Western Culture

Review of “Storm of Steel” by Ernst Jünger

When once it is no longer possible to understand how a man gives his life for his country—and the time will come—then all is over with that faith also, and the idea of the Fatherland is dead; and then, perhaps, we shall be envied, as we envy the saints their inward and irresistible strength.
Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger

The end of the greatness of Western Civilization in one man’s death.

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On February 17, 1998, a frail centenarian passed away in Wilflingen, Germany. Born in 1895, Ernst Jünger’s life was far more noteworthy than simply its prodigious length — it was a life that epitomized the gallantry, curiosity, patriotism, intelligence, and culture that made Western Civilization what it became — and from what is has descended. Fused in one man were all the qualities — qualities that are not merely in short supply today but positively lacking. It is not hyperbole to say that an era of sorts and an entire civilization was buried with his remains at Wilflingen Cemetery. We simply do not produce men like him — and have not for a very long time.

To say that Jünger’s life was incredible is selling it short — by a longshot. His life almost perfectly corresponded with the entirety of the twentieth century. The changes he witnessed boggle the mind — from the world he inherited to the world that he left. Born less than twenty-five years after Germany’s unification in 1871, he came into the world during the heady optimism of the German Empire. Successively he would be a participant and witness to: World War I and Germany’s partial dismemberment following its defeat at the hand of the allies; the chaos and political upheavals of the Weimar Republic; the rise of the Third Reich and World War II; the complete destruction and dismemberment of Germany following the war; the eras of West and East Germany; and finally, the reunification of Germany in 1991 following the fall of the Soviet Union. During every phase, from a young man to a very old man, Jünger participated and contributed to Germany. Indeed, he is virtually without parallel in what he means to soul of Germany.

He was a man that lived his entire life wrestling with ideas with a creative mind that seemingly never lost its vigor. An active writer from a young age, his books span multiple generations. He consumed life in an almost inexhaustible way — cogitating over things in a way that was almost superhuman. In that sense, he is close to being the personification of Western Civilization in microcosm. Really, it is that unbelievable.

I could recapitulate his life, but perhaps citing to a then-contemporary obituary to give a flavor for the man is more appropriate. While there were many, I found that The Independent gave as good a voice to the extraordinariness of his life as any other — and I cite it in full because it is worth reading in full:

ERNST JUNGER first beheld Halley’s Comet during its 1910 passage, when he was a boy of 15. In 1987, he made a special journey to Malaysia for a second glimpse. He was one of the very few writers to have seen the comet twice in his lifetime.

All this is described in Zwei Mal Halley (“Halley Twice”, 1988), a book filled with Junger’s characteristic meditations on time and place, on dreams, nature, crystals, stars, mountains, the sea, wild animals and insects, especially butterflies, a passion he shared with Nabokov. Throughout his very considerable body of work, there is an obsession with time, with dates, with temporal coincidences, with the fatidic power of numbers over our birth and death. In a volume of his journals covering the years 1965–70, Siebzig verweht (“Past Seventy”, 1980), he makes this revealing entry at Wilfingen, his home between the Danube and the Black Forest, in sight of the castle of Stauffenberg, on 30 March 1965: “I have now reached the biblical age of three score and ten — a rather strange feeling for a man who, in his youth, had never hoped to see his 30th year. Even after my 23rd birthday in 1918, I would gladly have signed a Faustian pact with the Devil: “Give me just 30 years of life, guaranteed, then let it all be ended.”

A similar expression of his fascinated awe of time and numbers appears in an earlier work, An der Zeitmauer (“At the Wall of Time”, 1959). But one of the most extraordinary examples of this obsession can be found in a journal entry for “‘Monday, 8.8.1988’ — a date with four units. 8 is special (four 8’s, and a fifth one by subtracting the 1 from the 9). Odin rides an 8-legged horse. . . . Dates have often brought me surprises.”

One of his many hobbies was the collection of antique sandglasses, on which he was an authority. He also collected sundial inscriptions. Ernst Junger’s birth at Heidelberg is recorded precisely. It fell on 29 March 1895 on the stroke of noon, under Aries, with Cancer in the ascendant. He was the eldest of seven children, one of whom, his beloved brother Friedrich Georg (who died in 1977), was also a writer, a poet and philosopher.

Junger spent the greater part of his childhood and adolescence in Hanover, where his prosperous parents settled shortly after his birth. They possessed a beautiful villa by a lake, where Ernst made his first entomological investigations. He soon developed a dislike for bourgeois life, and spent a couple of unhappy years in boarding schools, whose reports complain of his dreaminess and lack of interest in the boring curriculum. He was later to write: “I had invented for myself a sort of distancing indifference that allowed me to remain connected to reality only by an invisible thread like a spider’s.”

He spent hours reading unauthorised books, and with his brother lived in an exalted universe of their own. They would go wandering round the countryside, and Ernst struck up happy friendships with tramps and gypsies. He was already the Waldganger (wild man of the woods), the anarchist hero of his 1977 novel Eumeswil. It was the beginning of an unending passion for travel and exotic lands. He took the first big step in 1913 by running away from home to join the Foreign Legion, in which he saw service in Oran and Sidi-Bel-Abbes. After five weeks, his father bought him out. Ernst was to write about this escapade in Kinderspielen (“Children’s Games”, 1936). His father promised that if he passed his Abitur (school-leaving examination) he would be allowed to join an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro. So Junger swotted away at the Gildermeister Institut, whose grim atmosphere is evoked in Die Steinschleuder (“The Catapult“, 1973), a novel in the great tradition of German school stories.

Junger passed his exam in August 1914 and at once volunteered for the army, in which he fought on the French front with exceptional courage all through the First World War. Wounded four times, he received the highest German military honour, the Order of Merit created by Friedrich II: he outlived all those who also received it. Out of his wartime experiences was born Stahlgewittern (“Storm of Steel”, 1920), which he had to publish at his own expense. This story of the horrors of modern warfare was drawn from his wartime notebooks, often written in the heat of battle on the Western Front. It remains one of the greatest works about the First World War, along with those by Erich Maria Remarque, Henri Barbusse, e.e. cummings, David Jones and Lucien Descaves.

Junger stayed in the army until 1923, when he left and began studying zoology at the University of Leipzig and at Naples. He married Gretha von Jeinsen and his son Ernst was born in 1926. In 1927 they moved to Berlin, where he became a member of the national revolutionary group led by Niekisch (arrested by Hitler in 1937 and kept in a concentration camp until the end of the Second World War). He also got to know Ernst von Salomon, Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Toller and Alfred Kubin, as well as the publisher Rowohlt. He began travelling widely, to Sicily, Rhodes, the Dalmatian coast, Norway, Brazil and the Canaries, and made the acquaintance of Andre Gide in Paris. These travels had a great influence on all his writings, most noticeable in his superb novel Heliopolis (1949) – the most elegantly learned, eloquently written and hauntingly convincing science- fiction story ever written.

Goebbels tried in vain to draw him into the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy in 1931, and he refused to be elected to the German Academy of Letters because it was dominated by national socialist timeservers. In 1932 Junger produced a very significant book, Der Arbeiter (“The Worker”), which is nevertheless one of his least-known works. It was long out of print until Martin Heidegger, himself besmirched with Nazi collaboration, persuaded him to risk letting it be reissued in 1963. It presents the mythical figure of standardised modern man as “The Worker” whose pragmatism and nihilism destroy the old traditional categories of peasant, soldier and priest, foretelling an unprecedented reversal of temporal power in our collapsing cultures where an intellectual and artistic elite has no place.

Related to this theme is a later work, Das Aladdinproblem (1983), in which he asks who will rub the magic lamp of destructive science and dehumanising technology: “With the heavens empty, we live in the Age of Uranium: how can we believe our modern Aladdin’s lamp will not produce some unimaginable monster?” Der Arbeiter is also an important theoretical study of the political history of the Thirties in Germany, and has been considered by critics like Georg Lukacs and Walter Benjamin to have been the ideological matrix of national-socialist ideas. But Junger’s links with national socialism were infinitely complex. He was a serving officer, partisan of the revolutionary right, a sort of conservative anarchist, hostile to the Weimar Republic, yet he refused all honours and promotions.

Unable to bear the rising tide of Hitlerism, he left Berlin for the quiet of the countryside at Kirchhorst, where in February 1939 he began the painful drafting of Auf den Marmorklippen. Its anti-Nazi tone is obvious, but the book was published in September, the month war was declared. On the Marble Cliffs was part of my wartime reading, and I well remember the excitement it caused when the translation was published by John Lehmann just after the war.

With the outbreak of war, Junger was given the rank of captain and took part in the invasion of France, during which he did his utmost to spare civilians and protect public monuments. Posted to Paris, he became a well-known figure in the literary salons of the time like the Thursday reunions of artists and writers at Florence Gould’s. He made good friends of authors like the acid-tongued critic Leautaud and above all Marcel Jouhandeau, whose scholarly ease and wit in writing seemed to Junger exceptional at a time of growing artistic barbarity. Even after their condemnation for collaboration with the Nazis, Junger praised the characters and writings of Chardonne, Celine (whom he did not like), Brasillach and Drieu de la Rochelle, while his admiration for Cocteau, Sasha Guitry and actresses like Arletty was as sincere as that for artists like Braque and Picasso, whose studios he frequented.

His journals of this period are studded with all these famous names. However, he was indirectly implicated in Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944, and requested to leave the army and return home to Kirchhorst, where he spent the rest of the war, composing a text on Die Friede (“Peace”). His son Ernst, in prison for opposition to Hitler, was despatched to the Italian front and killed on 29 November in the marble quarries at Carrara by Allied snipers.

After German defeat and capitulation, despite his firm denials of having supported Nazism, Junger encountered the shrill hostility of Marxist and so-called liberal critics who accused him of being its predecessor. They even criticised his scholarly, noble, refined style, calling it frigid, elitist and academic. He writes of his experiments with drugs in Annaherungen (“Approaches”, 1970), influenced by Aldous Huxley’s works on the same subject. He finally settled at Wilfingen in the house of the Master Forester attached to the ancestral home of his executed friend Graf Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, where in 1959 he founded the literary review Antaios with Mircea Eliade. By 1977, his father, mother, brother and wife had all died. He remarried, taking as his wife Liselotte Lohrer, a professional archivist and literary scholar.

All through the Seventies and Eighties Junger travelled widely. In 1979, he visited Verdun and was awarded the town’s Peace Medal. In 1982 he received a final literary consecration with the award of the City of Frankfurt’s Goethe Prize, which aroused violent protest among his detractors. In 1984, he again made a pilgrimage to Verdun, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand to pay homage to the victims of two world wars. In 1992, there was extraordinary confirmation of Junger’s anti-Nazi stance with the discovery of a top-secret document proving that his fate was in the balance just before the Third Reich’s capitulation and during the final days Hitler spent in the Wolfs-Schanze, the very headquarters where he was wounded by the Stauffenberg bomb.

The document is dated December 1944. It is addressed by Dr Freisler, president of the Volksgericht (People’s Court) to Martin Bormann, Hitler’s right-hand man. Freisler informs Bormann that the proceedings to be taken against Captain Junger are to be cancelled. Junger had been indicted on account of his novel On the Marble Cliffs and the “defeatist” opinions he had expressed at his old colleague Commandant Stulpnagel’s HQ in Paris, not long before the latter’s suicide. Freisler reveals that on 20 November 1944 the Fuhrer himself had given the order by telephone from the Wolfs- Schanze that the matter was not to be pursued any further. Freisler ends his letter with “Heil Hitler!”, then adds a postscript: “I am sending you three dossiers on the affair. The Fuhrer wishes to have his orders executed immediately.”

In his Journals, Junger notes that the Gestapo had described him at that period in Paris as “an impenetrable, highly suspect individual”. He comments in a 1992 interview: “It was no surprise to me. After all, it conformed to the pattern of my horoscope. Ever since my schooldays I’ve been accustomed to that kind of unpleasantness.” Ernst Junger’s work is all of a piece — highly literary, beautifully sonorous, excitingly visual, intellectually profound and stimulating. It is the life work of an aristocrat of letters, and one of the best tributes to it has been made by another literary patriarch, Julien Gracq: “The hard, smooth enamelling that seems to armour his prose against the touch of too great a familiarity would seem to us perhaps a little frigid if we did not know, and if we never lost consciousness of the fact while reading, that it has been tempered in an ordeal of fire.”

That is a fitting eulogy for one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Ernst Junger, writer: born Heidelberg, Germany 29 March 1895; married 1925 Gretha von Jeinsen (died 1960; two sons deceased), 1962 Liselotte Lohrer; died Wilflingen, Germany 17 February 1998.

Noticeably absent from this obituary is any mention of religion, which is unfortunate. I find great solace that this man, who retained his wits sharply until his death, converted to Roman Catholicism at the ripe age of 101 and died in the bosom and sacraments of the Catholic Church. While there are similar conversion stories of remarkable men who converted after a long lifetime of exhaustive study and moral exploration, his conversion is particularly meaningful to me. While I am no Ernst Jünger, by both blood and conviction, I am northwestern European and a Teutonophile: that the very best modern German man saw fit to do exactly what I did — that is, make an adult conversion to Rome — gladdens me exceedingly. A man such as him — a Western man in the best sense of the term who had lived life to its maximal fullness in every way — decided after seeing virtually everything a man can see and thinking about over in a lifetime came to the conclusion that the ancient faith of Rome was true is inspiring beyond measure. Truly this was a man who drunk deeply of virtually every idea and experienced virtually every political and social movement — all in the great vacillations of the greatest privations intermixed with periods of abundance. From a human perspective, he was someone that saw hope and despair, in both a people and in his heart, wax and wane repeatedly. Such a man knew the scope of life as few ever have — and after surveying all of it, he cast his lot with the Nazarene and the Catholic Church. It is true that we live in an appalling age of nihilism and apostasy in our time, but I am gratified that Rome continues to attract the very best of men even if loses millions more of mediocre and self-centered. It is a testament to the powerful and enduring attraction that is Christ as mediated through the Church He founded — a Church that uniquely fits the soul of the most virtuous men of the West.

Now, the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments; that said, hostile and indifferent non-Catholics who nonetheless care about the survival of Western Civilization and bemoan the depths of depravity into which we have sunk ought to take something from his conversion. Even if it does not result in a similar conversion, it ought to communicate to every non-Catholic Westerner who cares about the West that Catholicism is not merely a part of our history but a living force that continues to attract men of the highest quality. That means it ought to never be tarnished or mocked even by those men who stand aloof from her.

*        *        *

Jünger, as it clear from above, wrote a great deal — this review only addresses one of his earliest published works: Storm of Steel, which is a first-person account of his experience as a soldier and officer during the First World War. It is a beautiful — if tragic — account of that senseless killing field. It represents the genre of a “soldier’s story” as well as any that I have read, and while it details the horror of the mechanized monster that is modern war, it is neither the glorification of war nor its condemnation. Somewhere in between, Storm of Steel is an account of a man of honor doing his duty without apologizing for it — indeed, if anything, it is the pronouncement of his good fortune to be among the generation that was able to do it. To the modern reader — no doubt a collection of beta men (or, in Nietzsche’s pithier words, “last men”) — such a sentiment after reading the horrors and carnage that Jünger saw and experienced is virtually inexplicable. But then again men of today use words like duty, honor, and fatherland as punchlines — something to be mocked by men who get pedicures. Such is the distance between us and him and the whole of his generation that passed.

The First World War is a confounding — and depressing — topic for me. I have studied it from different angles and perspectives. I have thought about it for seemingly hundreds of hours. I have lamented it and in particular its senselessness. In its essence, WWI was a collective civilizational suicide pact — the destruction of Europe’s finest and the impoverishment of Europe’s future. On the eve of August 1914, European civilization (late-stage Western Civilization) was ascendent around the globe. The war ended that ascent definitively and decisively. What is more, it is virtually impossible to understand why the leaders of Europe decided — in unison — to kill all their best young men and destroy and impoverish their countries simultaneously. The lack of reason or cause, I suppose, bothers me most. Western Civilization was mortally wounded by November 1918 and its self-inflicted wound was utterly meaningless.

But this is not a story of the war’s meaninglessness — it is a story of one of those best men who happened, unbelievably, to survive and tell the tale. Throughout, Jünger speaks for the millions who died — he gives voice to those we lost and what we lost even if we did not lose Jünger. This is a book that communicates the patriotic enthusiasm that swept over Germany, and, by extension, the whole of Europe at the outset of the war. He writes:

We had come from lecture halls, school desks and factory workbenches, and over the brief weeks of training, we had bonded together into one large and enthusiastic group. Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary. We were enraptured by war.

The enthusiasm, which he shared with many of his generation, is seemingly out-of-place considering that carnage and hellfire that they would face. Likewise, the enthusiasm did not reflect a belief in the ideological righteousness of the cause beyond the ardent patriotism in the breasts of the men who fought. Consider his view of the enemy, which is infused with a latent sense of chivalry from a bygone era:

Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed. I would always try and seek him out in combat and kill him, and I expected nothing else from him. But never did I entertain mean thoughts of him. When prisoners fell into my hands, later on, I felt responsible for their safety, and would always do everything in my power for them.

We learn early in this book what kind of man this is — and he displays a remarkable consistency throughout in terms of his character.

Jünger’s account is not about military strategy per se although as an officer and leader of men in various battles, the tactics and strategy are always there for consideration. No, this is an account of the primal nature of war — especially the vicious and unforgiving nature of mechanized trench warfare. While this book is not like Guy Sajer’s Forgotten Soldier in that the literary motif of the fog of war is used in the writing itself, there is a distinct chaos that seems never far from the surface in Storm of Steel. But there is something alive — and dare I say beautiful — in the horror of what he describes. It is the continuous paradox of life — man never feels more alive than when he faces death in a real and meaningful way. And death was everywhere in Jünger’s account.

