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Aestheticized barbarity


So yesterday the president of the United States felt it necessary to tweet this out:

This is the Official Reaction to Kanye West and Nick Fuentes meeting with Donald Trump last week. West then went on Alex Jones’s show to declare straightforwardly that “I like Hitler,” while Fuentes remains a straightforward Holocaust denier. Donald Trump is the de facto leader of the Republican party, so “therefore” few if any prominent Republicans had anything to say about the leader of their party meeting with open rabid anti-Semites. Hence the presidential tweet.

If we lived in a less insane time, it would be useful to point out that:

(1) If the president of the United States makes a public statement insisting that the Holocaust happened, this inevitably suggests that the matter is in some sense legitimately controversial and therefore up for some sort of debate. This is bad of course, but given that Holocaust denial is now being mainstreamed — again, open Holocaust deniers met with the leader of one of our two major parties last week — this puts somebody like Joe Biden in a tough spot.

(2) Referring to Hitler as a demonic figure is inaccurate and unhelpful. Hitler was not a demonic figure, he was a thoroughly mediocre person, who was transformed into “Hitler” not by the force of his own supposedly quasi-supernatural personality, but by the German people, who created “Hitler” because they wanted “Hitler” to exist. Similarly, Donald Trump is a fundamentally lazy and stupid nobody, of no independent talent or interest, who exists because it was apparently necessary for the American people to invent him. In other words “Hitler” really means “Germany,” and “Trump” really means “America.”

(3) Anti-semitism isn’t hiding, it’s right out in the open, being promoted as it is by the leader of the Republican party and his countless enablers, and Joe Biden should say that rather than hiding behind prettified euphemisms that imply that “our” leaders are themselves not anti-Semites, when it couldn’t be more obvious that a lot of them are, specifically Donald Trump, former and quite possibly future president of the United States.

The always interesting John Ganz:

The problem of Kanye’s madness implies a similar set of questions: is this just an accident brought on by temporary mental illness, or does this reflect something deeper or more problematic going on in the culture and society? Is this a real thing or a spectacle? Is fascism in our era merely chimerical or a living political reality? My answer is, “Well, Why not both?” It’s worth paying attention to the breakdown between fantasy and reality, art and truth, itself. This is why Hannah Arendt’s descriptions of totalitarianism as an attempt to change the whole texture of reality frequently feel haunting. We should recall the old chestnut about Hitler being a failed artist: unable to express himself aesthetically, he turned to politics. Today, the vanguard of neo-fascism today seems to be once again among those whose creative urges are trite or tasteless, forcing them to lash out in hatred. We should also think about Walter Benjamin’s famous statements about fascism’s introduction of aesthetics into politics: “Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.” Alexandre Kojève, whom Fukuyama followed for his famous “end of history” thesis, envisioned two possibilities for post-historical humanity: either a return to a bestial state, or highly aestheticized forms of snobbery made the general condition, essentially the paradigm of the Japanese tea ceremony but for all human activity. One thing that fascism represents is a possible synthesis: aestheticized barbarity.

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