Essays: More Nazis, More Fascists, More Indiologists

Here are a few recent essays, if anyone is interested. I decided not to put up my Islam in South Asia class midterm, as despite its length I think it repetitive and inferior in quality (although it did get a good grade). However, I did decide to put up the recent reflection paper in that same class, as well as all three of my recent response papers for Totalitarianism.

Backing Hitler

Robert Gellately’s book Backing Hitler seeks to understand the German population’s role in and response to Nazi power and how consent and coercion worked within that structure. Covering phases from the rise of power through the war, he concludes that Nazi terror operated by broad consensus approval and support until the overthrow of the regime. In looking at police justice, concentration camps, anti-Semitism, foreign workers, and related matters through their representation in the media and popular response, Gellately demonstrates that the German population was generally aware of the workings of the Nazi system and rejoiced with the new justice that took over Germany.

In particular I will focus here on his discussion of police justice. Gellately writes, “The vision the [Nazi] police adopted was of a conflict-free society from which would be eliminated all social and biological carriers of ‘harmful’ behavior” (50). Such a vision, if given slight modifications to reflect a perspective shift on the nature and origin of “‘harmful’ behavior,” must be of near-universal appeal. It must have been looked on with special longing by the post-Great War Germans, many of whom lived in the constant shadow of rumors of lawlessness, violence, and depravity. The sense of order and security provided by National Socialist discipline found wide acceptance, despite (or perhaps because of, as Gellately implies) the hard-line, brutal methods employed against what were perceived as the ills of society.

Many broad lessons can doubtless be derived from the example of Nazi justice, such as the consequences of the intrusive violations of freedom and human rights that took place: the fact that such violations could ultimately be applied by the state as it pleased, invested with trust by the German public. The point Gellately seems keenest to make and finds most shocking is that the police were unchained and acted openly under the continued consent of the population, which seems to have received well the reports of executions and severe punishments in exchange for stability. In a sense, the Nazi regime liberated the police to give the majority what they ultimately wanted, and so the majority offered few complaints. In this respect, the Nazi rise to power and the use of the justice system as a merciless utilitarian tool may serve as a caution to democracies tempted to concede to ethical compromise for an imagined greater good.

All this calls to mind James Scott’s points in Seeing Like a State about the driving and ultimately irrational pressure for top-down control and order. Although Scott names the dangers of such a utilitarian will combined with utopian vision, he pursues his point primarily with a perspective on the elite authoritarian regime. This, certainly, the Nazi government was, but as regards the justice system they were enacting to some extent the desperate will of the governed for stability by any means. Gellately states, “Fighting crime and stifling conflict was celebrated as worth giving up one’s civil and legal rights for. Citizens were asked not to worry about the letter of the law but to trust the police.” For such trust, many, and many innocents, would perish.


The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda

In The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, David Welch studies the means and effectiveness of Nazi propaganda in Germany. How and whether it was truly a critical factor in the popular acceptance of National Socialism is a major topic, and Welch ultimately re-emphasizes the major role of propaganda in the rise and sustainment of Nazi power while cautioning that such propaganda was only effective to a population that was in at least partial concurrence with Nazi ideals. Welch’s goals, therefore, not only include tracing the history of Nazi propaganda but also assigning proper emphasis to its potency and relationship with power and public opinion. This paper focuses on the relationship between propaganda and art as seen especially by Joseph Goebbels.

Although Goebbels and Hitler had disagreements over the proper role and technique for propaganda, both held it in high esteem and believed it should somehow connect the crude aspirations of the populace to the high designs and programs of the state. Goebbels believed that he could comprehend the “mind of the masses” (26) and align it in its diversity with the aims of the party. How propaganda would do this required not only knowledge of the human soul but also enthusiasm and creativity.

Goebbels, empowered by the Reich Chamber of Culture, was quickly getting his hands dirty in defining the role of artists. He desired that art should reflect the racial, cultural, and political realities of Germany. “Modern German art’s task is not to dramatise the Party programme, but to give poetic and artistic shape to the huge spiritual impulses within us,” he says (33). Art was to connect with the people on a deep spiritual and cultural level and enrich the German consumers’ lives. This definition, suggesting that art would be merely the aesthetic expression of German-ness, was not as simple or liberal as it sounded, for it was the Nazi leadership who would define what was “German” in art.

Welch states that “art criticism was never an aesthetic but always a political question” (35). The Nazis seem to have envisioned a natural synthesis of art and propaganda with the acceptance of their utopian ideal. When Goebbels writes that “the pen has been compelled to serve the nation like the sword and the plough” (37), he indicated that the role of the artist was also as propagandist: the tool of National Socialist ideology in its own domain.

The art-propaganda dynamic interests me in part because much of party propaganda was focused on basic aesthetic appeal—from images of perfect German families to grand parades and fiery speakers. But, following of course from its propaganda status, whatever artistry existed was ruled by the utilitarian intentions of the party, restricted and directed to a single object. Art was seen as an opportunity for bypassing rational objection, and in Goebbel’s mind it succeeded in that it helped secure the acquiescence of the inspired majority.

An interesting contrast may be made with a similar idea in Lynn Hunt’s book Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. Hunt finds in the French Revolution various political factions taking on symbols and identifying themselves with them. Artistic entities began to represent and glorify political realities. The Nazis followed the pattern of unifying politics and art, certainly, but they took the use of art beyond mere political symbol. Art in its totality became the expression of a narrow national worldview, existing to further a specific state-governed ideology. Everything is political, but now art not only identifies but converts.

Under the National Socialists, there was a union of art and politics into “propaganda” (broadly defined) that sought to excise art’s dangerous potentiality for seeking fulfillment in something other than Nazi-dictated identity. Nevertheless, there was inevitably a tension between politics, or perhaps more accurately, an ideally monolithic political identity, and art. As propaganda, Goebbels at least believed his direction was successful, and that was ultimately all that mattered. As artistic reform and renaissance, however, the scheme failed, as Welch points out: “The result of these measures was inevitably an overwhelming cultural mediocrity that produced ‘safe’, conventional art” (38). Even as propaganda in some way derived its vitality from the capturing of basic aesthetic emotion, its forced absorption of all art destroyed art’s effectiveness as such. Propaganda itself and its necessary worshipful optimism could only seem hollow to many after the war soured.


Fascist Spectacle

Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi’s book Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy examines Italian fascism in regard to the regime’s perception of itself and its program, which Falasca-Zamponi posits can be best defined as distinctly aesthetic in character. Mussolini’s vision for Italy was an aesthetic one, his provided narrative mythic, his view of statecraft one of art. In so doing, the author argues, politics was aestheticized in such a way as to depersonalize mass population and culture, providing for insensitive, totalitarian national leadership. Fascism offered an aesthetic of motion, of creation and destruction, as its solution to modernity, an aesthetic that would require new men and new supermen to mold them by violence and coercion. So Italy was to be ushered into a new age.

Out of the panoply of interesting topics raised, here I examine her discussion of the politician as artist, an construction she convincingly states was held by Mussolini. Falasca-Zamponi emphasizes the fullness of the metaphor. It applies to the politician’s methodology. The politician would treat governing as art, intuitive yet supposedly acting on a mystical plane that puts it above the irrationality of the masses. It applies to the comprehensiveness of the politician’s power and view of the nature of the object. The politician would assume godlike powers of manipulation over the weak and inert subject population, transforming it to match the ideal of national identity he has envisioned. It explains why Mussolini sought to undertake a Nietzschean apotheosis in the eyes of Italy, for who but a god-king or a superman could fashion a better and more perfectly Italian world? Actual events, of course, ran not so smoothly, nor was Mussolini ever a true effective autocrat, but the ideal was very real.

An easy point of comparison can be made to the ideologically-framed high modernism presented by James C. Scott. Even ignoring some of the more obvious overlap between Scott’s and Falasca-Zamponi’s arguments on the role of aesthetics in shaping the high modernist or fascist mind, Scott’s perspective on high modernism as essentially both utopian and authoritarian is helpful and complementary. “The temporal emphasis of high modernism  is almost exclusively on the future,” he writes (95)—on shaping it, regardless of the cost that it seems always must be. The politician as artist model explains in part why high modernist leaders are so easily blinded to complications, from practical problems to ethical considerations: to preserve a pure aesthetic that is both simple and universal, detracting factors must be ignored, ameliorated, or removed. Mussolini’s regime seems to have only rarely and half-heartedly implemented the last, but Hitler was a ruthless surgeon when it came to his conception of race.

Even Mussolini’s comparatively innocuous-seeming administration brought to light the considerable and inherent dangers of the absolute artist-politician model. Invested with the trust of Italy for their security, the fascist leadership provided a narrative and aesthetic predicated on destruction. Of the people, objectified, many lost their lives in wars demanded by the visions and principles of the auteurs. The aesthetic legacy of fascist rule, as Falasca-Zamponi writes, was ultimately “the miserable spectacle of Mussolini’s degraded dead body” (185).


Within, Without, Above: Perspectives on Partition

“The creation of Pakistan[’s]… continuity with he history preceding and following it has been open to question,” David Gilmartin comments (1068). He identifies one deep-set problem in the historiography of partition as being a disconnect between the narratives of “high politics” and “everyday politics.” In the first, a few actors dramatically hammered out the political arrangements; in the second, a large and diverse population engaged in the struggles and ideologies that ultimately brought Pakistan into being. This paper will look at two scholarly perspectives on Partition and contrast the foci, especially in the light of the distinction just made. The first is W. Norman Brown’s article, “India’s Pakistan Issue,” which, composed in 1946, aims to outline the major issues and events. The second is a piece of contemporary scholarship from Yasmin Khan’s book The Great Partition, wherein she tries to make sense of the Partition experience. The distanced perspective of Brown sees a few trying to lead a fragmented society (defined by organized groups) into their ideal of a new age. Khan’s more subaltern prospect suggests a diverse society struggling to survive and fashion identity amid transitioning to an ideal of mass unity.

W. Norman Brown was a distinguished Sanskritist and scholar of South Asian history and culture at the University of Pennsylvania. His article “India’s Pakistan Issue” is apparently aimed at the members of the American Philosophical Society, constructed to introduce them to the political realities of the Partition question. He introduces it as the premier question for Indian nationalist politicians in forming a new constitution and independent state (163), driven chiefly by the All-India Muslim League, for which Partition “is the prime, almost sole aim” (162).

Brown’s view of the relevant parties in the struggle as being organized and political is evidenced by the fact that he names the All-India Muslim League as being “the voice of the politically conscious part of India’s over 92,000,000 members,” even if its actual membership comprises no more than a million and a half (163). The opposing Indian National Congress he defines as being, although theoretically representing all communities, essentially Hindu in membership and bourgeois in leadership. A dualism of sorts is built here: the League is the voice of the Muslims and unyieldingly pro-Partition, whereas the Congress is adamantly Hindu and pro-national unity. Brown seems to favor the latter; he suggests that Pakistan is a new political contrivance lacking in more than “the appearance of feasibility” (163) and lists five reasons for its impracticality (166-167). His next question, then, is why the “Muslim community” desires a Pakistan.

To represent the extremes in opinion he employs another dualism. Jinnah offers the communal view that Muslim and Hindu cultures comprise two antithetical civilizations; he is opposed by Nehru, who declares that “the native Hinduism of India and the intrusive Islam have become so well assimilated to each other that today they are only modifications of a common civilization” (167). Brown sets out to reconcile this dramatic difference in perspective, and his analysis, whether simplified for his readers or not, reflects a view of Indian society that is at times problematic, certainly not comprehensive enough and sufficiently nuanced to draw a complete picture. His sketches of the cultural and economic disparities between Hindus and Muslims tend to present each as virtually monolithic; admitting many exceptions to his scheme of a dogmatic and uniform Islam and a tolerant Hinduism, he holds that “the basic contrast remains true” (168). The cultural differences were “accentuated by over twelve hundred years of historical conflict” (169), despite common ethnicity and assimilation in the lower classes or castes. He blames most of the economic disparities on British imperial interference, although he argues that Moslems tend to be backward-looking and reject modernization (171).

Most important for this paper’s purpose, these simplifications tend to carry over into Brown’s view on Partition itself. He argues that the demand for Pakistan comes from rising tensions between communities of Muslim and Hindu whom the communal spirit and poor choices by British governance mobilized to action. When he discusses these communities and, for instance, where Muslims oppose and where support Partition, he discusses them chiefly in terms of political organizations, from the League to the Red Shirts. When he speaks of the Depressed Castes, a possible exception, he still refers only to the “politically conscious members” (178) who have a broader agenda of social justice. Brown’s picture of the situation takes into account those whom he can pick out as visibly having an effect on the proceedings, less those with more immediate concerns about the effects of Partition rather than political aspirations. His article has some of the distance and self-assurance but also some of the lack of nuance to be expected from an outsider’s perspective. And so he concludes with the assumption that the Indian aim is to “take a place in the comity of nations commensurate with her vast population and great resources” (180), something which he believes can only be accomplished by unity and mutual understanding. Brown understood what was going on based on the most visible actors and a certain simplistic understanding of the nature of Indian society. Perhaps many of his generalizations were unavoidable for his audience and short format, but the picture of events must necessarily be partial.

For contrast we turn to Yasmin Khan’s book. In the introduction and first chapter to The Great Partition, Khan discusses what it was like for South Asians who had no visible presence on the political scene to live in Partition. She presents the image of the bewildered peasant relocated and the shopkeeper listening to report of the country being divided up. This, Khan implies, is as much as anything what the creation of Pakistan meant; the drawing of a border was more than a mere administrative solution. It changed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Her introduction comments that “Clearly something strange and unprecedented was taking place” (4). The creation of Pakistan was something with no assurance of satisfaction and a host of complex problems to be solved.  Khan emphasizes “how uncertain and ambiguous the meanings of Partition and Pakistan were to people living through these events” (5) as having bearing on the way the situation played out. She faults both India and Pakistan in “project[ing] back on to events their own nationalistic, and indeed skewed, readings of why and how the subcontinent was partitioned” (6). A true assessment of Partition should be “more all-encompassing” and “expansive” (7) in order to deal with not only the political elites but also the everyday experience. Khan clearly takes issue with historiography that ignores individual stories in favor of monotone generalities meant to justify a teleologically-oriented elite narrative.

So she does not go first to W. Norton Brown or the speeches of Nehru in her first chapter. Instead she looks at Malcolm Darling, a source not unproblematic but with insight nevertheless in his interviews with non-elite Indians. His writings demonstrate a few of the attitudes on Partition. She then covers a range of economic and cultural conditions to conclude that “Partition emerged from a cauldron of social disorder” (17), a disorder rising from the experience of everyday Indians rather than created by elites. When she does deal with the political parties, she states that “things were far more finely nuanced than these simple equations between the League as the party-of-the-Muslims and the Congress as the party-for-everyone-else would suggest” (18). Rather, something fundamental was felt to have been changed, that “good social relationships had been ruptured by a settlement forcefully [sic] imposed from on high” (19). Something changed to set Muslims against Hindus and break existing social accords. In her discussion, Khan presents a subcontinent “zigzagged” (21) with differences even between co-religionists, even while there was a heightened awareness of religious disparity.

Khan admits the importance of the national “antithetical” (10) distinction of two states. But Khan’s work tells us this about Partition: it is to be understood in more terms than merely Jinnah’s intent and the positions of Congress and League. It is also “gross tragedy” (10) for enormous numbers of people, something neither inevitable nor determined merely by societal fracturing, but something that regardless arose in part from and had great impact on this society.

Gilmartin offers his own method for understanding and reconciling the “high politics” and “everyday politics” narratives. He argues, “Rather than aim for a ‘master narrative’ of partition whose moral meaning will transcend the multiple and sometimes inchoate stories produced by the violence of partition, we need to understand the ways that the tension between multiple constructions of identity and the search for moral community itself defined the partition event” (1070, emphasis in original). Like Khan, Gilmartin seeks to understand Partition from something broader than a mere grasp of the arguments of the elites. “The structures of high politics and everyday life in India were intimately related” (1089); so it is worth understanding Partition in the context of that relationship.

Each side of the story, so to speak, has something to offer in the study of Partition. A distanced, action-focused view, exemplified by Brown, provides an outline of major players. But the meat of Partition lay also in the everyday life of individuals with worldviews and hopes and a voice, beyond the mere political categories that Brown defines. To really understand the Partition narrative, as Gilmartin says, it may be that we must hold both realities in complementary tension.

Works Cited

Brown, W. Norman. “India’s Pakistan Issue.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 91.2 (1947): 162-180. Print.

Gilmartin, David. “Partition, Pakistan, and South Asian History: In Search of a Narrative.” The Journal of Asian Studies 57.4 (1998): 1068-1095. Print.

Khan, Yasmin. The Great Partition. New Haven: Yale UP, 2008. Print.


One comment on “Essays: More Nazis, More Fascists, More Indiologists

  1. The first essay looks like an interesting continuation of our studies from honors last year. Very interesting!

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