A Clash of Styles - German Aesthetics - 1933-1945

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Emblem of the NSDAP


During the period of the Third Reich there was a tension between three conflicting elements in National Socialist aesthetics and ideology - these three elements being Classicism, Romanticism and Modernism.
Towards the end of the period Classicism and Modernism rose to prominence, both fulfilling their appropriate functions, while a Gothic Romanticism gradually faded in significance.
To understand theses developments, however, we need to consider the origins of German National Socialism.




National Socialism comes from a different tradition than that of either liberal capitalism or communism.
Partito Nazionale Fascista
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Falange Española de las
Juntas de

Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista
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Many historiographers say that the anti-Semitic element, which does not exist to any great extent in the sister fascist movements in Italy and Spain, was adopted by Hitler to gain popularity for the movement.


Partito Nazionale Fascista - PNF - (the National Fascist Party) was an Italian political party, created by Benito Mussolini as the political expression of fascism  The party ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943.

Falange was a Spanish political organization founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933, during the Second Spanish Republic. Primo de Rivera was the son of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, who governed Spain as Prime Minister in the 1920s. The Falange was republican, avant-gardist and modernist , in a manner similar to the original spirit of Italian Fascism. Its uniform and aesthetic was similar to contemporary European fascist and national socialist movements.


Futurism and Fascism: We usually associate modern art, and modernism in general, with left wing politics. Futurism, however, had right wing political sympathies from the beginning, and its creators developed ties with Italian Fascism in the years following the First World War. Mussolini, unlike almost all the other right-wing leaders of the 20th century, took an active interest in modernism and, for a while, cultivated it. Futurism, like Italian Fascism itself, was ideologically a mess. It was a hodge-podge of anarchism, the aesthetics of violence, and nationalism. Italian Fascism was likewise a stew of nationalism, anarchism, syndicalism, opportunism and machismo. Mussolini loved the Futurists precisely because they were so modern, so aggressive, and so daring. He had his own origins in anarchism, and that anarchist aesthetic probably genuinely appealed to him, even as his politics became more nationalist and reactionary. Futurism, of course, is a form of 'degenerate art'.

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Der Große Krieg
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Anti-Semitic prejudice was very common among the masses in German Empire, and it has been claimed that mass acceptance for the NSDAP required the party to be anti-Semitic. This would also flatter of the wounded pride of German people after the defeat of Der Große Krieg (the Great War - World War One).
Others, however, see anti-Semitism as central to Hitler's Weltanschauung (World view).
The latter is of course the correct interpretation.
Many see strong connections between the values of National Socialism and the irrationalist tradition of the romantic movement of the early 19th century.
Strength, passion, lack of hypocrisy, utilitarianism, traditional family values, and devotion to community were valued by the National Socialists, and first expressed by many Romantic artists, musicians, and writers.
German romanticism in particular expressed these values.


Richard Wagner
For instance, the National Socialists identified closely with the music of Richard Wagner (a noted anti-Semite, author of 'Das Judenthum in der Musik', and idol to the young Hitler).
Many of his operas express the ideals of the strong dominating the weak, and a celebration of traditional Norse Aryan folklore and values.
The style of his music is often heroic and grandiose.


Heiliges Römisches Reich
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The idealisation of tradition, folklore, classical thought, the leadership of Frederick the Great, the rejection of the liberalism of the Weimar Republic and the decision to call the German state the 'Third Reich' (which hearkens back to the medieval 'First Reich' - Heiliges Römisches Reich - and the pre-Weimar 'Second Reich' or Kaiserreich) has led many to regard the National Socialists as essentially traditionalist and reactionary.
Kaiserreich
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The NSDAP that came to power in January 1933 desired more than simply political authority, the ability to revise the Versailles Treaty, and regain and expand upon those lands lost after a humiliating defeat in World War I.
They also wanted to change the cultural landscape: to return the country to traditional “German” and “Nordic” values, to excise or circumscribe Jewish, “foreign,” and “degenerate” influences, and to shape a racial community (“Volksgemeinschaft”) which aligned with Völkisch ideals.
These ideals, however were, at times, contradictory.
National Socialism, however, represented much more than a just a political movement
National Socialism was at once 'modern' and 'anti-modern'; (often referred to as 'reactionary modernism') - Classical and Romantic.


'Im walde'
Des-Knaben Wunderhorn
Schwind von Moritz (1804-1871)
It was dynamic and utopian, and yet often hearkened back to an idyllic and romanticized German past.

Blut,Boden und Heimat
In certain elements, Völkisch cultural principles were consistent: they stressed family, race, and Volk as the highest representations of German values.
They rejected materialism, cosmopolitanism, and “bourgeois intellectualism,” and instead promoted the German virtues of loyalty, struggle, self-sacrifice, and discipline.
Völkisch cultural values also placed great importance on Germans' harmony with their native soil (Heimat) and with nature, (the Green Reich), and emphasized the elevation of the Volk and nation above its individual members.


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In the Third Reich,  one of the main roles of culture was to disseminate the Völkisch world view.
One of the first tasks the NSDAP undertook upon their ascension to power in early 1933 was a synchronization (Gleichschaltung) of all professional and social organizations with National Socialist ideology and policy.
The arts and cultural organizations were not exempt from this effort.

Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels
Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, immediately strove to bring the artistic and cultural communities in line with Völkisch goals.
The government therefore purged cultural organizations of Jews, and others alleged to be politically or artistically suspect.
Reichskulturkammer - RKK
(Reich Culture Chamber)
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Beginning in September 1933, a new Reichskulturkammer - (Reich Culture Chamber), an umbrella organization composed of the Reich Film, Music, Theater, Press, Literary, Fine Arts, and Radio Chambers -- moved to supervise and regulate all facets of German culture.
The new Nazi aesthetic embraced the genre of objective realism.
The visual arts and other modes of high culture employed this form to depict peasant life, family and community, and heroism on the battlefield; and attempted to exemplify such Germanic virtues as industry, self-sacrifice, and Aryan racial purity.
In the Third Reich there was no such concept as “art for art's sake”.
Instead all forms of art, in addition to its formal and aesthetic considerations, had a calculated propagandistic undercurrent: it stood in stark contrast to the trends of modern art in the 1920s and 1930s, much of which employed abstract, expressionist, or surrealist tenets.


Professor Paul Ludwig Troost
Haus der Deutschen Kunst 
In October 15, 1933, Hitler laid the cornerstone of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst designed by Professor Paul Ludwig Troost to replace the burned down (1931) glass and steel Munich Glass Palace (1854).
The new museum was a monumental, 'severe Deco', neo-classicist buildin,g made of huge cut stones on the exterior, and marble on the interior.


Hitler and Frau Gerdy Troost
Paul Ludwig Troost (17 August 1878 – 21 January 1934), born in Elberfeld, was a German architect. An extremely tall, spare-looking, reserved Westphalian with a close-shaven head, Troost belonged to a school of architects, Peter Behrens and Walter Gropius who, even before 1914, reacted sharply against the highly ornamental Jugendstil, and advocated a restrained, lean architectural approach, almost devoid of ornament. Hitler frequently declared, according to Speer, that "he first learned what architecture was from Troost"'. The architect's death on 21 January 1934, after a severe illness, was a painful blow, but Hitler remained close to his widow Gerdy Troost, whose architectural taste frequently coincided with his own, which made her (in Speer's words) "a kind of arbiter of art in Munich."

In many ways the Haus der Deutschen Kunst expressed an anti-industrial and anti-economic aspect of the spirit of the NSDAP.



Adolf Hitler - Tag der Deutschen Kunst
During the opening ceremony, Hitler declared his pride at being able 'to lay the foundations for this new temple in honor of the goddess of art'.
In July 1937 a 'Grosse deutsche Kunstausstellung' (Great German Art Exhibition) displaying the culture  of National Socialist art premièred in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich.
Entartete Kunst

A nearby exhibition hall presented, in contrast, an Entartete Kunst (Exhibition of Degenerate Art) in order to demonstrate to the German public the “demoralizing” and “corruptive” influences of modern art.
In architecture, artists like Professor Paul Ludwig Troost and Albert Speer constructed monumental edifices in a classical form, heavily influenced by Art Deco, which conveyed the “enduring grandeur” of the National Socialist movement.
In literature, the Reichskulturkammer promoted the works of writers such as Adolf Bartels and Hitler Youth poet Hans Baumann.
Literature glorifying the peasant culture as bedrock of the German community, and historical novels bolstering the centrality of the Volk figured as preferred works of fiction, as did war narratives.


Adolf Hitler at the UFA studios
Universum Film AG
The cultivation of art also extended to the modern field of cinema.

Heavily subsidized by the state, the motion picture industry in Germany proved an important propaganda tool for the NSDAP. One of the leading film companies, centred at  Babelsberg in Berlin was UFA.


Leni Riefenstahl's
Triumph des Willens

Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, is a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945. in the course of the National Socialist "Machtergreifung UFA was nationalised and produced a huge output of film under the supervision of Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.

Films such as Leni Riefenstahl's pioneering “Triumph des Willens” ("Triumph of the Will") and  Olympia 'Fest der Völker' and 'Fest der Schönheit'.


Triumph des Willens - Titles
'Triumph des Willens' is a 1935 film made by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, which was attended by more than 700,000 NSDAP supporters
The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various National Socialist leaders at the Congress, including portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and Julius Streicher interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung and Schutzstaffel troops.
Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The overriding theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation.

'Olympia' is a 1938 film by Leni Riefenstahl documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany. It was the first documentary feature film of the Olympic Games ever made. Many advanced motion picture techniques, which later became industry standards but which were ground-breaking at the time, were employed - including unusual camera angles, smash cuts, extreme close-ups, placing tracking shot rails within the bleachers, and the like. The film appears on Time magazine's "All-Time Greatest 100 Movies."


Other, non-documentary films were also produced such as "Der Hitlerjunge Quex" (“Hitler Youth Member Quex”), glorified the NSDAP, its auxiliary organizations, and the Volk.


