by Benjamin G. Martin
Harvard University Press, 370 pp., $39.95
“When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver.”
Kultur, he explains (along with Bildung, or education), denoted in pre-unification Germany those qualities that the intellectuals and professionals of the small, isolated German middle class claimed for themselves in response to the disdain of the minor German nobles who employed them: intellectual achievement, of course, but also simple virtues like authenticity, honesty, and sincerity.
German courtiers, by contrast, according to the possessors of Kultur, had acquired “civilization” from their French tutors: manners, social polish, the cultivation of appearances. As the German middle class asserted itself in the nineteenth century, the particular virtues of Kultur became an important ingredient in national self-definition. The inferior values of “civilization” were no longer attributed to an erstwhile French-educated German nobility, but to the French themselves and to the West in general.
By 1914, the contrast between Kultur and Zivilisation had taken on a more aggressively nationalist tone. During World War I German patriotic propaganda vaunted the superiority of Germany’s supposedly rooted, organic, spiritual Kultur over the allegedly effete, shallow, cosmopolitan, materialist, Jewish-influenced “civilization” of Western Europe. Martin’s book shows how vigorously the Nazis applied this traditional construct.
Goebbels and Hitler were as obsessed with movies as American adolescents are today with social media.
Music was a realm that Germans felt particularly qualified to dominate. But first the German national musical scene had to be properly organized. In November 1933 Goebbels offered Richard Strauss the leadership of a Reich Music Chamber.
Goebbels organized in Düsseldorf in 1938 a presentation of “degenerate music” following the better-known 1937 exhibition of “degenerate art.”
As with music, the Nazis were able to attract writers outside the immediate orbit of the Nazi and Fascist parties by endorsing conservative literary styles against modernism, by mitigating copyright and royalty problems, and by offering sybaritic visits to Germany and public attention.
Painting and sculpture, curiously, do not figure in this account of the cultural fields that the Nazis and Fascists tried to reorganize “inter-nationally,” perhaps because they had not previously been organized on liberal democratic lines. Picasso and Kandinsky painted quietly in private and Jean Bazaine organized an exhibition with fellow modernists in 1941. Nazi cultural officials thought “degenerate” art appropriate for France.
Science would have made an interesting case study, a contrary one. Germany dominated the world of science before 1933. Germans won fifteen Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine between 1918 and 1933, more than any other nation. Far from capitalizing on this major soft power asset, Hitler destroyed it by imposing ideological conformity and expelling Jewish scientists such as the talented nuclear physicist Lise Meitner. The soft power of science is fragile, as Americans may yet find out.
American soft power thrived mostly through the profit motive and by offering popular entertainment to the young.
The Original Axis of Evil
THE ANATOMY OF FASCISM By Robert O. Paxton. 321 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $26.
fascism — unlike Communism, socialism, capitalism or conservatism — is a smear word more often used to brand one’s foes than it is a descriptor used to shed light on them.
World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 contributed mightily to the advent of fascism. The war generated acute economic malaise, national humiliation and legions of restive veterans and unemployed youths who could be harnessed politically. The Bolshevik Revolution, but one symptom of the frustration with the old order, made conservative elites in Italy and Germany so fearful of Communism that anything — even fascism — came to seem preferable to a Marxist overthrow.
Paxton debunks the consoling fiction that Mussolini and Hitler seized power. Rather, conservative elites desperate to subdue leftist populist movements ”normalized” the fascists by inviting them to share power. It was the mob that flocked to fascism, but the elites who elevated it.
Fascist movements and regimes are different from military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. They seek not to exclude, but rather to enlist, the masses. They often collapse the distinction between the public and private sphere (eliminating the latter). In the words of Robert Ley, the head of the Nazi Labor Office, the only private individual who existed in Nazi Germany was someone asleep.
t was this need to keep citizens intoxicated by fascism’s dynamism that made Mussolini and Hitler see war as both desirable and necessary. ”War is to men,” Mussolini insisted, ”as maternity is to women.”
For every official American attempt to link Islamic terrorism to fascism, there is an anti-Bush protest that applies the fascist label to Washington’s nationalist rhetoric, assault on civil liberties and warmaking.
Is Fascism Back?
Paxton, R. O. (1998). The five stages of fascism. Journal Of Modern History, 70(1), 1.
Paxton, R. O. (2012). The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe: Italy, Spain and Romania, 1870-1945. New Left Review, (74), 140-144.
Paxton, R. O. (2000). Nationalism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism in France (Book Review). Journal Of Modern History, 72(3), 814.
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