One could almost say that his literary talents created a battlefield aesthetic in which the war was a visual tableau and spectacle — even in its destruction and mangled reality. He paints an intense picture of the trenches, nighttime patrols, and terrifying infantry and storm trooper attacks. Artillery is everywhere and these men lived under constant bombardment. We get a sense of the drip-drip maddening effect of the barrages coupled with the occasional direct hits, which leave multiple men mangled beyond recognition. But we also get a sense of the indomitable esprit de corps of these men; he writes:

Even if ten out of twelve men had fallen, the two survivors would surely meet over a glass on their first evening off, and drink a silent toast to their comrades, and jestingly talk over their shared experiences. There was in these men a quality that both emphasized the savagery of war and transfigured it at the same time: an objective relish for danger, the chevaleresque urge to prevail in battle.

And there is the constant vagaries and senselessness of who dies and how — death is something always lurking and stealing people away in a completely haphazard way. If there is a hidden metaphor in the book as it relates to the meaningless of the war — at least in a geopolitical sense — it is the caprice of who dies and who does not. That said, Jünger does not strike me as intentionally embedding such devices, but it was nonetheless something that struck me repeatedly.

He does not glorify battle per se but there is an unapologetic quality of the writing that conveys the veiled Germanic warrior of an age lost in the mist of time. The suffering and privations — the cold, damp, and hungry conditions — only add laurels of the might and mane of the men who endured and fought. His mode of writing, which builds on a contemporaneous journal that Jünger kept throughout the war, keeps the action moving in an almost herky-jerky fashion that gives us a sense the vicissitudes of soldiers moving hither and thither without always understanding why. Consider this example of his style:

These moments of nocturnal prowling leave an indelible impression. Eyes and ears are tensed to the maximum, the rustling approach of strange feet in the tall grass in an unutterably menacing thing. Your breath comes in shallow bursts; you have to force yourself to stifle any panting or wheezing. There is a little mechanical click as the safety-catch of your pistol is taken off; the sound cuts straight through your nerves. Your teeth are grinding on the fuse-pin of the hand-grenade. The encounter will be short and murderous. You tremble with two contradictory impulses: the heightened awareness of the huntsmen, and the terror of the quarry. You are a world to yourself, saturated with the appalling aura of the savage landscape.

For those who might have seen it, the recent film 1917 uses the cinematic technique of equating the runtime of the film with the sequence of action presented by the film — i.e., the film is a two-hour film that depicts two hours in 1917; it has some similarities to Storm of Steel, not so much in the passage of time or the length of the book, but the work is action-oriented with little dedicated space for philosophical musings other than what is relevant to the action.

Like other war stories, it is a coming-of-age story — innocence and enthusiasm giving way to death and gravitas. The book details Jünger’s progression of increasing responsibilities and dangers. He is eventually trained as a storm trooper who leads offensive raids towards the end of the war. The experience he and his fellows gain always comes at a cost; he writes, “[i]n war you learn your lessons, and they stay learned, but the tuition fees are high.” The book reaches its crescendo during these accounts of the offensive storm trooper raids including the one in which his final injuries were sustained that effectively put him out of the war for good. Both the glorification and vivification that come from war — especially that war — are recounted by him in an evocative way; for example, he writes of his time as a storm trooper:

Trench fighting is the bloodiest, wildest, most brutal of all. … Of all the war’s exciting moments none is so powerful as the meeting of two storm troop leaders between narrow trench walls. There’s no mercy there, no going back, the blood speaks from a shrill cry of recognition that tears itself from one’s breast like a nightmare.

During his service, Jünger was wounded a dozen or so times, each leading to a brief return home or time in the military hospital for recovery. He writes in detail: “[l]eaving out trifles such as ricochets and grazes, I was hit at least fourteen times, these being five bullets, two shell splinters, one shrapnel ball, four hand-grenade splinters and two bullet splinters, which, with entry and exit wounds, left me an even twenty scars.” Despite the comforts, he yearns for the frontlines — he literally cannot wait to return to the hell of the war. Even in his last — and most serious injury — he is anxiously preparing for the winter offensive of 1919 that never came.

Notably, unlike other stories from the losing side, Jünger’s experiences do not lend themselves to cynicism. While Jünger provides a firsthand account of the brutality of trench warfare and the psychological effects it had on the soldiers, there is no sense of complaining in the slightest even when he gives voice to the various temptations that he had to shirk on occasion. The book may be a gripping and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, but it is not a demonization of it or his country on account of it. He simply sees himself as a man who did his duty for fatherland and he never exhibits anything remotely like cynicism of the enterprise even if he complains, from time to time, of the mistakes made by generals far off from the tactical reality that he confronted. In that sense, it is a very different book from All Quiet on the Western Front, notwithstanding the many similarities, which exudes a manifested cynicism.

Jünger begins the war and his memoir with the love of his country:

At the sight of the Neckar [River] slopes wreathed with flowering cherry trees, I had a strong sense of having come home. What a beautiful country it was, and eminently worth our blood and our lives. Never before had I felt its charm so clearly. I had good and serious thoughts, and for the first time I sensed that this war was more than just a great adventure.

After all the destruction and carnage, he ends the book with the same love of his country not only intact but somehow strengthened — even as it is tinged with foreboding of what was to come:

Now these [battles]too are over, and already we see once more in the dim light of the future the tumult of the fresh ones. We—by this I mean those youth of this land who are capable of enthusiasm for an ideal—will not shrink from them. We stand in the memory of the dead who are holy to us, and we believe ourselves entrusted with the true and spiritual welfare of our people. We stand for what will be and for what has been. Though force without and barbarity within conglomerate in sombre clouds, yet so long as the blade of a sword will strike a spark in the night may it be said: Germany lives and Germany shall never go under!

We live today among men, at least in the West, who treat their countries with disdain and ignore that they even belong to a people. Where are the men today who might say that Germany — or England — or France — or Spain — or dare I say America — lives? Where are the men who love their fatherlands and love their kin?

*        *        *

Jünger recounts many men he killed during the war. What stands out to me, however, is the one he did not kill:

A bloody scene with no witnesses was about to happen. It was a relief to me, finally, to have the foe in front of me and within reach. I set the mouth of the pistol at the man’s temple — he was too frightened to move — while my other fist grabbed hold of his tunic, feeling medals and badges of rank. An officer; he must have held some command post in these trenches. With a plaintive sound, he reached into his pocket, not to pull out a weapon, but a photograph which he held up to me. I saw him on it, surrounded by numerous family, all standing on a terrace. It was a plea from another world. Later, I thought it was blind chance that I let him go and plunged onward. That one man of all often appeared in my dreams. I hope that meant he got to see his homeland again.

This was a haunting scene. What a waste that war was — what a waste of men such as these. Hidden in this moment in an otherwise unforgiving war is the recognition of the Western sensibility of humanity. True enough it was his duty to kill, but the hope he articulated for the survival of his enemy is rich in meaning and pregnant with the fraternity that exists — or at least once existed — among European men.

When I took the whole of this book in, what struck me more than anything is that a man of twenty-five could write it. Consider too that four of his twenty-five years were not in graduate school but in muddy and bombed-out trenches. Throughout the book are references to themes of Western Civilization, theology, mythology, and philosophy. By no means is this a book that plumbs any of them deeply but the facility of a twenty-five-year-old with all of them demonstrated a greatness in the German psyche that is simply unrecognizable in virtually any men today regardless of age. True enough, Jünger proved to be a gifted writer after the war, but his talents notwithstanding, the civilization that reared him and existed before World War I was astounding.

Why oh why did we allow them all to be killed?

 *        *        *

Saint Martin of Tours, Pray for us.


Architecture and Art: Explaining the Revolt against Beauty

In May last year I found myself in Budapest, surrounded by Neo-Classical architecture. The centre of the city is incredibly beautiful, and so consistently so, that it’s easy to become lost. A young, and rather cynical, female student I was with actually commented, referring to two London skyscrapers: “Budapest needs a Gherkin or a Shard, just so there are a few landmarks.” It’s the little details that are so uplifting: gargoyles, tessellations . . . These edifices were built with beauty in mind.

The Gherkin Juxtaposed to Some Examples of Traditional London Architecture

How different it is walking around most British city centres, marred as they are by brutal post-War architecture, where “beauty” is almost a dirty word. The same is clearly true of Art. Modern Art is quite deliberately vile and shocking: Damien Hurst’s cow cut in half, the Chapman Brothers’ child mannequins with anuses on their faces, flowers (“Piss Flowers”) ultimately cast from artist Helen Chadwick’s urine and so on. English philosopher Roger Scruton bemoaned the hideousness of Modern Art and Modern Architecture. But why does it have to be so revolting? The answer is surprisingly simple and it can be traced all the way back to the most primitive humans, eking out an existence on the Savannah.

Damien Hurst’s Cow Cut in Half   

Humans are “pack animals,” which means they must fight for the survival and triumph of their group, but, in the polygamous mating systems to which we are evolved, only the highest status males pass on their genes. Put simply, these males are better at fighting and at hunting. The females sexually select for these Alpha Males because they will have more resources to invest in the female and her offspring and the offspring will inherit the physical and psychological traits which lead to health, high status and the passing on of ones genes. As I have explored in my book Breeding the Human Herd: Eugenics, Dysgenics and the Future of the Species, among the hunter-gatherer Bushmen of southern Africa only 40% of males have any children at all, while in seventeenth century England the richer 50% of males had about double the number of surviving offspring compared to the poorer 50% of males. So, it is very important – and thus built into us – to want to attain social status.

Consequently, we balance different sets of what are known as “Moral Foundations.” The “binding” or “group-orientated” foundations are Obedience to Authority, In-group Loyalty and Sanctity/Disgust. The latter involves sacralising practices which are adaptive to the group and reacting with disgust to that which is maladaptive. Thus, people tend to react with disgust to foreigners because they may introduce novel pathogens into the group or disrupt its internal dynamics. Of course, high disgust can also be adaptive on the individual level, such as a strong revulsion to rotting food. But these three foundations correlate. Group-oriented people are higher in disgust, presumably due to its importance in policing group boundaries.

There are also the individually-oriented foundations of Equality and Harm Avoidance. A concern with equality means that you will get your fair – equal – share, while a concern with harm means that you personally are less likely to get harmed. People who are highly group-oriented have little concern with these, being happy to lay down their lives for the group, meaning they may pass on their genes only indirectly, by helping to save their group.

Liberals and Conservatives differ in the importance of these Moral Foundations. Conservatives score about the same in all of five of them. Liberals score very low in the binding foundations and they score very high in the individualistic foundations. As I explore in Breeding the Human Herd, liberals are also, on average, shorter, physically weaker, less physically attractive and more anxious and otherwise mentally unstable than conservatives. In a sense, they are bad, unsuccessful hunter gatherers. So, how do you gain status if you are such a person?

You can’t have a fair fight because you will be paranoid that you will lose, and you probably will. Accordingly, you “virtue signal”: You appeal to the conservative society – which is genuinely concerned about equality and harm – and attain status by seeming very kind. You also collaborate with outsiders. Being low in in-group loyalty and low in disgust, it has been found that the liberal moral circle – those with whom they identify – is further from self, in genetic terms. Conservatives are concerned with people in a series of concentric circles. In general, they prefer family to kin, kin to ethny, ethny to race and so forth. By contrast, liberals are more likely to identify with foreigners than with their own. This allows them to collaborate with foreigners and, so, take over their own in-group.

This will shake up everything but they don’t care. They are low in sanctity and they are low in obedience to traditional authority. What is the upper class socialist really doing? He is gaining power by collaborating with the working class against the interests of his own social class, in a context in which there is abundant evidence that social classes are substantially genetic castes. What are elite White people in Britain’s Labour Party doing? They are collaborating with working class Whites and foreigners in order to dominate the elite class of which they are a part.

How does this relate to Art and Architecture? I’m sure it’s clear by now. The traditional purpose of both was, in part, to create beauty. Beauty inspires people; beauty makes people feel good (feel transcendent, even). Beauty is symmetrical, it is about order, it aims to inspire the group with a sense of the sacred and the eternal. If you are low status, it is central to the system which caused you to be of low status. Thus, if you are physically and mentally weak, and cannot attain status within the system, it makes sense to attack the system, to attack “order,” so creating a vacuum in which you can take power.

Being low in sanctity (and low in disgust), you will be positively attracted to Art and Architecture which is revolting and repelled by Art and Architecture which is beautiful. Being concerned with “Equality,” you will horrified by the very idea that some things are more “beautiful” than other things. With your high Neuroticism, this will incur resentment. You will question the very notion of objective “beauty,” argue that there are “different kinds of beauty” and ultimately maintain that the ugly is beautiful so that everyone can feel equal. The very notion of “beauty” will hurt the feelings of –“harm” – those who are repugnant-looking, so it simply cannot be accepted. This destruction of tradition creates dysphoria, it confuses people, it creates a sense of instability; a lack of order. It is in this chaos that the Machiavellian — and liberals are individualistic and thus power-hungry — can take over.

As I have explored in my book The Past Is a Future Country: The Coming Conservative Demographic Revolution, due to asymmetrical empathy between conservatives and liberals, culture will tend to drift leftwards. Eventually, once a sufficient percentage of the elite accept these ideas, we very quickly tip over into being a liberal society, as people understand that things are changing and wish to be on the winning team. As the more intelligent better understand the benefits of socially conforming and are higher in what Kevin MacDonald has called the “effortful control” that allows them to do so, they will spearhead this change. Once this takes place the more intelligent start competitively signalling their conformity to the new moral dispensation.

The result is a kind of “runaway individualism” where Art and Architecture become uglier and uglier and uglier across time. This will continue until there is such dysphoria, until so many people are so unhappy, due to their group-oriented foundations being ignored, and due to a general sense of unnerving chaos, there is a right-wing backlash. This will often be provoked by a situation which strongly sets off disgust – such as an epidemic – or which sets off other binding foundations, such as war. We became more conservative in the 1980s about sexuality due to AIDs for example. So, beautiful Art and Architecture may well re-emerge . . .

The West is Desperately in Need of a New Elite: A Review-Essay of Maurice Muret’s The Greatness of Elites, Part 2

Go to Part 1.

The Handsome and Good Greek 

Why are the images of the gods of non-Western civilizations monstrous, or unimpressive, or thirsting for blood? Why are they somewhat pedestrian? Look at the gods of the Aztecs, Africans, Hindus, Chinese, Mesopotamians. It is partly because of the subordinate personality of these people, their lack of free individuality, which made men feel small and powerless in face of the mysterious powers of the unknown, and this psychological state instilled fear and terror. The Greek Olympian gods reflect a radically new state of being. The Greek aristocratic culture—in which every noble was equal in dignity and free to exercise his talent and seek glory—instilled respect among its members, a dignified sense of self, an awareness of what is highest among humans; and this state of being led the aristocratic Greeks to envision their gods in humanistic terms, “removed from the mysteries, from the chthonic darkness and ecstasy” of the earth, as Bruno Snell puts it.

The free individuality of the aristocrats, their unwillingness to submit to despotic rulers, allowed the Greeks to conquer the monstrosity and grossness of the underground, to overcome the crude superstitions of the peasants, to leave the dark powers of the earth, and envision instead sky-dwellikng Olympian gods in charge of order, justice, and beauty. The dark forces, the chthonian elements, which retained their power among Greek peasants and within the old psyche of the Greeks, manifested in their bacchanalian festivals and drunken revelries, would sometimes regain their power, but in Greek art and in the Platonic philosophy of seeking perfection, it was the Olympian gods who set the standards. The Olympian gods are noble in their attractiveness and grandeur, combining in their personalities “vitality, beauty, and lucidity”.

This provides a context for understanding Muret’s argument that the ideal or perfect man for the aristocratic elite of ancient Athens was defined by the term “kalokagathia”, by which it was meant the harmonious combination of bodily, moral and spiritual virtues, the “handsome and good Athenian,” beauty with goodness united. This Athenian man was frugal and sober. He was not cruel; if slaves were inflicted with torture, it was for a reason, not for the sake of pleasure, as it was for Eastern tyrants. While the Athenian would open his doors to the shipwrecked person, pity “was a condemnable weakness”. Avoiding all excess, knowing oneself, doing everything in moderation, was a supreme wisdom. Fanaticism was shunned. A handsome and good man had to express himself with “facility and elegance”. The ancient Greek language had a “sonority, a harmony, a suppleness that no language has ever surpassed”. These men envisaged death with serenity, “without excessive anguish”.

The Athenian was a father but also a citizen, an active participant in the politics of his city state, rather than a mere private person. “The young Athenian lived in the public square, the gymnasium, the spas, in the gardens where he met other young people and where he was instructed at the feet of beloved masters”. Their civic dedication to their city was not oppressive; “born subtle and insubordinate, the Greek had a great deal of the critical spirit”. This culture rose in the sixth century BC, and reached full bloom in the fifth century in Athens. Decadence began in the late fifth century, as young men began deserting the gymnasiums for gaming houses, neglecting the exercises “that maintained that sovereign balance between the body and the soul from which was born the nobility and the greatness of the Athenian civilization”. The Macedonian conquests, the turn towards the East, the absorption of the Greek mainland within the Roman empire, would increase the taste for luxury and a private life, diminishing the virtues of the Athenians.

