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Théorie critique de la propagande

 | 
Pierre-François Noppen
, 
Gérard Raulet

Siegfried Kracauer and the early Frankfurt school’s analysis of fascism as right-wing populism

John Abromeit

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  • 1 “As it actually was,” here referring to Leopold von Ranke’s famous dictum about the study of histor (...)
  • 2 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1966, p. 358.

1Contrary to the traditional historicist approach to studying the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist,”1 theoretically reflexive scholars have long recognized that our understanding of the past is always shaped by current social conditions and political tendencies. The remarkable—and ominous—growth of right-wing populist movements and parties in the past three decades, in Europe, the United States and many other parts of the world, has heightened public and scholarly interest in both the history of populism and the relationship of populism to fascism. As Adorno dramatically emphasized in his reformulation of Kant’s categorical imperative “after Auschwitz,” the subjective and objective conditions that made fascism possible did not disappear with its military defeat in 1945.2 The recrudescence of authoritarian populist movements in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere since Adorno’s death in 1969 underscores the truth content of his new categorical imperative. Part of the task of arranging our thoughts and actions so that something like Auschwitz will not happen again is certainly the effort to gain a better historical and theoretical understanding of how and why fascist movements so successfully appropriated populist political strategies and ideology. This essay aims to contribute to that effort.

  • 3 John Abromeit, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School, Cambridge, Cambridge Uni (...)
  • 4 John Abromeit, “Critical Theory and the Persistence of Right-Wing Populism,” Logos: A Journal of Mo (...)

2In what follows, I will build upon and extend my own research on the historical links between populism and fascism, in general, and the early Frankfurt School’s analysis of those links, in particular. I will focus on a lengthy essay Kracauer wrote between 1936 and 1938 on “Totalitarian Propaganda,” which he submitted for publication in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, the house journal of Max Horkheimer’s Institute for Social Research. Due to its excessive length and alleged theoretical shortcomings—identified primarily by Adorno—, Kracauer’s essay did not appear in the Zeitschrift. The full, original German version of the essay was not published until 2013. I choose to focus on this particular essay for several reasons. First, the essay offers unparalleled insights into Kracauer’s understanding of fascism and the crucial role that authoritarian populist ideology played in its historical triumph. Second, Kracauer’s essay has never been translated and remains virtually unknown outside of Germany. Third, Kracauer draws extensively upon Max Horkheimer and Erich Fromm’s writings from the 1930s—what I have called elsewhere the “early model of Critical Theory.”3 Kracauer is able to address some of the weaknesses in his own analysis of fascism by drawing upon Horkheimer and Fromm’s work. But, as we shall see, Kracauer’s analysis also complements and supplements Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings in important ways. After discussing the main arguments in Kracauer’s essay, how it sheds light on the authoritarian populist aspects of fascism and its relationship to Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings, I will briefly discuss Theodor W. Adorno’s critique of the essay. Adorno’s predominately negative evaluation of it sheds light on some important differences between Kracauer’s theoretical approach to fascism, and the approach of the Institute, which Adorno was in the process of assimilating during this time (the late 1930s). Here again, though, I will argue that not all of Adorno’s criticisms are compelling and that certain aspects of Kracauer’s analysis can supplement the Institute’s own important—and still very relevant—work on fascism and authoritarian populism. In other words, when taken together as a whole—along with other key Institute studies, such as Adorno’s contributions to The Authoritarian Personality and Löwenthal and Gutermann’s Prophets of Deceit—Kracauer and the early Critical Theorists’ writings can still provide us with an excellent theoretical foundation for grasping the persistence of right-wing and / or authoritarian populist movements into the present.4 Throughout the essay I will also discuss the numerous ways in which Kracauer and the Early Frankfurt School’s analyses of fascism and authoritarian populism have anticipated more recent scholarly findings in these fields.

Kracauer’s essay on Totalitarian Propaganda

  • 5 John Abromeit, “Max Horkheimer et le concept matérialiste de la culture,” in: Pierre-François Noppe (...)

