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Culture notes: Why are so many of today’s culture heroes attracted to fascism?


In a day when liberal fascism is a growing concern on university campuses, it is worth noting how many cultural icons were anything but supporters of democratic or free society values. In “The Strange Politics of Gertrude Stein” ( Humanities, March/April 2012 Volume 33, Number 2), Barbara Will asks,

Why were so many prominent modernist writers and philosophers attracted to fascist or authoritarian regimes in the first half of the twentieth century? A list of those who were not—Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Robert Musil—pales in comparison to a list of those who were—Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Knut Hamsun, Paul de Man, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Filippo Marinetti, Martin Heidegger, Robert Brasillach, and a host of others. Add to the latter the name of Gertrude Stein, one of the most avant-garde of modernist writers in the English language, who was also—it turns out—a committed supporter of Philippe Pétain, head of state of the pro-Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime in France during the Second World War.

Gertrude Stein, a Vichy supporter? For most people, including those filling the rooms of several recent major museum exhibits on Stein, this news might come as a surprise. A Jewish-American experimental writer, friend of Picasso and muse to Hemingway, Gertrude Stein seems to embody high modernism in its most creative and progressive form. Her patronage of modernism’s giants—Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse—made her a radical in her day. Her playful and innovative writing seems to anticipate much of postmodern thought. Her open, unapologetic, same-sex partnership with Alice B. Toklas belongs more to the liberal world of 2012 than to 1912. And yet throughout her life Stein hewed to the political right, even signing up to be a propagandist for an authoritarian, Nazi-dominated political regime.

Stein’s Vichy past has long been known to scholars of her work, if not to the public at large. …

[ … ]

Speaking of the fascist modernist Wyndham Lewis, Fredric Jameson has criticized the systematic “‘innocence’ of intellectuals” that gives a free pass to those whose work we admire, regardless of the context in which it was written or its ultimate aim. It is high time for us to strip away that innocence, and to produce a more inclusive, complex, and realistic portrait of our modernist predecessors and their work.

Yes, indeed. And all Darwin-driven efforts to pretend that humans are merely evolved animals will advance the goals of tyranny, no matter how “cool” or “socially concerned” the proponents appear to be.

See also: An introduction to liberal fascism.

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no surprise to me. I expect it. They were less intelligent people and less moral but at the same time saw themselves as superior to others and so the civilization they grew up in. They knew better and so had to be quite different. their ideas were worthless and they simply had some lame ability in some thing no one cares about today. These people never mattered just as today they don't. A man knows only his own work.Its a error to extrapolate from that work that he is smarter because the work is esteemed more. Its not just fascism but these types all had stupid ideas. The cultural elites are always wrong and dumb. They always are on the wrong side of history when history is progressing forward postively. Robert Byers

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