Both the Communists and the National Socialists understood the importance of art. Frequently, one hears the art of their societies derisively dismissed as “propaganda,” though I wonder what art would not be considered propaganda if one were to think consistently. Should we not apply the term to our avant garde Euripidean social critics? When a regime enlists artists to craft according to its vision, it is only doing artificially what artists have always done in all societies naturally—namely, incarnating the values of society in their works. Obviously, the powerful have frequently conscripted the creative classes to put themselves in a good light. Pharaohs, Roman emperors, medieval bishops, narcissistic merchants, and nouveau riche industrialists have patronized beauty with ulterior concerns of political propaganda—or at least of vanity. Nonetheless, the artists themselves still worked their crafts, and they did so for beauty as for the money that earned them their bread. As I wrote in “Disney the Corrupter of Youth?”, it is inaccurate to reduce art to one dimension of its being.
I do not wish to praise the good taste of fascists. Soviet Realism, Mussolini’s Esposizione Universale di Roma, and Albert Speer’s Great Hall leave me uneasy in the same way as almost all modern art. It is cold, inhuman, and, my soul cries out inexplicably, false. I do not know exactly how to defend the charge of falseness, but I find it to be the most appropriate word.
However, the Soviets made the most beautiful subway system in the world, and the Nazi’s had sharp Hugo Boss uniforms. Moreover, both the Soviet Union and the Third Reich had an impressive share of great artists—perhaps despite rather than because of their social systems. For the Soviet regime had its artistic explosion early on, while its society had still been formatively nourished during the old order, and the Nazis were too shortlived to cultivate a society based on their vision.
For an example of Soviet art, consider the film October: Ten Days That Shook the World by Sergei Eisenstein with music by Dmitri Shostakovich. You may watch a clip of the film here:
For the National Socialists, one has to mention Leni Riefenstahl. It is a testament to Hitler’s foolishness and vice that he could have destroyed his adopted country and all of Europe with the incredible talent and resources that even a defeated postwar Weimar Germany had. What a misuse of a nation!
Anyway, Riefenstahl was brilliant. You may watch her Olympia, a documentary about the Berlin Olympic Games in A.D. 1936. (Warning: there is some old fashioned Aryan nudity in the prologue.)
“Fest der Völker”
“Fest der Schönheit”
Of course, the propaganda element implies that just as the modern games are the successor to the ancient games, so the Germans are the heirs of classical Greece.
It is ironic how, for all their rebellion against decadence and the Last Man, the National Socialists sealed Europe’s declining and wretchedly emasculated fate. Even the Nazi’s love of good things poisoned Europe, making the Europeans ashamed of themselves because of the taint of association. Besides the monuments of the Ottomans’ conquest, every minaret in Europe owes its foundation to Hitler—the father of so many genocides.