Hitler’s Stance on Art: An Appeal for Decency and Objective Standards

“Moral cowardice is fear of upholding the good because it is good, and fear of opposing the evil because it is evil.”—Ayn Rand.


Recently, following a haphazard and non-linear path of investigation and enquiry, my reading took me to the distant and taboo realm of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Having read some of Madison Grant’s works and recently listened to ‘The Myth‘ by Alfred Rosenberg, I feel that I am somewhat familiar now with the philosophy that lay behind the Nazi’s political machine. These books were held to be seminal works in the Nazi canon and influenced Hitler’s wider worldview, as well as his economic and political belief structure. It therefore proved an interesting read when I stumbled across the Wikipedia entry on “Art of the Third Reich”.

As one would expect, the tone of the Wikipedia entry is generally critical and dismissive, and its emphasis lies predominantly on the fact that Hitler’s policy towards art undermined that which is the holiest of modern-day values in the West, ‘freedom’. More precisely, Hitler’s artistic policy is framed as having been direct state intervention into what in modernity has always existed in an anarchistic state, a condition considered to be sacrosanct by artists the world over. Freedom in essence, and as defined in its modern context, begins and ends in the free expression of individuals in their artwork, whether that be music, fine art, or literature.

However, what is little known by the public is that Hitler’s party came into power at a time of utter and unimaginable crisis in Germany. This is briefly alluded to at the beginning of the Wikipedia post, but is just as quickly dismissed as ‘conservative’ and ‘propaganda’.

“The Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimar period with disgust. Their response stemmed partly from conservative aesthetics and partly from their determination to use culture as propaganda.”

National socialism wasn’t, of course, merely a political revolution, but more so it was a cultural one. Underpinning all of the Nazi’s efforts was a ‘noble’ or ‘heroic’ fight for decency against what the Allied victors have after-the-fact labelled as “degeneracy”, but what was, in actual fact, the suffering, impoverishment, and desperation of the German people. The Nazi stance was not just some abstract disagreement over artistic principles, though it did partially manifest in those terms, but a matter of life and death for many suffering German citizens. During the Weimar period, referenced above, Berlin was hailed widely as the European capital of hedonism; it was a place to which the rich and privileged classes of the globe flocked to frolic with German prostitutes at exasperatingly low rates, and to indulge in all manner of narcotics and morally questionable practices.

This moral depravity of the pre-nazi period resulted in an art and culture that was far from being a conscious and healthy choice of the German people. Rather than being rooted in ideals or values, it often represented crude or overt expressions of a common and widespread existential angst. This angst was the personal crisis of the atomised people, a raging discontent that seethed just beneath the fragile veneer of civilised society, at the chaos and squalor of the urban slums, the commodification and normalisation of sexual perversion, and the psychological abyss that confronted downtrodden citizens on an almost daily basis. The humiliating state of affairs was fuelled and perpetuated by the very real economic desperation that the majority of German nationals faced. Young males committed suicide at record rates during the Weimar era and young boys and girls took to the streets, selling their bodies, dirtying their conscience, and dashing any chance of normal eudaemonic family life out of desperation and out of a basic, animalistic will to survive.

Hitler and his fellow nationalists viewed the state of affairs in Berlin from Munich, a relative safe haven of conservatism at the time that had remained largely unravaged by the debauchery flourishing in the capital. Though in the opening paragraph Hitler’s intervention in the country’s art community is compared directly to that of Stalin, the nationalists viewed communism to be part-and-parcel of the moral depravity gripping the capital, and indeed Berlin was majority communist at the time.

In contrast to Stalin’s motives, which centred around control and conformism, the Nazi party’s goals in regulating the country’s artwork were not intended to brainwash the citizenry into subservience. Rather, if one familiarises oneself with the racial, nationalistic, and traditional pillars of Nazi thought, it becomes apparent that they were an attempt to return objective standards and value to artwork, and to direct once more human endeavour towards the constructive, the skilled, the aesthetic, and to immortal principles such as tradition and honour. To state it bluntly, artwork, as the reflection of man and his society, was to be elevated to its pinnacle, and pessimism, nihilism, and hedonism, which had come to be celebrated by the modern artists of the day and which ever aspire to drag man down to the animal, were to be denounced.

By propagating the theory of degenerate art, the Nazis combined their anti-Semitism with their drive to control the culture, thus consolidating public support for both campaigns. Their efforts in this regard were unquestionably aided by a popular hostility to Modernism that predated their movement. The view that such art had reflected Germany’s condition and moral bankruptcy was widespread, and many artists acted in a manner to overtly undermine or challenge popular values and morality.

Wikipedia in typical form manages to drain any meaning from the movement, whilst providing readers with some vestige, or hollow framework, of the truth. To elaborate on my point, here are some examples of modern art in the Weimar era preceding the rise of Hitler. Notice the themes, but also the simple, dirty, cluttered styles employed:

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And here, for contrast, are some examples of art that occurred under and were inspired by the Nazi regime:

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The difference ought to be clear, and stark. In the former is a darkness, a disjointedness, and a separation, both in terms of style and content, with reality. There is immorality and perversion suggested in every picture. In the latter, there is purity, optimism, a sense of value, strength, and honour. There is a sense of pride and of the “lightness of being”. A glory in life and above all a value in life. The message that Nazi Germany wanted to portray is abundantly clear; that life is good, man is noble, and happiness is our right.

I would like to close this piece by referring briefly to the state of contemporary art in modern Britain and indeed the rest of the Western world. I think that at their core my philosophic principles still revolve around those laid out in Ayn Rand’s objectivism, though I find that my view of what Rand referred to as ‘rational self interest’ widens by the day. Rand was a famous proponent of the need for romanticism in art and literature, and phrased her position thusly:

Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important.

