- The Dark Arts of Politics:Aesthetics and Engineering in Nazism and Fascism
Despite their obvious centrality to the history of the twentieth century, sixty years after the defeat of the Axis powers fascism and Nazism remain elusive phenomena, hard to define with any real clarity. Scholars wrangle not only over the identification of their central characteristics but also over whether the similarities between fascism and Nazism are close enough to justify considering them as parts of a single category. A growing number of studies, however, ranging from general histories such as Norman Davies's Europe: A History and Mark Mazower's Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century, to more specialized works such as Zeev Sternhell's Neither Left Nor Right and Robert Paxton's fine The Anatomy of Fascism, argue the case for treating fascism and Nazism together.1 A mark of all of these books is their willingness to give serious attention to fascist ideologies and to the interactions between these ideologies and fascist practice and culture. This interest, in turn, makes it necessary to examine anew broader questions about the relations between fascism and the circumstances and attitudes of modern life.
The two works under consideration here—The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, by Eric Michaud, and Building Fascism, Communism, and Liberal Democracy, by Jeffrey T. Schnapp—share the growing concern to take seriously fascist ideology and culture as essential to an understanding of the movement. Michaud sets out to present an analysis of Nazi myth, which he argues was constructed with reference to two models: art and Christianity (xii). His immensely erudite study relates Nazi conceptions of the leader to Romantic views of genius and Christian doctrines concerning the role of the Savior. This allows him to present a distinctive view of Nazi ideology, one that relates it to themes and debates that have figured prominently in the history of European culture and belief. [End Page 113]
Schnapp, on the other hand, focuses on the career of a single man—Gaetano Ciocca. Though Ciocca is now an obscure figure, unlikely to be familiar even to most students of fascism, Schnapp argues that his career deserves attention for several reasons. In the first place, he "strove to translate a fascist politics into the language of modern technics in the domains of architecture, urbanism, theater design, animal husbandry, drainage and transportation systems" (7). What is more, Ciocca was no power-hungry opportunist but rather a committed and reflective intellectual, who spent much of his time writing books and articles aimed at explaining and justifying his various projects to a general audience. Last but not least, though Ciocca's passionate commitment to fascism cooled as World War II wore on, this had no visible effect on his engineering projects. In the aftermath of the war, Ciocca presented himself as a nonpolitical "rebuilder" concerned to provide for popular need. In this guise, he served Italy's postwar liberal democracy as enthusiastically as he had previously devoted his projects to the cause of fascism. Ciocca thus presents us with an intriguing puzzle: a committed and reflective fascist intellectual—no Eichmann, Schnapp insists—who was nevertheless able to function equally effectively after the demise of the fascist regime. Schnapp argues that Ciocca's career forces us to examine with care the complex relations between technologies and political ideologies. In fact, I think it compels us to consider more general questions about the extent to which Ciocca's conception of himself as a modernizing technocrat could be equally at home in the political contexts of fascism and a certain kind of elite-centered liberal democracy. Schnapp hints at this issue at several moments but does not address it in a sustained way.
Though there have been some notable exceptions, most studies of Nazism in particular have tended to gravitate toward one of two explanatory options. The first, more common in philosophical circles, has been to view...