3Kracauer’s essay, Totalitarian Propaganda is divided into seven sections. In what follows I will first provide a brief overview of each section and then focus on his analysis of fascism as a form of right-wing populism. The first section addresses the recent historical origins of fascism—Germany’s defeat in World War I—and the central role of demobilized soldiers and officers, but also politicized workers who were disappointed with the reformist stance of the Social Democratic Party. In the first section, Kracauer also introduces key elements of his theoretical interpretation of fascism. He distinguishes his own approach from the traditional Marxist “base-superstructure” model, and from any version of sociological reductionism, which would explain fascism as a manifestation of the material interests of any distinct class or social group. Like Horkheimer, Kracauer moves beyond traditional Marxism in his defense of the relative autonomy of culture and psychological character structures,5 which allows him to place propaganda—as a complex and overdetermined form of ideology—at the very center of his analysis of fascism. As we shall see, for Kracauer propaganda as ideology is not a mere reflex, but is socially necessary—indeed, even more necessary in a fascist than in a liberal capitalist society.

  • 6 See Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, (...)
  • 7 Peter Fritzsche, “The Role of ‘the People’ and the Rise of the Nazis”, in: John Abromeit, Bridget M (...)
  • 8 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 9 Zeev Sternhell (with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri), The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural (...)
  • 10 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

4The specifically populist elements in the first section of Kracauer’s essay are his emphasis on the broad appeal of fascist ideology and its strong emphasis on national unity, especially as expressed in the concept of the “Volk.” Historians and political theorists have long recognized that what set the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) apart from others parties in the Weimar Republic, and what secured their electoral breakthroughs in 1930 and 1932, was their ability to attract voters from across the social and political spectrum.6 Whereas the relatively stable, middle phase of the Weimar Republic (1924–1929), was characterized by a fragmentation of voters into diverse interest-group parties, in its final phase (1930–1933), many voters abandoned these small parties—but also the larger, more established parties as well—in order to cast their lot with the NSDAP.7 Kracauer acknowledges this fact when he writes: “One cannot understand the constitution of totalitarian dictatorships, if one views them only as the product of bourgeois or also petty bourgeois movements.”8 Related to this point, Kracauer also emphasizes the important role not only of demobilized soldiers and officers in the early stages of the fascist movements in Germany and Italy, but also of radicalized workers who were disappointed with the socialist parties. Anticipating the important research done later on Italian fascism by Zeev Sternhell, Kracauer emphasizes the crucial role of “national-syndicalist workers” in the formation of Mussolini’s movement.9 Kracauer concludes that the social background of the fascist movement was “rather mixed.”10

  • 11 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 12 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 13 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 14 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

5The ideological expression of such a movement that drew support from across the social and political spectrum was a strong emphasis on national unity, pushed to the point of “national fanatacism.”11 Kracauer cites Ignaz Silone’s argument that an “enraged, revolutionary patriotism”12 was the defining feature of the early Italian fascist movement, and Kracauer himself argues that “not so much the state, as the racially chosen people”13 is the central concept of Hitler’s ideology. Just as all the social differences of bourgeois society disappeared in the trenches of World War I, so the Nazis’ concept of the Volksgemeinschaft (community of the people) appealed to many Germans’ desires to overcome the deep social divisions of the Weimar Republic. Of course, Kracauer was aware of the ideological content of such concepts. The leading question of his essay is: “What is being concealed behind the ‘enraged and revolutionary patriotism’ of the core troops of fascism and National Socialism?”14 The first and rather unsatisfying answer that Kracauer provides to this question is that Nazi ideology was driven by a “nihilistic will to power.” This response begs the question of what lies behind such a “will to power” and, more importantly, how and why it was successful. In subsequent sections of his essay, Kracauer presents theoretical and sociological insights that point beyond this initial and inadequate answer.

  • 15 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 16 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 17 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

