If Hitler was a Modern Greek Tragedy, What Have We Learned?

“The play was a great success, but the audience was disaster.” Oscar Wilde may have been opting for self-deprecation when he made that statement. How does that comment fit the mold of a Totalitarian regime hell-bent on the destruction of an entire race? I have seen throughout the course on German culture during the Third Reich,  a canvas that Hitler was painting with angst and blood. An argument could be made that it was his own failure as an artist that spurred this manic adventure of ethnic cleansing. Though, like a Greek tragedy this play is much more complex.


“Culture, what culture?

The Holocaust was the crime of the 20th century, but, what of the other crimes against humanity, in general, and society, in particular. The crimes against culture were over-shadowed by the zeal of the political landscape in Germany, a charismatic leader, and the awareness – en masse – of German citizenry, that the world had a problem with them from the previous world war. Thus, in the aftermath of WW1 and 2 and war reparations brought unto Germany through the Treaty of Versailles; Versailles became a lightning rod of German economic angst and a good selling point for Hitler to pontificate about, while the world looked on as well as it could without modern technology and rebuilding within those affected borders inside Europe.

Teresias may be representative of the Volksgemeinschaft that were caught between oppressive policies opposing freedom of speech while threatening some segments of the population, thus, limiting their scope in their communities. Teresias had become blind as a curse in Greek mythology, though being given the gift to prophesize. Had Hitler and the Nazi Party become blind to the impact of Versailles and its true impact on German society. Yes, Versailles was not off the books until 2010, according to The Daily Mail.[1] How could anyone predict the outcome of Nazi policy? Hitler had many vendettas and politics provided him with the opportunity to purge those demons within his orbit. I can surmise that the growth, strength and success of the Nazi Party led to its members becoming an over-confident lot, hence, their push towards colonialism of Eastern Europe. The cues were visible: the book burnings, the restriction on the arts, and the attitude of the government to promote respect out of fear. German architecture was guided by Hitler to symbolize an idealistic and autonomous Germany that was uniquely strong, and unforgiving. The combination of nationalism on the “right” and socialism on the “left” of the political grid caught many in a position of adapting to survive, or fleeing Germany. However, with Hitler intent on conquering Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, total freedom from Nazi influence was difficult to evade. The establishment of Concentration Camps was a grim reminder to German’s not to speak out against the State, and those that were complicit in the extermination of European Jews. Some say that Friedrich Nietzsche influenced “Mein Kampf” … “In architecture the pride of man, his triumph over gravitation, his will to power, assume a visible form. Architecture is a sort of oratory of power by means of forms.”[2]


The profound use of propaganda to solidify the Nazi Party’s base was expertly crafted to produce a subliminal effect that embodied what Joseph Nye referred to as “Soft Power.” For those who have been to a casino, the sound of the slot machines, people milling about and this dissonant energy creates a subliminal soup that mesmerizes its audience. The use of propaganda is compelling no matter if there is agreement with Nazi Party policies, propaganda or gambling. Was the international community mesmerized by Germany’s use of “soft power” or unaware of the severity of the situation outside of Europe?

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as a mechanism to avoid war spawned the League of Nations. It began operations in 1920. Could the League of Nations or United Nations prevented the Holocaust? Sanctions were the predominant form of penalizing rogue nation-states and Versailles personified this mechanism that remains the mainstream tool against those nation-states that threaten international security. The League was an NGO (non-governmental organization) that adopted the Versailles Treaty as a signature piece of legislation to herald its authenticity and effectiveness. [3] Would sanctions have been an effective tool to rein in the Nazi Party? No. Infuriated Hitler from the Versailles Treaty would have made life inside Germany more chaotic with food shortages, health crisis mounting and as Hobbes said in Leviathan… “the war of everyman against everyman” despite race and religion.