"Der Hitlerjunge Quex"
"Der Hitlerjunge Quex" is a 1932 novel based on the life of Herbert “Quex” Norkus  by Karl Aloys Schenzinger. The 1933 movie 'Hitlerjunge Quex: Ein Film vom Opfergeist der deutschen Jugend' was based on it, and was described by Joseph Goebbels as the "first large-scale" transmission of National Socialist ideology using the medium of cinema. Both the book and the movie, like 'S.A.-Mann Brand' and 'Hans Westmar', both released the same year, fictionalized and glorified death in the service of the NSDAP and Hitler. Both novel and movie are based on the real story of Herbert Norkus' life. Norkus, a Hitler Youth member, died from injuries suffered when chased and confronted by Communist youths in the night of 23 / 24 January 1932 in the Beusselkietz neighbourhood of Moabit, Berlin.

Another example was 'Hans Westmar - Einer von vielen', which was a dramatisation of the life and death of Horst Wessel, based on Hanns Heinz Ewers's novelistic biography.


 Horst Wessel
Hanns Heinz Ewers
Hans Westmar - Einer von vielen was the last of an unofficial trilogy of films commissioned by the NSDAP shortly after coming to power in January 1933, celebrating the 'Kampfzeit' - 'time of struggle'. The film is a fictionalized life of the Horst Wessel. Originally, the film, based on the novel personally commissioned by Hitler from Hanns Heinz Ewers, was named 'Horst Wessel'. Dr Paul Josef Goebbels altered the main character's name, changing it to the fictional "Hans Westmar". It was among the first films to depict dying for Hitler as a glorious death for Germany, resulting in his spirit inspiring his comrades. His decision to go to the streets is presented as fighting 'the real battle'.

Theatre companies followed the example of German cinema, staging National Socialist dramas as well as traditional and classical performances of the plays of writers such as Johann 
Goethe and Schiller
Weimar Classicism
Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Friedrich Christoph von Schiller.

Goethe and Schiller exemplified Weimar Classicism (German “Weimarer Klassik”) - which is a cultural and literary movement in Germany. Followers attempted to establish a new humanism by synthesizing Romantic, classical and Enlightenment ideas. The movement, from 1772 until 1805, involved Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller and Christoph Martin Wieland, and often concentrated on Goethe and Schiller during the period 1788–1805.

In music, the Reichskulturkammer, was led by the great composer and conductor Richard Strauss.




Richard Wagner
Hans Erich Pfitzner
The Reichskulturkammer promoted the works of such giants of the German musical pantheon as Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner, and Richard Wagner, Hans Erich Pfitzner, while banning classical works by "non-Aryans," such as Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, and performances of jazz music and Swing, associated with degenerate African-American culture.

Adolf Hitler was himself a long-time devotee of the operas of Richard Wagner - an artist long associated with anti-semitism and the völkisch tradition from which National Socialists drew much of their ideology.





Adolf Hitler and Winifred Wagner
Adolf Hitler at Bayreuth
He regularly attended the annual Bayreuth Festivals held in the Wagner's honor.

Each summer, from 1933 to 1939, Hitler attended the Bayreuth Festival, and he made the Wagner estate, Wahnfried, his second home. Because she had been one of his earliest supporters, Hitler had great affection for Winifred. Hitler repaid the Wagner family gratitude by pledging his undying friendship and his deepest devotion to Richard Wagner and Bayreuth.

Das Horst-Wessel-Lied
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But Völkisch music did not confine itself solely to “high” culture: songs like “Das Horst-Wessel-Lied” (“The Horst Wessel Song”) and “Deutschland, Erwache!” (“Germany, Awake”) numbered among many songs and marches which were circulated in order to encourage commitment to the NSDAP and its ideological tenets.





The Concept of Degeneracy

The term Entartung (or "degeneracy") had gained currency in Germany by the late 19th century when the critic and author Max Nordau devised the theory presented in his 1892 book, Entartung.
Nordau developed a critique of modern art.
Degenerate art is the work of those so corrupted and enfeebled by modern life that they have lost the self-control needed to produce coherent works.
He attacked Aestheticism in English literature and described the mysticism of the Symbolist movement in French literature as a product of mental pathology.
Explaining the painterliness of Impressionism as the sign of a diseased visual cortex, he decried modern degeneracy while praising traditional German culture.
This theory was seized upon by German National Socialists during the Weimar Republic as a rallying point for their anti-Semitic and racist demand for Aryan purity in art.
Belief in a Germanic spirit - defined as mystical, rural, moral, bearing ancient wisdom, and noble in the face of a tragic destiny - existed long before the rise of the National Socialism; the composer Richard Wagner celebrated such ideas in his work.


Paul Schultze-Naumburg

Beginning before World War I, the well-known German architect and painter Paul Schultze-Naumburg's influential writings, which invoked racial theories in condemning modern art and architecture, supplied much of the basis for Adolf Hitler's belief that classical Greece and the Middle Ages were the true sources of Aryan art.
Schultze-Naumburg subsequently wrote such books as 'Die Kunst der Deutschen. Ihr Wesen und ihre Werke' (The art of the Germans.Its nature and its works) and 'Kunst und Rasse' (Art and Race), the latter published in 1928.

