The Seduction of Culture in German History


During the Allied bombing of German cities, Hitler was more concerned by the loss of cultural treasures than he was by human casualties. At the time, his propagandists broadcast the fact, believing it would impress the German public by revealing Hitler's cultural sensitivity: the artist's spirit inside the military uniform. Wolf Lepenies argues that this incident is part of the long German tradition of valuing cultural achievement above all else, including politics - a tradition which he believes has had a catastrophic consequences for his country. Listen to the podcast from Radio National (starts at the end of the program).

Here is the Introduction of the book;

“This book examines the German attitude of regarding culture as a substitute for politics and of vilifying politics, understood above all as parliamentary politics, as nothing but an arena of narrow-minded, interest-group bargaining and compromise. But this work is not a debate on the Sonderweg (special path) in disguise, asserting that the aversion to politics and the idealist and romantic veneration of culture were the main reason why Germany departed from the "normal" Western course of development and steered into the disaster of Nazism. I do not describe an attitude that is a uniquely German phenomenon. Still, I argue that an overestimation of cultural achievements and a "strange indifference to politics" (G.P. Gooch) nowhere played a greater role than in Germany and have nowhere else survived to the same degree. Seeing culture as a substitute for politics has remained a prevailing attitude throughout German history--from the glorious days of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Weimar through, though now in considerably weaker form, the reunification of the two Germanys after the fall of communism. Peter Gay, Georg Mosse, Fritz Ringer, Fritz Stern, Peter Viereck, and others have explored this specific German attitude toward culture and politics. I am revisiting their arguments and try to offer new insights into an old problem. “

Also recommended;
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and the Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze. See reviews at Financial Times and The Guardian. Brad de Long also recommends the book.


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on September 12, 2006 10:01 PM.

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