Leni Riefenstahl

From Olympia, (Riefenstahl’s documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics): the closing of the games.

On this date in 2003 German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl died (born 1902).  Riefenstahl, of course, was the most artistically proficient of all Nazi filmmakers, providing the most memorable propaganda images of the Nazi state, and during her long life represented the problematical relationship between the artist and tyranny.  (The excellent documentary, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, here.)

Christopher Hitchens has noted that the default setting for social organization among humans seems to be fascism.  To advance beyond such a state is difficult, rare and not to be taken for granted.

In the spring of 1943 Frye composed an unfinished, never published essay under the title, “The Present Condition of the World,” which includes some startling observations about the universal Fascist that remain disconcertingly relevant.

The point is all the more striking when we compare the Nazi psychology with our own.  Nazi lynchings of Jews are matched by the Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of Negroes; and anti-Semitism itself has greatly increased over here since Hitler came to power, a clear indication that the Nazi persecutions of the Jews have aroused far more sneaking sympathy than contempt on this continent.  German trumpetings of the superiority of Germans to all other people are obviously attempts to exorcise an inner demon of disbelief in it; to raise an earthquake and fire to roar down the still small voice of self-ridicule.  The average Anglo-Saxon has an inner conviction of the superiority of his race and his institutions which is the despairing envy of the purple-faced bawling Nazi, and which the latter would give anything to possess.  The American tendency to stampede under mass emotional pressure is as marked as that of the Germans.  The labour record of the great German industrialists who backed Hitler can hardly be worse than that of Ford or the steel and coal capitalists here; nor is the willingness of the latter to support a would-be Fascist dictator less in evidence.  The ferocity of capital and labour warfare and the prevalence of gangsterism and thuggery in politics, however bad in Germany, have significant parallels in America.  In both countries there has been a very powerful but easily frightened and bamboozled middle class.  The Germans have had less experience of democracy, but much of our democracy is a rationalization of oligarchy or the opportunity of the lobbyist and ward heeler.  Given the right conditions, we could develop on this continent a Nazism of a fury compared to which that of the Germans would be, in American language, bush-league stuff.  And if it has not occurred, and even if the danger of its occurring has perhaps passed its meridian, our escape is due to the anodyne of prosperity and to certain economic and geographical features in our favour, not to any special virtue in us, any innate love of liberty in our people, or any invincible power in our democratic institutions.  With regard to the last, the general level of political education and insight is even lower here than in Germany before Hitler.  American Fascists, or Defenders of American Democracy as they would doubtless call themselves, if in the first place they could achieve power, would find even less difficulty in rounding up and shooting the leaders of what organized resistance there would be than the Nazis had in Germany, where nearly half the population, in 1932, belonged to well-disciplined revolutionary parties. (CW 10, 216-17)

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