VII. The Political Revolt Against the Modernist Idea
The self-concept and world-view of the Modernist era, which had already found
artistic, scientific, political and social form and expression before the First
World War, began to spread throughout the Western world in the postwar period.
But it met with the bitter resistance from all those forces and social strata
who regarded it as a threat to their economic and social status-and especially
to their thinking.
The social and political models of the modernist idea-democracy,
political equality of the sexes, emancipation of women, separation of church and state, the right to education and information and the protection of the private sphere-came hand-in-hand with hitherto unheard of claims to self-determination. The fulfillment of these claims, however, was perceived among broad strata of society not just as an enrichment, as an extension of human potentials, but also as a threat. The consistent pursuit of the Kantian maxim of "Sapere aude! Dare to make use of your mind!" had robbed the formerly dominant religious world-view of its credibility and led to the formation
of a profane culture, one that no longer drew its self-awareness and its
standards primarily from religious teaching and received traditions, but
from the interpretation of individual experience. The ideas propounded by
Modernism had not simply reduced dependence and social repression and helped raise the standard of living; they also destroyed the self-concept and the world-view that had until then provided protection and stability. The prevailing mood in the new era was marked by a sense of a general lack of certainty.1
This uncertainty could be tolerated without objection only for as long
as it was bathed in an optimistic light, i.e. for as long as the promises of the newly gained rights and freedoms could push the associated fears into the background. With the outbreak and mounting intensity of the material
and spiritual crises of the postwar period, that was no longer the case. The ambiguity of the modernist era, the ineradicable link between freedom and insecurity felt increasingly painful. In nearly all European countries radical nationalist and anti-democratic movements rose up with new offers of
absolute certainties and promises that the life of each person and of the nation would be put back on solid spiritual and economic foundations. The
declared goal of these movements, today described as fascist,2 was the
creation of a totalitarian state. The most extreme and fateful manifestation
of this political ideology was found in German National Socialism.
The history of National Socialism has been treated in an extensive literature3 and will here be outlined only insofar as it is significant to the development of Modernism. We are especially interested in the ideology of the Nazis and in the world-view of its creator, Adolf Hitler. In retrospect it is clear that Hitler's gigantic and unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the spirit of modernism, "root and branch," indirectly but essentially contributed towards consolidating the new world-view and self-concept, and towards turning its guiding ideals into an integral part of Western consciousness.
Hitler's career began in 1908 after the death of his mother (his father had
died in 1903), when at the age of 19 he moved to Vienna to become a painter.
After two failed applications to the art academy, he lived a shiftless bohemian
existence until the outbreak of war, first in Vienna, then in Munich, which he
financed through his orphan's benefits, painting postcards, and occasional sales
of pictures. Instead of learning another trade or otherwise pursuing a regular
job, he spent his days in public libraries reading extensively and acquiring a
half-education from which he would later piece together the theoretical
framework of his world-view.
The outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to this idleness. Hitler immediately reported as a volunteer. He was assigned as a messenger for a Bavarian regiment and made such a good showing that he received the Iron Cross for his exceptional courage. This effort on behalf of a great common goal may be understood as an attempt at healing. Through a strong cathexis of the idealized pole of the self, Hitler attempted to compensate for the weakening of the exhibitionist pole of the self caused by his failure until that point. Military service was at any rate the first in some sense professional occupation in which he had proved himself, and one may presume that both this success and the idea of taking part, as a member of the army, in the power and the greatness of the victorious German nation quite substantively contributed towards strengthening his precarious self-esteem.
Shortly before the end of the war Hitler, suffering from gas poisoning, was delivered to the military hospital in Pasewald. Here his new-found psychic balance was disrupted in November 1918 by the German revolution, the creation of the Weimar Republic, and the military collapse. The idealized structure to which he had fully committed himself was devalued and destroyed. Hitler reacted with narcissistic rage and psychic defensiveness. His hatred was directed against the creators of the Weimar Republic, against the "cowardly traitors" who in his view had plunged a dagger into the back of a still victorious German Army. Somewhat later he adopted a variation of the defense mechanism described by Freud as identification with the lost object4: he protected himself from the loss of the idealized imago by identifying with the glorious German nation that had been betrayed by the republicans. His self merged with his idealized super-ego. He vowed to do everything in his power to reverse the outcome of 1918, and decided to become a politician.
