Against Nazi Aesthetics…

Counter-cultural figures sometimes claim to be attracted to Nazi aesthetics but not Nazi politics. My problem with that is less that this is disingenuous than that I find Nazi aesthetics totally repulsive. While I do not think it unethical to find the styles of the Third Reich appealing I think it is indicative of bad taste.

Speer and Riefenstahl were geniuses, yes, but Nazi culture was, I think, far more the product of the third-rate artist and the failed novelist. Their humourless, dogmatic and maladjusted minds perverted the Germanic culture that they claimed to be defending.

Nazi architecture confused size with grandeur, taking classicism to inelegant, aggressive extremes. The inhuman scale of their hyper-nationalism doomed Germany to militaristic feverishness and the inhuman scale of their hyper-classicism doomed their buildings to seem kitschy when they did not seem oppressive.

Their statues, of stern, swollen men in various states of undress, are just embarrassing. Contrast the lean, sober Achilles of Athenian artwork with the steroid-enhanced and downright psychopathic-looking characters of Arno Breker. Nazis were role-playing as their imagined European exemplars rather than building on the heritage their ancestors had left them. Along with the leather, and the sadism, these statues also evoke more than a hint of sexual fetishism.

I can understand admiring aspects of this culture (I am, for example, interested in Speer’s theory of “ruin value”) but the arrogant proportions, obtuse sincerity, frigid humourlessness and eccentric body worship were suggestive of small and grubby man’s idea of the sacred. This indeed they were.

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6 Responses to Against Nazi Aesthetics…

  1. Asteri says:

    I believe their taste in art was far worse than the architecture. I agree with the assessment of the sculpture and the artwork is of the same tradition. Though they admired the classical period, the renaissance and neoclassical, they also loved the romanticist kitsch of the 19th century; a period that Mr Hitler was particularly fond off.

    What’s left of the architecture does have value in of itself, though it works in small doses rather than on the scale they imagined. When decluttered of the statues and symbolism, it’s very impressive, but it is too monumental and bleak to be bad taste. The Kaiser did bad taste with megalomania, the Nazis were a cruel and heartless regime that did cruel and heartless architecture.

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  2. bsixsmith says:

    Good comment. Kitschy was perhaps the wrong word but I wanted something to sum up the contrivance and superficiality of their biggest, most straining-towards-monumental-status structures.

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  3. Asteri says:

    Well that vision of Nazi architecture was never realised, but you can get a feel for the idea with the Karl Marx allee in Berlin. It was meant to be Stalinist, neoclassical, showcase of the GDR, but is so monumental in scale that it completely dwarfs the humanity meant to use it. The shire size of the street and height of the buildings, makes it seem constantly empty and desolate, like a bleak socialist ghost city.

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  4. This is fantastic!

    The more you read about the Nazis, the more you get the impression that they sort of were alll….kind of a bunch of nerds. Like the guys from dysfunctional families who weren’t genetically or socially gifted, so got bullied in school rather than bullied others. There’s this weird forced romantic hardness and stoicism which is clearly put on, but is sort of poorly executed – more Elliot Rodgers than Mishima.

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    • bsixsmith says:

      Welcome. Yes, I think that is a fair assessment. While I don’t think Nazism, or any ideology, is entirely reducible to personal dysfunction, looking at the poison dwarf, the fat transvestite and, well, Hitler it is hard to avoid the conclusion that their idea of a pure blonde master race expressed some insecurity.

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