The Roman (and Greek) Citizen-Farmer-Soldier

The senatorial aristocracy had guided the state, not primarily by virtue of natural right, but by virtue of the highest of all rights of representation—the right of the superior, as contrasted with the mere ordinary man.[1]

Whatever could be demanded of an assembly of burgesses like the Roman, which was not the motive power, but the firm foundation of the whole machinery—a sure perception of the common good, a sagacious deference to the right leader, a steadfast spirit in prosperous and evil days, and, above all, the capacity of sacrificing the individual to the general welfare and common comfort of the present for the advantage of the future—all these qualities the Roman community exhibited in so high a degree that, when we look to its conduct as a whole, all censure is lost in reverent admiration.[2] Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, vol. 2

There is a common image about the Roman elite consisting of a “patrician” class with a privileged noble status giving it exclusive access to the main offices of the republic and owning large tracts of land worked by slaves captured in their conquests, while excluding the rest of the general body of free Roman citizens, the plebians, small landowners often in debt. Maurice Muret has it right: “the Roman citizen was originally a man given to working in the fields who took to arms when his territory of Latium or the city of Rome, seat of the royalty, was threatened.” The patricians were originally men who worked the land and constituted the Roman army. These patricians were “aristocratic” but for many centuries they were not men living off the labor of others, though they did have more land, and did hire laborers, and later used slave labor in their extended landholding as Rome defeated one rival after another and thereby accumulated land. The elite Muret is focusing on is that of the Republic, which lasted for about 500 years, starting in the sixth century BC. The “austere crucible” in which the soul of the Roman patrician farmer-soldier was formed was a mixture of rural life and camp life; “commerce and the arts were not worthy of those truly free men; … agricultural work conferred on the one who exercised it an undeniable nobility.” “A Roman citizen, no matter how poor he was, was honoured if he lived on the land, cultivated his estate, raised a numerous family.”

Moreover, while it is true that “originally there was no equality between…the patricians belonging to the…senate and the plebeians, considered as foreigners to the city, deprived like the slaves of all civil and political rights”,  eventually “the plebeians raised their head and claimed their rights”.

Muret does not get into this. But it is worth emphasizing that the Roman patrician aristocracy was open to talent. Beginning in the fifth century, the patricians granted the plebeians the right to annually elect their own leaders, the right to appeal to the people and hold plebiscites binding on the whole community, and the right to marry patricians. During the 300s, plebeians were successively allowed to become consults, censors, praetors, pontiffs, and augurs; and, by 300, they had achieved substantial equality with the patricians, with both patricians and the upper plebeians becoming wealthy landowners. The struggle between classes would henceforth be between the “nobiles” consisting of large landowning and commercialized patricians and plebeians, and the poorer plebeians. These nobiles were far removed from their former austere lives of patricians as farmers, though some would retain to the last days of the Republic the values that made Rome great in the first place.

Before I write about these values, as Muret sees them, it should be emphasized that a class of citizen farmers was also a reality in ancient Greece. In fact, only in Western civilization (beyond ancient times) do we find a legacy of family-owned, privately held, small-to-medium homestead farms. In the ancient civilizations of the Near East, and the civilizations of the world thereafter, including India, China, and the Americas, the ruler and his court of blood relatives, administrators and provincial elites, owned most of the land. They had huge estates, from which they extracted taxes and rents from slaves, serfs, indentured servants, or from faceless peasants with tiny plots owned by their clans. It was Greece, roughly between 700 and 300 BC, that saw the emergence of “an autonomous group of independent farmers” for the first time in history, as Victor David Hanson argues in The Other Greeks, The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (1999).

Muret tends to identify the elite with citizens living in urban areas attending gymnasiums, engaged in athletic contests and discussions, and as creators of art. But perhaps we should integrate the farmers of Greece as members of the elite. If Muret thinks the Roman patrician farmers constituted the founding elite of Republican Rome, the ones who created the virtues that sustained this civilization for centuries, why ignore completely the citizen farmers of ancient Greece, who did enjoy rights as full citizens and took on the defense of their communities? Independent farming instilled upon Greeks the ideal that the true test of manhood, of having a good character, is the ability to sustain a family farm, postpone pleasures today, have self-control and patience, for the sake of ensuring the fruits of one’s hard work in the future.

Citizen farmers, then, were not unique to Rome but also a key component of the elite culture of ancient Greece, though in Rome agrarian values went deeper into the soul, whereas in Greece there was an urbane aristocratic culture of artists, philosophers, literary writers, and scientists. This point is important because beyond Greece and Rome, homestead family farms were an important proportion, in varying degrees, of northwestern European medieval-modern agriculture, and of the settler states of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only in Western history do we find farmers, the famous “yeomen” who owned their own land and rose gradually to play a role in the industrialization of the West. The image of yeomen farmers as honest, hardworking, virtuous and independent played a significant role in Western republican thought, which originated in Rome. The founding fathers of the U.S., Jefferson and others, believed yeomen were “the most valuable citizens” trusted to be committed to republican values, as contrasted to financiers, bankers, industrialists with their “cesspools of corruption” in the cites.

Another reason to bring up the citizen farmers of Greece is they represented a new consciousness of moderation and justice between the extremes of wealth and poverty, in opposition to the excessive wealth and unrestrained militaristic behavior of power-hungry aristocrats prone to disrupt the unity of city-states by pursuing the interests of their own clan. Muret recognizes that elites without a sense of justice, duty to their own people, respect for tradition, order and prudence, are bound to become parasitic and effeminate in their decadent affluence, as was the case with non-Western elites. Solon, the great Athenian statesman of the early sixth century, is remembered for passing laws aimed at overcoming the endless, divisive squabbling of clannish aristocratic men in the name of harmony, the interests of the middling segments of the farming population, good order, avoidance of extremes, and the insatiable desire for more honors and wealth on the part of tyrannical rich men. He aimed to promote the general good of the city-state. To this end, debt slavery was abolished and those who had been sold abroad were allowed to return as free men. The intention was to support a free, self-sufficient middling class of farmers against the greed of big landowners.

Connected to these citizen farmers, the reforms by Solon, and subsequent reforms by Cleisthenes and Pericles, is the fact that fifth-century Athens was quite democratic, though not in the sense of universal suffrage and mass popular cultural values, but in the extent to which the state was open to participation by citizens, comprising about one-third of the population, excluding slaves, women, and alien residents. Every decision had to be approved by a popular assembly; every judicial decision was subject to appeal to a popular court of some fifty-one citizens, and every official was subject to public scrutiny before taking office.

By the same token, this should not detract us from the reality that Athens remained a city ruled by a small elite of aristocratic families with the means, knowledge and leisure to regulate the affairs of the state. Moreover, an aristocratic spirit of beauty, honor, and heroism permeated Greek life, as Muret correctly points out.

Finally, emphasizing the citizen farmers is also crucial to understanding the origins and nature of the “republican” form of government of Rome, characterized by a balance between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. An aristocratic class freed from a despotic ruler does not guarantee a republican government. In their primordial tendencies, aristocratic governments are oligarchic rather than republican, although republicanism presupposes the higher (senatorial) authority of a class of aristocrats. Roman aristocrats despised any noble among their ranks who elevated himself above their peers to rule in the interests of the lower classes. Like the Greeks, they viewed aristocrats who attacked the privileges of their noble peers and sought the popular support of plebeians, as tyrants. But, as the plebeians gained substantial equality in citizen rights through the 300s BC, a “democratic” element was added to the Roman government. This democratic element was controlled by the upper plebeians, not the lower landless plebs, which became a mob in the city of Rome. The monarchical element came in the annual election by the Senate of “Consuls” with extensive powers, often holding in wartime the highest military command. The Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution self-consciously assumed the Roman mantle of “res-publica” as their guiding principle of a government organized for the “public good”.

The values of the Roman citizen-farmer-soldier Muret admires were rooted in the austere rural life of its independent farmers. This life gave these men an “undeniable nobility”, a conservative temperament with a “taste for continuity and traditions”, and exhibiting “extreme piety”. We may add to Muret’s observations that not only were people expected to participate in state-sponsored religious rituals and festivals, but each Roman family was expected to perform daily rituals honoring their ancestors and placating various gods. The patrician farmer was seen as a venerable paterfamilias, the high priest of his own household religion. These customs and rites sustained and reinforced Roman identity and greatness for centuries. Romans also developed a very strong sense of civic identity. The patricians saw themselves both as members of their extended families and clannish patron-client groups, and as members of the Roman republic. For a long time they served their city as a matter of public service with patriotic devotion and without seeking to enrich themselves. “In war, the most affluent wished to fight in the front rank”. Muret estimates that “of all the human societies of antiquity,” the most devoted, honest and competent functionaries of the state were the Romans.

The highest virtue of the Romans was virility, strength, energy, self-control, patience in misfortune and sacrifice for the public good. Roman civilization, says Muret, was “more valuable than those it defeated”. In contrast to Carthage, which was maritime and mercantile, a “city of luxury and pleasure”, with an army of mercenaries from multiple places, Rome was a land-based culture with an army of citizen soldiers who identified with Rome and fought for Rome rather than for private gain. “Rome did not make war in the name of a bloody god that it claimed to be the instrument of” but “in the name of the moral superiority of the Roman citizens over peoples that did not yet belong to Rome”. The conquered within Italy who were closely related ethnically to the Romans, it should be added, were gradually granted the same citizenship rights, a precondition for serving in the army.

But as Rome grew rich from its successes and vast amounts of wealth started pouring in, masses of slaves were pushed into working the lands of the rich, while at the same time soldier-farmers were losing their farms from neglect after years of military service and from debt. Moreover, many in the upper classes were involved in commercial undertakings, acting as tax-farmers milking the provinces, the old Roman spirit of discipline, austerity, and virility slowly died away. Muret does not go into this, but it worth noting that the decline of the Roman character is a pervading theme of Roman historiography; already apparent in Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), author of Origins, of which only fragments survive, about the beginnings of Rome up until the victory over Macedonia in 168 BC. Cato eulogized the “Spartan” austerity and simplicity of the early men who built Rome, and lamented the effeminate influence of Greek learning. In the first century BC, Sallust (86–35 BC) saw the old Roman virtues of frugality and piety decline under the influence of luxury and Asiatic indulgences and taste. As Ernst Breisach notes in his Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, “Growing love of money and the lust for power which followed it engendered every kind of evil. Avarice destroyed honour, integrity and every other virtue, and instead taught men to be proud and cruel, to neglect religion and to hold nothing too sacred to sell. … Rome changed: her government, once so just and admirable, became harsh and unendurable”.[3]

The empire certainly lasted a few more centuries until the fifth century AD, demonstrating the remaining greatness of Rome as it declined slowly. Of all the elites Muret examines, the republican Roman elite was indeed the longest lasting, 500 years counting only the Republican era, not the Imperial era that began in the first century AD. This enduring elite should thus be added as another major achievement of Rome, in addition to its famous aqueducts, invention of concrete, creation of the most sophisticated system of roads in the ancient world, its arches, which allowed the weight of buildings to be evenly distributed along various supports in the construction of their bridges, monuments and buildings, the Julian Calendar, its systematic compilation of juristic writings (corpus juris civilis), and its new types of surgical tools.

But it may be that Rome’s greatest legacy was the honor of its citizen-farmer elite, which cannot be taken away from them.

The Liberated Personality of the Renaissance

The next elite Muret celebrates, from Renaissance Italy, a period covering roughly the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, represents “the blossoming of the human species”, resuscitating in some respects the Roman virtues of virility, courage, and energy—with the difference that these were the “first modern men” in their “exaltation of the liberated personality”, “the primacy of the self”. Muret is clearly following Jacob Burckhardt’s well-known thesis that the Renaissance gave birth to modernity because it gave birth to individualism. In the Middle Ages, Burckhardt wrote, “man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation. … In Italy this veil first melted into air … Man became a spirited individual, and recognized himself as such.” Among the humanists, the painters, architects, and condottiere, he observed “an unbridled subjectivity,” men obsessed with fame, status, appearances. This nurtured an intense self-awareness, unlike their medieval forebears, who were trapped within a collective identity.

Muret does say that in Rome “individualism never prevailed. The submission to the civic ideal began there from the top.” It is a common view that “freedom” in ancient Greece also consisted in the right of citizens to participate in political assemblies, choose their leaders and voice their views, without a modern conception of the right of individuals to enjoy “negative liberties” as private citizens to peacefully pursue their own lifestyle and happiness without interference from the state. This is true; freedom in ancient times was primarily civic in character. He is postulating a higher degree of individualism and free personality among the men of the Renaissance. Muret however is careful not to dismiss the achievements of the Middle Ages, briefly mentioning the attenuating effects on barbarism of the new ethos of chivalry along with “the critical spirit” of the scholastic method with its dialogical way of ascertaining the merits and flaws of different answers. He recognizes the major contribution of Christianity to the humanization of European elites with its virtues of compassion, fidelity, humanity piety, and sincerity, although he knows that even if Machiavelli expediently called upon princes to exhibit these qualities, the more powerful traits of the Renaissance condottiere, the Italian captains in command of mercenary companies, were ambition, excessive pride, and pursuit of power without scruples

The history of the gradual emergence of Western individualism is very intricate. Colin Morris in The Discovery of the Individual, 1050–1200 (1972) and Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual (2017) both believe that “the Western view of the value of the individual owes a great deal to Christianity”, for this was a religion that recognized every individual as worthy of dignity and emphasized the inner conscience and obligation of each person to lay himself open to God. Aaron Gurevich in The Origins of European Individualism (1995) goes further back in time for a latent conception of the human personality seen in the representation of the hero in the pagan Germanic, Scandinavian, Icelandic, and Irish epics of the early Middle Ages. In such sagas, the very idea of the hero speaks of accomplishments performed by a particular name, his acts as an individual and whether they bring him glory and reputation.

Nevertheless, the Renaissance does witness, as Muret says, “an excess of the self”, a belief, in the words of Leon Battista Alberti, that “what man wants he can do”. This was the ideal of the courtier, “equally given to the works of the mind and to the exercises of the body”, trained in riding horses and fencing, educated in the Classics and the fine arts, able to use elegant and brave words, with proper bearing and gestures, and a warrior spirit. Pico della Mirandola argued that central to the dignity of man was the exercise of the free will that God gave man: “You can descend to the level of the beast and you can raise yourself to becoming a divine being”. In the non-Western world, one was born with a pre-given role in life, predetermined norms and forms of behavior, without free will. But we should not forget that before recent decades, the free will of man entailed formidable duties and obligations to aristocratic virtues and respect for ancestors. Only thusly could the Renaissance have produced such a magnificent sequence of great men: Petrarch, Masaccio, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Raphael, Titian.

The Gentilshommes of Seventeenth Century-France

The fourth elite Muret chooses may strike some as unusual: it is not the elite of the Spanish “Golden Age”, from about 1580 to 1680, the age of the great conquistadores led by Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, the magnificent painters El Greco and Velázquez, and the celebrated novel Don Quixote by Cervantes. It is neither the elite of Elizabethan England in the 1500s, Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare and Francis Drake. It is the French gentilhomme of the 1600s, men who “delighted in cordial and cheerful conversations”, strongly influenced by the bourgeois urbane values of civility, who knew the art of pleasing the ladies with good conversations, men of letters without being pedantic, able to play the lute, the guitar, and games of chance, men of leisure who did not work to eat—benevolent, tolerant and welcoming.

Muret’s choice reflects his belief that the seventeenth century was the greatest cultural age of France, above the commonly known eighteenth-century Enlightenment. This was the age of La Rochefoucauld, famous for his Maximes, a collection of 500 epigrammatic reflections on human behaviour in which he sees self-interest as the source of all actions; Jean Racine, known for his great tragedies, from Bérénice (1670) to Iphigénie (1675); Blaise Pascal, best known for his Pensées;  the comic genius Molière; Pierre Corneille, the writer of classical tragedies, Horace (1640), Cinna (1643), and Polyeucte (1643), and René Descartes, one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers in human history. Muret mentions women, including Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, known for hosting the salon Hôtel de Rambouillet, praised in her day “as a model of respectability, wisdom, gentleness”. Corneille read his tragedies at her salon.

For Muret, this “polite society” was truly aristocratic despite its integration with the bourgeoisie. There was “nothing popular” about this age. Whereas Shakespeare and Schiller in Germany appealed to the hearts of the masses, Racine and Corneille consciously addressed a very exclusive audience. Unlike the men of the next century, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, they were not interested in moralizing and changing society. Muret sees a healthier form of reasoning in this age, not the glorification of reason of the Enlightenment, which sought to recreate society from the ground up out of ideas concocted by intellectuals in complete disregard for tradition, order, and prudence. In Muret’s view, seventeenth-century France achieved the right combination of “innate good taste, acquired refinement, unconscious aestheticism, triumphant reason [of the Cartesian kind which sought to understand nature], and unshakeable good sense”.

For Muret, Mme. de Lafayette and her “masterpiece” novel, La Princesse de Clèves is fully infused with the ideal of the true gentlemen of the age. “The Princess of Clèves is almost a saint by virtue of being a gentlewoman. All her words, her acts betray what one should indeed call that ‘ideal of reason’, the last word in wisdom. … Nothing is more classical than the conception of life in general, and of love in particular, that emerges from The Princesse de Clèves. And in this pure ideal what moral superiority to the sensational and subversive novelties that Romanticism was to set in fashion two centuries later”. The Princesse de Clèves, which I enjoyed reading during the lockdown summer of 2020, is recognized as the “first novel” in French, the prototype of the “modern novel” in its depth of psychological analysis, a quality of which is how feelings are conveyed through internal monologue. Muret could have explored this as a new facet in the exaltation of the individual, this time by way of an “internal dialogue,” that is, the rise of a voice inside one’s head that self-consciously examines one’s thoughts and feelings and subjects them to critical analysis, on the way towards making a decision. In nonwestern societies, this voice barely developed. The voices non-Westerners hear are the voices of pre-established feelings, norms, conventions, not the voices of a self deciding what to do through its own inner reflections. This inner self was to become the source of much creativity in the West, though ultimately it is a very dangerous path, as we are witnessing now, to cut off the self from the surrounding world into a world within that is nevertheless controlled, no longer by traditions and heritage, but by “limbic capitalist” corporations.

The English Victorian Gentleman

The English gentleman of the Victorian era is the fifth and last elite Muret celebrates. Why does Muret define this elite as “aristocratic” even though it was born after the liberal Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established the principles of frequent parliaments and freedom of speech within Parliament, and even though he believes that this elite came to rule Britain only during the mid-nineteenth century when the industrial revolution was spreading and voting rights were being expanded to the middle classes—and even though he believes that this elite was still dominant in the 1930s when he wrote his book.