In 1919 Hitler joined the small Munich-based Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, the German Workers Party. Within this circle he discovered his speaking talent; with constantly repeated demands for sweeping national renewal, and with his incessant and hateful tirades against Jewish Bolshevism and the crimes of the republic, he gained a broad following that was reflected in the party's growing membership rolls. In 1921 he became the chairman and Führer (leader) of the party, which he had meanwhile renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), and within which he now held unconditional authority. He also commanded what was in fact a private army, the Sturmabteilung (storm troop) or SA organized to protect him, but which was increasingly often employed to disrupt or prevent the assemblies of his political opponents. In late 1923 he felt strong enough to attempt a putsch modeled on Mussolini's March on Rome. The failure of this attempt put an inglorious end to the first phase of his career. The NSDAP was banned and Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment at Landsberg. There he began writing his political manifesto, which he concluded after his early release from prison in 1925. The two-volume, 700 page work, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) follows an account of its author's life until that time with an impassioned presentation of the political and philosophical theses of National Socialism.
The core of this megalomanic ideology is formed by Hitler's social-Darwinist
racial doctrine. According to that, humanity consists of superior and
inferior races, and the superior races have the right to subjugate the
inferior ones and place them at the service of their own goals and purposes.
The best and most valuable race is that comprising the German peoples,
the "Aryan" race. According to Hitler the greatest human achievements
in art, science and technology are almost exclusively the creative
product of the Aryan. This very fact admits of the not unfounded inference
that he alone was the founder of all higher humanity, therefore representing
the prototype of all that we understand by the word 'man'.5
This supposedly extremely worthwhile race must first of all be kept pure, i.e. protected from any admixture with "inferior blood foreign to the race"; and it must furthermore command over sufficient "Lebensraum" (meaning territory for settlement; literally, space to live in): Foreign policy is the art of securing Lebensraum in the quantity and quality necessary for a given people. Domestic policy is the art of maintaining a people's racial value and population for the required exercise of power.6
The idealization of the Aryan finds its counterpart in a fanatic anti-Semitism. Certainly this could rely in Germany on a centuries-old tradition; but with Hitler it gains a previously unknown, manic character. The Jew becomes the scum of humanity, a public danger, a toxic vermin that must be eradicated. […] He is and remains the typical parasite, a sponger who like a noxious bacillus keeps spreading as soon as a favourable medium invites him. And the effect of his existence is also like that of spongers: wherever he appears, the host people dies out after a shorter or longer period.7
Thus the Jew threatens all of civilized humanity. Culturally he contaminates art, literature, the theatre, makes a mockery of natural feeling, overthrows all concepts of beauty and sublimity, of the noble and the good, and instead drags men down into the sphere of his own base nature.
Religion is ridiculed, ethics and morality represented as outmoded, until the last props of a nation in its struggle for existence in this world have fallen.
Now begins the great last revolution. In gaining political power the Jew casts off the few cloaks that he still wears. The democratic people's Jew becomes the blood-Jew and tyrant over peoples. In a few years he tries to exterminate the national intelligentsia and by robbing the peoples of their natural intellectual leadership makes them ripe for the slave's lot of permanent subjugation.
The most frightful example of this kind is offered by Russia, where he killed or starved about thirty million people with positive fanatical savagery, in part amid inhuman tortures, in order to give a gang of Jewish journalists and stock exchange bandits domination over a great people.8
According to Hitler the outcome of the struggle between the Aryan and the Jewish race would determine the ultimate fate of humanity. If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men. […]
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.9
Hitler's racial doctrine is scientifically insupportable and full of contradictions.10 The concept of race is never defined; people and race, tribe, species and nation are mostly employed as synonyms. Although Hitler describes the racial question as the "key to world history," the actual human races distinguishable by skin color, the white, black, and yellow races, are hardly ever mentioned in his writings or speeches. Biological facts are irrelevant to him, his theory serves exclusively to rationalize and justify the prejudice and hatred that he had formed during his adolescence (his Vienna period) under the impression of his own ineffectiveness and insignificance. The Jew is his scapegoat. He functions as a stand-in for all people, forces or institutions that directly or indirectly questioned Hitler's inflated self-image and claims to power. This is seen among other things in the way Hitler proclaims all of his enemies, without distinction, into Jews: democracy and the League of Nations, pacifism, Marxism and modernist art are Jewish inventions; the Soviet Union, the "capital of the international stock exchange," the German Revolution of 1918, the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles are all the works of "international Judaism."
