Why are people so much more fascinated by the Nazis than the commies? Jean Bethke Elshtain thinks that part of it is that Hitler was actually a rather good artist, and the Nazi state was a sort of a Gesamtkunstwerk that drew people in then and draws them in now. Mark Shea agrees that was part of it, and adds the importance of racial guilt in America.
I’m a bit dubious. Anything specifically American is obviously irrelevant, since the Europeans are no less obsessed than we are. And how is commie chic less stylish than Nazi chic? Russian posters and architectural proposals less striking than what the Nazis came up with? Ivan the Terrible less accomplished or less evil than Triumph des Willens?
To me it seems that people are fascinated by the Nazis because Naziism, like pornography, is the forbidden but infinitely attractive face of modernity. If you say that desire, technology and willed construction are the ultimate principles that determine social reality, as moderns do, then you’ve got some choices to make. You can be boring like the liberals, and say that (for some reason) everyone’s desires have to count equally, so the purpose of life is turning everything into a universal safe and egalitarian hedonic machine. Or you can stick some expressiveness and drama into the picture, and say that my desires are what count for me, that the constructions of my society are what determine the reality for which I’ll put everything on the line, and that I’ll vindicate those things by overcoming all others, demonstrating the superiority and supremacy of my constructions in the most undeniable way imaginable, through the defeat, enslavement, torture and extermination of all to whom I oppose myself.
On such a line of thought, who wouldn’t be fascinated as well as repelled by Naziism? The commies offer a sort of via media, with hog heaven as the summum bonum but the pleasures of smashing your enemies along the way. That’s pretty much been discredited at this point, though, so we’re left with Naziism, which presents the joy of the knife in a purer form. Unless, of course, we can bring ourselves to give up modernity, and so learn an ultimate transcendence other than violence.