the utopian desire to return to integral, basic values, one which also influenced the German left and the German youth movements.  The nude was often displayed by the nudist athletic movements and expressed aesthetic and cultural values crossing party lines.  Instead of man alienated from nature, nudism reflected the “reconciliation of man and nature”.[149]  However, the racial and volkish interpretation of the nude and its positioning in the village context of blood and soil were characteristic of a different organic renewal from that created in other circles which made use of the same symbols.[150]

Despite the approaches which describe the Nazi view of the nude as a type of sublimation, the Nazi nude frequently produces a feeling of being a Peeping Tom, bordering even on pornography.[151]  There are psychologistic approaches to Nazism, such as that of Shoham, which support the latter view and describe the Nazi use of the nude as “pure eroticism”.  This sort of nude was meant to “enchant healthy and strong males”.[152]  Theweleit has expressed similar sorts of views;  he has described the visions and illusions of the men of the Freikorps and focused on the portrayal of the female body.  Theweleit has claimed that Fas