It is pointless to refute these nonsensical claims. The common denominator that connects all of these manifestations branded as "Jewish" is the mental attitude or world-view they express. It is the same world-view which supports the guiding ideals of the new historical era: self-determination of peoples, respect for human rights, rational legitimation of power, equality of the sexes, protection of the private sphere, freedom of speech and of assembly, social pluralism. Hitler's multiple hate-figure-"international Jewry"-has a paradigmatic meaning: it signifies the spirit of modernism. The indescribable malevolence that Hitler directed throughout his life towards modernism can be followed back to his years of apprenticeship. This period, spent in 1909 to 1915 in Vienna and Munich, was under the influence of an emerging Modernism. Around this time psychoanalysis, the theory of relativity, new architecture, modernist art and twelve-tone music were celebrating their first international triumphs. They signaled a new beginning, they promised unknown horizons-but all of this was closed to Hitler. The rigid and dogmatic strucure of his character precluded a curious, playful-experimental approach to the new currents, and made it impossible for him to creatively appropriate them. The essence of modernism remained foreign to Hitler. He could not understand or absorb the values it represented; yet he was only too well aware that something important was happening, to which he had no access and in which he could not participate. He felt excluded and reacted in anger; the new paradigm became a great offender that called for eradication. With an unerring intuition Hitler recognized the modernist spirit as his "archenemy."
His racial doctrine did not just allow him to interpret his incomprehension and his exclusion as a biologically determined process, and to work that into his political program; it also allowed him to combine all of his opponents into a single concept, denouncing them with vituperative concision. His racial doctrine supplied the hate-image that was to prove indispensable towards mobilizing the masses.
The dynamics of Hitler's mind have been examined by psychologists of all
persuasions, and traced back to his earliest childhood.11 Without going into the
findings of these works, in the following we shall merely consider a few aspects
of his character in the terms of Kohut's theory of narcissism.
Hitler combines the properties of the messianic and the charismatic personalities. That is how Kohut12 describes certain narcissistically fixated individuals who seem to emanate an imperturbable self-confidence, who announce their opinion with great certainty, and who do not shy from setting themselves up as the leaders and gods of those who have a need to be led and to find an object for their admiration. Kohut attributes the feelings of strength and the absolute moral superiority that distinguish charismatic and messianic personalities to their total identification with their own grandiose self (with their ambitions) or with their idealized structure (the sum of their values and principles). They feel justified in forcing through their goals and ambitions in the most ruthless fashion. Correspondingly they do not understand their ideals as regulative standards of their behavior, but experience their self as a personification of these ideals. Such people project all of their weaknesses and shortcomings onto the external world. They block painful realities from their own self-image and replace these with the illusion of their own omnipotence and perfection.13
According to Kohut, charismatic and messianic personalities can be found in all colors and shadings. The spectrum extends from extremely pronounced cases touching upon psychosis to those in whom the fusion with the grandiose self or idealized super-ego is only partial, so that they can in other parts of their self remain thoroughly natural and behave 'normally'. One often finds them among political or religious leaders, intellectuals and artists. Characteristically Hitler wanted to take over all of these roles simultaneously, in the same way that he also combined the two narcissistic personalities in himself: he appeared as the all-knowing messiah and as the all-powerful leader of his people.
Hitler's total identification with his idealized super-ego and with his grandiose self, i.e. his unyielding certainty of being in the right and his unconditional determination to impose his own will with the greatest possible ruthlessness and without regard to any objection, is obvious not only in the apodictic tone of all of his statements, but also in the organizational concept upon which he based the party and later the state-the leader principle. It is one of the highest tasks of the movement to make this principle determining, not only within its own ranks, but for the entire state.
Any man who wants to be leader bears, along with the highest unlimited authority, also the ultimate and heaviest responsibility.
