In our look at Germany this week I wanted us to consider why German society and Nazi ideology developed as it did. One area we focused on was the idea of humiliation. Germany felt humiliated after W.W. I, and many of us understand the anger and desperation that come with humiliation. The whole tenor of Nazi society seemed to have this desperate edge to it. We might think, for example, that for the Nazi’s to have the kind of control it did over the populace it must have been a state with police everywhere. In fact, the Gestapo usually had very few actual people in a given place, but thousands of denunciations to pore over from average Germans kept them quite busy. Those denounced were usually turned in by neighbors, not “found out” by the Gestapo. The common theme in these denunciations was that these “enemies of the state” just didn’t seem to fit in. They were “asocial.” They had unusual friends or habits. They posed a threat to the German sense of German unity.
I wonder if this reveals a deep sense of insecurity in the German people, and the need to therefore overcompensate.
For example, let’s imagine that you are a big fan of band X. You love the band, they changed your life, and so on. Many share the same feelings, and you form an intense bond with other fans of the band. If you believed that people who did not share your beliefs about the band needed sent to a concentration camp, we would not declare that you were entirely secure about your beliefs. Your attitude would more likely reveal that you simply could not tolerate dissent, perhaps because you did not want reminded of the possibility that all you have bet everything on was a lie. Or it may not even need to be a “lie” — perhaps you would not want reminded that the band should not occupy such a cult-like status in your own head.
We see this sense of intimidating overcompensation in different aspects of Nazi society.
Fascist architecture has this dynamic:
This first image, from Italy, has an almost comic look. Mussolini tried to revive the glories of ancient Rome. The arch was one of ancient Rome’s great achievements, so let’s build a tall building of one arch on top of another! Rather than show the dynamism of fascism, it instead showed only its sterility.
A few German examples below, however, reveal something else. Everything revolves around size, intimidation, and a repellant worship of force.
When their soldiers went on parade, they couldn’t just march normally. The “goose-step” march heightened the intensity, but in fact only made them more robotic and less human.
Hitler’s private residence reflects all of these concepts. Naturally, it had to be on top of a mountain, and Hitler insisted that his bay window be the largest known bay window in existence. Here are Allied troops standing in that window well after its destruction:
Throughout Hitler’s Germany we see this sense of exaggeration and distortion beyond the common.
Unfortunately the fascist style found adherents in other countries, including the U.S.A., as this grade school pledge from the late 1930’s make clear:
Thankfully we dropped the the “Bellamy Salute” (as it was known) in early 1942.
In the end what we see in Japan, Italy, the Soviet Union, and even in the U.S. to a lesser extent, is the idea that the state is God. Idols succeed because they seem to offer a great deal to us. Money, for example, puts power, security, and pleasure within reach. After the Industrial Revolution, with its attendant changes in demographics and communication technology, the state had tremendous power to organize any people’s collective potential. Again, America was not immune as the case “Minersville v. Gobitis” demonstrates, though again, we showed more sanity than others by overturning that ruling a few years later in “West Virginia v. Barnette.”
We should not think that barbarism is a mere relic of the distant past. The worship of the state is little more than the worship of the tribe by the tribe. Those that worship the individual do most of their damage to themselves and their immediate circle. Concentrated idol worship by collectives has the potential to wreak far more havoc.
Next week we begin the actual fighting of World War II.