Paul Schultze-Naumburg (10 June 1869 – 19 May 1949) was an architect and a vocal political critic of modern architecture. Along with Alexander von Senger, Eugen Honig, Konrad Nonn, and German Bestelmeyer, Schultze-Naumburg was a member of a National Socialist para-governmental propaganda unit called the 'Kampfbund deutscher Architekten und Ingenieure' (KDAI). In September 1944, he was named as one of the first rank of artists and writers important to Nazi culture in the Gottbegnadeten list.



Thule Gesellschaft
Alfred Rosenberg
These works argued that only racially pure artists could produce a healthy art which upheld timeless ideals of classical beauty, while racially mixed modern artists produced disordered artworks and monstrous depictions of the human form.
By reproducing examples of modern art next to photographs of people with deformities and diseases, he graphically reinforced the idea of modernism as a sickness.
Alfred Rosenberg, a member of the Thule Gesellschaft, developed this theory in 'Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts' (Myth of the Twentieth Century), published in 1933, which became a best-seller in Germany and made Rosenberg one of the Party's leading ideological spokesman.

Alfred Ernst Rosenberg (12 January 1893 – 16 October 1946) was an early and intellectually influential member of the NSDAP. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart; he later held several important posts in the National Socialist government. He is considered one of the main authors of key Völkisch ideological creeds, including its racial theory, Lebensraum, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, and opposition to "degenerate" modern art. He is also known for his rejection of Christianity


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National Socialist Aesthetics

From the foregoing it can be seen that the National Socialists not only possessed a highly refined aesthetic sensibility, but unlike most, enacted their aesthetic at every level of politics and policy.


Alpine Landscape - Adolf Hitler
Moreover, they not only believed themselves to be artists, but were regarded by others, at the time, as artists, whose very ideology was founded in an essentially aesthetic logic.
This is generally referred to as the  aestheticization of politics.
The artistic ambitions of Adolf Hitler, Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Baldur von Schirach, Walther Funk and Julius Streicher were originally deeper than their political ambitions, and were essential elements of their personalities.
What was this National Socialist aesthetic; what kind of art came of it ?



 Idealizations of Purity,
Heroism and the Human Form.
The National Socialist aesthetic had several inter-penetrating parts, including idealizations of purity, heroism and the human form.
The resulting art also encompassed National Socialist pageantry and regalia, films and political choreography and architecture.
The National Socialist aesthetic was part and parcel of their ideology, and not just an ornamental by-product of it.
Essential to this discussion is understanding how two conceptual cornerstones of Nazi ideology - redemption and monumentality - found their expression in National Socialist aesthetic productions, which were not only means by which to deliver a political message, but very much part of the message itself.
One of the most brilliant documentary films ever made, of course, was no mere documentary, but was the last century’s benchmark for cinematic propaganda.
Hitler über Deutschland

In the opening moments of 'Triumph des Willens' (Triumph of the Will) Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 1934 Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, we find an object lesson in what we might call the “aesthetics of redemption
A plane is carrying the Führer and his entourage over a picturesque landscape of hills, valleys and churches on its way to Nuremberg.
A voice-over narrative introduces the scene: “Twenty years after the World War, 16 years after the crucifixion of Germany, 19 months after the beginning of Germany’s Renaissance, Hitler flew to Nuremberg to greet his columns of followers.
The plane suddenly appears from the clouds and glides over the countryside, its shadow in the form of a cross.
As if in a 'Second Coming', a Führer has arisen who will save and redeem Germany, and Riefenstahl frames his arrival in the explicit iconography of  redemption and messianic deliverance.


The penetration of the Jews into the German body politic,
into German society, and into the German bloodstream.
And it is the very notion of redemption that  actually played a central role in the anti-semitism of the Third Reich, which has been termed 'redemptive anti-Semitism', and is born from the fear of racial degeneration.
The main cause of degeneration was the penetration of the Jews into the German body politic, into German society, and into the German bloodstream.
Germanism, and the Aryan world, were on the path to perdition if the struggle against the Jews was not joined; this was to be a struggle to the death.
Redemption would come as liberation from the Jews by their expulsion from the body politic.
Just as Germany’s disastrous defeat in World War I was to be “redeemed” by the messianic advent of the Führer, in Riefenstahl’s version so would the war effort, no matter how terrible the costs, be redeemed by Germany’s “liberation” from the Jews.


The principle of redemptory “sacrifice” also played a primary role in the 'memorial landscape' Hitler introduced into the topography of the Third Reich.
From the “Eternal Guard” at the Ehrentempel (by Professor Paul Troost) in Munich, which held the sarcophagi of eight “Martyrs of the Movement” killed in the 1923 Putsch attempt, to the 'Totenburgen', or citadels of the dead, to be built as mass burial grounds for thousands of prospective fallen German soldiers, Hitler made redemptory sacrifice one of the aesthetic architectural pillars of his Reich.


Hitler with the Blutfahne
Even the elaborately choreographed party rallies, during which Hitler would salute the 'Blutfahne' (blood flag) included scenes of almost pagan ritual, in which animal sacrifice has been replaced by the prospective human sacrifice of wars to come.
We are reminded of Hitler’s own indifference to individual human lives as they paled in comparison to the larger cause, and idealizations of race and nation, and the way this diminution of the individual underpinned his aesthetic embrace of the monumental.
Hitler’s lack of feeling for individual humans, even for fanatical party members, was already evident at the Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, and other spectacles, when his ‘architecturalizing’ of the participants, and his deployment of them in geometrical patterns reduced them to noctambulent creatures.

