In Search of a Führer – Fusing Art and War


The sacralization of art permeated the debate about Germanness from the late 18th century onward. Likewise, it also influenced perceptions of charisma and leadership in the early 20th century. The figure of the “educated artist-soldier” who created the nation through artful warfare was embraced by various political camps. The danger lay in claiming, in the spirit of the modern artist, that the “artist-soldier” was bound by no law other than his own intuition. Falling victim to this misconception, war enthusiasts during World War I ascribed to “poets and thinkers” the right to act as “judges and executioners.” Jewish Germans, however, were often denied the symbolic status of “artist-soldier” by the majority culture, especially when they demanded parliamentary control of the military, i.e., advocated democratization. Starting in the 1920s, the National Socialists radicalized anti-Jewish and anti-democratic elements in the population by staging Hitler as both the ideal “artist-soldier” and the perfect embodiment of Germanness.


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