6In section two Kracauer focuses on the role of fascist propaganda in establishing an emotional bond between the leader and his followers. Following Horkheimer, he emphasizes that the authority of the fascist leader cannot rest on violence alone.15 Kracauer describes how Hitler, Gregor Strasser, Goebbels and other Nazi leaders in the 1920s grasped intuitively the necessity of moving beyond a rational politics based on material interests and logical arguments, to an irrational politics based on the creation of an imagined community of followers bound together emotionally with each other through an identification with the leader and his “ideas.” Kracauer describes as Hitler’s main aim, “to emotionally bind the masses as a whole to himself.”16 He also cites Goebbels’ definition of the mission of propaganda, namely “to win people over to any idea in such an integral and vital way, that they completely succumb to it and can no longer part with it.”17 Hitler and Goebbels both formulate here the necessity of mobilizing certain social-psychological mechanisms with propaganda in order to create an irrational bond between the leader and the mass. In this context, Kracauer discusses Hitler’s conviction that Germany lost World War I due to the superiority of the Entente powers’ propaganda, which led to Hitler’s own successful efforts to systematically develop Nazi propaganda. In this section Kracauer also discusses the crucial role of Gregor Strasser, who was the Nazis’ national leader for propaganda in 1926 and 1927, and who helped transform the NSDAP from a small, southern German splinter party into a national party with mass appeal. Kracauer stresses the central role of the concept of “German community” in Strasser’s propaganda, but also Strasser’s populist, even anti-capitalist rhetoric. Kracauer argues that Strasser wanted to remove nationalism from capitalism, and socialism from internationalism, in order to create “national socialism.” Strasser plays a similar role in Kracauer’s analysis of Germany, as does national syndicalism in his analysis of Italy. Kracauer emphasizes the genuinely populist, anti-elitist and (least rhetorically) anti-capitalist thrust of Strasser’s propaganda, which appealed not only to German workers, but also to large swaths of the middle, and lower-middle class. But, for Hitler’s taste, Strasser’s approach was too anti-capitalist and thus ran the risk of scaring away potential supporters who would be alienated by such left-wing rhetoric. At a party gathering in Bamberg in 1926 Hitler cemented his own leadership of the NSDAP by criticizing Strasser’s “national-Bolshevism”; Hitler’s rivalry with Strasser continued into the early 1930s and ended with Strasser’s murder during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. The displacement of Strasser’s and the consolidation of Hitler’s ideological position can be interpreted as the triumph of a right-wing, authoritarian form of populism over a left-wing, anti-capitalist form.

  • 18 Max Horkheimer, “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” [1936], (...)
  • 19 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 20 Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, New York, Penguin, 1977, p. 13 sq.
  • 21 Giovanni Gentile, “The Origins and Doctrine of Fascism,” in: Origins and Doctrine of Fascism: With (...)

7In section two Kracauer draws explicitly on Max Horkheimer’s essay Egoism and Freedom Movements, in order to explain some of the social-psychological mechanisms at work in such forms of right-wing, authoritarian populism.18 Hitler and Goebbels argued that propaganda must seek to bind the masses to fascist leaders by winning them over to specific ideas, such as the national or racial community of the people. Ideas play such an important role, according to Kracauer, because they have the potential to separate individuals from their concrete interests. Horkheimer explained the irrational and authoritarian dynamics existing between the leaders and followers of early modern bourgeois freedom movements precisely in terms of such a conflict between ideology and interests. In the case of the NSDAP, they articulated a vehement critique of both the myriad interest parties that existed in Weimar Germany in the mid-1920s, and the entire party system as such. The right-wing populism of the Nazis consisted precisely in their attempt to replace the political fragmentation of interest conflicts with a unified “German community” or “people’s community,” in which only one political party would continue to exist. As Horkheimer also emphasized, in order to mobilize people to act in ways that are ultimately against their own interest—in order to prepare them, in other words, for self-sacrifice—, they must become fixated upon an idea. Kracauer writes, Hitler is concerned not “with the defending interests, but with controlling the masses, independently of their interests […]. Most important for him is that interests are transformed into ideas.”19 Unwittingly, Kracauer also highlights here an important continuity that existed between right-wing theorists of group psychology, such as Gustav Le Bon, and fascist theorists, such as Giovanni Gentile. Both Le Bon and Gentile adamantly emphasize the idealist and anti-materialist character of authoritarian mass mobilization. Looking back on human history—in a superficial and dilettantish way—Le Bon concludes that all great social and political movements have been driven by “lofty” ideas, not petty material interests.20 Gentile explicitly stresses the idealist nature of fascism, and opposes it to the materialism of socialism and liberalism, which are grounded in collective and / or individual interests.21 Hitler and Goebbels both believe that people are much more willing to die for a collective idea than for their own petty interests. The task of propaganda, and of the fascist leader, is to bind them emotionally to these ideas.