Nürnberg Reichsparteitag - Monumental Aesthetic
For Hitler, individuals come and go, as well as their humanly scaled dwelling places, their sites of life.
What his monumental aesthetic would leave behind, therefore, was not the uniqueness of individual human experience, or its messy heterogeneity, but monolithic forms that imposed singular meaning on disparate deeds, experiences and lives.
The monumental in Hitler’s eyes was not only an end result, however, but also a means by which he could reduce the individual to insignificance, thereby making all appear as one.
Specifically, he did this in his elaborately choreographed spectacles and pageants, against which the individual seemed insignificant.




Deutsches Stadion - Albert Speer
North-South Axis - Germania
Witness his dozens of gargantuan productions: the Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, the colossal stadiums and political arenas designed to hold 500,000 people or even the North-South Axis he and his architect Albert Speer designed for Berlin, - Germania.
On a commemorative “Day of the Political Leaders” in 1936, more than 110,000 men marched onto the review field while another 100,000 spectators watched from the stands.
Once darkness fell, the space was suddenly encircled by a ring of light, with 30,000 flags and standards glistening in the illumination.
Spotlights would focus on the main gate, as distant cheers announced the Führer’s approach.

Lichtdom
At the instant he entered, 150 powerful searchlights would shoot into the sky to produce a gigantic, shimmering 'lichtdom' (cathedral of light) as it was called.
Hitler was both a product of his time’s aesthetic temper, and possibly the greatest producer of political design and choreography who ever lived.
We cannot separate his deeds, his policies and his ideology from his aesthetic temper.
Without recognizing the central role aesthetics actually played in the regime of the Third Reich, we cannot ignore the basic historical fact that Art, beauty and aesthetics were not benign by-products of the Third Reich, but part and parcel of its coherent, internal logic.
Beauty and heroism, aesthetics and power, may not only be paired after the historical fact, but might now be regarded as historical forces that also drive events as they actually unfold.
It is important to understand that one of the central ideas of Völkisch ideology is the myth of 'rebirth', in the sense of `Neugeburt', or new birth.
The National Socialists wanted to build an entirely new type of modern nation-state on the basis of archetypal German values.
This involved the destruction of everything that was associated with Germany's decadence, and the retention of every element of usable past in the redefinition of Germany as a State based on a healthy, revitalized Volksgemeinschaft or national community.
There is a dialectical relationship between destruction and creation at the centre of all 'palingenetic myth'.

Palingenesis is a concept of rebirth or re-creation, used in various contexts in philosophy, theology, politics, and biology. Its meaning stems from Greek palin, meaning again, and genesis, meaning birth.
In biology, it is another word for recapitulation – the phase in the development of an organism in which its form and structure pass through the changes undergone in the evolution of the species. In theology, the word can be used to refer to reincarnation and Christian spiritual rebirth symbolized by baptism.

Once projected onto Germany, it took the form of what some have called `German nihilism'.
It is the logic of the principle `destroy to build' which links the Völkisch ideologue's destruction of liberalism, socialism, pluralism, and humanism to the creation of a `strong' state based on a single party and a single ideology.


Cult of Athleticism
Aesthetic forms
deemed to be life-asserting
It includes cult of athleticism and physical health; the suppressing of decadent books to the publishing of `healthy' literature; the cleansing of art of its degenerate elements to the fostering of aesthetic forms deemed to be life-asserting.
Similarly, the rejuvenation of the Volksgemeinschaft went hand in hand with the removal of Jews and other negative elements from public life.

Reactionary Modernism

National Socialism presents itself as an alternative to liberal and socialist forms of modernity.
The importance it attributed to the organically and racially conceived nation meant that it rejected both the individualism, pluralism, cosmopolitanism, materialism, and rationalism associated with liberalism as radically as it did the internationalism and materialism it attributed to Bolshevism.
What has presumably prevented so many commentators from grasping this point has been the deep and eroneous impression that National Socialism incarnated a systematized and calculated form of barbarism reminiscent of a throw back to an earlier dark age.
Barbarism, however, has nothing to do with the development of the Third Reich.


Charles Darwin
It should also be remembered that Germany under Hitler pursued policies based on a populist nationalism conceived partially, though not exclusively in biological, eugenic, and Darwinian terms.
All these components were literally inconceivable before the 19th century.
Blut und Boden
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Certainly the ideology of National Socialism placed great emphasis on the concept of the superiority of the Aryan race and the heroic past of the Germans before their Europeanization and Judeo-Christianization, and on the values of 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and Soil).
But these were not regressive, atavistic myths, but articulated in the spirit of the Conservative Revolution referred to above: the roots of the new order were to be extended as deep as possible into the past so that the tree of the organically conceived nation could grow as vigorously and high as possible.