I am inclined to agree, with both Rand and with Hitler. Once one has adopted as a frame of reference a set of standards with which to judge reality (and thus the craft and advocations of art), it should appear obvious to any sane individual of good ethical judgement that modern art is afflicted today by the same ailments that afflicted Germany prior to Hitler’s revolution. Doubt, insecurity, immorality, and above all a resounding senselessness and emptiness define much of the contents of modern art museums. I would like to leave you, dear reader, with a youtube broadcast by the somewhat abrasive Paul Joseph Watson on this subject. Likely due to its accuracy and blunt delivery the video went viral upon its release and garnered a great deal of attention. It summarises the crisis more swiftly and completely than I could hope to accomplish in any written form.

 

Beauty does exist and it can be portrayed in art. Here are but a few outstanding examples.

Albert Lynch (Peruvian, 1851–1912)

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Alois Arnegger

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Albert Bierstadt

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FRANCESCO GUARDI (1712-1793) Piazza San Marco verso la Basilica

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905, French)
The Oreads

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Filip Knežević – Kosovo Maiden, Uroš Predić,1919

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And with that, adieu my friends.

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The fallibility of “Being Oneself” – Julius Evola

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After discussing in concise and articulate terms, as Evola is want to do, the multitudinous nature of a man’s identity or ‘self’, the author addresses the inherent fragility of man’s self-identity, a trait of which all of us in the modern world are only too well aware:

“One can see now how problematic is the very point that has hitherto seemed fixed: fidelity to oneself, the absolute, autonomous law based on one’s own “being,” when it is formulated in general and abstract terms. Everything is subject to debate – a situation accurately exemplified by characters in Dostoyevsky, like Raskolnikov or Stavrogin. At the moment when they are thrown back on their own naked will, trying to prove it to themselves with an absolute action, they collapse; they collapse precisely because they are divided beings, because they are deluded concerning their true nature and their real strength. Their freedom is turned against them and destroys them; they fail at the very point at which they should have reaffirmed themselves – in their depths they find nothing to sustain them and carry them forward. We recall the words of Stavrogin’s testament: “I have tested my strength everywhere, as you advised me to do in order to know myself… What I have never seen, and still do not see, is what I should apply my strength to. My desires lack the energy; they cannot drive me. One can cross the river on a log, but not on a splinter.” The abyss wins out over Stavrogin, and his failure is sealed by suicide.
The same problem evidently lurks at the centre of Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power. Power in itself is formless. It has no sense without the basis of a given “being,” an internal direction, an essential unity. When that is wanting, everything slides back into chaos. “Here is the greatest strength, but it does not know what it is for. The means exist, but they have no end.”
… the phenomenon of remorse is closely linked to the situation of a divided and self-contradictory being. Remorse occurs, when despite everything, a central tendency survives in the being and reawakens after actions that have violated or denied it, arising from secondary impulses that are not strong enough to completely supplant it. Guyau speaks in this sense of a morality “that is none other than the unity of the being,” and an immorality that, “on the contrary, is a splitting, an opposition of tendencies that limit one another.”

This portion of Evola’s work, Ride the Tiger, struck me as extremely pertinent to the current age. All around us on a societal level we see contradiction, confusion, and ultimately multiple competing attempts of individuals to define their own identities through outward actions that challenge the identities of others, and perhaps other parallel identities of their own.

Simultaneously, on the individual level, the emphasis is on self-improvement or self-discovery and self-fulfilment. The ideal man is seen to be one who has achieved an internal consistency or harmony, which is said to ultimately lead to the ‘happy life’. The evil man is said to be fraught with inconsistency and therefore suffers in his own prison of continual misery, perpetually forced to ask himself the question “who am I?”. However as Evola points out, in the current age of such strife on the collective level, and in which individuals are effectively cast adrift, asked to find themselves as separate from any outside guidance, inconsistency has become the norm as opposed to the exception. In addition, it is apparent that consistency of action and morality are not necessarily one and the same. Often to do the virtuous thing, one must act against one’s base nature. On the other hand, it is possible for those who carry out virtuous acts to do them for non-virtuous reasons.

The irony does not escape me of including this piece: The blog is after all named Freedom in the UK, and this is in effect the beginnings of an argument formed in opposition to an unchallenged freedom for mankind. For this reason, I will perhaps consider renaming the blog.

The more that I find myself researching the Alt Right, and far right ideology, the more I lean towards the idea that nationalism should precede freedom, or more that one cannot exist without the other. For what good is freedom if it serves ultimately to destroy free individuals. Some temperance is required. As an objectivist, for the most part, especially metaphysically and epistemologically, I see that Evola holds much of the same criticisms of Nietzsche’s worldview as did Rand; namely that his ‘will’ is insubstantial, mystical, and as Evola points out inherently insufficient a force alone to drive the human engine. Where Rand would have the difficulty with Evola’s ideas is likely in his emphasis on Tradition; however, I am increasingly of the view that this falls under the category of Ayn Rand’s notion of ‘rational self-interest’. I am increasingly of the belief that it is in man’s rational self-interest to have a degree of collectivism within his own nation, and even more so, for there to be hierarchy in society outside of the mere economic.

Epicurus on Death

Where death is, you aren’t, and where you are, death isn’t.

Death, therefore, concerns neither the living nor the dead.

It doesn’t concern the living because they are living, and it doesn’t concern the dead because they are not.

Hence, the fear of death is empty.

When it comes, by that fact, you are gone.

Therefore, you will never know anything but life, and it is senseless to fear a state you will never know.

Epicurus (342 – 270 BC)

This is a strong, valid, and unanswerable argument that stands even today in unwavering opposition to those in modernity who wallow in the inevitability of death, and use it as an excuse with which to whitewash life of any meaning and valour.

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