Former American diplomat and cultural historian Spotts takes seriously Adolf Hitler’s claim that he made an art of politics and a work of art of the Nazi state.
“If I were to assess my work,” Hitler remarked in 1941, sounding the two overarching motifs of his regime, “I would first emphasize that in the face of an uncomprehending world I succeeded in making the racial idea the basis of life, and second that I made culture the driving force in German greatness.” Many historians have analyzed, to varying degrees of success, the role that Hitler’s supposed failure as an artist played in fueling his demonic rise to power. Spotts (Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival, 1994, etc.), by contrast, notes that he actually did make a living, however unsplendid, as a painter and illustrator. More than that, and with considerable depth, the author shows Hitler orchestrating mass rallies as if staging them for the theater, designing battle flags and party standards, planning model cities that would serve as grand memorials to the German genius, drawing plans for a capital that would, he fully believed, last long after the memories of suffering and bloodshed had faded—the “thousand-year Reich” of his endlessly rehearsed speeches. The singer David Bowie once remarked without apparent irony that Hitler was “one of the first great rock stars”; Spotts lends considerable historical weight to this view and ably demonstrates that whatever else the Führer may have been, he was certainly an artist of a kind, dreaming of a retirement in the Italian countryside so that he could again take up painting. Moreover, Spotts argues, Hitler was one of the greatest patrons of the arts Europe had ever known (he personally exempted artists from the draft, a privilege accorded no other category of German citizen), even though his tastes were surely less than catholic.
An illuminating view of the Führer’s nature and aims, well defended and very well illustrated.