Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power

By L. T. Koepnick | Go to book overview

3
AESTHETIC DICTATORSHIP

One of the most astute analysts of the modern condition, Max Weber understood the rise of bureaucratic institutions and the increasing dissolution of the state into a multiplicity of independent and often bureaucratically structured centers of state-like domination as one hallmark of modernization. Modernity, he argued, disperses power into the hands of a plethora of autonomous, self-organizing power holders that compete with more genuine political institutions such as parliaments or governments. In the eyes of the conservative revolutionaries of the interwar years and the ideologues of the Nazi movement, this peculiarly modern multiplication of power and domination was inadmissible. They strongly opposed the refraction of the state into competing apparatuses of domination. In the view of the extreme Right, the modern state simply represented an effeminate container for a number of disparate and nonpolitical activities, a site that effaced the existential dimension of the political. If politics should once again become Great Politics, it was necessary to recenter the state and emancipate it from the heteronomy of economic, administrative, social, or cultural imperatives. Carl Schmitt's definition of the political in terms of pure friend-foe relations is perhaps the most famous example of how interwar intellectuals sought to reinstate the autonomy of the political and restore the state as the core of all power.

It is no longer a secret that, once in place, the Nazi state did not live up to the political ideals of its own ideologues. Though omnipresent in the sense that Nazi organizations penetrated most aspects of public and private life, the Nazi state entailed an enormous number of competing institutions, conflicting associations, and quasi-Weberian subcenters of bureaucratic domination. As Michael Geyer argues: “National Socialist rule did not create a neat division of labor among bureaucracies, but furthered a bur-

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Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction: Fascism, Mass Culture, and the Avant-Garde 1
  • One - Benjamin and the Fascist Spectacle 27
  • Introduction to Part I 29
  • I - Baroque Drama and the Quest for Autonomous Politics 35
  • 2: Carnival Industrial Culture and the Politics of Authenticity 53
  • 3: Aesthetic Dictatorship 83
  • 4: Medusian Politics 109
  • 5: Modern Visual (Culture and the Politics of Phantasmagoria 141
  • 6: Perseus's Paradox 164
  • Two - Rethinking the Spectacle 175
  • Introduction to Part 2 177
  • 7: Fascist Aesthetics Revisited 187
  • 8: Benjamin's Actuality 213
  • Notes 239
  • Index 269
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