  • 22 To use Franz Neumann’s concept; Kracauer speaks mainly of “monopoly capitalism,” but also emphasize (...)
  • 23 For one astute critique of the Sonderweg thesis as applied to Germany, see Geoff Eley, “In Search o (...)

8In section three of the essay, Kracauer discusses the relationship of fascism to democracy. He emphasizes the desire of fascism to completely erase the entire Enlightenment tradition in politics, which includes liberalism, democracy and the French Revolution. As we just saw, fascists view socialism as the logical historical development of these traditions. Kracauer also mentions the “democratic deficit” in Italy and Germany. On the one hand, he does—like later defenders of the so-called “Sonderweg thesis”—view the comparatively late establishment and relatively weak institutional grounding of liberal democracy in Italy and Germany (in comparison to France, Britain and the U.S.A.) as a factor in the success of fascism. On the other hand—and in contrast to the defenders of the Sonderweg argument—Kracauer has no illusions about Germany lagging behind other Western democracies in terms of its economic development. For Kracauer, the powerful anti-democratic forces pushing for the development of new forms of totalitarian monopoly capitalism22 are more important for the success of fascism than a “democracy” or “modernization” deficit.23 Like his colleagues at the Institute, Kracauer never equated capitalist modernization with automatic political and social progress. On the contrary, he clearly recognizes and emphasizes the common interests that brought advocates of monopoly capitalism and fascism together. The former opposed democracy because socialists and trade unions—backed by the constitution of the Weimar Republic—fought to safeguard the rights and secure a decent quality of living for workers, and thereby tied the hands and diminished the profits of big industry.

  • 24 Symptomatic of the new right-wing populist strategy was the arch-conservative Kreuz-Zeitung, which (...)
  • 25 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

9In section three Kracauer also continues his analysis of fascism as a form of right-wing populism through a lengthy discussion of the fascist concept of the “Volk,” and a briefer discussion of the fascist aestheticization of politics and the social-psychological dimensions of fascist mass spectacle. Regarding the former, Kracauer stresses the purely ideological character of the fascist concept of the “Volk,” which is grounded in the basic contradiction between fascism’s rejection of democracy and its need to represent the will of the Führer as identical to the will of the “people.” This positive—if also, of course, purely ideological—concept of the “people” is what separated fascism from traditional, nineteenth-century European conservative political traditions, which made no attempt to conceal their anti-democratic politics with ideological façades. Fascism represented a qualitatively new political phenomenon precisely because of its ability to mobilize the masses for an anti-democratic and anti-socialist, that is, essentially conservative political, social, economic and moral agenda.24 Kracauer’s lengthy discussion of Gregor Strasser and his eventual defeat by Hitler, illustrates well the fascist instrumentalization of democratic and even socialist themes, but also the fact that such themes must remain in the rhetorical realm. Fascist populism must remain right-wing, authoritarian populism, because the fascist concept of the “people” is used primarily to conceal the contradictions and social domination that continue to exist—indeed, are heightened—within fascist monopoly-state capitalism. Kracauer cites Goebbels, who expresses the fascists’ anti-liberal, anti-Enlightenment concept of the people in the following way: “What is essential in this revolutionary development is that individualism is destroyed and that the ‘people’ takes the place of the individual and its deification.”25 In contrast to the liberal-democratic and socialist concept of the “people,” which Kracauer emphatically defends, the fascist concept of the “people” is unitary and collectivist.

10Kracauer argues that fascism sees its primary task as eliminating any possibility of popular self-determination, by transforming the people into a passive mass. The end of fascist propaganda is the creation of such a powerless mass, and the primary means is the ideology of the “people.” Kracauer writes:

  • 26 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“Due to its totalitarian presumptions, National Socialist propaganda must disempower the real people and impose upon them its own directives; however, at the same time, it has to replace the idea of the real people with the illusion of a people that is worthy of divine worship. Only by pretending to serve the phantom of a racially superior people can National Socialism demand for itself the sovereign power that created it. This sovereign power deifies the will of an imaginary people so that the real people will not notice that they are deifying themselves. The National Socialist concept of the people is a capsule without content.”26

  • 27 Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” in: The Marx-Engels Reade (...)
  • 28 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London / New York, Verso, 2005, p. 67–128.
  • 29 See Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, (...)