Muret notes that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was a British aristocracy “in the sense of noble blood and military customs”. But this class disappeared, and a new “gentry” class that esteemed money and bourgeois comfort over military honor and virtue emerged. This new class with its “rather low ideals” would remain rather uncouth for some time, acquiring refined and courteous manners only slowly during the eighteenth century. By the Victorian age a new aristocratic elite “open to all sorts of talents”—but including big landowners with prestigious family pedigrees—had consolidated itself with new ideals. These were still “practical, down-to-earth” ideals, a fine country house, honest and healthy occupations, but with a strong civic commitment for the laws of the land, piety towards God, and a well-disposed to advance the well-being of the community as a way of showing themselves worthy of their wealth.

Notwithstanding their individualism—their unique “history of liberty”, the British had a strong “group consciousness” in their insular island, a national identity nurtured by their apartness from continental Europe. “On the continent, nobles and bourgeois, workers and peasants detest and fight one another. Not in England; they support one another, but even while maintaining their distance, they are capable of acting in common for the general interest.” The same individualist gentleman who believes in liberty and careers open to talent is “rigorously conformist, respectful of all the rules and all the institutions, the gentleman will bow lower before the most ancient and the most sacred: the monarchy”. This conformism, it should be noted, was not tribal or based on kinship ties; it was conformism to the voluntary or contractually based associations and rules created by the modern Brits.

This group consciousness came along with snobbism, “the superstitious respect for social positions, the caste spirit raised to a system”, which Muret sees as an attribute that has allowed, and will continue to allow, this elite to mould British society for a long time. This snobbism entailed a “high notion of his duties as a man … towards God, towards his neighbour, even towards himself”. “The obligation to comport oneself and maintain one’s respectability … a mask of impassibility … no effusion in public … a hearty handshake and not these resounding kisses that fill the continental railway stations with sounds that seemed vulgar”. This gentleman is “something of a sinner, but he will keep his sin to himself and his partner; he will sin behind doors, secretly”. “To keep one’s mouth shut is indeed an English ideal, just as to speak a lot is a Latin ideal”.

A preference for manly sports at the expense of the intellect was another attribute of this elite. Practical results, accomplishments, were more important than beautiful ideas. Artists and intellectuals can’t be trusted, “they change laws and customs all the time”. Muret notes the seriousness with which English schools took sports, not only to keep young men fit, but to teach them rules, combined with corporal punishment, “they box and they whip, they do fist-fights and wield the cane,” which has nurtured an English temperament that can be “ferocious and indomitable” when there is a need to act. “To act when one must, to refrain when one must, to intervene at the right moment, is a veritable science that is simple only in appearance”.

This English elite made concessions to feminism “with benevolence, from a gentleman to a lady, in a chivalrous spirit, if not a gallant one … but the gentleman has not, for all that, been dashed from his throne. His authority remains the keystone of the edifice”. Yet, a few years after Muret wrote this, the Victorian gentlemen disappeared, England lost its empire, and now it is in a state of self-flagellation about its patriarchal, imperialistic, and racist past. Vilfredo Pareto’s famous observation is quoted in the opening page of The Greatness of Elites: “History is a cemetery of aristocracies”. The difference is that the British elite of the post-World War II years willingly went about condemning and destroying this Victorian heritage for a Britain made up of Africans, Muslims and Asians. Though Britain still produces many White Olympic winners, a culture of genocidal self-denigration, without parallels in history, prevails at the top.

Can We Learn Something Today About the German Elite Between 1750–1914?

So, having read about great elites in history, which one do you prefer? Or, which one has qualities, virtues, that can be realistically adapted to our current times? The answer may seem self-evident enough, the British. They are closest to us in time, existing within a liberal representative society that was undergoing rapid modernization—but then this elite disappeared suddenly, without leaving a legacy. Still, one lesson we can learn from the British case, while it lasted, is that it did showcase for posterity a strong sense of group consciousness and civic conformism in a society that was otherwise liberal in the classical sense of this word.

Many on the right talk about becoming “tribal again” without realizing that tribalism among Whites has been slowly eroded since ancient times, and demolished with the imposition of monogamy and abolition of polygamous clan networks by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, which led to formation of many civic associations, towns based on citizenship, universities and monasteries, contractual business partnerships. We already see the concept of citizen in the ancient Greek city-states, above tribal identities, developing further in Rome’s republican form of government. But it is worth realizing that, as the British case shows, this civic unity prevailed as long as strong monogamous families existed and there was a strong sense of civic identity within a nation state that presupposed in its origins an ethnic core and a Christian religion, with most citizens deeply rooted in their local communities, marrying and having children, attending schools where they were proud of a British identity.

Muret blames the “masses”, “socialism” and the enlargement of the state. But we may want to examine the inbuilt progressive logic of liberalism, how this ideology has continually been pushing for “progressive reforms”, the elimination of all traditional restraints against freedom of choice, the extension of individual rights to “oppressed minorities”, the promotion of equal voting rights to everyone irrespective of standards, the demonization of aristocratic elites as “hierarchical”, the promotion of the notion that everyone is equally capable and that inequalities are a function of illiberal privileges and monopolies, the allocation of special rights to overcome “systemic inequalities,” the idea that everyone in the world has “human rights” including the right to a nationality of their choice—coupled with a capitalist economy that reduces everyone to rootless consumers and producers, and melts all that is solid into thin air.

I believe that Germany, from about the 1750s to 1914, provides an example of an elite that we can learn from. Muret, a French man, clearly has an animosity towards Germany, though he recognizes its immense cultural achievement during this period. The ideal of this elite can be summed up with the word “Bildung”, which means a state that consciously strives to nurture what Goethe called “the higher human being within us”. Muret dislikes the militarism of this Germany, how it was based on “the exaltation of the masses to the detriment of the individual”, citing Nietzsche’s criticism of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s government, which culminated in World War I. We can agree with Muret insofar as Germany did take a turn in the 1930s and 1940s that was excessively militaristic and against “the good European”.

But before 1914, Germany was the only powerful White nation attempting to create a path that would come to terms with modernity, while advocating a nationalism that emphasized the priority of the freedom of Germans as a people over the rights of abstract individuals. This rejection of the universalist pretensions of Enlightenment liberalism did not amount to a rejection of modernity. The Germans of the post-1850s were the most advanced Europeans in science, technology, military power, levels of education, and culture generally. Germans wanted a path that would be balanced with its unique history, respect for aristocratic authority, together with a propertied and cultured middle class, working in unison with a powerful state acting in the interests of the Germans, with the highest capacity for independence and strength among the competing powers of the world, rather than a state acting at the behest of a dominant capitalist class pursuing its own interests, or at the behest of a democratic mob easily controlled by private companies and media. At the same time, Germans during this period enjoyed considerable individual liberties, universities were open to merit; there as a constitutional monarchy, rule by established procedure, a high degree of economic freedom, and a truly dynamic cultural atmosphere which encouraged the full development of individuality in culture.

It will be very hard for Western nations to recapture the aristocratic-citizen virtues of their past. We are heading into a high-tech, AI-controlled society, driven by the imperatives of capitalist globalism with socialist provisions and mandated racial equity. Can we learn something from the Russian and Chinese elites in their adoption of the newest technologies without embracing Western liberalism? Or is the West inherently liberal, irremediably committed to individual rights? The only way out, as I see it, is a state of affairs characterized by persistent societal breakdown, widespread racial tension, discontent, and delegitimization of the current elite, leading towards a serious consideration of an alternative beyond liberalism.

[1] Theodore Mommsen, The History of Rome, vol. 2, trans. W. P. Dickson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894), 386.

[2] Ibid., 403–404.

[3] Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

The West is Desperately in Need of a New Elite: A Review-Essay of Maurice Muret’s “The Greatness of Elites,” Part 1 of 2

A request for me to review Maurice Muret’s The Greatness of Elites could not have come at a more opportune time. I have been thinking a lot about the treacherous character of our ruling class and the possibility of envisioning a new elite capable of leading us out of our ethnocidal trajectory. The masses on their own can’t reverse it, and neither can isolated and powerless dissidents who are educated but have no financial power and no political network within the upper classes.

In Russia a small group of Marxists managed to persuade a wide proportion of the Russian-Jewish educated classes to join them, with considerable influence inside the universities and across the middle and educated classes and professions. This is not the case today in the West. The most we have are some mainstream conservatives who agree with the fundamentals of the left. Dissidents have very little intellectual capital. Educated Whites, school teachers, university professors, doctors, scientists, lawyers, the middle classes, are almost invariably liberal. There are strong chances for populist political movements, but as crucially important as populists are in challenging the worst excesses of liberalism, populism wants a return to an earlier version of liberalism, say, the 1990s version, and even if they take power, all the institutions and the deep state, will remain controlled by the left and the globalist capitalist rulers. Every peasant revolt in history has been suppressed without support from above. Peasants and Parisian shopkeepers and artisans played an important role in the French Revolution of 1789, but it was the “Third Estate” nurtured by the Enlightenment, combined with the power of the bourgeoisie, with its growing wealth, that made the revolution in law and political structures possible. The Trucker Convoy was defeated in Canada without even the support of the Conservative Party, little or untrustworthy support from the mainstream media and the educated professional groups.

These questions have made me think about the nature of the ruling classes at other periods in Western history. There is a strong inclination against elites even among dissidents, rooted in the democratic impulse of Whites, their inclination for equality, despite their statements to the contrary. Nevertheless, in comparison to today’s elites, we can point to various points in American history when the elites were worthy of great admiration. It has been argued by Tom Cutterham in Gentlemen Revolutionaries: Power and Justice in the New American Republic (2017) that the American Revolution was led by men who set themselves above the ordinary, common man—by the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite. Status, “not ideology or equal rights,” motivated these men who emphasized hierarchy and obedience in the 1780s. It can’t be denied, however, that the ideology these men proposed, natural rights liberalism, was about equality, and that their ideal was about the pursuit of private comfort, happiness, pleasure, and riches.

Maurice Muret’s The Greatness of Elites, originally published in 1939, and now published by Arktos, offers only five examples of elites deserving the highest admiration, and Americans are not included. Alexander Jacob, who translated this book with an introduction, deserves much praise for bringing Muret’s book to our attention. I had never heard of Muret. That’s how efficient liberalism has been suppressing the most educated men proposing ideas that question liberal democratic politics. Jacob is the translator of a number of similarly neglected authors and books, including The Future of the Intelligentsia & For a French Awakening by Charles Maurras, The Significance of the German Revolution by Edgar Julius Jung, and several of his translation have appeared in The Occidental Observer and The Occidental Quarterly. He has also written a number of important books about Richard Wagner, Indo-European mythology, Henry More, and, indeed, an essay-book entitled, Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century (2001). This study praises in particular the aristocratic philosophy and “racialistic elitism” of Germany in the nineteenth to early twentieth century.

Muret’s greatest elites in history, however, exclude the Germans. His choice of the best five elites may surprise you:

  • The “handsome and good” Athenian citizen of the age of Pericles, fifth century BC.
  • The “realistic, practical and virile” Roman citizen during the long Republican period.
  • The Renaissance “humanist” courtier with his pride and “liberated personality”.
  • The cordial, pleasant, conversationalist French “gentilhomme” during the age of Louis XIV.
  • The “snobbish” British gentleman of the Victorian age with his fine house, honest occupations, respect for the laws, piety, and love of manly sports.

These elites were capable of moulding society in their own image. Muret believes that without elites there can’t be great periods in history. Democracy and equality of rights are bound to destroy the capacity of elites to mould their nations in their own image, for they imply liberation of the “naturally perverse instincts” of the masses and the creation of tyrannies based on appeals to these instincts by populist demagogues.

The Limbic Capitalist Western Elite

So what exactly are the attributes that Muret found in these elites? Let’s start by saying that the current Western ruling classes are devoid of all the attributes the above elites had. They are simultaneously agents of the imperatives of capitalist global accumulation and ideological advocates of immigration replacement and transexualism. The other day Conrad Black, a wealthy businessman, penned an article allaying fears about the rise of China claiming that the US is the greatest nation in history and that it will resume its advance in the next administration, without displaying any worries about the decomposition of American education, the systematic looting and killings by Blacks, the widespread drug addiction, the spread of uninhabitable cities, and the migrant invasion into the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Vdare has just presented evidence showing “that some 145,695 white people—including 35,000 women—have been killed by blacks in the last 53 years”! Conrad Black, a member of the Western elite, is most likely benefitting from this state of affairs. The Pew Research Center reported in 2020 that “income growth was the most rapid for the top 5%” of Americans between 1971 and 2019, which coincided, I might add, with the intensification of mass immigration. On the other hand, the share of American adults who live in middle-income households decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019.

Condemning the “capitalist ruling elite” is not popular in conservative and even dissident circles, which prefer blaming leftist professors, journalists, and antifa. Samuel Francis, James Burham, and Paul Gottfried have written about the “therapeutic managerial” elite of the US with its concern with government intervention in favor of welfare, regulation of citizens’ private lives, and enforced political correctness. Lately the term “anarcho-tyranny” introduced by Francis in the 1990s has been the subject of discussion after Tucker Carlson used it. The observation is that Western governments don’t mind allowing criminals to break the law, even if this creates a climate of fear, for what the elite really cares about is regulating the thoughts and lives of law-abiding citizens, imposing stricter limits on gun ownership, enacting hate speech laws, and forcing diversity and rainbow flags.

My disagreement with this view is that it is still caught up with the notion that we have a socialistic/welfare state and a ruling class that is “therapeutic” while ignoring the reality of capitalist ownership and globalism. The elites in charge not only control governments; they are extremely wealthy individuals controlling vast amounts of resources in finance, media, drugs and AI robotics. These individuals welcome welfare therapy, political correctness, and diversity hiring in the lower managerial positions as long as the imperatives of capitalist accumulation are obeyed. This is no longer, as Francis observed, a capitalist class rooted in towns and nations, family oriented, and church-going, but a rootless internationalist class. Perhaps we can call Western elites “limbic capitalists” dedicated to making citizens addicted to consumption by producing “health-demoting products that stimulate habitual consumption and pleasure for maximum profit”. This elite accesses consumers “routinely through everyday digital devices and social media platforms…designed to generate, analyse and apply vast amounts of personalised data in an effort to tune flows of online content to capture users’ time and attention, and influence their moods, emotions and desires in order to increase profits”.

This limbic capitalist elite knows that social media is “central to young people’s socialising, identities, leisure practices and engagement in civic life.” During Covid lockdowns the elite saw large increases in users and traffic, realizing more than ever how it can control totally the minds of consumers by intensifying marketing online and driving online purchases and deliveries of products with limbic appeal that can turn consumers into gambling addicts, sex addicts, internet addicts, and food addicts, completely trapped within the logic of capitalist accumulation. Of course, there is more to the economy than limbic products, but limbic capitalists are the most capable of moulding the minds of Westerners, and thus the ones with “ruling class” power.

Individualism of Western Elites

I believe the only way to escape from the controls of this limbic capitalist elite is through the creation of a new traditionalist elite that makes the collective freedom of European citizens, their heritage, culture, and customs, a priority over the individual rights of private citizens. The difficulty is that the elites of the West have not been commonly traditionalist in the manner of elites in non-Western nations. This becomes apparent in the way Muret defines his five best elites. First, it should be said that for Muret the biggest threat, at the time he was writing, was the rise to political influence of the masses. He believes the Great War, and the formation of powerful socialist states, was a “great victory of the masses over the elites” across the West, with the Soviet Revolution constituting the highest expression of the hegemony of the masses. He feared that Bolshevism would bring down “the Western fortress founded on the rights of the individual … whose essential merit consists in the production, through the centuries, of certain types of eminent individuals”.

Muret, who is a Frenchman by ethnicity, does not like the Fascist elites of Italy and the Third Reich, accusing them of “collectivism, statism, socialism”. The Third Reich was “deprived of personality and regimented”. Is Muret a liberal individualist? No, he is an aristocratic individualist who rejects equal individual rights. What’s the difference between aristocratic individualism and democratic individualism? One of the great difficulties in understanding the West is that this civilization always had room for the expression of personality even when, as was the case in Rome and Athens, individuals were persons only as members of a civic collective. For ancient Athenians, “freedom” was understood to mean the right of the free citizen to participate in the political deliberations of city affairs. And while the Athenians did contrast their ability to engage in critical discussions with the “despotism of Asia”, they lacked the modern idea of freedom as the right of the individual to be left alone to choose his own goals.

It is true that Aristotle valued a contemplative philosophical life, but he did not think that individuals could be worthy of admiration in their private pursuits. There is more, however, to Muret’s conception of an aristocratic personality beyond political membership, and this is why he praises as one of the best elites in history the Athenian over the Spartan aristocracy. In the latter, members of the elite lacked a “free personality” in their complete subsumption under a militaristic collectivist state. There is something else to the “free personality” of the Athenians. We will see that it has to do with their overall “humanist ideal”, which is about striving to express the highest abilities in art, philosophy, literary creations, not just in military and political affairs.

Muret recognizes that, at the beginning of the 1900s, the German nation “was still one of the most cultivated and civilised of Europe.” “It counted in all fields scholars of a remarkable competence and a scrupulous conscience”. But he objects to the “mass regime” that was soon installed in Germany before 1914, and during the Third Reich, which was “deprived of personality and regimented”. The rest of Europe had been falling as well to the “rising tide of the masses” since the Great War of 1914. Bolshevism sanctified the “divine right of the masses”, and the spread of socialism in the West threatens to do the same. But while collectivism and statism are reaching a peak under socialist nations, regimes without aristocratic personalities, without devotion to humanism, have been the norm throughout the nonwestern world. What is new about Western post-Enlightenment times, which led to the eventual rise of socialistic states, with the exception of England, is that the masses had started to become an actual reality with industrialization and, what is worse, a reality that was juridically “gloried” in the French Revolution of 1789 with its proclamation of the Rights of Man.