Had Germany accepted the reparations, a second war might have been averted and there would be no discussion on the Holocaust issue. So, did the success of the Nazi Party and Hitler thwart the League’s success that led to policies that ransacked the Art’s community and led to genocide. It seems that the success of the Nazi’s to turn Germany inward led to a creation of a “hermit” state not unlike North Korea of today except that Germany had overt military ambitions and the technology to push those ambitions forward. The failure of the League and the Allies to act against Germany upon learning of their plan to invade Poland on September 1, 1939 was a monumental failure of democracy and diplomacy that is felt today with various conflicts that have engulfed nations in Europe (Bosnia), Africa (Darfur), Tibet and Somalia to name a few. The common thread in each case is the reluctance to accept the nuances of culture within ones borders. There is a dichotomy to reconcile these cultural differences today and we see some form of this in Quebec now. The world has changed since Nazi Germany and we might say that Nazi Germany was a cauldron of terrorism that escaped with its demise. Managing terrorism, culture, and nationalism is a primary concern of the international community, presently.


Goebbel’s wrote that “geniuses consume people” as quoted in the Spiegel interview with Birgit Schwarz. Hitler being turned down by the Vienna Academy may have scattered his life direction to a point where he could find more control over his destiny and achieve some success outside the world of art. Yes, the world would have been in a better position with a successful Hitler- the artist as opposed to Hitler – the politician. Possibly, Hitler’s love of art prevented him from creating more ruin in Europe and the West. Art, the ultimate anti-depressant combined with his personal history to create a bi-polar individual. Today, “New Ager’s” look to the term “our biography is our biology” with altruism or the aim to take responsibility for past events. Yet, if we consider the notion of our biography, then we can see how Hitler’s past helped shape his perceptions as a person and a leader.  Joseph Nye proclaims about the effect of art as “soft power” …”currently, the closest competitor to the United States in soft power resources is Europe. European art, music, literature, design, fashion, and food have long served as global cultural magnets.” [5] If we consider Nye’s description, we can say Hitler exercised hard power against the Volksgemeinschaft to extinguish the spirit of the community. Constraining the arts was an element of socialism that others like Mao Zedong and Stalin were taking lessons. We can say that the tragedy of Nazi Germany is what Garrett Hardin referred to as “The Tragedy of the Commons” where individuals acting out of self-interest cause resources to spoil and deplete in quantity. Sadly, the greatest resource to suffer was humanity.



The loss of German culture due to policies of the Nazi Party did irreparable harm to German citizens, the arts community, the German economy, and Germanic legacy in the arts. The Nazi Party actually used tactics against German’s that nation-states would use in combat to extract land and other resources. Joseph Nye illustrates well with his theory of Soft Power and how it can be used diametrically with Nazi Germany’s period against what Hitler thought was good policy for creating an Aryan race. The limits on free speech went to extremes in Hitler’s Germany with book burnings and architecture. Democracies have learnt that they are the best game in town in order to provide a healthy and prosperous population. Democracies believe that by engaging Totalitarian regimes they can influence those nation-states to enact democratic reforms. Where there is no hope, allies will utilize “Collective Security” in order to manage conflict. Unfortunately, the League of Nation’s failed to act decisively to save millions of lives. Hitler in some ways is like Teresias who was conflicted among the God’s, yet, when Hitler’s prophesy proved futile, his friends and foes alike, provided the silver bullet to end this tragedy.

[1] Hall, Allan. “Germany ends World War One Reparations after 92years with £59m final payment.” The Daily Mail. 29 September 2010. 30 October 20-17. < http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1315869/Germany-end-World-War-One-reparations-92-years-59m-final-payment.html>.

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Fitzhenry, Robert In ed. The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations. Markham: 1993. 41.

[3] Karns, Margaret P. and Karen A. Mingst, International Organizations. Boulder: 2004.

[4] Nye, Joseph Jr. Soft Power. New York: Public Affairs. 2004. This comment found in the section “Other’s Soft Power.”

Author: Kevin Kieswetter

Hello, I have continued studying part-time with an interest in the political situation in Tibet, and North America. I have a varied educational background as my cv illustrates. I hope that some on the blogosphere will have a look and leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *