Anyway I was thinking about that because of a new art exhibit in the Netherlands focusing on Nazi design. Fascism after all was partly an aesthetic movement. Its central rituals were massively choreographed displays of uniforms and precision marching, and its leaders were very interested in cultivating a style to match their swagger. In writing about 1945 Tony Judt found several witnesses who mourned the fall of Nazism as an aesthetic catastrophe; one wrote, "I will never see anything truly beautiful again."
If the Times has it right, the curator of this exhibit is mainly a rebel bad boy who wants to tweak the noses of earnest liberals:
In an interview with De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, last year, he positioned himself as a renegade, describing the Dutch museum world as “too feminine” and “destructively politically correct.”But his exhibit makes many people nervous because of the return of far-right politics in Europe. Is now really the time, critics ask, to remind people that the Nazis had cool posters?
Will we now see a category of suspiciously pro-Nazi people who claim to just be interested in their design, you know, because of its technical excellence?
The Nazis are fascinating, even to many liberals, even to many Jews. They just are. I am very curious about them, and honestly I would probably read more about them if I didn't sometimes get a sense of personal corruption and complicity from doing so.
And yet they are not like the medieval Mongols or the Assassins, far enough away from us that no harm can come from admiring their efficiency. The Nazis still have real followers determined to do evil things. As I said, I don't read much about the Nazis any more because I have the guilty sense that paying so much attention to them only feeds destructive politics in our own time. But I have a hard time condemning others who give in to the temptation to watch.