Friday, May 26, 2017

Book review: How the Nazis Made Art Fascist

Benjamin Martin: The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture
Reviewed by IAN BEACOCK

Keystone/Getty Imagges
Cary Grant was there. So was the distinguished silent film star Mary Pickford. Tyrone Power, handsome swashbuckler of stage and screen, showed up with his new wife, the glamorous French actress Annabella. As they did every summer, the world’s rich and famous had descended upon Venice to toss back flutes of prosecco at the Biennale and step out at the Film Festival. In August 1939, however, the guest of honor was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist and the cultural czar of the Third Reich. Goebbels made a dramatic entrance by gondola, gliding down the Grand Canal as swastika flags rippled from bridges and windowsills. Italian newsreels show the propaganda minister sunning himself aboard a sailboat and leading a nighttime rally in the Piazza San Marco. Within weeks of Goebbels’ Venetian tour, German tanks thundered into Poland. Europe was once again at war.


Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany formalized their military alliance in May 1939. Yet both powers recognized that hegemony in Europe and the Mediterranean required the projection of cultural influence as much as the force of arms. And so they set about remaking European civilization in their own image. During the 1930s, Berlin and Rome built a right-wing network of international organizations for film, music, literature, and academic scholarship. These bodies lent prestige to the Nazi–fascist project while laying the groundwork for a new idea of Europe itself: not liberal and cosmopolitan but racially pure and authoritarian—a sharp rebuke to the mixed, messy democratic modernity of France, Britain, and the United States. The Venice Film Festival was the finest jewel in the Nazi–fascist cultural crown, founded by Mussolini’s regime in 1932 as an aesthetic counterweight to Hollywood commercialism.

This is the story narrated with great erudition and grace by Benjamin Martin in his new book The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture. The insidious spread of what Martin calls “the soft power of Nazi and fascist imperialism” is a staggering tale of geopolitical and intellectual ambition. It is all the more astonishing for having been overlooked for so long. Drawing upon libraries and archives in five different countries, Martin’s work is a dazzling transnational history of ideas and institutions as well as a major contribution to our understanding of fascism and the Third Reich: Martin reveals how cultural initiatives unlock the political imagination of the interwar radical right. It was in concert halls and boardrooms and along red carpets that sinister ideologues like Goebbels most fully revealed their plans to remake European civilization and overturn the global order.

The book also lands with more shuddering force than its author could have anticipated. More than any moment since the 1930s, we suddenly face the prospect of a world system principally shaped by the extreme right. .. read more: