La Crème de la Crematoria

La Crème de la Crematoria (The Shoah must not go on)

            “Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they are so.” Said Rienzi; “but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men hath not been mine. Life itself is a riddle, why should riddles amaze us?” (Bulwer Lytton, 1840:364).

            In the darker humors of a post-Pythonesque imagination, Malibu Barbie is supplanted by Klaus. One can envisage a MAD-TV sketch, with a Margot Robbie lookalike donning Hugo Boss’s menacing red and black, belting out ‘Under the Double Eagle’ with Ken as they pop-top tour the streets of Lyons. Now Robbie is herself no Nazi, of course, but a good actor should be able to play almost any role. And Mattel’s ubiquitous doll is, after all, ‘very Aryan’, to borrow from Chaplin. She’s a tall lanky blue-eyed blond who epitomizes the ideal whiteness of commercially defined glamor. That the somewhat sartorial film ambushes various clichés which abound in the toy itself is a rather different attempt at a demythology than say, Bruno Ganz’s stellar portrayal of the great dictator in ‘Downfall’. There, we must agree with Ganz’s own assessment, which shocked and dismayed his Jewish friends and colleagues, which can be summed as: ‘I feel I now more truly understand Hitler; I know why he did the things he did, and indeed, my overwhelming reaction to him is one of pity, sympathy and a sense of the tragic.’. But ‘Barbie’ rests its case on popular fiction, and that directed to children to boot. ‘Downfall’ is a dramatization of historical events, as related intimately by Hitler’s personal secretary. It is a memoir writ large, and thus accesses an aspect of the authentically historical. ‘Barbie’ is also a memoir of sorts, but one recessing anything historical into the timeless space of childhood play.

            If only Hitler’s own imagination had remained in that same space. If only he had viewed Rienzi at the tender age of fifteen, and shrugged it off as a reasonable allegory of the political confrontation between the people and the elites, discarding any sense that Wagner – or Lytton for that matter – were somehow in the know about what actually occurred during the republican period of the Roman Empire. Instead, he himself relates that ‘this is where it all began’. Much later, he declares, with his usual rhetorical unction, that, ‘our state is that which rests upon the people’s deep sense of the irrational, and thus it is art which must lead society, and to which we must bend our collective will.’ I am both translating and paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. What he meant was, of course, not the ‘irrational’, but rather the non-rational, as in those feelings and beliefs associated with a religion. He was aware that people were moved more by their hearts than their minds, and as well, that those same non-rational hearts suffered in a way that the rational mind cannot. The Reich arose from such misery, and then trebled its misery by projecting it around the globe, where it resonates to this day.

            In its propaganda, in its diaries, and in its policies, one encounters the leitmotif of ressentiment above all others. This is the same emotion – malicious existential envy – that is the source of the neo-conservative movement and its evangelical vanguard. This is the emotion which Trump has tapped into and channeled, though he as an individual likely feels little of it. Yes, he has been consistently mocked, by none other than Jewish entertainers for the most part, such as David Letterman. Hitler felt himself to be cheated out of a position at the Vienna school of art by the majority Jewish entrance committee, and the fact that the painter Oskar Kokoschka was the 20th and final successful applicant of 1908 and Hitler came in 21st could not have helped. Kokoschka much later suggested in interview that if their positions had been reversed, ‘he would have gone on to become a mediocre painter and I a benign dictator.’ Perhaps not quite benign, as he once created a life-size BDSM doll of Alma Mahler after she had dumped him. But my point is simply this: ressentiment is widespread in any society that markets heavily unattainable ideals, and then also appears to limit certain people’s access to the very resources that would foster gaining such ideals. The phenomenologist Max Scheler is owed the greatest debt in analyzing this dangerous condition, first understood more fully by Nietzsche. The neo-conservatives are those who, in general, have been marginalized by modernity and by modernism, and have, since about 1980, reacted to this growing erosion of their beliefs and individual rights by adopting a chopped-down version of personhood set into a mockery of Christian ethics. In this simplistic sensibility, they have attained a strength of numbers which is politically formidable. If all of the nuances of both Burkean conservatism and authentic Christianity had been maintained, such numbers and their apparent agreement would not have been possible.

            What this means for the rest of us is that we must make a choice between a regression into the same kind of social motion that animated the NSDAP and got them elected, and the usual gang of idiots, to make a second nod to MAD, who populate the corridors of power in so-called liberal democracies. These latter may be incompetent and irresponsible but they are not generally dangerous, so the choice seems clear enough. All the while, those who are most at risk, arguably people of Jewish descent and Black Americans, must together continue their uneasy partnership purveying low-culture (over the) counter-propaganda. If there is even a hint that the entertainment industry has an ethnic-enclave gatekeeping mechanism about it, then it is surely one of utter desperation, even outright fear. The Goyim must be kept distracted, made to laugh, to swoon, to sentimentalize their otherwise barbaric and cruel passions, and in spite of a Black leader’s epithet regarding New York and the case of Bernhard Goetz, amongst many other tensions, these two social groups, through sports and fiction, feel compelled to continue to concoct what is essentially a minstrel’s dire duet.

            It is not a stretch to imagine another Shoah. Hamas and Hezbollah have neither the firepower nor the allies to construct it, but the American neo-conservatives very much do. And for the same reasons that Hitler was enormously popular, seen as a savior, not unlike the recently fetishized Trump, all those who suffer from the ignominy of ressentiment are capable of any act. Scheler makes it clear by distinguishing resentment, which gives way to simple envy, from its more extreme sibling. Resentment tells me I should be like her, have what she has, youth, beauty, admiration, wealth, or what-have-you. But ressentiment tells me that I should be her, which implies that she herself should be dead and I have replaced her with myself. In all those breasts which have been sidelined by science, by art, by education, and by the economy, malicious existential envy rages, and rages on. And it is the arrogance of cultural – though not necessarily actually cultured – elites which performs the final straw on such a social stage. A common plaintiff of Goebbels’s films is that ‘the Jews’ have ‘passed their arrogant judgments’ upon art and life alike. Art history itself is not at issue. Even the long-suffering Red Army shrugged it off, sending some 200 Hitler Youth fighters back home to their surviving parents and their leader, a professor of art history, back to his academic position, after their ludicrous attempt at defending the Olympic stadium in Berlin. But the neo-conservatives, unlike the Nazis, have interest in neither art nor culture. Imagine then, in a yet darker humor, a sheer simple madness this time and not the great Al Jaffee’s crew, a Reich in which there is no art, no culture, and no thought. For after all, no less than Heidegger himself, arguably the world’s greatest living thinker, was invited to become state philosopher, a posting he toyed with for several months before wisely turning it down. Richard Strauss, one of the world’s two greatest living composers, became the Reich’s arts director. For all of their ressentiment, the Nazis still knew who was good.

            Not so this reprise movement. There is not the faintest sign or signage that culture of any sort is present in its minions. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is naked, my blushes. Judy Blume talks teen sex, how disgusting. And uh, no Margaret, I’m actually dead, remember? Quit your bitching and leave me in peace. Give me the Nazis any day of the year, one is tempted to say. They not only celebrated the naked form – well, if you looked like Margot Robbie at least – they avidly listened to Bruckner. They disdained swing music, as do I. Of course, their ‘taste’ in such things was incorrectly sourced in the idea of authorship. The big bands were often helmed by Jewish musicians, and after all, Mahler himself was born a Jew. Speaking of Gustav this time and not his wife, Mahler gave the Nazis conniptions, with many listening to him discreetly, since they loved his art but publicly had to hate his person. And while I wouldn’t have turned the Tchaikovsky Museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as the SS did whilst temporarily in the neighborhood, I do think Bruckner is the superior composer, as did they. It is sage to recall Putin’s recent comment about there being ‘no gays in Russia’. Maybe not now, but then there was Peter Ilyich. To extend our satire, the SS may have been taken aback to know that Tchaikovsky might well have admired men on motorbikes.

            All of this would be anathema to the neo-cons, and thus none, including any sense of humor, would be present in the Fourth Reich. Let’s not fool ourselves into hoping that such desires shall pass, and without a fight. Ressentiment is present in all of us. Our hearts feel its minor fuel each time we are denied something we had been promised, that we knew we had earned, that we are owed by another, by a social institution, by government, or perhaps even by life itself. And though it may be true that ‘deserves got nothing to do with it’, our basic will to that very life can conflate chance and destiny, belief and opinion, even fact and fiction. When it does, go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you would never, ever, be a death camp guard.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.