Friday, October 13, 2017

The Cultural Axis

Robert O. Paxton, New York Review of Books (via BM)

Review of:

The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture
by Benjamin G. Martin
Harvard University Press, 370 pp., $39.95

Image from article, with caption: Sepp Hilz’s Peasant Venus, shown in the ‘Great German Art Exhibition,’ Munich, 1939

Hitler’s efforts to stem the mass appeal of Hollywood films and jazz only made them (as Martin suggests) more seductive and, in a final irony, prepared for the triumph of American music, jeans, and film in the postwar world by trying to make them taboo.
Soft power seems to have thrived best without direct military occupation. The global influence of French language, manners, and ideas began in the seventeenth century, and depended little on the conquests of Louis XIV and Napoleon. The ascendancy of the English language began with the commercial and financial power of the City of London in the nineteenth century, and owed little to conquest or colonial occupation, though those helped. The soft power of the United States, the most successful yet, spread far beyond direct American military presence. It prospered by appealing to mass popular tastes in music, dress, and entertainment, while the “cultural axis” aimed at conventional forms of high culture. The United States government did not ignore high culture [JB - on American Arts Diplomacy, see]—consider the activities of the United States Information Agency [JB - see] and the Congress for Cultural Freedom [JB - see] after World War II. But American soft power thrived mostly through the profit motive and by offering popular entertainment to the young.

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