Didn’t the French Rights of Man sanctify the right of individuals to be free, the right to choose their own governments, freedom of religious and political expression against an oppressive state? Here’s the cardinal difference between aristocratic and democratic individualism. The masses are simply not capable of having a free personality, of making their own decisions. In societies with universal suffrage, the opinions of the masses are taken to be true and forced upon the rest of the population. But are the masses really in control in a democratic society? While Muret’s prose is very literary and pleasant, as translated by Jacob, his arguments are not analytically presented, as I am arguing in this review; but he has a quotation from the Soviet paper Pravda which is very revealing: “The new man is not formed of himself. It is the Party that directs the entire process of social remoulding and of the re-education of the masses”.

Hasn’t this happened in the liberal West today with the relentless advertisement of companies in combination with a therapeutic and multicultural state deciding for everyone what the accepted values are? The mass man can’t mould himself, so a state dedicated to the masses is in charge of moulding everyone alike in their “free choices”, abolishing the possibility for free aristocratic personalities.

Of course, it is more complicated than this, since in a liberal society each individual lifestyle (as long as it does not infringe on the same right of others) is accorded equal moral dignity. There is no elite to mould the society according to humanist ideals; instead, the administrators of contemporary Western states shape individuals into pursuing their own lifestyle without setting up standards—except the standard that anyone who questions progressive free choice will not be tolerated, which means that traditional aristocratic values will not be tolerated as common values for the society. The aristocracy Muret has in mind co-existed for centuries during the modern era with the bourgeoisie, and for a long time with a Christian religion that cherished ancient humanism, in “respect for tradition, the cult of the family, the spirit of order, prudence and economy”. These values are not tolerated in a mass demos controlled by progressive administrators and businesses seeking to encourage everyone to pursue their own lifestyle.

Go to Part 2.

Tristan Tzara and the Jewish Roots of Dada — PART 3 of 3

Jacques Derrida

Go to Part 1.
Go to Part 2.

Dada and Deconstruction as Jewish Attack Vectors

A final destructive legacy of Dada, and one which merits more attention, is how its anti-rationalism prefigured Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction as a Jewish intellectual movement arrayed against Western civilization. The parallels between Dada and Deconstruction have been noted by numerous scholars. Robert Wicks observes how strongly Dada resonates “with the definitively poststructuralist conception of deconstruction advanced by Jacques Derrida in the 1960s.”[i] Pegrum likewise notes the “strong link between Dada and postmodern artistic theory, the most obvious point of contact being with the work of Derrida.”[ii] The literary critic Frank Kermode also traces deconstruction back to Dada influences, while Richard Sheppard regards the poststructuralists “as more introverted, less politicized [a dubious assertion], and less carnivalesque descendants of their Dada daddies.”[iii]

For the Dadaists, European civilization consisted of “an alienation-generating amalgam of rationalistic thinking, science, and technology that adhered to the preservation of order, systematicity, and methodicality.” They believed firmly that “European cultural values were not worth preserving.”[iv] Tzara once stated that “logic is always false,” and a core concept in his thought was “as long as we do things the way we think we once did them, we will be unable to achieve any kind of livable society.”[v] The Dadaists famously “spat in the eye of the world,” replacing logic and sense with absurdity and defiance.[vi] Even the word ‘Dada’ itself, suggesting basic drives and childlike behavior, was self-consciously absurd, even self-mocking, and a subversive anthem of resistance to more fully instrumentalized speech and disciplined rationality. It ridiculed Western confidence in the “autonomy of the rational ego and the efficacy of reason.” Dadaists denounced the post-Renaissance Western conception of reality which “assumed that the world was organized according to humanly intelligible laws,” and “condemned ‘bourgeois cultures’ deadening determination to stabilize and categorize all phenomena.”[vii]

The Dadaists even criticized the “rationality and excessive formalism” of Cubism, particularly during its analytic period.[viii] In May 1922, at a mock funeral for Dada, Tzara proclaimed: “Dada is a virgin microbe which penetrates with the insistence of air into all those spaces that reason has failed to fill with words and conventions.”[ix] Dickerman notes how: “Resistance to fixed meaning” remained a key feature of Dada.[x] Godfrey likewise observes that: “At the heart of Dada was an implicit critique of language as supposedly transparent.”[xi] Dada acted as a bridge between the modern and the postmodern in anticipating Derrida’s deconstruction and Michel Foucault’s analysis of power, which, like Dada, attacked the notion of objective truth which had been the cornerstone of Western thinking and knowledge production since the Enlightenment.

In order to deconstruct Western culture, Derrida had to identify a fundamental fault with it — which he decided was its “logocentrism.” By this he meant Western culture privileged speech over the written word (a dubious assertion), and that it is founded on the false belief that the world really is as our concepts describe it (i.e., in accordance with philosophical realism). Like Barthes and Foucault, Derrida used nominalism (the view that concepts are nothing more than human artifacts that have no relation to the real world) to deconstruct and subvert Western realism. In doing so, he mimicked the approach of the Dadaists:

It followed from their rejection of the belief in progress, in tamable nature and rational man, that the Dadas should cast doubt on the power of language, literature and art to represent reality. The information which the senses communicated to men was misleading, even the ideas of the individual “personality” and the external world were elusive and incoherent. How then could language, by definition an instrument of public communication, do other than deform and betray life’s authentic character as a discontinuous sequence of immediate experiences? The Dadas answered that words were mere fictions and that there was no correspondence between the structures of language and those of reality. Thus the belief in order which the power of a common, inherited language inculcated was illusory.[xii]

In order to attack Western realism Derrida and the Dadaists borrowed from the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure the notion of “différence” — which Saussure used to denote the arbitrary nature of language signs. It does not matter what signs we use to mean “night” and “day;” what matters is that we use signs to signal a certain difference, and this structural property was, for Saussure, the true carrier of meaning. The French différer also means to defer, in the sense of put off, and on this coincidental etymological basis Derrida decided that that Saussure had definitively proven that meaning is always deferred by the text.

The consequence is that the process of meaning is something that never gets started: or rather, if and when meaning starts is an arbitrary human decision. Texts do not have a single authoritative meaning: rather, there is a “free play of meaning” and anything goes. Consequently, we are liberated from meaning. Moreover, the text is “emancipated from authorship.” Once written, the author disappears and a text becomes a public artifact. It is for us to decide what the text means, and we are free to decide as we please, and since “all interpretation is misinterpretation” no particular reading is privileged.[xiii] Sheppard notes that: “Derrida, dynamizing Saussure’s model of the sign, sees humanity caught in an endless flow of textuality where signifieds and signifiers perpetually fracture and recombine anew. Consequently, he concludes that there is nothing outside the text.”[xiv] Under Derrida’s deconstruction “a new text thus gradually begins to emerge, but this text too is at subtle variance with itself, and the deconstruction continues in what could be an infinite regress of dialectical readings.”[xv]

While Derrida posed as a leftist Parisian intellectual, a secularist and an atheist, he descended from a long line of crypto-Jews, and explicitly identified himself as such: “I am one of those marranes who no longer say they are Jews even in the secret of their own hearts.”[xvi] Derrida was born into a Sephardic Jewish family that immigrated to Algeria from Spain in the nineteenth century. His family were crypto-Jews who retained their Jewish identity for 400 years in Spain during the period of the Inquisition. Derrida changed his first name to the French Christian sounding ‘Jacques’ in order better blend into the French scene. Furthermore, he took his crypto-Judaism to the grave:

When Derrida was buried, his elder brother, René, wore a tallit at the suburban French cemetery and recited the Kaddish to himself inwardly, since Jacques had asked for no public prayers. This discreet, highly personal, yet emotionally and spiritually meaningful approach to recognizing Derrida’s Judaism seems emblematic of this complex, imperfect, yet valuably nuanced thinker.[xvii]

Derrida was a crypto-Jew until the end, even instructing his family to participate in the charade. Kevin MacDonald notes the obvious reason: “Intellectually one wonders how one could be a postmodernist and a committed Jew at the same time. Intellectual consistency would seem to require that all personal identifications be subjected to the same deconstructing logic, unless, of course, personal identity itself involves deep ambiguities, deception, and self-deception.”[xviii]

In his notebooks, Derrida underscores the centrality of Jewish issues in his writing: “Circumcision, that’s all I’ve ever talked about.” His experience of anti-Semitism during World War II in Algeria was traumatic and resulted in a deep consciousness of his own Jewishness. He was expelled from school at age 13 under the Vichy government because of official caps on the number of Jewish students, describing himself as a “little black and very Arab Jew who understood nothing about it, to whom no one ever gave the slightest reason, neither his parents nor his friends.”[xix] Later, in France, his “suffering subsided. I naively thought that anti-Semitism had disappeared. … But during adolescence, it was the tragedy, it was present in everything else.” These experiences led Derrida to develop “an exhausting aptitude to detect signs of racism, in its most discreet configurations or its noisiest disavowals.”[xx] Caputo notes how Jewish ethnic activism underpins Derrida’s deconstruction:

The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue. … The idea is to disarm the bombs… of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrants, … all of whom… are wholly other. Contrary to the claims of Derrida’s more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida’s democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural, native bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grind to dust everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlecht). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I or we, for, after all, the very idea of a community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common against the other. His work is driven by a sense of the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe,” or of a “Christian politics,” lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les juifs [i.e., Jews as prototypical others], even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit.[xxi]

Derrida’s sociological preoccupations (and suggested solutions) replicated those of Tristan Tzara. Sandqvist links Tzara’s profound revolt against European social constraints directly to his Jewish identity, and his anger at the persistence of anti-Semitism. For Sandqvist, the treatment of Jews in Romania fueled the Dada leader’s revolt against Western civilization. Bodenheimer notes that:

As a Jew, Tzara had many reasons to call into question the so-called disastrous truths and rationalizations of European thinking, one result of which was the First World War — with the discrimination of Jews for centuries being another. … He came from a background in which jingoistic and anti-Semitic arguments had long reproached Jews for using impure, falsified language, from early examples in the sixteenth century… all the way to the arguments of the Romanian intellectuals in Tzara’s time, who attacked Jews as “foreigners” importing “diseased ideas” into Romanian literature and culture.

[Tzara consequently] seeks to unmask language itself as a construction that draws its value, and sometimes its claim to superiority, from an equally constructed concept of identities and values. In themselves, all languages are equal, but equal in their differences. This claim to the right of equality while upholding difference is the basic Jewish claim to a secular society. But the European peoples, be it first for religious or later for nationalist reasons, have never managed to actually understand this right, let alone grant it to minority societies.[xxii]

One of the catalysts for the dissolution of Dada in Paris was Surrealist leader André Breton’s concern that Dada’s nihilism posed a threat to the “process of intellectual sanitation” that became necessary with the rise of fascism.[xxiii] Obviously, one needs a criterion of truth grounded in realism to combat fascist ideas.  Boime likewise claims the Dadaists in their “assault on the Enlightenment and bourgeois liberalism in Zurich and then in Berlin eventually played into the hands of the Fascists and right-wing nationalists. Although these latter groups condemned Dadaist spectacle and modernist thinking, Dada’s rejection of parliamentary politics and democratic institutions helped pave the way for Nazism’s direct assault on humanitarian ideals.”[xxiv]

Derrida has been similarly criticized by some Jews because his writings “lead to ‘nihilism,’ which threatens, in their denial of the notion of objective truth, to ‘efface many of the essential differences between Nazism and non-Nazism.’”[xxv] However, Derrida’s writings have certainly not had any effect on the power of the Holocaust Industry, and indeed, some of Derrida’s biggest backers were intellectual Holocaust activists. This strange state of affairs may be explained by the fact that for some Jews, like Derrida, acknowledging the possibility of objective truth is dangerous because of the possibility that truth could be arrayed against the “other.” Similarly, for the Dadaists, the principles of Western rationality “were held to be highly problematic, because of its instrumental connections to social repressions and domination.”[xxvi] Consequently, a world where truth had been deconstructed is very much a desirable world. As Kevin MacDonald points out in Culture of Critique:

Such a world is safe for Judaism, the prototypical other, and provides no warrant for the universalizing tendencies of Western civilization — what one might term deconstruction as de-Hellenization or de-Westernization. Minority group consciousness is thus validated not in the sense that it is known to be based on some sort of psychological truth, but in the sense that it can’t be proved untrue. On the other hand, the cultural and ethnic interests of majorities are ‘hermeneuticized’ and thus rendered impotent — impotent because they cannot serve as the basis for a mass ethnic movement that would conflict with the interests of other groups.[xxvii]

When the Frankfurt School established itself in the United States, it made a conscious effort to give its Jewish intellectual activism a “scientific” veneer by gathering “empirical data” (such as that which formed the basis for The Authoritarian Personality) in order to challenge existing scientific theories seen as inimical to Jewish interests (such as Darwinian anthropology). Derrida and the poststructuralists instead sought (like the Jews within Dada) to discredit threatening concepts by undermining the notion of objective truth underpinning all Western thought. Like the Dadaists, the poststructuralists decided, if you dislike the prevailing power, then strive to ruin its concepts. Dada used nonsense and absurdity to achieve this goal, while Derrida developed his methodology of deconstruction.

The cover of a 2005 Jewish hagiography of Derrida

Fostering subjective individualism

Despite the tactical differences, a Jewish ethno-political thread runs through Tzara’s Dada, Derrida’s deconstruction, and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. Each attempted to foster subjective individualism to disconnect the non-Jewish masses from their familial, religious and ethnic bonds — thereby reducing the salience of the Jews as the prototypical outgroup, and thus weakening the anti-Semitic status quo within Western societies.

This attempt to foster radical individualism (at least among Europeans) through critiquing the logical basis of language was an explicitly stated goal of Dada, with the early leader of the movement Hugo Ball declaring that: “The destruction of the speech organs can be a means of self-discipline. When communications are broken, when all contact ceases, then estrangement and loneliness occur, and people sink back into themselves.”[xxviii] Dickerman notes how the Dadaists’ use of abstraction in the visual arts and language “work against structures of authority communicated through language” and that the Dadaist “assault on ‘language as a social order’ would counter sociality itself, producing instead a productive form of solipsism.” The Jewish Dadaist Hans Richter declared the abstract language of the Dadaists “beyond all national language frontiers,” and saw in Dadaist abstraction a new kind of communication “free from all kinds of nationalistic alliances.”[xxix]

The Jewish Dadaist painter Arthur Segal expressed a similar view, contending that “the compositional principle of equivalence is an attempt to abolish hierarchies so that dominant and subordinate forces would no longer exist.” Hockensmith points out that: “Abstraction thus provided Segal with a means of theorizing a world without authoritative force, one in which people and things would stand in free relation to one another.”[xxx] Tristan Tzara similarly affirmed that: “Dada proposed to liberate man from all servitude, whatever the origin, intellectual, moral, or religious.”[xxxi] This is precisely what Derrida attempted to do with deconstruction, where “All that remains thereafter is the subject who can choose what to think, what to feel and what to do, released from external constraints, and answerable to nothing and to no one.”[xxxii]

Walter Serner (Seligmann)

In his book The Jewish Derrida, Israeli academic Gideon Ofrat relates how in 1990 Derrida took part in a symposium in Turin, Italy, on the theme of “European Cultural Identity.”

Having imbibed into his very being the European culture in which he had been raised, the Algerian Jew now set about defining “Europeanism” by reference to the horrors of World War II and Nazism, and to a survey of the present day, with its “crimes of xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, religious or national fanaticism.” It was probably this archive that prompted Derrida to come up with his somewhat paradoxical definition of European cultural identity: “The characteristic of a culture is not to be identical with itself;” in other words, one’s cultural identity lies in separation from oneself. Moreover, a knowledge of your own cultural identity is contingent upon knowledge of the culture of the Other. … [Derrida is] simultaneously proposing a fundamental alteration in thinking about Europe, in terms of non-European Otherness. Europe will know itself as Europe if it advances toward that which it is not. … Here your identity lies in your own self-denial, in your death (in identity). Moreover, Derrida points out a basic contradiction between the pursuit of universality by European culture, and, by implication, the sense of exemplariness: an individual national arrogance, setting itself apart from the rest of the world. It is the contradiction between the message of values designated for the whole world, and one society’s claim to a monopoly of that gospel. Derrida puts forward a different concept: opening up Europe to Otherness, to the other, the aliens, as recognition of the Other culture and its adoption into society overall — possibly a proposal for the deconstruction of Europe, that is, a study of the Other root of the European essence, and its substitution by a pluralism of heterogeneity[xxxiii]

Clearly, deconstruction was a Jewish intellectual movement that was a post-Enlightenment (indeed postmodern) manifestation of Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy. Inevitably, as with the other Jewish intellectual movements discussed in Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique, the solution to all social problems lies in convincing Europeans to commit racial, national and cultural suicide by embracing the Other through acceptance of racial and cultural diversity. All Jewish intellectual roads lead to mass third-world immigration and multiculturalism.

Also inevitably, as with the Frankfurt School, Derrida’s deconstructive scalpel is never turned on the Jews themselves, or Israel, who are always outside the culturally critical frame of reference. Thus the “pluralism of heterogeneity” is never recommended as a way of opening Israel to Otherness and thereby helping Jews to better understand their identity “by advancing to what they are not.” Why? Because the whole point of this intellectual exercise is to cook up specious, morally universalistic rationales of enough persuasive force to convince White people to become complicit in their own racial and cultural self-destruction — thereby furthering the unstated goal of eliminating European anti-Semitism and making the entire Western world safe for Jews.

Derrida’s exercise in Jewish ethno-politics was, of course, primarily concerned with deconstructing Western culture and the belief systems that had sustained European civilization in the past (e.g., Christianity, nationalism) and those which could be deployed to save it now and in the future, such as race realism and evolutionary theories of the ethnic basis of cultural conflict in the West. By contrast, the chauvinistic Jewish beliefs that have sustained Jewish societies and culture for millennia escaped Derrida’s deconstructive attack.