Anyone who is not equal to this or is too cowardly to bear the consequences of his acts is not fit to be leader; only the hero is cut out for this.14
Maxims to that effect would also define his foreign policy: First our people must be liberated from the hopelessly confusing internationalism, and consciously and systematically educated into a fanatic nationalism. Second we will tear our people away from the nonsense of parliamentarianism, in that we teach them to fight against the insanity of democracy and again see the necessity of authority and leadership. Third we will, in that we liberate the people from the pathetic belief in help from the outside, i.e. from the belief in reconciliation among peoples, world peace, the League of Nations and international solidarity, destroy these ideas. There is only one right in this world, and this right exists in one's own strength.15
This boundless claim to power gains an additional significance when one views Hitler as a failed artist and his politics as a kind of compensatory action, as a misdirected artistic activity. Seen in this way, Hitler as politician remained a questionable 'artist' who basically changed media. As color and canvas to the artist, so to Hitler the people: therein he saw the material with which he could give form and expression to his grandiose self and his idealized super-ego. His formal means were suggestion and terror, his tool was the party. In the same vein Hitler was constantly glorified in the Nazi propaganda as an artist, as the "architect and constructor" of the state. Under the headline "Art as the Foundation of the Creative Force in Politics," the Völkische Beobachter, the official organ of the party, declared: There exists an internal and indissoluble link between the artistic works of the leader and his great political work. Art is also the root of his development as a politician and statesman. His artistic activity is not merely a coincidental activity in this man's youth, not a detour of the political genius, but the prerequisite for his creative idea of totality.16 Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, missed no opportunity to point out this aesthetic dimension of politics. According to him, politics is not a specific craft, but nothing other than the art of shaping peoples; in this way the realms of artists and politicians meet. They are all obsessed with the noble ambition of giving to the raw material that is formless and shapeless its form and shape.17 And in the same vein Hitler regarded the German people, indeed all of Europe, as an amorphous, kneadable mass. He did not experience the world surrounding him as a reality in itself, as an independent opposite with equal rights, but only as an extension of his own narcissistic universe.18
We return from our psychological digression to the history of National
Socialism. After his early release from prison Hitler went back to the
realization of his plan. The failure of his attempted putsch had convinced
him it was necessary to pursue his goals henceforth by legal, i.e. parliamentary
means. Instead of seizing power by force of arms we shall, to the
annoyance of the Catholic and Marxist members of parliament, nose our
way into the Reichstag. Even if it will take longer to outvote them than
to shoot them, in the end their own constitution will guarantee our success.19
Membership in the NSDAP at first rose only slowly: at the end of 1928 it amounted to just under 60,000. The situation changed once the economic distress of the population came to a head with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929-1930. The worst affected were the ordinary people-manual laborers, office workers, store owners and farmers; they felt a threat not only to their economic existence, but also to their social self-concept.
These groups therefore responded with increasing enthusiasm to the Nazis' promises to protect the middle class and to reconstitute the former traditional order, to their declaration of war on Marxism, on the workers' movement, on "Jewish capital" and on the international conspiracy to enslave a defeated Germany. The Nazi following was no longer restricted to the petit bourgeois, however, because by this time Hitler had something to offer to everyone: to farmers higher prices, to industrialists protection against foreign competition, to workers security of existence, to former officers new armed forces and the prospect of military glory, to nationalists a great German empire.20
Perhaps the Nazis' most important ally was the widespread fear of Communism. National Socialism was understood as a bulwark against it, and was long tolerated as the lesser evil by the representatives of the establishment, until it was too late to put a halt to it.
In September 1930 the NSDAP gained 6.5 million votes and 107 seats in the parliament; in the elections of 1932, with nearly 14 million votes and 230 seats, it became the strongest party in Germany. On 30 June 1933 Hitler was named Chancellor of the German Reich by its president, von Hindenburg. From this position he managed in just 18 months to do away with all constitutional and legal obstacles and establish a dictatorial system of government.
Once the churches of the two great Christian confessions also adapted to the point where they no longer posed a danger to the regime, Hitler had very little left to purge. He did away with any presumed or actual opponents within his own ranks by murdering the top leadership of the SA and other insubordinate party functionaries (in the Röhm putsch) and, after Hindenburg's death, he took the final step. On 2 August 1934 he united the offices of Reichskanzler and Reichspräsident in his person, and a few days later he had the armed forces, the Wehrmacht, swear fealty directly to him. After this neutralization or elimination of all potential opponents and the creation of a police state in which he commanded absolute power, Hitler could now tackle his true work: the complete and systematic reshaping of the German people.