National Socialism's full-blooded commitment
to modern industry and science
As a result of National Socialism's full-blooded commitment to modern industry and science, the 'Blut und Boden' programme had nothing to do with a radical re-ruralization programme.
Germany was to remain a highly urbanized and technologically advanced nation, however, a steady flow of festivals, rituals, and propaganda celebrating the German nation as a 'Schicksalsgemeinschaft', (a community of destiny), was designed to ensure that the significance of the peasant as the back-bone of the economy, and of nature as a source of transcendent values and meaning, would be acknowledged to a point where every German recognized his or her roots, both physical and spiritual.
The countryside was a focus for palingenetic myth of renewal and sustenance, not for a retreat from the Twentieth century.

KdF Volkswagen
It is in no way a contradiction if the same regime which celebrated the peasant, also embarked on an extensive programme for modernizing and beautifying the urban housing stock and factory working conditions, glorifying the motorway network and the Volkswagen as symbols of the new Germany.
By marrying the industrial age to tribal consciousness Völkisch ideologues were certain that they were resolving the tensions and neuroses of the modern age.
The aim was to give modern life a new spiritual basis and historical purpose, not to destroy it.
It is from the union of the industrial and the pre-industrial that National Socialist art gains the relevance that is not to be found in modernistic degenerate art.
This interpretation of National Socialist art has a direct bearing on any exploration of the links between National Socialism and Romanticism.
The assumption that any such links are explicable in terms of a petty-bourgeois nostalgia for an idyllic past has to be rejected.
But before suggesting how that link might be conceived more appropriately, it is important to put the record straight about the type of art which prospered under the Third Reich.


'Blut und Boden'
It has been suggested that the dominant form of art in the Third Reich was Blood and Soil genre paintings of landscapes and rural activities.

Ziegler - Göttin der Kunst
Certainly much art of the time fits this category, but it is important to remember that other recurrent types of art were neo-classical studies of nudes in arcadian surroundings, historical themes, figures engaged in athletic activities, military subjects whether of soldiers or battle scenes, and portraits of members of the National Socialist hierarchy.




These last three subjects are unmistakably `modern', though the style was generally a highly romanticized form of 'heroic realism'.

Bau der Neuen Reichskanzlei
The art of the Third Reich, in its `mature' form of 1936 or 1937, came to employ a host of formal and aesthetic devices which Modernism itself had invented.
This `Modernist' aspect of National Socialist art should be seen in the context not just of paintings evoking the vast building projects being undertaken by the Third Reich, such as the construction of a motorway bridge or work in a stone quarry, but of the vast outpouring of sophisticated graphic art and photographs of the Third Reich's flourishing advertising industry, promoting such quintessentially modern products as Leica cameras and Daimler-Benz cars.



Hitler-Jugend Sport Poster
Hitlerjugend Poster
Nor were housing and factory projects, or the vast realm of product and interior design free from the influence of the 'so-called' Modern Movement.
There was, undoubtedly a tension between `Modernism and archaism', a tension which is arguable resolved once the concept `Conservative Revolution' (Reactionary Modernism) is applied.
There is a direct correlation here with the field of ideology.
Some historians have presented National Socialism as the fruit of an aberrant tradition in German thought and culture, which blended nationalism and idealism with the rejection of liberal humanistic values, and that Hitler had somehow absorbed, a weird mixture of some of the more extreme ideas that had erupted from German thinkers during the nineteenth century.
Certainly National Socialism drew on Fichte and Wagner, among others, but it also made much of the rigorously scientific basis of its Weltanschauung in a highly modern spirit far removed both from Romanticism and idealism.

Fichte
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (May 19, 1762 – January 27, 1814) was a German philosopher. He was one of the founding figures of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. Fichte is often perceived as a figure whose philosophy forms a bridge between the ideas of Kant and those of the German Idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Fichte also wrote works of political philosophy and is considered one of the fathers of German nationalism.
Fichte made important contributions to political nationalism in Germany. In his 'Ansprache an die deutsche Nation' (Addresses to the German Nation) (1808), a series of speeches delivered in Berlin, he urged the German peoples to "have character and be German" -entailed in his idea of Germanness was antisemitism, since he argued that "making Jews free German citizens would hurt the German nation.
Historian Robert Nisbet, in a gross oversimplification, thought him to be "the true author of National Socialism".

At the root of this is a trait of considered eclecticism.
In their attempt to revitalize the present, and wipe out decadence, National Socialists had drawn many concepts that which would help to rationalize their policies.
To focus on only those aspects of art and ideology under Hitler which fit into the restorationist, anti-modern, bourgeois thesis is thus to misrepresent National Socialism.
Firstly, it would be a fallacy to assume that Nazism was, per se, against all forms of Modernism even in theory.

Dr Paul Josef Goebbels
In his semi-autobiographical novel 'Michael: A German Destiny', Dr Paul Josef Goebbels's thinly veiled alter-ego claims at one point that he himself is an Expressionist, and in another passage writes: 
Vincent van Gogh
'I visit an exhibition of modern painting. We see much new nonsense. One star: Vincent van Gogh. In these surroundings he already seems tame, but yet he is the most modern of the moderns. For modernity has nothing to do with heroic gestures. All that is just learnt through practice. The modern man is necessarily a god-seeker, perhaps a Christ-like person. Van Gogh's life tells us even more than his work. He combines in his personality the most important elements: he is teacher, preacher, fanatic, prophet - mad. In the last analysis we are all mad if we have an idea. Fanatics of love: the capacity for self-sacrifice.'
Predictably Goebbels goes on to find an outlet by joining the NSDAP, but this did not mean abandoning his commitment to healthy Modernism.