Regarding poststructuralism generally, Scruton notes that, from Foucault’s analysis of knowledge as ideology of power to the “deconstructive virus” released into the academic air by Derrida, “this culture of repudiation may present itself as ‘theory,’ in the manner of the critical theory of Horkheimer, Adorno, and Habermas, developing ponderous ‘methodologies’ with which to root out the secret meanings of cultural works, to expose their ideological pretensions, and to send them packing into the past.” Nevertheless, the aim of the poststructuralists “is not knowledge in the post-Enlightenment sense, but the destruction of the vessel in which unwanted knowledge has been contained.”[xxxiv]

Poststructuralism and deconstruction rapidly infested Western academia during the seventies and eighties, becoming stock approaches in literary criticism, the humanities and social sciences. This critical approach was presaged by the Dadaists who, in response to the First World War and the persistence of anti-Semitism, gradually morphed their movement into a disgust at rationalism as a defining feature of post-Enlightenment European culture. The Dadaists were keenly aware of the paradoxical nature of their revolt against logic and reason. Robert Wick notes how “self-contradictory phrases sprinkle themselves across the Dada manifestos — phrases which proclaim that everything is false, that Dada is nothing, that there is no ultimate truth, that everything is absurd, that everything is incoherent and that there is no logic. They are phrases that present themselves in the manifestos as being true, meaningful, coherent, and logical, while they deny all truth, meaning, coherence, and logic.”[xxxv] The Dadaists recognized that they were trapped inside a “double hermeneutic” in that they were compelled to use the forms of bourgeois society to mount a critique of that society. In an analogous way, Foucault and Derrida attempted to develop an “ontology of the present” that would enable them to “abstract” themselves from their cultural surroundings.

The paradoxical and self-invalidating nature of this endeavor did not, however, limit the immense influence that poststructuralism and deconstruction exerted. The logical flaw at the heart of the entire poststructuralist intellectual edifice is simply ignored—this being that same logical fallacy perpetrated by Nietzsche when he expressed the view that there are no truths, only interpretations. Either Nietzsche’s position is true—in which case it is not true, since there are no truths, or it is false. Derrida’s and Foucault’s central arguments amount to the same point made less brusquely, and while they presented their arguments in opaque pseudo-profound language to conceal the paradox, it nevertheless remains.

Foucault and Derrida owe their inflated intellectual reputations to their role in giving authority to the rejection of authority, and their absolute commitment to the impossibility of absolute commitments. Those who point out the obvious flaw in Foucault’s poststructuralist analysis of power and Derrida’s deconstructionist analysis of language — namely, that a rational critique assumes precisely what they put in question — are simply accused of aligning themselves with the oppressive, hegemonic forces of the Eurocentric bourgeois patriarchy through assuming the frame of reference that this group has normalized. Indeed, they are told that the very belief in neutral enquiries is not a neutral belief, but rather the expression of the hegemonic worldview most in need of deconstruction. There is, therefore, no position from which deconstruction can be critiqued. If there were such a vantage point, it would be founded on rational argument; but rationality itself has been deconstructed.

Deconstruction is therefore self-vindicating, and provides the culture of repudiation with its spiritual credentials, the proof that it is “not of this world” and comes in judgment upon it. Of course that subversive intention in no way forbids deconstruction from becoming an orthodoxy, the pillar of the new establishment, and the badge of conformity that the literary apparatchik must now wear. But in this it is no different from other subversive doctrines: Marxism, for example, Leninism and Maoism. Just as pop is rapidly becoming the official culture of the post-modern state, so is the culture of repudiation becoming the official culture of the post-modern university.[xxxvi]

In poststructuralism and deconstruction, the spirit of Dada extended far beyond what had been hoped for by its most messianic propagandists like Tristan Tzara and Walter Serner. For the British historian Paul Johnson: “Dada was pretentious, contemptuous, destructive, very chic, publicity-seeking and ultimately pointless.”[xxxvii] Johnson is wrong on the last score. Dada had far-reaching intellectual and cultural consequences — in revolutionizing art, undermining trust in the notion of objective truth, and in pioneering a vector of attack on Western civilization subsequently taken up by Jewish intellectual activists like Derrida.

Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, banned by Amazon, but available here.

[i] Robert J. Wicks, Modern French Philosophy: From Existentialism to Postmodernism (Oxford: Oneworld, 2007), 11.

[ii] Mark A. Pegrum, Challenging Modernity: Dada between Modern and Postmodern (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000), 269.

[iii] Richard Sheppard, Modernism-Dada-Postmodernism (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1999), 365.

[iv] Wicks, Modern French Philosophy: From Existentialism to Postmodernism, 9-10.

[v] Beitchman, I Am a Process with No Subject, 29.

[vi] Irwin Unger & Debi Unger, The Guggenheims — A Family History (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), 354.

[vii] Short, Dada and Surrealism, 12.

[viii] Loredana Parmesani, Art of the Twentieth Century — Movements, Theories, Schools and Tendencies 1900-2000 (Milan: Skira, 1998), 36.

[ix] Richter, Dada. Art and Anti-art, 191.

[x] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 33.

[xi] Godfrey, Conceptual Art, 44.

[xii] Short, Dada and Surrealism, 17.

[xiii] Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy (London: Penguin, 1994), 478-9.

[xiv] Sheppard, Modernism-Dada-Postmodernism, 363.

[xv] Roger Poole, “Deconstruction,” Alan Bullock & Peter Trombley (Eds.) The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (London: HarperCollins, 2000), 203.

[xvi] Jacques Derrida, “Circumfession,” In Jacques Derrida, Ed. G. Bennington & Jacques Derrida, Trans. G. Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 170.

[xvii] Benjamin Ivry, “Sovereign or Beast?” Forward, December 1, 2010. https://forward.com/culture/133536/sovereign-or-beast/

[xviii] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Bloomington, IN: 1stbooks Library, 2001), 198.

[xix] Derrida, “Circumfession,” op. cit., 58)

[xx] Jacques Derrida, Points… Interviews, 1974-1994, Trans. P. Kamuf et al (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 120—21.

[xxi] J.D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997), 231—2.

[xxii] Alfred Bodenheimer, “Dada Judaism: The Avant-Garde in First World War Zurich,” In: Gelber, Mark H. and Sjöberg, Sami. Jewish Aspects in Avant-Garde: Between Rebellion and Revelation, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110454956

[xxiii] Malcolm Haslam, The Real World of the Surrealists (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1978), 93.

[xxiv] Boime, ‘Dada’s Dark Secret,’ Washton-Long, Baigel & Heyd (Eds.) Jewish Dimensions in Modern Visual Culture: Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, Affirmation, 102.

[xxv] Benjamin Ivry, “Sovereign or Beast? Jacques Derrida and his Place in Modern Philosophy” (The Jewish Daily Forward, December 1, 2010.  http://www.forward.com/articles/133536/

[xxvi] Matthew Biro, The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin, (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 154.

[xxvii] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Bloomington, IN: 1stbooks Library, 2001), 205.

[xxviii] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 29.

[xxix] Hockensmith, “Artists’ Biographies,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 482.

[xxx] Ibid., 486.

[xxxi] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 176.

[xxxii] Scruton, Modern Philosophy, 479.

[xxxiii] Gideon Ofrat, The Jewish Derrida (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2001), 30-1.

[xxxiv] Roger Scruton, Culture Counts — Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged (New York: Encounter Books, 2007), 70.

[xxxv] Wicks, Modern French Philosophy: From Existentialism to Postmodernism, 10.

[xxxvi] Scruton, Modern Culture, 138.

[xxxvii] Paul Johnson, Art — A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 669.


Tristan Tzara and the Jewish Roots of Dada — Part 2 of 3

Tristan Tzara depicted in a contemporary painting

Go to Part 1.

Dada in Paris

By 1919, when Tzara left Switzerland to join the poet André Breton in Paris, he was, according to Richter, regarded as an “Anti-Messiah” and a “prophet”.[1] His 1918 Dada Manifesto had appeared in Paris, and, according to Breton, had “lit the touch paper. Tzara’s 1918 Manifesto was violently explosive. It proclaimed a rupture between art and logic, the necessity of the great negative task to accomplish; it praised spontaneity to the skies.”[2] The editors of the avant-garde literary review Littérature felt that Tzara could fill the gap left by the deaths of Guillaume Apollinaire and Jacques Vaché. Gale notes that “Tzara immediately became the most extreme contributor to Littérature,” and by the end of 1919, “the Littérature editors had to defend his work from nationalistic attacks in the Nouvelle Revue Française.”[3] A coordinated Dada insurgency was not, however, achieved until Tzara’s arrival in Paris in 1920.

In addition to his messianic zeal, Tzara brought to Paris Dada a skill in managing events and audiences, which transformed literary gatherings into public performances that generated enormous publicity. In the five months from January 1920 he helped organize six group performances, two art exhibitions and more than a dozen publications. Dempsey notes how “the popularity of these events with the public soon turned these revolutionary ‘anti-artists’ into celebrities. The cumulative effect of this first ‘Dada season’ as it became known, was to mark the movement as a nihilistic collective force leveled at the noblest ideals of advanced society.”[4] The performances with which Dadaists tested their Parisian audiences were consistently aggressive in nature, and psychological aggression characterized many of their artworks and journals. As one source notes: “Like the plays and stage appearances, individual works produced within Dada emanate a violent humor, ranging from vulgar to sacrilegious language to images of weapons and wounds, or references to taboos great and small: suicide, cannibalism, masturbation, vomiting.”[5]

Tzara (bottom left) with other Dada artists in Paris 1920

It was widely observed at the time that the output of Paris Dada exhibited a “profound violence: physical hurt, damage to language, a wounding of pride or moral spirit,” that to native observers seemed wholly “uncharacteristic of French sensibility.”[6] Comoedia, a Parisian arts daily focused on theatre and cinema, soon became the central forum for debates over Dada and its effects on French audiences. Charges of enemy subversion, lunacy and charlatanism regularly appeared — just as it did in many German newspapers — pretexts to isolate what seemed to many a traitorous insurgency against bedrock national values.[7] Attacks on Dada in Paris soon took on an openly anti-Semitic tone when the French writer Jean Giraudoux, in explaining his rejection of Dada, pointed out: “I write in French, as I am neither Swiss nor Jewish and because I have all requisite honors and degrees.”[8]

The French cultural establishment looked askance at Dada from its arrival in Paris at the beginning of 1920. It was common knowledge that the Dadaists were avowed partisans of revolution and supported the communist uprisings in Berlin and Munich that had barely been put down. Trotsky’s red legions were, at that time, cutting a swathe of death and destruction in Poland, and many perceived a conjoined ethnic agenda behind Trotsky’s Bolshevism and Tzara’s Dada — especially given Dada’s appearance at socialist and anarchist venues throughout Paris. The connection was unambiguous in the mind of the Romanian nationalist Nicolae Rosu who noted that “Dadaism and French Surrealism exploit the moral and spiritual exhaustion of a war-torn society: the aggressive revolutionary currents in art seem to be an explosion of primal instincts detached from reason; post-war German socialism, largely developed by Jews, uses the opportunity of defeat to dictate the Weimar constitution (written by a Jew), and then through Spartakism, to install Bolshevism. Russian Bolshevism is the work of Jewish activists.”[9]

In October 1920, the messianic Jewish Dadaist Walter Serner arrived in Paris and reconvened with Tristan Tzara, who had just returned from his first visit to Romania since 1915. Serner’s campaign of shameless self-promotion, which included placing an advertisement in a Berlin newspaper describing himself as the world leader of Dada, was resented by Tzara, who was eager to establish his own priority as leader. By 1921, many of the original Dadaists had converged on Paris, and arguments among them created difficulties. By 1922, internal fighting between Tzara, Francis Picabia, and André Breton led to the dissolution of Dada.[10] Dada was officially ended in 1924 when Breton issued the first Surrealist Manifesto. Hans Richter claimed that “Surrealism devoured and digested Dada.”[11] Tzara distanced himself from Surrealism, disagreeing with its dream-centered Freudian dynamic, despite its anti-rationalism. Robert Short notes that

for Tzara, automatism [literary and artistic free association] was a visceral spasm, an explosion of the senses and the instinct that expressed the primitive and chaotic intensity in man and Nature. Where Surrealist automatism was introverted and sought to reveal patterns in the human unconscious, Dada art mimicked an objective chaos. … Surrealism was to prospect and exploit a vast substratum of mental resources which the Western cultural and economic tradition had deliberately tried to seal off. In place of science and reason, Surrealism was to cultivate the image and the analogy. In its efforts to restimulate the associative faculties of the mind, it turned its attention with respect and enthusiasm toward the thought processes of children and primitive peoples, towards the lyrical manifestations of lunacy and the synthesizing notions of occultism.[12] 

Tzara also increasingly disagreed with the political orientation of Surrealism which evolved from the near-nihilist anarchism of the Dadaists to a strict adherence to the Communist Party line by the late 1920s, and then to Trotskyism following Breton’s personal meeting with Trotsky in Mexico in 1938.[13] Nonetheless, Tzara willingly reunited with Breton in 1934 to organize a mock trial of the Surrealist Salvador Dalí, who, at the time, was a confessed admirer of Hitler.[14]

Left: Adolf the Superman: Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk by John Heartfield (Herzfeld) (1923). Right: ABCD by Raoul Hausmann (1923—24)

Tzara’s own politics were profoundly radical, and with Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933 effectively marking the end of Germany’s avant-garde, Tzara threw his support behind the French Communist Party (the PCF). Codrescu notes that the secular Jews of Tzara’s parents’ generation “were capitalists whose practical materialism horrified Samuel. The French resistance to the Nazis was, of course, the reason he later joined the Communist Party, but there was also an oedipal reason for his joining the communists: as a mystic, he was viscerally opposed to capitalism. He had to kill his father.”[15] The allegiance of the great majority of Dadaists to Marxism was paradoxical given that Marxist dialectical materialism and forecast of the historical inevitability of communist revolution was based on a kind of mathematical rationalism that ran directly counter to the Dada spirit.

Tzara’s allegiance to Marxism-Leninism was reportedly questioned by the PCF and the Soviet authorities. This was because Tzara’s irregular vision of utopia made use of particularly violent imagery — shocking even by Stalinist standards.[16] Tzara backed Stalinism and rejected Trotskyism (at least publically), and unlike some of the leading Surrealists, even submitted to PCF demands for the adoption of socialist realism during the writers’ congress of 1935. Tzara nevertheless interpreted Dada and Surrealism as revolutionary currents, and presented them as such to the public.[17]

During World War II, Tzara took refuge from the German occupation forces by moving to the southern areas controlled by the Vichy regime. Back in Romania, he was stripped of Romanian citizenship, and his writings were banned by the Antonescu regime, along with 44 other Jewish-Romanian authors. In France, the pro-German publication Je Suis Partout made his whereabouts known to the Gestapo. In late 1940 or early 1941, he joined a group of anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees in Marseille who were seeking to flee Europe. Unable to escape occupied France, he joined the French Resistance and contributed to their published magazines, and managed the cultural broadcast for the Free French Forces clandestine radio station.

During 1945, he served under the Provisional Government of the French Republic as a representative to the National Assembly, and two years later received French citizenship. Tzara remained a spokesman for Dada, and in 1950 delivered a series of radio addresses discussing the topic of “the avant-garde revues in the origin of the new poetry.”[18] Towards the end of his life Tzara returned to his Jewish mystical roots, with Codrescu noting that “after the Second World War, after the Holocaust, after membership of the French Communist Party, Tzara returned to the Kabbalah.”[19]

In 1956, Tzara visited Hungary just as the hated government of Imre Nagy faced a popular revolt (with strong undercurrents of anti-Semitism), and while receptive of the Hungarians’ demand for political liberalization, did not support their emancipation from Soviet control, describing the independence demanded by local writers as “an abstract notion.” He returned to France just as the revolution broke out, triggering a brutal Soviet military response. Ordered by the PCF to be silent on these events, Tzara withdrew from public life, and dedicated himself to promoting the African art he had been collecting for years. He died in 1963 and was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.

Dada in New York and Germany

According to the account of Marcel Duchamp, in late 1916 or early 1917 he and Francis Picabia received a book sent by an unknown author, one Tristan Tzara. The book was called The First Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine which had just been published in Zurich. In this work, Tzara declared Dada to be “irrevocably opposed to all accepted ideas promoted by the ‘zoo’ of art and literature, whose hallowed walls of tradition he wanted to adorn with multicolored shit.”[20] Duchamp later recalled: “We were intrigued but I didn’t know who Dada was, or even that the word existed.”[21] Tzara’s scatological message was the catalyst for the establishment of the antipatriotic and anti-rationalist Dada message in New York, and it may well have informed Duchamp’s decision to submit his infamous Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists in New York.

In 1917, Duchamp famously sent the Independent an upside-down urinal entitled Fountain, signing it R. Mutt (famously photographed by Alfred Stieglitz). By doing so, Duchamp directed attention away from the work of art as a material object, and instead presented it as an idea — shifting the emphasis from making to thinking. He later did the same with a bottle rack and other items. Through subversive gestures like these, Duchamp parodied the Futurist machine aesthetic by exhibiting untreated objets trouvés or readymade objects. To his great surprise, these readymades became accepted by the mainstream art world.