The most important instrument of power in Nazi domestic policy was the
Party. It created a framework for the total organization of society. The
Hitler Youth and the Bund Deutscher Mädchen covered the country's youth;
the various district (Gau), local, group and cell leaders controlled the
entire adult population. With a gigantic apparatus of professional associations,
chambers and authorities, the Party also dominated every public or private
activity. Teachers, doctors and lawyers, students and lecturers, artists,
writers and architects, farmers, workers and businessmen were all forced
to join their respective professional organizations, all of which were
led by party functionaries. The Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung
und Propaganda (Ministry for Popular Education and Propaganda), which
was put in charge of radio and the press, had the function of bringing
them into a uniform cast of mind; the policy behind this was known as
Gleichschaltung (forced conformity).
All the activities of the Party were carried out under the guard and supervision of the paramilitary "protective echelon" known as the SS (Schutz-Staffel). This organization, which by design stood above the rest of the "party comrades," dominated the population and kept it in a state of terror. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, the SS had the task of tracking down and killing in the bud each and every opposition to the state. In accomplishing this the SS, together with its associated secret police force, the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), built up a system of informants to pervade the machinery of the Party and the State as well as all areas of everyday life. With their persecutions and by setting up concentration camps-in which political opponents were imprisoned and mistreated, and where, after the outbreak of the war, thousands were executed-the SS and the Gestapo represented the most important instruments of Hitler's political terror.
The Nazi terror was not only directed at political opponents of the system, but also at minority groups within the population, above all the Jews. Soon after the seizure of power, a nationwide boycott of Jewish shops and medical and legal practices, begun on 1 April 1933, initiated the long series of measures of defamation and persecution with which the Jews were, step by step, to be deprived of their rights, ostracized, plundered, persecuted, and finally destroyed. On 7 April 1933 a Law to Reconstitute the Professional Civil Service took effect, which in its "Aryan sections" prevented Jews from having any access to public services and excluded them from all public and private associations. With the decree of the so-called Nuremberg Laws in 1935 they were officially declared second-class citizens. Marriages between Jews and members of the German or a related bloodline were prohibited by the Bloodline Protection Law, extra-marital sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans was subject to severe punishment as "disgracing the race." Jewish doctors, lawyers, business people and craftsmen were all barred from working, Jewish shops and companies were expropriated in the course of a large-scale program of "Aryanization." A long series of emergency decrees banned Jews from going to schools, universities, movie theaters, concerts, exhibitions, or swimming pools; finally even the use of public transportation was denied to them, and they were not allowed to buy or own cars, telephones, newspapers or even pets. With the nationwide pogrom of the Reichskristallnacht (on the night of 9 to 10 November 1938) this first phase of the Nazi persecution of the Jews reached its high point. Throughout the Reich, Jewish businesses, apartments, institutions, schools and over 250 synagogues were set ablaze and destroyed, thousands of Jews were mistreated and arrested, many beaten to death. With the outbreak of the war, the persecution of the Jews entered into a second phase that ended with the systematic acts of annihilation in the concentration camps.
The exclusion and material persecution of the Jews was not considered
enough. Cultural life also had to be "freed of Jewish influence" (entjudet),
protected from the subversive influence of "international" thinking and
regained as a province of "Aryan genius." The Reichskulturkammer (Cultural
Chamber) with its departments for music, visual arts, theater, literature,
press, radio and film pressed all realms of cultural life into the service
of the Nazi view of the world. Creative artists who did not submit were
barred from working. The Reichskulturkammer, which answered to the propaganda
ministry, was supposed to advance the "free development" of cultural and
artistic life. According to Goebbels: Creative people in Germany should
once again sense themselves as a single entity. It is time to free them
of that feeling of miserable emptiness that until now separated them from
the nation and its driving forces. We do not want to restrict artistic
and cultural development but advance it. The state wants to hold its protective
hand over it. German artists should feel secure under its patronage and
regain the gladdening feeling of being as indispensable within the state
as those who produce the values of its material being. The workers of
the mind and of the hand shall reach out to each other and join together
in an alliance meant to hold for all eternity. Fellow-feeling amongst
producers of all kinds will become a reality, and everyone, in his own
place, is valued for what he does for the nation and its future.[…]21
The new Aryan cultural policy did not take long to bear fruit. The infamous book burnings were held on 10 May 1933, the first "list of forbidden belles-lettres" was published six days later. The works of Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Schnitzler, Erich Kästner and many others, among them Sigmund Freud, were officially labeled dangerous and undesirable literature and banned from all public libraries and from being printed. Film and theater were put under censorship; even music was regulated by the state. Performances of the works of Jewish or Russian composers were banned.