11Kracauer’s formulation here echoes not only Marx’s Feuerbachian theory of religion as the fetishization of one own’s alienated powers—which Marx also used in his early writings to critique the ideological political forms of modern capitalist society.27 Interestingly, Kracauer’s description of the fascist concept of “Volk” as a “capsule without content” also anticipates Ernesto Laclau’s later argument, that populism rests on a concept of the “people” as an “empty signifier.”28 In marked contrast to Laclau—or at least his later “post-Marxist” work on populism—Kracauer’s approach remains essentially Marxist, insofar as he grounds the “empty” nature of the fascists’ right-wing populist concept of the “people” in the need to conceal underlying social contradictions. In his earlier, very suggestive work on populism and fascism, Laclau still worked within a Marxian framework,29 but in his later work he insisted upon the “primacy of the political” and disputed any attempt to explain popular will formation in terms of underlying social constellations. Whereas for Kracauer the “empty” nature of the fascist concept of the people points unmistakably to its ideological character, Laclau views this emptiness as an opportunity to forge broad coalitions with the potential for a revolutionary transformation of power relations.

  • 30 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 31 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 32 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 33 On Kolberg as Goebbels’ last desperate attempt to maintain the illusory world of Nazi propaganda, s (...)
  • 34 For a more recent study of Nazi Germany that emphasizes the importance of the Nazis’ creation of a (...)

12In the fourth section of his essay Kracauer describes how fascist regimes use terror, spectacle and welfare to make propaganda “indispensable like a drug” for the masses they dominate.30 As a tool of totalitarian propaganda, terror has two interrelated tasks. First, it must create fear in order, second, to separate individuals from their concrete interests and subordinate them to the imagined national and / or racial “community of the people.” Kracauer writes: “Fear (Angst) brings people under its power in such a way that they no longer listen to propaganda out of fear, but instead because everything becomes uncertain—precisely as a result of fear—which, in turn, makes them capable of belief.”31 As we have seen, however, Kracauer also recognizes that authority—even in a fascist society—does not rest on violence alone, which explains the crucial role of spectacle and welfare in creating a “mass addiction” to totalitarian propaganda. Terror also aims to have the indirect effect of convincing individuals to willingly abdicate their own ability to judge reality and to accept instead the fabricated “reality” of totalitarian propaganda. Kracauer underscores the theatrical nature of fascist spectacle, which encourages the masses to accept fiction for reality, and teaches them that “the play is more than a play, and madness is the norm.”32 Kracauer’s remarks here presciently anticipated the Nazis’ use of film to create their own version of reality and impose it upon the German public. One could hardly find a better example of what Kracauer is saying here than the Nazi propaganda film Kolberg, which was made near the end of the war to encourage Germans fight until the bitter end against the rapidly approaching Red Army. During the creation of the film thousands of desperately needed soldiers were called back from the Eastern Front to serve as extras in massive battle scenes, which illustrated clearly Goebbels’ conviction that the maintenance of the illusory world created by propaganda was every bit as important as fighting the actual war.33 Finally, the Nazi construction of a far-reaching system of welfare also aimed—as Kracauer notes—to win willing consent to their total program. Kracauer mentions the Nazis’ Winterhilfswerk program, which ran from 1933 to 1945 and provided food, clothing, fuel and other items during the winter months to Germans who needed them. Kracauer argues that the main aim of this and other Nazi welfare programs was to provide a “feeling of security” to counteract widespread feelings of impotence and anxiety, which were themselves consciously created by Nazi propaganda.34

  • 35 For an ideal typical analysis of the commonalities and differences between left and right-wing popu (...)
  • 36 See John Abromeit, “Transformations of Producerist Populism in Western Europe,” in: John Abromeit, (...)
  • 37 See Horkheimer and Adorno’s analysis of this important trope of Nazi ideology—in terms of what they (...)