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917)

Alongside the Frenchman Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and the French-born Cuban Francis Picabia (1879-1953) were the American Jews Morton Schamberg (1881-1918) and Man Ray (1890-1977). The work of the New York Dadaists was focused around the gallery of the Jewish photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his publication 291, and the art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg. Picabia later described this group as “a motley international band which turned night into day, conscientious objectors of all nationalities and walks of life into an inconceivable orgy of sexuality, jazz and alcohol.”[22] They hotly debated such topics as art, literature, sex, politics and psychoanalysis. Dada in New York stayed in contact with Dada in Zurich, though it ultimately failed to take hold, and in 1921 Man Ray wrote to Tzara, complaining that “Dada cannot live in New York. All New York is Dada and will not tolerate a rival, will not notice Dada.”[23]

Most of the artists of New York Dada left for Paris. Man Ray arrived there in July 1921, shortly after Duchamp, and remained there until 1940, becoming the youngest member of the Paris Dada group, and later of the Surrealists, even though this did not reflect any real modification of his art. With the arrival of Duchamp and Man Ray in Paris, New York Dada, which had not engaged in the kind of militant cultural protest seen in the European centers of Dada, came to an end. Their experiences were not dissimilar to those of other Dadaists “who were swept along, as they were, by the vehemence of André Breton into the coils of the new Surrealist movement which was, in many ways, an offspring of Dada.”[24]

Early in 1917, Richard Huelsenbeck, a twenty-four-year-old German medical student and poet, returned to Berlin from Zurich, where he had spent the preceding year in the company of the Zurich Dadaists under the leadership of Tristan Tzara. After the war ended, Dada activity in Germany increased as Dadaists dispersed to various sites throughout the country including, most prominently, Berlin, Cologne and Hanover. In Germany, alongside George Grosz, Walter Mehring, Johannes Baader, Hannah Höch and Kurt Schwitters were Jews like Johannes Baargeld (1876–1955), Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971), and Eli Lissitzky (1890–1941).

The political radicalism of the Berlin Dadaists was even more pronounced than that of the Zurich or Paris Dadaists, with most belonging to the League of Spartacus, a radical socialist group that became the German Communist Party in 1919. German Dada was also closer to the Eastern European avant-garde led by Jewish artists like Eli Lissitzky and László Moholy-Nagy. The new Soviet state that emerged after the Bolshevik Revolution initially adopted a policy in favor of radical experimentation. In Berlin, more than anywhere outside the Soviet Union, “a direct equation could be made between political reform and artistic radicalism. Despite the seeming absurdity of some of their activities, the Dadas’ reinvention of poetic language and artistic form could be seen as a prelude to reforming the whole of the decayed social system.”[25] A Dada Manifesto by Huelsenbeck and Hausmann, published in a Cologne newspaper, declared that Dada “is German Bolshevism”[26] and that “Dadaism demands: the international revolutionary union of all creative and intellectual men and women on the basis of radical Communism.” [27]

The Berlin Dadaists even condemned the Weimar Republic as representing a renaissance of “Teutonic barbarity,” and held Communism to be the best hope for freedom.[28] Robert Short notes that, among the German Dadaists, were those for whom “Dada was a political weapon and those for whom communism was a Dadaistical weapon. There was a faction which saw anarchy and anti-art as a sufficient programme in itself, and a second faction which saw anarchy as a provisional precondition for the introduction of new values.”[29]

Falling into the latter category was Johannes Baargeld. Born Alfred Emanuel Ferdinand Gruenwald to a prosperous Romanian-Jewish insurance director, “Baargeld” was the ironic, leftist pseudonym he adopted (Baargeld being the German word for cash or ready money). Growing up in Cologne in a wealthy home, he was exposed from a young age to contemporary art and culture, beginning with his parents’ collection of modernist paintings. He joined the Independent Socialist Party of Germany (USPD) — the radical left wing of the Socialist Party — and in the process “turned his back on his wealthy bourgeois upbringing and became actively involved in the leadership of the Rhineland Marxists.”[30]

Baargeld (also called “Zentrodada”) and Max Ernst cofounded Dada in Cologne in the summer of 1919. Baargeld’s father was anxious about his son’s political leanings and sought Ernst’s help. Robert Short notes that: “They succeeded in convincing him that Dada went further than Communism and that its combination of new-found inner freedom and powerful external expression could do more to set the whole world free. In return, Grunewald senior financed the publication of a new international Dada magazine Die Schammade.”[31]

In April 1920, Cologne Dada staged one of the most memorable of German Dada’s exhibitions. Entered by way of a public lavatory, it included “exhibits” like a young girl in communion dress reciting obscene verses, and a bizarre object by Baargeld consisting of an aquarium filled with red fluid from which protruded a polished wooden arm and on whose surface floated a head of woman’s hair.[32] The First International Dada Fair was held in Berlin in June 1920, and was the most significant Dadaist event organized in the Berlin milieu. The radical political orientation of the organizers was illustrated by a mannequin of a German officer with the head of a pig hanging from the ceiling with a notice “Hanged by the revolution,” which triggered fierce debate about its subversive and anti-military character.[33]

The First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920

Given such provocative gestures and the extensive Jewish participation in Dada, it was not surprising that, between the two world wars, German nationalists linked Dada (and avant-gardism generally) to Jews, claiming these modern trends aimed to destroy the principles of classical beauty and eradicate national traditions. The Dadaists were said to express the “nihilistic Jewish spirit” (a common phrase at the time), if they were not actually mad. In response to the activities of Jewish Dadaists, “calls for ‘degenerate’ art to be banned were widely published in pre-Nazi and later in Nazi Germany, as well as in France.”[34]

Interestingly, Mein Kampf was composed by Hitler at the time of Paris Dada’s existence, and his comments about Jewish influence on Western art need be understood in this context. He mentions the “artistic aberrations which are classified under the names of Cubism and Dadaism,” and clearly has the Dadaists in mind when he observes that “Culturally, his [the Jew’s] activity consists in bowdlerizing art, literature and the theatre, holding the expressions of national sentiment up to scorn, overturning all concepts of the sublime and the beautiful, the worthy and the good, finally dragging the people to the level of his own low mentality.”[35] Likewise, when he recalls how he once asked himself whether “there was any shady undertaking, any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Jew did not participate?,” he subsequently discovered that “On putting the probing knife carefully to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like a maggot in a putrescent body, a little Jew who was often blinded by the sudden light.”[36]

In 1933, Hitler’s new government announced that: “The custodians of all public and private museums are busily removing the most atrocious creations of a degenerate humanity and of a pathological generation of ‘artists.’ This purge of all works marked by the same western Asiatic stamp has been set in motion in literature as well with the symbolic burning of the most evil products of Jewish scribblers.”[37] At the exhibition of degenerate art held in Munich in 1937 the Dadaist works were considered the most degenerate of all — the epitome of Kulturbolschewismus. In that year the Ministry for Education and Science published a pamphlet in which Dr. Reinhold Krause, a leading educator, wrote that “Dadaism, Futurism, Cubism, and other isms are the poisonous flower of a Jewish parasitical plant.”[38]

Hitler and Goebbels at the Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937

British historian Paul Johnson points out that: “Hitler always referred to degenerate art as ‘Cubism and Dadaism’, maintaining that it started in 1910, and the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition bore a curious resemblance to the big Dada shows of 1920-22, with a lot of writing on the walls and paintings hung without frames.”[39] He also notes that the Nazi campaign against “degenerate art” was “the best thing that could possibly have happened, in the long term, to the Modernist Movement.” This is because since the Nazis, universally reviled by all governments and cultural establishments since 1945, tried to destroy and suppress such art completely, then its merits were self-evident morally, and anything the Nazis opposed was assumed to have merit — on the illogical basis that the enemy of my enemy must be my friend. “These factors,” notes Johnson, “so potent in the second half of the twentieth century, will fade during the twenty-first, but they are still determinant today.”[40]

The Legacy of Dada

Dada’s destructive influence has been seminal and long-lasting. As Dempsey points out, Dada’s notion that: “The presentation of art as idea, its assertion that art could be made from anything and its questioning of societal and artistic mores, irrevocably changed the course of art.”[41] The movement represented “an assertive debunking of the ideas of technical skill, virtuoso technique, and the expression of individual subjectivity. … Dada’s cohesion around these procedures points to one of its primary revolutions — the reconceptualization of artistic practice as a form of tactics.”[42] These tactics consisting, variously, of “intervention into governability, that is, subversions of cultural forms of social authority — breaking down language, working against various modern economies, willfully transgressing boundaries, mixing idioms, celebrating the grotesque body as that which resists discipline and control.”[43]

Dada’s iconoclastic force had enormous influence on later twentieth-century conceptual art. Godfrey notes that: “Dada can be seen as the first wave of conceptual art” which exercised an enormous influence on subsequent art movements. [44] In the late 1950s and 1960s, in opposition to the then dominant Abstract Expressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns resurrected the Dadaist tradition, describing the works they produced as “Neo-Dada” — a movement that, together with the “pre-emptive kitsch” of Pop Art, effectively relaunched the conceptual art of the original Dadaists, and which has plagued Western art ever since. The Neo-Dadaists themselves left a deeply influential Cultural Marxist legacy insofar as their

visual vocabulary, techniques, and above all, their determination to be heard, were adopted by later artists in their protest against the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and government policies. The emphasis they laid on participation and performance was reflected in the activism that marked the politics and performance art of the late 1960s; their concept of belonging to a world community anticipated sit-ins, anti-war protests, environmental protests, student protests and civil rights protests that followed later.[45]

Another pernicious influence of Dada stemmed from its rejection of the identity between art and beauty. Crepaldi notes that “many artists before Dada had called into question the aesthetic canons of their contemporaries and had proposed other canons, destined to meet varying degrees of success.” The Dadaists went beyond this, and called into question “the notion according to which the goal of art is the expression of a value called ‘beauty.’”[46]

The Dadaists thus legitimized the idea that the artist has a right (nay a duty) to produce ugly works, and instituted a cult of ugliness in the arts that has since eroded the cultural self-confidence of the West.

Go to Part 3.

Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, banned by Amazon, but available here.

[1] Richter, Dada. Art and Anti-art, 168.

[2] Fiona Bradley, Movements in Modern Art — Surrealism (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 2001), 18-19.

[3] Gale, Dada & Surrealism, 180.

[4] Janine Mileaf & Matthew Witkovsky, “Paris,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 349.

[5] Ibid., 358.

[6] Ibid., 350.

[7] Ibid., 352.

[8] Ibid., 366.

[9] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 174.

[10] Dempsey, Styles, Schools and Movements — An Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art, 119.

[11] Richter, Dada — Art and Anti-art, 119.

[12] Robert Short, Dada and Surrealism (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1994), 69; 83.

[13] Patrick Waldberg, Surrealism (London: Thames & Hudson, 1997), 18.

[14] Carlos Rojas, Salvador Dalí, or the Art of Spitting on Your Mother’s Portrait (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1993), 98.

[15] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 215.

[16] Beitchman, I Am a Process with No Subject, 48-9.

[17] Irina Livezeanu, “From Dada to Gaga: The Peripatetic Romanian Avant-Garde Confronts Communism,” Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu & Lucia Dragomir (Eds.), Littératures et pouvoir symbolique (Bucharest: Paralela 45, 2005), 245-6.

[18] Hockensmith, “Artists’ Biographies,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 489.

[19] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 211.

[20] Michael Taylor, “New York,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 287.

[21] Pierre Cabanne, Duchamp & Co., (Paris: Finest SA/Editions Pierre Terrail, 1997), 115.

[22] Taylor, “New York,” 278.

[23] Hockensmith, “Artists’ Biographies,” 479.

[24] Schnapp, Art of the Twentieth Century — 1900-1919 — The Avant-garde Movements, 412.

[25] Gale, Dada & Surrealism, 120.

[26] Bernard Blisténe, A History of Twentieth Century Art (Paris: Fammarion, 2001), 62.

[27] Dawn Ades, “Dada and Surrealism,” David Britt (Ed.) Modern Art — Impressionism to Post-Modernism, (London, Thames & Hudson, 1974), 222.

[28] Edina Bernard, Modern Art — 1905-1945 (Paris: Chambers, 2004), 86.

[29] Robert Short, Dada and Surrealism (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1994), 42.

[30] Doherty, “Berlin,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 220.

[31] Short, Dada and Surrealism, 42.

[32] Robert Short, Dada and Surrealism (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1994), 50.

[33] Schnapp, Art of the Twentieth Century — 1900-1919 — The Avant-garde Movements, 399.

[34] Philippe Dagen, “From Dada to Surrealism — Review” (The Guardian, July 19, 2011). http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/19/dada-to-surrealism-dagen-review

[35] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (trans. By James Murphy), (London: Imperial Collegiate Publishing, 2010), 281.

[36] Ibid., 58.

[37] Peter Adam, Arts of the Third Reich (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992), 55.

[38] Ibid., 12-15.

[39] Paul Johnson, Art — A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 707.

[40] Ibid., 709.

[41] Dempsey, Styles, Schools and Movements — An Encylopaedic Guide to Modern Art, 119.

[42] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 8.

[43] Ibid., 11.

[44] Godfrey, Conceptual Art, 37.

[45] Dempsey, Styles, Schools and Movements — An Encyclopedic Guide to Modern Art, 204.

[46] Gabriel Crepaldi, Modern Art 1900-1945 — The Age of the Avant-Gardes (London: HarperCollins, 2007) 195.

Tristan Tzara and the Jewish Roots of Dada — Part 1 of 3

Tristan Tzara (Samuel Rosenstock)

The twentieth century saw a proliferation of art inspired by the Jewish culture of critique. The exposure and promotion of this art grew alongside the Jewish penetration and eventual capture of the Western art establishment. Jewish artists sought to rewrite the rules of artistic expression — to accommodate their own technical limitations and facilitate the creation (and elite acceptance) of works intended as a rebuke to Western civilizational norms.

The Jewish intellectual substructure of many of these twentieth-century art movements was manifest in their unfailing hostility toward the political, cultural and religious traditions of Europe and European-derived societies. I have examined how the rise of Abstract Expressionism exemplified this tendency in the United States and coincided with the usurping of the American art establishment by a group of radical Jewish intellectuals. In Europe, Jewish influence on Western art reached a peak during the interwar years. This era, when the work of many artists reflected their radical politics, was the heyday of the Jewish avant-garde.

A prominent example of a cultural movement from this time with important Jewish involvement was Dada. The Dadaists challenged the very foundations of Western civilization which they regarded, in the context of the destruction of World War One, and continuing anti-Semitism throughout Europe, as pathological. The artists and intellectuals of Dada responded to this socio-political diagnosis with assorted acts of cultural subversion. Dada was a movement that was destructive and nihilistic, irrational and absurdist, and which preached the overturning of every cultural tradition of the European past, including rationality itself. The Dadaists “aimed to wipe the philosophical slate clean” and lead “the way to a new world order.”[1] While there were many non-Jews involved in Dada, the Jewish contribution was fundamental to shaping its intellectual tenor as a movement, for Dada was as much an attitude and way of thinking as a mode of artistic output.

Writing for The Forward, Bill Holdsworth observed that Dada “was one of the most radical of the art movements to attack bourgeois society,” and that at “the epicenter of what would become a distinctive movement… were Romanian Jews — notably Marcel and Georges Janco and Tristan Tzara — who were essential to the development of the Dada spirit.”[2] For Menachem Wecker, the works of the Jewish Dadaists represented “not only the aesthetic responses of individuals opposed to the absurdity of war and fascism” but, invoking the well-worn light-unto-the-nations theme, insists they brought a “particularly Jewish perspective to the insistence on justice and what is now called tikkun olam.” Accordingly, for Wecker, “it hardly seems a coincidence that so many of the Dada artists were Jewish.”[3]

It does seem hardly coincidental when we learn that Dada was a genuinely international event, not just because it operated across political frontiers, but because it consciously attacked patriotic nationalism. Dada sought to transcend national boundaries and deride European nationalist ideologies, and within this community of artists in exile (a “double Diaspora” in the case of the Jewish Dadaists) what mattered most was the collective effort to articulate an attitude of revolt against European cultural conventions and institutional frameworks.

First and foremost, Dada wanted to accomplish “a great negative work of destruction.” Presaging the poststructuralists and deconstructionists of the sixties and seventies, they believed the only hope for society “was to destroy those systems based on reason and logic and replace them with ones based on anarchy, the primitive and the irrational.”[4] Robert Short notes that Dada stood for “exacerbated individualism, universal doubt and [an] aggressive iconoclasm” that sought to debunk the traditional Western “canons of reason, taste and hierarchy, of order and discipline in society, of rationally controlled inspiration in imaginative expression.”[5]

Tristan Tzara and Zurich Dada

The man who effectively founded Dada was the Romanian Jewish poet Tristan Tzara (born Samuel Rosenstock in 1896). “Tristan Tzara” was the pseudonym he adopted in 1915 meaning “sad in my country” in French, German and Romanian, and which, according to Gale, was “a disguised protest at the discrimination against Jews in Romania.”[6] It was Tzara who, through his writings, most notably The First Heavenly Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine (1916) and the Seven Dada Manifestos (1924), laid the intellectual foundations of Dada.[7] Tzara’s Dadaist Manifesto of 1918, was the most widely distributed of all Dada texts, and “played a key role in articulating a Dadaist ethos around which a movement could cohere.”[8]

Tzara’s Dada Manifesto of 1918

In his book Dada East: The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire, Tom Sandqvist notes that Tzara’s intellectual and spiritual background was infused with the Yiddish and Hassidic subcultures of his early twentieth-century Moldavian homeland, and how these were of seminal importance in determining the artistic innovations he would institute as the leader of Dada. He links Tzara’s revolt against European social constraints directly to his Jewish identity, and his perception of the Jewish population of Romania (and particularly of his native Moldavia) was cruelly oppressed by anti-Semitism. Under Romanian law, the Rosenstocks, a family of prosperous timber merchants, were not fully emancipated. Many Russian Jews settled in Romanian Moldova after being driven out of other countries and lived there as guests of the local Jews who only became Romanian citizens after the First World War (as a condition for peace set by the Western powers). For Sandqvist, the treatment of Jews in Romania fueled an attitude of revolt against the socio-political status quo in Tzara, and this was fully consistent with the anarchist impulses he exhibited at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich and later in Paris.

Agreeing with this thesis, the ethnocentric Jewish poet and Dada historian, Andrei Codrescu, claims the supposedly ubiquitous anti-Semitism suffered by Romanian Jews like Tzara extends into the present day, insisting: “The Rosenstocks were Jews in an anti-Semitic town that to this day does not list on its website the founder of Dada among the notables born there.” This is considered all the more egregious given that, despite its marginality, Tzara’s hometown Moineşti is, in Codrescu’s opinion, “the center of the modern world, not only because of Tristan Tzara’s invention of Dada, but because its Jews were among the first Zionists, and Moineşti itself was the starting point of a famous exodus of its people on foot from here to the land of dreams, Eretz-Israel.” For Codrescu, Tzara’s Jewish heritage was of profound importance in shaping his contribution to Dada.