On 11 April 1933 the Bauhaus was shut down, after which the museums and galleries were "purged." Backed by an official decree "against Negro culture for the German people," a so-called Fighting Alliance for German Culture began to confiscate from public collections those works of modern artists classified as culturally Bolshevik, degenerate or subversive, exposing them to public derision in what were indeed "exhibitions of shame."
These actions to "cleanse the temple of art" reached their high point in the year 1937, when a predatory commission appointed by Goebbels engaged in a form of iconoclasm without precedent: within a matter of weeks it removed about 17,000 works from public collections.22 Over 600 of these were put on display as an admonitory example in the notorious exhibition of so-called degenerate art ("Entartete Kunst"). The exhibition, which offered a representative cross-section of classical Modernist art, was supposed to show the dangers of a development steered by Jewish and Bolshevik spokespersons and heading towards perfected insanity. The Reich's propaganda ministry made every conceivable effort to encourage public discussion of the matter. Between 1937 and 1939 the exhibition was on show in Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt, and in the course of two years it drew over two million visitors.
Fortunately economic factors saved the confiscated works from material destruction. Some were put in storage, most of the rest were sold to foreign collectors and museums. The era of "Bolshevik cultural infatuation" was thus put to an end.
Under the supposedly protective hand of the state "German" artists were now no longer exposed to foreign influences. Museums and galleries opened their doors to art that toed the party line, race-specific, Nordic art that glorified "heroic people" and drew its inspiration solely from bloodline and race. The thus completed Gleichschaltung was sealed by a "decree to reform German cultural life" that prohibited cultural criticism in general and allowed only the "positive contemplation of art."
Stylistically the art praised by the Nazis as an expression of spiritual renewal recalled the academic classicism and the history and genre painting of the nineteenth century. Its statements were of a literary kind and never went beyond anecdote. The pictures and sculptures that were put on display in the annual "great German art exhibitions" in Munich were ordered according to their figurative content as landscapes, animal pictures, portraits, nudes, portrayals of everyday life among German farmers, sports and hunting, mother and child motifs, or, starting in 1939 and ever more frequently after that, the glorification of war and of soldierly virtues.
The obedient, apparently sober naturalism of these paintings and sculptures stood in obvious contradiction to the unrealistic attitude of mind that was expressed in them. The official art of the Third Reich was completely divorced from reality. The country that was preparing to fight the most technicized war in history was presenting itself in its art with horse and cart, hand-plow, distaff, hammer and sword-i.e. in a wholly pre-industrial guise.23 With the right instinct, the artists seek […] their models primarily among those of our fellow Germans who are, as it were, good by nature, the art historian Fritz Alexander Kauffmann wrote in 1941 in defense of this choice of themes. They choose motifs from places where the closeness of our native soil, the conserving forces of the landscape, the protection of the blood-line from admixture, the power of a home-grown tradition and the blessing of charitable work kept the essence healthy. Quite logically, our contemporary painting is filled with peasant faces and shapes, with men carrying out the ancient tasks close to nature, with hunters, fishermen, shepherds and wood-cutters, but they are joined by the simple people of the manual trades, because that form of life, ennobled by mastery, similarly makes intelligible the virtues of constructive honesty.24 Every subject was ideologically charged, every theme allegorically, mythologically, or symbolically exalted. The inner and outer reality was replaced by a desired ideal, by an illusion wherein naturalism once again was assigned the task of lending credibility to the subject. The stylistic tools that arose from a striving for objective knowledge were, as in the Salon art of the nineteenth century, placed in the service of a manipulative and idealizing system of beliefs, and were thus alienated from their intellectual foundations. In this way, the artists of the Third Reich largely produced nothing but monumental kitsch.
The scholarly articles in a 1989 German-language collection published under
the title, "Nobody was there and no one knew a thing,"25 leave no doubt about
the extent to which the campaign against the Jews was approved of, or at least
tolerated by the German public. Hitler's racial doctrine without doubt conveyed
to the Germans a new sense of being one people, and simultaneously compensated
for the total powerlessness of the ordinary people; for as a German and an
Aryan, even the humblest and poorest could now count as members of the elect.
