Fascism in general and Nazism in particular were in essence a quasi-religious cult, combining politics, religion, and myths of the glorious past with gigantic, carefully choreographed, massive political rallies, parades… and art exhibitions. The pop culture made frequent references to the distant past, thus suggesting rebirth of a golden age and classicism, but also – continuity from the ancient traditions of the pagan Germanic tribes.
Nazi-approved fine art was not to be too overtly propagandistic. Its higher purpose was to create ideals for eternity. Nazis called for heroic and romantic art, which reflected the ideal rather than the realistic. Exceedingly political paintings were rare, because the fine art was to be on a higher plane of consciousness. Nevertheless, certain themes, common in propaganda, were the common topics of art, which was to become an insidious form of clandestine propaganda. The old glory of Hellenic Greece and Rome, “revival” of the classical art and culture, suggested continuity with the past, conveyed legitimacy and a sense of manifest destiny in “saving” the European culture from the “degenerative art” and “bolshevism.” Medieval art served a model for the cult of the warrior, the Nordic conqueror, and the orderly social hierarchies of feudalism – a model for the paramilitary dictatorial structure of the 3d Reich. The pseudo-classicism of the form was to guise the propagandistic messages of the content.
in Ivo Salinger’s rather absurdly political painting Judgement of
The essence of Nazism as a civic religion, in which the key role is played by cultural forms, all of them rigorously applied towards achieving political goals, its emphases on the distinctive stereotyping, mysticism and distinctly “fascist aesthetics” were the typical attributes of the “culture” which Nazis nourished.
The Weimar Republic Germany (1918-1933)
had become a major center of avant-garde art. It was the birthplace of
Expressionism in painting, sculpture, and cinema, and the atonal musical
compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, and the music of Paul Hindemith and Kurt
Weill, rather influenced by jazz. Robert Wiene's flick The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis brought expressionism to cinematograph. The Nazis viewed
the culture of the
Here’s a brief excerpt from a Monday,
Sep. 23, 1935 article in the Time Magazine titled “
<< Even for the
most humble little German who wanders in a daze through modern art galleries,
the Realmleader [Hitler] had a heartening, thunderous word. "We are
determined not to allow cubists, futurists and others of the sort to
participate in the new cultural life of
Artistically unlearned but psychologically profound, this made millions of Germans nod approvingly, and nobody could deny that Herr Hitler last week laid the cornerstone of a Party Convention Hall which will take some ten years to build, will hold 60,000 Nazis, and, according to them, will stand for 1,000 years. The Little Man may not know much about Art but he knows what most Germans like.>>
Compare this to what German magazines typically printed:
<<Divine destiny has given the German Folk everything in the person of one man. Not only does he possess strong and ingenious statesmanship, not only is he ingenious as a soldier, not only is he the first worker and the first economist among his Folk, but, and this is perhaps his greatest strength, he is an artist. He came from art, he devoted himself to art, especially to the art of architecture, this powerful creator of great buildings, and now he has also become the Reich's builder.>> [Die Begabung des Einzelnen -- Fundament für alle, Hakenkreuzbanner (Swastika Flag) June 10th, 1938.]
The fine art, sculpture, architecture and engineering of Nazi Germany significantly influenced these areas of human endeavor elsewhere in the world. To form a better understanding of totalitarian visual arts, the reader is invited to visit our Virtual Gallery of Nazi, Italian Fascist, and Soviet art, sculpture and architecture. Much as it is tempting to comment on the individual pieces of art, I mostly refrain from it: it would be a major undertaking in its own right for the author who must reckon with the inexorable rushing of time, which – alas – seems to accelerate manifold as we age. Yet, you will see clearly the emphasis on the propagandistic aspect of art, thematic similarities, grandiosity of certain architectural-sculptural projects undertaken by the totalitarian states, and the mega-talent of the artists entrusted with such grand undertakings.
More on Nazi architecture later, but
just to get an idea of the monumental scale of totalitarian architecture, see
for example the photos of the Soviet memorial complex at Mamayev Kurgan (Mamay
Hill) in Stalingrad (today—Volgograd, Russia), commemorating the Battle of
Stalingrad in which at least 850,000 German soldiers, 750,000 Soviet soldiers
and over 45,000 Russian civilians died, fighting under most grueling conditions
of severe winter cold and lack of food and shelter, as the modern industrial
But film, painting, architecture and
sculpture were not all of the talents of the evil genius of the Furher of the
“thousand year Reich.” Hitler was also a great connoisseur of music: “To understand Nazism you have to understand
Wagner,” said Hitler on quite a few occasions. The 1942 secret profile on
Hitler (now in the public domain) compiled by
Wagner’s 1850’s racism, extreme for its
time in its vehemence, along with his glorification of the bloody Teutonic
mythology, made him Hitler’s favorite composer. Wagner’s anti-Semitism was so bizarre that
Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky felt obliged to defend Felix Mendelsohn and
his contribution to the world’s music against Wagner’s anti-Semitic attacks, as
he did, for example in a newspaper article “Concerning
the 3rd Russian Musical Society symphony concert in Moscow on 17/29 November
1872, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein
and featuring Wagner's Faust Overture and Mendelssohn's "Scottish"
<<By 1906, twenty-three years after his death, Wagner had become a cultural colossus, his influence felt not only in music but in literature, theater, and painting. Sophisticated youths memorized his librettos as American college students of a later age would recite Bob Dylan. Anti-Semites and ultranationalists considered Wagner their private prophet, but he gave impetus to almost every major political and aesthetic movement of the age…>>
No wonder Hitler chose Wagner as his “cultural ambassador” in music. A typical Wagner’s piece, “Ride of the Valkyries” is featured in the 1979 American film epic “Apocalypse Now” (about Vietnam war) in the scene culminating in the helicopter aerial attack drowning the earth in napalm explosions.
The influence of the fascist culture, its aesthetics, the impact of its propaganda, ideology and mythology on the rest of the world cannot be overestimated (and must not be underestimated); it was enormous then, and remains enormous now. From the image of the modern career woman, to that of an ideal mother, we see the strains of the fascist body-worship in today’s cult of physical fitness, and the idolization of physical health and ‘beauty’ in many forms of popular culture, from the “reality TV,” to idolization of celebrities and their petty lives, to the political theater of the Congressional hearings, with their freak-parades of iconic figure-heads, spewing PC verbiage, which ranges from grand-standing nonsense to outright dangerous demagoguery of hatemongering. While there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with physical culture, it must not come at the expense of what is traditionally termed human culture, which Nazis buried, and Americans ‘acquire’ by watching Jerry Springer’s freak-TV shows.
Today, many history lessons have been
conveniently forgotten (and never learned in the first place) and distortions in
coverage of the current and past events by the
The only notable difference is that in the US, the political indoctrination comes from two presumably opposing camps in the form of overwhelming consumerism from both the political right and from the left; political correctness, amounting to censorship by the ultra-liberals on the left and the primitive indoctrination of the free-marketers on the right, by the shameless thieves on the left, and the eight-grade economic “sophists” on the right. The ideologues of Fascism, the ideologues of contemporary communism, and ideologues of Feminism make the “culture” their weapon of mass destruction ever since a friend of Benito Mussolini’s, Italian communist Antonio Gramsci worked into a science the use of culture as a political weapon far more powerful than cannons, bombs and swords.
◄ All rights reserved ● Copyright © 2011, Eric Ross, Ph.D. ►
Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's
 See Beevor,
Anthony “Stalingrad and Researching the Experience of War” pp. 154-168 from
Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy edited by Ljubica and Mark Erickson,