Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Triumph of the Will", or Defeat of Delusion

On display tonight is a full length National Socialist gem, a propaganda film directed by German artist and photographer, Leni Riefenstahl featuring the 1934 Nazi rally at Nurnberg.

Like Hitler's blueprint for war "Mein Kampf" the classic may well be on the index of some countries in Europe, but it proves that censoring and suppression is a mistake: "Triumph des Willens" - or "Triumph of the Will" - is a revelation as well as an education.

We need to keep in mind that Corporal Hitler was elected into power just a year earlier, in 1933 on a narrative of restoring to its former glory the Fatherland, home of the victims, the German People.

They saw themselves as victims on a number of counts. First of all, of the greedy, selfish, materialistic Anglo-Saxon liberal Capitalism; then from the perspective of the Marxist dialectic, which views the world entirely from a oppressor versus oppressed agonistic.

Furthermore the defeat in World War I for which the Jewry, Communists and other subversives were blamed in a Sorelian myth (the Dolchstoß Legend), was a third contribution to the self image as an underdog. The harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty did the rest for the narrative of victimhood.

World War I had been wholesale slaughter and the Versailles Treaty was no joke. Can you blame a people, a leader or a party for fostering and furthering the ideal to right such a wrong? Many righteous Germans, other Europeans and Americans thought not.

Sir Winston Churchill wrote in his Nobel Prize winning "Memoirs of the Second World War": ""I had no national prejudices against Hitler at the time. I knew little of his doctrine or record and nothing of his character. I admire men who stand up for their country in defeat, even though I am on the other side. He had a perfect right to be a patriotic German if he chose. I always wanted England, Germany and France to be friends."

On the ideological level we find in the title of the movie a somewhat curious statement: the triumph of will, but whose will? Corporal Hitler's? No, its a notion that can be traced back to the collectivist philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideal society can best be summed up as a theofascist tribe, having replaced the role of the sovereign ruler with the community's under the State. That entity was thought of as having an animus of its own - the 'common will' -  the infallible standard of morality to whose sovereignty all drones have a duty to answer and submit.

Corporal Hitler, the National Socialist Party and all that happened as a result, suddenly doesn't seem that enigmatic anymore!

For whatever reason, today we don't speak of the will so much anymore. In Postmodern times it's all about subjectivity, personal taste and "if it pleases us". So, ways are found to pleasantly manipulate us. And when that's the case we may suddenly find it in our hearts that, "Yes, we can". The pragmatism is the same though: we do whatever we want because, hey ... it's Us!

Finally, we can now witness for ourselves the curious observation made frequently by historians: the pounding rhetoric - not just of victimhood - but also of peace and concord from the man we now know to have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the last century.

Here's one of Riefenstahl's master pieces, "Triumph of the Will". More on her formidable legacy on this site.

- Filed on Articles in "History Compiled" -


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see how the father of Britain's present Secretary of State chacterized Nazi Germany:


Ralph Miliband, THE SOCIALIST REGISTER, 1984

"It was the Soviet Union which was left to bear the brunt of Germany’s military might from 1941 until 1944, and it was upon the Soviet Union that devolved the main task of destroying the German war machine, a task which was only accomplished at horrendous human and material cost. On this record alone, the notion of capitalist hostility–and Nazi Germany WAS a capitalist power, which enjoyed quite friendly relations with other capitalist powers until its expansionist appetites grew too large–is not some kind of paranoid phantasm, but a simple reality."

Nazi Germany was capitalist?

That would explain the Hitler-Stalin pact?

And this idiot's son bans Geert Wilders, promotes the EU, wants Turkey in the EU, scaremongers about Global Warming, gifts Britain to Mecca. But claims to be standing up to fascism?

Like father, like son ... Apple doesn't fall far from the tree ... And so on ...

+ + +

They celebrated Riefenstahl at the Academy Awards.

Karen said...

Leni Riefenstahl was not only a brilliant propagandist, but she was a shrewd businesswoman who knew how to move ideals and ideas. There is a huge stigma attached to her legacy due to her work with the Third Reich, which is a shame. I was lucky enough to see some original photographs while I was visiting Germany. You get a sense of the time yet also timelessness.