13Kracauer adds to his analysis of the right-wing populist dimensions of fascism in section four by discussing two ways in which totalitarian propaganda relied upon a friend-enemy dichotomy. One of the essential characteristics of populism—in both its left- and right-wing variants—is its stylized portrayal of society as being starkly divided between the “people” and the “enemies of the people.”35 This populist trope played a key role in the French Revolution and in subsequent democratic and socialist movements in the nineteenth century. Fascism adopts the “friend-enemy” form of the trope, while at the same time transforming its ideological content from the left to the right, by redefining the basic contradiction in terms that obscure the actual social antagonisms in modern capitalist societies.36 Kracauer provides a clear example of this dynamic, when he describes the Italian fascists’ and German National Socialists’ violent attacks upon workers’ organizations and their leaders, which are intended to “liquidate proletarian organizations” and to force workers to identify with the ideological concept of the “Volk” rather than with each other. More than anything else, fascism must convince workers that the basic contradiction is not between capital and wage labor, but instead between the virtuous and productive “people” and the immoral and parasitic “enemies of the people”—which the Nazis referred to as the “schaffend” (productive) and the “raffend” (parasitic) elements of the population.37 Fascist propaganda applies the “producer-parasite” dichotomy even to capital itself, with industrial capital portrayed as belonging to the former—that is, on the same side as productive workers and peasants—and finance capital as belonging to the latter. In this way, workers are separated from the material interests that bind them together as workers, and are integrated ideologically into the false totality of the “Volk”.

  • 38 Erich Fromm, “Zum Gefühl der Ohnmacht,” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, Vol. 6, 1937, p. 95–119.
  • 39 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 40 Erich Fromm, “Theoretische Entwürfe über Autorität und Familie” [1936], in: Max Horkheimer (ed.), S (...)
  • 41 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

14If the primary political function of the right-wing populist “friend-enemy” dichotomy is to separate workers from their material interests, the dichotomy also performs a crucial social-psychological function. By portraying social conflict in the Manichean terms of a conflict between the “Volk” and its enemies, fascists—consciously or unconsciously—succeed in heightening, harnessing and redirecting psychic energies created by the antagonistic relations of modern capitalism. Drawing on Erich Fromm’s introductory essay to the Institute’s Studies on Authority and Family, Kracauer highlights the role of masochism in maintaining social bonds and socially necessary ideology under fascism. The feeling of security created by identifying with the imagined community of the “Volk,” not only counteracts what Fromm described as a “feeling of powerlessness” that is pervasive in modern societies.38 It also satisfies the masochistic need to identify with the powerful social forces that seem beyond individuals’ control. According to Kracauer, these individuals “obtain from the totalitarian dictatorship the pleasure of being subordinated to persons embodying an overwhelming fate. These persons control him and provide his masochistic desire to obey with delectable sensations.”39 Kracauer claims further that Erich Fromm was right to argue that “the liberation from autonomous decision making and, with it, from doubt is one of the greatest satisfactions that the authoritarian state has to offer its followers.”40 Whereas Kracauer draws on Fromm’s work from the 1930s to explain the masochistic components of fascist ideology, he draws again on Horkheimer’s seminal essay, Egoism and Freedom Movements, to demonstrate why sadism fulfills such an important social-psychological function within it. As Horkheimer spelled out in rich historical detail, when the masses are mobilized in the name of bourgeois political, social and moral ideas, sadism provides a form of ersatz gratification for the demands made upon them to sacrifice their material interests and desires. The more sacrifices are demanded and the less the bourgeois leader is able to fulfill his promises to improve the material life conditions of the masses, the more sadistic compensation becomes necessary to reinforce the emotional bonds that unify the “people” against their “enemies.” Official “enemies” become fair game for the ersatz sadistic gratification of libidinal drives that individuals must repress in order to become members of the new populist collective created by fascist propaganda.41

  • 42 A more detailed comparison of Kracauer’s emphasis on the centrality of atomization in totalitarian (...)
  • 43 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 44 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