The daddy of dada was welcomed at his bar mitzvah in 1910 into the Hassidic community of Moineşti-Bacau by the renowned rabbi Bezalel Zeev Safran, the father of the great Chief Rabbi Alexandre Safran, who saw the Jews of Romania through their darkest hour during the fascist regime and the Second World War. Sammy Rosenstock’s grandfather was the rabbi of Chernowitz, the birthplace of many brilliant Jewish writers, including Paul Celan and Elie Weisel [both of whom wrote about the Holocaust]. … Sammy’s father owned a saw-mill, and his grandfather lived on a large wooded estate, but his family roots were sunk deeply into the mud of the shtetl, a Jewish world turned deeply inward.[9]

For Codrescu, Tzara was one of the many “shtetl escapees” who was “quick to see the possibility of revolution,” and he became a leader within “the revolutionary avant-garde of the 20th century which was in large measure the work of provincial East European Jews.” Crucially, for shaping the intellectual tenor of Dada, Tzara and the other Jewish exiles from Bucharest like the Janco brothers “brought along, wrapped in refugee bundles, an inheritance of centuries of ‘otherness.’”[10] This sense of “otherness” was rendered all the more politically and culturally potent given the “messianic streak [that] drove many Jews from within.” Codrescu notes that: “By the time of Samuel’s birth in 1896, powerful currents of unrest were felt within the traditional Jewish community of Moineşti. The questions of identity, place and belonging, which had been asked innumerable times in Jewish history, needed answers again, 20thcentury answers.”[11] In this need for answers lay the seeds of Dada as a post-Enlightenment (proto-postmodern) manifestation of Jewish ethno-politics.

Tristan Tzara in Romania in 1912 (far left) with Marcel and Jules Janco (third and fourth from left)

While there is some controversy over who exactly invented the name “Dada,” most sources accept that Tzara hit upon the word (which means hobbyhorse in French) by opening a French-German dictionary at random. “Da-da” also means “yes, yes” in Romanian and Russian, and the early Dadaists reveled in the primal quality of its infantile sound, and its appropriateness as a symbol for “beginning Western civilization again at zero.” Crepaldi notes how the choice of the group’s name was “emblematic of their disillusionment and their attitude, deliberately shorn of values and logical references.”[12] Tzara seems to have recognized its propaganda value early with the German Dadaist poet Richard Huelsenbeck recalling that Tzara “had been one of the first to grasp the suggestive power of the word Dada,” and developed it as a kind of brand identity.[13]

Tzara’s own “Dadaist” poetry was marked by “extreme semantic and syntactic incoherence.”[14] When he composed a Dada poem he would cut up newspaper articles into tiny fragments, shake them up in a bag, and scatter them across the table. As they fell, they made the poem; little further work was called for. With regard to such practices, the Jewish Dadaist painter and film-maker Hans Richter commented that “Chance appeared to us as a magical procedure by which we could transcend the barriers of causality and conscious volition, and by which the inner ear and eye became more acute. … For us chance was the ‘unconscious mind,’ which Freud had discovered in 1900.”[15] Codrescu speculates that Tzara’s aleatoric poetry had its likely intellectual and aesthetic wellspring in the mystical knowledge of his Hassidic heritage, where Tzara was inspired by:

the commentaries of other famous Kabbalists, like Rabbi Eliahu Cohen Itamari of Smyrna, who believed that the Bible was composed of an “incoherent mix of letters” on which order was imposed gradually by divine will according to various material phenomena, without any direct influence by the scribe or the copier. Any terrestrial phenomenon was capable of rearranging the cosmic alphabet toward cosmic harmony. A disciple of the Smyrna rabbi wrote, “If the believer keeps repeating daily, even one verse, he may obtain salvation because each day the order of the letters changes according to the state and importance of each moment … .”

An old midrashic commentary holds that repeating everyday even the most seemingly insignificant verse of the Torah has the effect of spreading the light of divinity (consciousness) as much as any other verse, even the ones held as “most important,” because each word of the Law participates in the creation of a “sound world,” superior to the material one, which it directs and organizes. This “sound world” is higher on the Sephiroth (the tree of life that connects the worlds of humans with God), closer to the unnamable, being illuminated by the divine. One doesn’t need to reach far to see that the belief in an autonomous antiworld made out of words is pure Dada. In Tzara’s words, “the light of a magic hard to seize and to address.”[16]

That Tzara returned to study of the Kabbalah towards the end of his life certainly lends weight to Codrescu’s thesis. Finkelstein notes how Tzara’s poetry “sounds eerily like a Kabbalistic ritual rewritten as a Dadaist café performance,” and links Tzara’s Dadaist spirit to the influence of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jewish heresies that were centered on the notion of “redemption through sin” which involved “the violation of Jewish law (sometimes to the point of apostasy) in the name of messianic transformation.” The Jewish-American poet Jerome Rothenberg calls these heresies “libertarian movements” within Judaism and connects them to Jewish receptivity to the forces of secularization and modernity, leading in turn to the “critical role of Jews and ex-Jews in revolutionary politics (Marx, Trotsky etc.) and avant-garde poetics (Tzara, Kafka, Stein etc.).” Rothenberg sees “definite historical linkages between the transgressions of messianism and the transgressions of the avant-garde.”[17] Heyd endorses this thesis, observing that: “Tzara uses terminology that is part and parcel of Judaic thinking and yet subjects these very concepts to his nihilistic attack.”[18] Perhaps not surprisingly, the Kabbalist and Surrealist author Marcel Avramescu, who wrote during the 1930s, was directly inspired by Tzara.

Nicholas Zarbrugg has written detailed studies of the ways that Dada fed into the sound and visual poetry of the first phase of postmodernism.[19] Tzara’s poetry was, for instance, to strongly influence the Absurdist drama of Samuel Beckett, and the poetry of Andrei Codrescu, Jerome Rothenberg, Isidore Isue, and William S. Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg, who encountered Tzara in Paris in 1961, was strongly influenced by Tzara. Codrescu relates that: “A young Allen Ginsberg, seated in a Parisian café in 1961, saw a sober-looking, suited Tzara hurrying by, carrying a briefcase. Ginsburg called to him “Hey Tzara!” but Tzara didn’t so much as look at him, unsympathetic to the unkempt young Americans invading Paris again for cultural nourishment.” For Codrescu, it was a minor tragedy that “the daddy of Dada failed to connect with the daddy of the vast youth movement that would revive, refine and renew Dada in the New World.”[20]

The Cabaret Voltaire

The Cabaret Voltaire was created by the German anarchist poet and pianist Hugo Ball in Zurich in 1916. Rented from its Jewish owner, Jan Ephraim, and with start-up funds provided by a Jewish patroness, Käthe Brodnitz, the Cabaret was established in a seedy part of the city and intended as a place for entertainment and avant-garde culture, where music was played, artwork was exhibited, and poetry was recited. Some of this poetry was later published in the Cabaret’s periodical entitled Dada, which soon became Tristan Tzara’s responsibility. In it he propagated the principles of Dadaist derision, declaring that: “Dada is using all its strength to establish the idiotic everywhere. Doing it deliberately. And is constantly tending towards idiocy itself. … The new artist protests; he no longer paints (this is only a symbolic and illusory reproduction).”[21]

Left: Poster for the Cafe Voltaire, Zurich 1916 / Right: Spiegelgasse 1, Zurich, Location of the Cabaret Voltaire

Evenings at the Cabaret Voltaire were eclectic affairs where “new music by Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg took its turn with readings from Jules Laforgue and Guillaume Apollinaire, demonstrations of ‘Negro dancing’ and a new play by Expressionist painter and playwright Oskar Kokoschka.”[22] The inclusion of dance and music extended Dada activities into areas that allowed a total expression approaching the pre-war (originally Wagnerian) ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (combined art work). In time the tone of the acts “became more aggressive and violent, and a polemic against bourgeois drabness began to be heard.”[23] Performances sought to shock bourgeois attitudes and openly undermine spectator’s templates for understanding culture. Thus, a June 1917 lecture “on modern art” was delivered by a lecturer who stripped off his clothes in front of the audience before being arrested and jailed for performing obscene acts in public.[24] Godfrey notes that: “This was carnival at its most grotesque and extreme: all the taste and decorum that maintains polite society was overturned.”[25] Robert Wicks:

The Dada scenes conveyed a feeling of chaos, fragmentation, assault on the senses, absurdity, frustration of ordinary norms, pastiche, spontaneity, and posed robotic mechanism. They were scenes from a madhouse, performed by a group of sane and reflective people who were expressing their decided anger and disgust at the world surrounding them.[26]

The outrages committed by Dadaists attacking the traditions and preconceptions of Western art, literature and morality were deliberately extreme and designed to shock, and this tactic extended beyond the Cabaret Voltaire to everyday gestures. For instance, Tzara, “the most demonic activist” of Dada, regularly appalled the dowagers of Zurich by asking them the way to the brothel. For Godfrey, such gestures are redolent of the “propaganda of the deed” of the violent anarchists who, through their random bombings and assassinations of authority figures, sought to “show the rottenness of the system and to shock that system into crisis.”[27] Arnason likewise underscores the serious ideological intent behind such gestures, noting that: “From the very beginning, the Dadaists showed a seriousness of purpose and a search for a new vision and content that went beyond any frivolous desire to outrage the bourgeoisie. … The Zurich Dadaists were making a critical re-examination of the traditions, premises, rules, logical bases, even the concepts of order, coherence, and beauty that had guided the creation of the arts throughout history.”[28] Jewish Frankfurt School intellectual Walter Benjamin, spoke admiringly of Dada’s moral shock effects as anticipating the technical effects of film in the way they “assail the spectator.”[29]

Left: Color lithograph of a painting by Marcel Janco from 1916, “Cabaret Voltaire”; Right: annotations identifying portrayals of Dada artists within the painting

The leadership of Zurich Dada soon passed from Ball to Tzara, who, in the process, “impressed upon it his negativity, his anti-artistic spirit and his profound nihilism.” Soon Ball could no longer identify with the movement and left, remarking: “I examined my conscience scrupulously, I could never welcome chaos.”[30] He moved to a small Swiss village and, from 1920, became removed from social and political life, returning to a devout Catholicism and plunging into a study of fifth- and sixth-century saints. Ball later embraced German nationalism and was to label the Jews “a secret diabolical force in German history,” and when analyzing the potential influence of the Bolshevik Revolution on Germany, concluded that, “Marxism has little prospect of popularity in Germany as it is a ‘Jewish movement.’”[31] Noting the makeup of the new Bolshevik Executive Committee, Ball observed that:

there are at least four Jews among the six men on the Executive Committee. There is certainly no objection to that; on the contrary, the Jews were oppressed in Russia too long and too cruelly. But apart from the honestly indifferent ideology they share and their programmatically material way of thinking, it would be strange if these men, who make decisions about expropriation and terror, did not feel old racial resentments against the Orthodox and pogrommatic Russia.[32]

Tzara, as Ball’s successor, quickly converted Ball’s persona as cabaret master of ceremonies into a role as a savvy media spokesman with grand ambitions. Tzara was “the romantic internationalist” of the movement according to Richard Huelsenbeck in his 1920 history of Dada, “whose propagandistic zeal we have to thank for the enormous growth of Dada.”[33]

In addition to the Jewish mysticism of his Hassidic roots, Tzara was strongly influenced by the Italian Futurists, though, not surprisingly, he rejected the proto-Fascist stance of their leader Marinetti. By 1916, Dada had replaced Futurism as the vanguard of modernism, and according to Jewish Dadaist Hans Richter, “we had swallowed Futurism — bones, feathers and all. It is true that in the process of digestion all sorts of bones and feathers had been regurgitated.”[34]

Nevertheless, the Dadaists’ intent was contrary to that of the Futurists, who extolled the machine world and saw in mechanization, revolution and war the logical means, however brutal, to solving human problems. Dada was never widely popular in the birthplace of Futurism, although quite a few Italian poets became Dadaists, including the poet, painter and future racial theorist Julius Evola, who became a personal friend of Tzara and initially took to Dada with unbridled enthusiasm. He eventually became disillusioned by Dada’s total rejection of European tradition, however, and began the search for an alternative, pursuing a path of philosophical speculation which later led him to esotericism and fascism.[35]

The entry of Romania into the war on the side of Britain, France, and Russia in August 1916 immediately transformed Tzara into a potential conscript. Gale relates that: “In November Tzara was called for examination by a panel ascertaining fitness to fight. He successfully feigned mental instability and received a certificate to that effect.”[36] At this time, living across the street from the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich were Lenin, Karl Radek and Gregory Zinoviev who were preparing for the Bolshevik Revolution.

After the November 1918 Armistice, Tzara and his colleagues began publishing a Dadaist journal called Der Zeltweg aimed at popularizing Dada at time when Europe was reeling from the impact of the war, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the communist insurrection in Bavaria, and, later, the proclaiming of the Hungarian Soviet Republic under Bela Kun. These events, observed Hans Richter, “had stirred men’s minds, divided men’s interests and diverted energies in the direction of political change.”[37] According to historian Robert Levy, Tzara around this time associated with a group of Romanian communist students, almost certainly including Ana Pauker, who later became the Romanian Communist Party’s Foreign Minister and one of its most prominent and ruthless Jewish functionaries.[38] Tzara’s poems from the period are stridently communist in orientation and, influenced by Freud and Wilhelm Reich, depict extreme revolutionary violence as a healthy means of human expression.[39]

Among the other Jewish artists and intellectuals who joined Tzara in neutral Switzerland to escape involvement in the war were the painter and sculptor Marcel Janco (1895–1984), his brothers Jules and George, the painter and experimental film-maker Hans Richter (1888–1976), the essayist Walter Serner (1889–1942), and the painter and writer Arthur Segal (1875–1944). After Zurich, Dada was to take root in Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, New York and Paris, and each time it was Tzara who forged the links between these groups by organizing (despite the disruption of the war and its aftermath) exchanges of pictures, books and journals. In each of these cities, Dadaists “gathered to vent their rage and agitate for the annihilation of the old to make way for the new.”[40]

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Brenton Sanderson is the author of Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence and Anti-Semitism, banned by Amazon, but available here.

[1] Menachem Wecker, “Eight Dada Jewish Artists,” The Jewish Press, August 30, 2006. http://www.jewishpress.com/printArticle.cfm?contentid=19293

[2] Bill Holdsworth, “Forgotten Jewish Dada-ists Get Their Due,” The Jewish Daily Forward, September 22, 2011. http://forward.com/articles/143160/#ixzz1ZRAUpOoX

[3] Wecker, “Eight Dada Jewish Artists,” op. cit.

[4] Amy Dempsey, Schools and Movements – An Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002), 115.

[5] Robert Short, Dada and Surrealism (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1994), 7.

[6] Matthew Gale, Dada & Surrealism (London: Phaidon, 2004), 46.

[7] Wecker, “Eight Dada Jewish Artists,” op. cit.

[8] Leah Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada (Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, 2005), 10.

[9] Andrei Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess (Princeton University Press, 2009), 209.

[10] Ibid., 173.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gabriele Crepaldi, Modern Art 1900-1945 – The Age of the Avant-Gardes (London: HarperCollins, 2007), 194.

[13] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 33.

[14] Alice Armstrong & Roger Cardinal, “Tzara, Tristan,” Justin Wintle (Ed.) Makers of Modern Culture (London: Routledge, 2002), 530.

[15] John Russell, The Meanings of Modern Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 1981), 179.

[16] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 213.

[17] Jerome Rothenberg in Norman Finkelstein, Not One of Them in Place and Jewish American Identity (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001), 100.

[18] Milly Heyd, “Tristan Tzara/Shmuel Rosenstock: The Hidden/Overt Jewish Agenda,” Washton-Long, Baigel & Heyd (Eds.) Jewish Dimensions in Modern Visual Culture: Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, Affirmation (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2010), 213.

[19] See Nicholas Zurbrugg et al. Critical Vices: The Myths of Postmodern Theory (Amsterdam: OPA, 2000).

[20] Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, 212.

[21] Sarane Alexandrian, Surrealist (London: Thames & Hudson, 1970), 30-1.

[22] Russell, The Meanings of Modern Art, 182.

[23] Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Art of the Twentieth Century – 1900-1919 – The Avant-garde Movements (Italy, Skira, 2006), 392.

[24] Ibid., 389.

[25] Tony Godfrey, Conceptual Art (London: Phaidon, 1998) 41.

[26] Robert J. Wicks, Modern French Philosophy: From Existentialism to Postmodernism (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003), 10.

[27] Godfrey, Conceptual Art, 40.

[28] H. Harvard Arnason, A History of Modern Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 1986), 224.

[29] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, 9.

[30] Schnapp, Art of the Twentieth Century – 1900-1919 – The Avant-garde Movements op cit., 396.

[31] Boime, “Dada’s Dark Secret,” Washton-Long, Baigel & Heyd (Eds.) Jewish Dimensions in Modern Visual Culture: Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, Affirmation, 98 & 95-6.

[32] Ibid., 96.

[33] Dickerman, “Introduction & Zurich,” Leah Dickerman (Ed.) Dada, op cit., 35.

[34] Hans Richter, Dada – Art and Anti-art, (London & New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004), 33.

[35] Gale, Dada & Surrealism, 80.

[36] Ibid., 56.

[37] Richter, Dada – Art and Anti-art, 80.

[38] Robert Levy, Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist (Berkley: University of California Press, 2001), 37.

[39] Philip Beitchman, I Am a Process with No Subject (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1988), 37-42.

[40] Dempsey, Styles, Schools and Movements – An Encylopaedic Guide to Modern Art, op cit., 115.