Paul Joseph Goebbels (29 October 1897 – 1 May 1945) was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates he was known for his zealous orations.
Goebbels earned a PhD from Heidelberg University in 1921, writing his doctoral thesis on 19th century romantic drama; he then went on to work as a journalist. He also wrote novels and plays. Goebbels came into contact with the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party in 1923. He was appointed Gauleiter (regional party leader) of Berlin. Goebbels despised capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core, and he stressed the need for the Nazis to emphasize both a proletarian and national character.

 Max Weber
It is important to see 'Modernism' as a blanket-term for a bewildering variety of initiatives undertaken since the late Nineteenth century to re-spiritualize and re-enchant, to bring magic and meaning to, a Western civilization widely experienced as `decadent', namely hyper-rationalized and (in Max Weber's terms) 'entzaubert' (disenchanted).

Maximilian Karl Emil "Max" Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist whose ideas influenced social theory, social research, and the entire discipline of sociology Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founding architects of sociology.

If this perspective is adopted, then National Socialism can be seen as promoting a quintessentially 'modernist' form of politics and aesthetics, in an attempt to purge society of its decadence, and to enable the entire German race, or rather its `healthy' specimens, to tap into `eternal' sources of spirit, value, and meaning.


The Omnipresent Swastika
There is a supreme importance to National Socialist art policies being essential to their self-appointed mission `to destroy a carefully selected "Modernist" past, - a mission which we have presented as integral to their crusade for Germany's reawakening or palingenesis (the omnipresent Swastika itself was a symbol of the rising sun and of spiritual rebirth).
This impulse may be described as `Völkisch Post-Modernism', and this can be seen to be part of a wider Modernist dynamic in which all forms are to be renovated, and life as a whole is to be transformed and improved.
For it seems likely that at a number of points within our Modernist and modernising century, the very apocalyptic (i.e. palingenetic - see above) nature of the race into the future has meant both a search for tradition as well as an obsession with the speed of time.
This is the sense in which National Socialism was an early form of Post-Modernism, albeit an authoritarian one, and hence part of that wider network of Modernisms with which we are still trying to get adequately acquainted.

Postmodernism is a term used to the era and the concepts that follows Modernism. It frequently serves as an ambiguous overarching term for skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) is an example of a significant post-modernist philosopher.

Classicism, Romanticism and Modernism

This unique form of 'Post-Modernism' was born of a tension that originated in the outlooks of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and the technocrats epitomised by Fritz Todt.


Kritian Boy
Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for a classical period, classical antiquity in the Western tradition, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate.


Δορυφόρος
Doryphoros of Polyclitus
The marble Kritios Boy or Kritian Boy belongs to the Early Classical period of ancient Greek sculpture.
The Kritios Boy is thus named because it is attributed to Kritios who worked together with Nesiotes (sculptors of Harmodius and Aristogeiton) or their school, from around 480 BC.

The Doryphoros (Spear-Bearer);  is one of the best known Greek sculptures of the classical era in Western Art and an early example of Greek classical contrapposto.

The Greek sculptor Polykleitos designed a work, perhaps this one, as an example of the "canon" or "rule", showing the perfectly harmonious and balanced proportions of the human body in the sculpted form. A solid-built athlete with muscular features carries a spear balanced on his left shoulder. A characteristic of Polykleitos' Doryphoros is the classical contrapposto in the pelvis; the figure's stance is such that one leg seems to be in movement while he is standing on the other.

The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained. Any violent emphasis or sudden acceleration of rhythmic movement destroys those qualities of balance and completeness through which classical form retains its position of authority in the restricted repertoire of visual images.
Classicism implies a canon of widely accepted ideal forms.
Classicism is a force which is often present in post-medieval European and European influenced traditions
Hitler regarded the Germanic peoples of Europe as belonging to a racially superior Nordic subset of the larger Aryan race, who were regarded as the only true culture-bearers of civilized society.



Imperial Roman Standard
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Pantheon - Rome
Ancient Classical Architecture
Adolf Hitler also believed that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were the racial ancestors of the Germans, and the first torch-bearers of "Nordic-Greek" art and culture.
He particularly expressed his admiration for Ancient Sparta, declaring it to have been the purest racial state:
Neue Wache - Berlin - Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Hitler, therefore, favoured Classicism, in the arts, and had a high regard for a classical period, and classical antiquity in the Western tradition, and saw it as setting standards for art, sculpture and painting.
The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained. 
In architecture Classicism features the golden section as a key proportion for buildings, the classical orders of columns, as well as a host of ornament and detail associated with the Greeks and Romans.
Classicism also involves the symmetry, the orderly arrangement of columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and aedicules.


