Veith, Gene Edward. Modern Fascism: The Threat to the Judeo-Christian Worldview. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993.
Chapter 7, “‘The Beautiful Ideas Which Kill’ Fascism and Modernism” pp. 113-125.
Veith observes that although “fascism became a mass movement . . . it had its origins among intellectuals and artists” (Veith 1993, 113). It began as an avant-garde reaction to the established order, roughly in parallel to the rise of the modernist movement in the early 20th century. Ironically, the modernist movement and the fascist movement both found current society bleak and looked to past civilizations for models, thus creating something which was simultaneously new and old (Veith 1993, 114). The tumult of Word War I may also have led people to accept new ways of viewing their world, thus leaving the door open for these philosophical shifts (Veith 1993, 115).
Veith credits the 1913 performance of Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring with its atonality, frenzied choreography, and human sacrifice as a key moment in history. The first audience rioted (Veith 1993, 115). However, the move to the acceptance of an avant-garde was unmistakable. The shift to the visceral, the primitive, and the departure from traditional form was all present. This had a profound influence on the theories of the fascist thinkers in the artistic community (Veith 1993, 116). Music, art, and literature began to adopt visceral and even violent modes of expression. Veith provides numerous examples of luminaries in the world of 20th century literature who found themselves at home with the primitivism, the nationalism, and the moral changes of the eugenics movement (Veith 1993, 117).
In the art world, it was commonly accepted that an artist would create values. To change culture, it was necessary to create new values and break down the old. Nietzsche saw this as the special realm of the artist, who could use the will to power as a means of creating new truth (Veith 1993, 118). Moral principles are expressions of power. Artists can impose new morals on people through the cultural force of their work. The artist, then, was a hero of sorts, who would break out of his marginalized status to lead the culture (Veith 1993, 119). The avant-garde art world with its ties to fascism provided a way of throwing off tradition in favor of a new, unrestrained self. Veith finds this very present in the Futurist art movement of Italy (Veith 1993, 120). The beautiful ideas of the artists moved quickly to violent overthrow of others. Especially in Italy, the avant-garde art world and the Fascist revolution formed alliances as they sought to bring forth a new order (Veith 1993, 121). Both movements were largely based on shock value, creating a new human order which was subjective and emotionalistic (Veith 1993, 122). Likewise, the German Expressionists explored psychological states, especially those related to violence. This found expression in an aesthetic of ugliness, which was easily adapted to the Nazi shows of force. Eventually, the Nazis banned Expressionist art, but did put it on display as “degenerate” work (Veith 1993, 123). The approved Nazi art was that of nostalgia, peasant life, folklore, and the revolutionary naturalist nude paintings and sculptures (Veith 1993, 124). The depictions of the Aryans were intended to direct people to recognize a new ideal. Order is imposed on the primitivism in a way similar to the imposition of political order on society. In the end, “fascist art lurched from total freedom to total control” (Veith 1993, 125). The transcendent was gone, but a new aesthetic needed to be created, by force, if necessary. The ideas of freedom and revolution ended up being turned to instruments of bondage.