While Jews and Gypsies were shut off from social life like lepers, the great majority of the German population basked in the glow of their newly gained national greatness. The economic revival, the giant buildings, autobahns, social facilities, the perfect functioning of the public services, the Nazi ceremonies, receptions and parades, the 1936 Olympic games, and the initial foreign policy successes seemed to them to be worth the price that was exacted. The acts of terror by the police, the SA and the SS, the murders, concentration camps and waves of arrests elicited little reaction. The slogan "One State, One People, One Leader" was not just a desired ideal; it corresponded to the social and political reality.
This harmony between people and leader made it possible for Hitler to gradually secure his power to the point where any resistance from below was hopeless. The small minority who rejected Nazism out of internal conviction were left only with a choice between external adjustment, emigration, or facing removal to a concentration camp. After Hitler had succeeded in turning the German people into his completely pliant tool, he could go on to the realization of his international goals: the conquest of the necessary Lebensraum in the east, the subjugation and unification of Europe under German rule, and the so-called "final solution of the Jewish question."
Hitler's foreign policy was marked by the same ruthless determination
and the same speed that he had already revealed in the pursuit of his
domestic goals. Immediately after his seizure of power he declared Germany's
departure from the League of Nations. In 1935 he introduced general military
conscription, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1936 German
troops occupied the demilitarized Rhineland. In 1938 there followed the
Anschluss or union with Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland,
i.e. the part of Czechoslovakia with a German majority. In 1939 the remaining
part of Czechoslovakia was occupied and declared a protectorate. That
year Hitler concluded a pact of non-aggression and friendship with the
Soviet Union-the secret appendix to which foresaw war with Poland and
the division of all of Eastern Europe, from Finland to Romania, into German
and Soviet spheres of influence. Hitler achieved all of this without a
single shot being fired. Despite the intensifying criticism and outrage
among great numbers of their peoples, the governments of the Western democracies
had made no serious effort of any kind to halt German expansion. This
only changed after the Wehrmacht overran the Polish borders on 1 September
On 3 September Great Britain and France declared war on the German Reich, although they were in no way prepared for it. Without a strategy and lacking the will or the ability to launch an offensive against the common enemy, they restricted themselves in the first months of the war to throwing propaganda leaflets over the enemy lines. By contrast Hitler proceeded with unexpected speed and efficiency. After the conquest of Poland, the Germans embarked on a series of Blitzkrieg campaigns in Spring 1940 and succeeded in occupying Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, finally capturing Paris and forcing France into a cease-fire. With the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, the landing in Crete, and Rommel's victories in North Africa, in 1942 Germany reached the apex of its military power. Under the overwhelming sense of his successes, Hitler's always limited ability to test reality gave way entirely to the intoxicating feeling of his own infallibility and omnipotence. Instead of consolidating what had been achieved, negotiating a peace with England and forcing a new political structure upon a subjugated Europe, he succumbed to his own powers of suggestion and, completely misjudging his military potential, on 22 June, 1941 invaded the Soviet Union; not much later, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he also declared war on the United States. This was more than Germany could cope with. After initial successes Hitler's march to the east came to a standstill outside Stalingrad in the winter of 1942, and by the next year the Allies had won the upper hand on all fronts. In June 1944 American and English troops invaded
Normandy and, in the following spring, crossed the Rhine. The Russians captured Danzig and Vienna and moved on Berlin. On 7 May, 1945, one week after Hitler's suicide, the two generals Jodl and von Friedeburg signed the unconditional capitulation of the German Wehrmacht. After the dropping of two American atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government also capitulated, on 10 August, 1945. The Second World War was over, the "revolt against modernism" had been defeated.
For the Allies the murderous struggle in the last years of the war
increasingly and obviously took on the character of a quasi-religious war, one
that was centered no longer on the mere defense of their political interests,
but on defeating the very embodiment of evil. This was not only due to the
nature and the maxims of the Nazi ideology, which was ever more clearly
recognized as the antithesis of the modern idea, but also to the actual behavior
of the German conquerors. Since the military reversal at Stalingrad in 1942, the
methods of suppression employed by the German occupation troops had become
increasingly brutal. They were directed not only against the resistance and
partisan movements, but also against prisoners of war and the civilian
population, of whom 7.5 million were deported to Germany to engage in forced
labor in the war effort.
At the same time the systematic extermination of the Jews continued. In January 1942, at the infamous Wannsee conference, top functionaries of the Third Reich had adopted a set of measures designed to effect the systematic destruction of the European Jews, the so-called "final solution of the Jewish question." In the course of its practical implementation, the European mainland was combed from west to east; all Jews who could be rounded up were carried off to deployment as laborers in the occupied territories of Eastern Europe and interned there in concentration camps. Forced labor under inhumane conditions, hunger, plagues, draconian punishments, sadistic tortures and mass executions caused the death of the majority of these prisoners. The camps were equipped with gas chambers and crematoria in which more than five million Jews were murdered and incinerated. Although isolated rumors about the fate of the camp inmates frequently filtered out to the public, Nazi censors imposed the strictest of secrecy laws in order to hide the extent of this systematic genocide from the German population and the Allies. All the greater was the general revulsion when the advancing Allied troops discovered, in the liberated camps, the dreadful evidence of the obsessive thoroughness with which Hitler's henchmen had carried out the "final solution." The resulting images of horror, seen in the weeks after the war in all the newspapers and newsreels of the world, contributed more than any other war experience to the worldwide condemnation of Nazi Germany.
The memory of these atrocities meant that after the war the specter of Nazism still stood as an all-encompassing hate-figure, by definition bonding together all progressive tendencies and advancing their self-concept (as a kind of opposite pole). With his failed attempts at restoration, with his insane extremes of political absolutism, Hitler ultimately helped to bring about the breakthrough of precisely those ideas and principles that he had most bitterly opposed. Internationalism, social pluralism, democracy and communism were to become the dominant factors in the politics of the post-war world.
To secure world peace and advance international cooperation, fifty-two governments adopted the charter of the United Nations, which came into force on 24 October, 1945. It foresaw the mutual assistance of the member nations against wars of aggression and against the use of force; it foresaw peaceful mediation in all conflicts, and also the protection of human rights and basic freedoms.
Despite this attempt at creating a generally binding world order, the wartime Allied coalition proved unable to survive its victory over the common enemy. The conceptual, political and cultural contradictions between the two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, split the world into two hostile blocs. While the Soviet Union forced its own totalitarian form of state on the Eastern European countries it controlled, and met every attempt of its satellites to pry themselves from the iron grip of this system with violent suppression, the Western world under the leadership of the United States upheld the basic principles and ideals of the modernist age-the right to popular self-determination, democracy, the protection of human rights, and a free market economy.
Of course, these principles were also repeatedly violated by the governments of the Western democracies, domestically in the treatment of each country's communist party, or, as in the United States, of the black civil rights movements; and internationally above all in the fight against the national liberation movements in certain European colonies, and in the numerous military interventions with which the U.S. strove to stem the feared spread of communism among the countries of the Third World. Nevertheless the modernist ideals took ever stronger root in the West and penetrated ever more deeply into the public consciousness. Memories of the Nazi terror and abhorrence of its methods were vivid enough to prevent it ever being repeated in quite that form. The great promises that the victorious democracies had made to humanity could no longer be retracted.26
The voluntary or forced surrender of the European colonial empires in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and the successes of the American civil rights movement were the clearest signs of a changing relationship between the races. At the same time a new societal self-concept found expression in far-reaching social reforms (unemployment benefit, health insurance and pension schemes, education, etc.) which radically changed the character of the Western societies. Within the Western alliance, in Western Europe, Israel, Canada, Australia, and the United States, the modernist paradigm was largely established, at least domestically.
In the course of two decades, common cultural roots, similar political orientation, rapid advances in the means of communication and the mass media, close economic cooperation, and the mutual threat posed by the Communist power bloc brought these states together, into a unified cultural area within which a liberal intellectual climate and constantly increasing prosperity drove forward scientific, technological, artistic and social development at an ever greater rate. The cultural euphoria of the West in the late 1960s-the feeling that everything is possible and doable-reached its highest point with the first manned landing on the moon by the Americans (on
20 August, 1969). During the course of these developments, Modernist art also celebrated a triumphal resurgence. Revealingly this took place not in Europe, but in the United States.