Neue Reichskanzlei
Albert Speer
Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Spee (March 19, 1905 – September 1, 1981) was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler's chief architect before assuming ministerial office. Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931, launching him on a political and governmental career which lasted fourteen years. His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party and he became a member of Hitler's inner circle. Hitler instructed him to design and construct a number of structures, including the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld stadium in Nuremberg where Party rallies were held. Speer also made plans to reconstruct Berlin on a grand scale, with huge buildings, wide boulevards, and a reorganized transportation system.

This classicism, favoured by Hitler, can be clearly see in Speer's designs for Germania, and in Hermann Giesler's designs for Linz.

Proposed redevelopment of Linz
Professor Hermann Giesler
Professor Hermann Giesler (April 2, 1898, Siegen - January 20, 1987, Düsseldorf) was a German architect - one of the two architects most favoured and rewarded by Adolf Hitler (the other being Albert Speer).
Hermann Giesler completed his architectural study at the Academy for Applied Arts in Munich. 
Up to 1938 he designed the "Ordensburg" in Sonthofen, planned Gau Forums in Weimar and Augsburg, and the "university" for the NSDAP at Chiemsee. In addition, he was commissioned to build Hitler's house in Munich. In 1938 he was ordered by Hitler to the "General Building Inspector" for the reorganization of the city of Munich. Later he became also a director in the Organisation Todt, then one of the directors of the Group of Works of VI (Bavaria, Donaugaue). Starting from 1941 Giesler was entrusted by Hitler with the reorganization of the entire city of Linz. Giesler joined the NSDAP in 1941 for the Organisation Todt.

One indication of Hitler's move to classicism may be seen in his decision regarding Fraktur and Sütterlin.
On January 3, 1941 Martin Bormann issued a circular to all public offices which declared Fraktur, and its corollary, the Sütterlin-based handwriting, to be "Judenlettern", and prohibited their further use.


Fraktur or  Gothic is a blackletter typeface based on the calligraphic hand of the Latin alphabet. The blackletter lines are broken up – that is, their forms contain many angles when compared to the smooth curves of the Antiqua (common) typefaces modeled after antique Roman square capitals and Carolingian minuscule. From this, Fraktur is sometimes contrasted with the "Latin alphabet" in northern European texts, being sometimes called the "German alphabet".

Sütterlinschrift is the last widely used form of Kurrent, the historical form of German handwriting that evolved alongside German blackletter (most notably Fraktur) typefaces. Graphic artist Ludwig Sütterlin was commissioned by the Prussian ministry for culture to create a modern handwriting script in 1911. His handwriting scheme gradually replaced the older cursive scripts that had developed in the 16th century at the same time that bookletters developed into Fraktur

The reason for this decision was Adolf Hitler's dislike for the Fraktur typeface, seen by him as 'Gothic' and non-Classical
This was demonstrated by a declaration that he made in the Reichstag in 1934

"... In a hundred years, our language will be the European language. The nations of the east, the north and the west will, to communicate with us, learn our language. The prerequisite for this: The script called Gothic is replaced by the script we have called Latin so far..."
Adolf Hitler

Himmler's approach to aesthetics was very different.
Himmler was deeply involved with the activities of the Ahnenerbe, which he directed to find evidence for early cultural developments within the borders of the Reich.
Not an artist by training or inclination, he was captivated by Germanic Medievalism, and therefore his aesthetic leaned toward the Romantic and the Gothic.

'Ruin'
Caspar David Friedrich
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850.
Partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, it was also a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.
It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature.

Caspar David Friedrich (September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. 

Gothic Sculpture
William Dohme - der Braunschweiger Doml  - 1937
Its effect on politics was considerable and complex; while for much of the peak Romantic period it was associated with liberalism and radicalism, in the long term its effect on the growth of nationalism was probably more significant.
The Gothic style, while difficult to describe succinctly, may be summed up as the antithesis of Classicism.
Whereas classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained, Gothic style is informal exuberant, involving violent emphasis of form and movement which destroys those qualities of balance and completeness to be found in classical art.
Classicism looks to the ideal, whereas Gothic exemplifies to particular and peculiar.
Romanticism favoured the Gothic style in architecture.
Gothic architecture features asymmetrical compositions, and free-form plans, with arched fenestration and roofing.



Wewelsburg - Paderborn 
SS Julleuchter
Neo-Gothic Art
An example of the romantic architecture favoured by Himmler was the Wewelsberg.
The Wewelsburg is a castle located in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, in district of Paderborn in the Alme Valley.
The castle, while not strictly Gothic, has the outline of a triangle and has a non-symetrical romanticised plan.
Equally another example of Romanticised aesthetic is the SS Julleuchter, whch was given at Christmas to members of the SS.

Classical Art
Blut und Boden  Romantic Art
Because of Himmler's influence over the 'Blut und Boden' programme, most art depicting peasants, farming and landscape tended to be executed in a Romantic style, while more formal studies and mythological subjects tended to be executed in a tight, technically refined Classical style, as favoured by Hitler.
Contemporary subjects, however, such as representations of Reichsautobahnen, building projects, combat scenes and propaganda posters were executed in a 'realist-modernist' style.


Arno Breker
In other words, the National Socialist use of both Classicism and Romanticism is not the archaism of a society nostalgic for the past, but the 'Modernism' of a regime which was, `nostalgic for the future'.

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