15In the fifth section of his essay Kracauer first discusses the key difference between his concepts of the “masses” and the “people.” Although Kracauer analyzes throughout the essay how the Nazis instrumentalize the concept of the “people” for their own ideological purposes, he does preserve a positive concept of the “people,” which he views as an essential component of democratic and socialist politics, and which he distinguishes sharply from the concept of “the masses.” Whereas, according to Kracauer, one of the primary aims of totalitarian propaganda is to transform the “people” into atomized, passive and obedient “mass particles,” truly democratic and socialist movements seek to abolish the conditions that give rise to such masses by empowering the “people” to actively determine their own fate.42 Kracauer elaborates upon this crucial distinction by analyzing the difference between socialist and fascist mass rallies. Drawing once again on Horkheimer’s essay, Kracauer points out that socialist rallies rely much more heavily upon appeals to reason than fascist rallies, insofar as the former aims to enlighten workers about the root causes of their exploitation and to encourage them to act collectively to pursue their own best interests. The latter, in contrast, rely much more heavily on appeals to emotion and on conscious attempts to manipulate the unconscious of “the masses,” whom the fascist leaders hold in contempt—as Hitler made abundantly clear in Mein Kampf. As examples of anti-rational and manipulative character of fascist rallies, Kracauer mentions their privileging of the spoken over the written word, the mind-numbing repetition of slogans, their highly structured and ritualistic character, and the heavy reliance upon irrational gestures and symbols. As Gustav Le Bon, Freud and other theorists of crowd behavior and group psychology—whom Kracauer, strangely, does not discuss in his essay—had long emphasized, individuals in crowds have a tendency to regress. Kracauer writes: “By using the principle of repetition, the speaker pushes the mass down to the level of children and into a condition in which they no longer take in anything except what he constantly repeats.”43 It is precisely such regression that fascist propaganda seeks to reinforce with the “magical power of the spoken word.”44

  • 45 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 46 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 47 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 48 See for example, Horkheimer’s critical historicist analysis of the concept of “skepticism” in these (...)

16The two other key characteristics of fascist propaganda, which Kracauer discusses in the fifth section of his essay, are its cult of personality and its aestheticization of politics. He offers two different explanations of the former concept. The first links the authoritarian fetishization of the leader to what Kracauer himself describes earlier in the essay as the “nihilistic will to power” of fascism, its striving for power solely for its own sake. The second—and more convincing—explanation is based on Horkheimer’s socio-historical analysis of leader follower dynamics in bourgeois social movements during the early modern period. Kracauer follows and elaborates upon Horkheimer’s analysis of both the authoritarian “charisma” of bourgeois leaders, and the transformation of the—progressive—bourgeois celebration of individual autonomy and free development into its opposite. Kracauer agrees with Horkheimer that the primary cause of this apotheosis of leaders lies in “the necessity of putting the masses under a spell, in order to distract them from specific social demands.”45 In fascist propaganda, “all efforts seem directed toward putting the person, instead of the mass, on center stage.”46 Kracauer demonstrates how this fascist celebration of the “personality” represents an abstract, not a determinate negation of the bourgeois concept of the free individual. Bourgeois society in its “heroic” period celebrates the autonomous individual as the cornerstone of a free society. In the nineteenth century, bourgeois philosophers and poets, such as J.S. Mill and Goethe, sang the praises of the free and comprehensive development of the individual personality. Kracauer argues that the socialist movement, which also emerged in the nineteenth century, “affirms this valuation of the individual so unreservedly, that it wants to achieve its universal recognition.”47 But, as Horkheimer argued, the regressive economic development of bourgeois society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—that is, the transformation of liberal capitalism into monopoly and authoritarian state capitalism—also robbed the central philosophical concepts of the bourgeoisie of their content and transformed them into mere fig leaves for the new repressive social order.48 Kracauer writes:

  • 49 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“The interest of big capital, which has been pushed into a defensive position and become increasingly dependent on violence, is not the struggle of opinion […] but instead the death of opinion; […] not the development of the individual into a personality, but the ‘personality’ that knows how to subdue a mass.”49

  • 50 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

For Kracauer, in other words, the fascist cult of personality is just the opposite of the progressive aspects of the bourgeois concept of personality. Rather than inhibiting, it reinforces the formation of regressive masses. In fascist propaganda, the “personality” and the mass “mutually condition each other.”50

  • 51 Kracauer does mention Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Repr (...)
  • 52 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 53 For a more detailed discussion of the evolution of the concept of the aesthetic from “pertainting t (...)
  • 54 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 55 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 56 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

17In the fifth section, Kracauer also elaborates upon some comments he made earlier on the fascist aestheticization of politics.51 In section three he had argued that “many techniques of totalitarian propaganda are calculated exclusively to be aesthetically fascinating,” and that “the aestheticization of propaganda is intended to anesthetize the masses.”52 Playing here—wittingly or unwittingly—on the ancient Greek etymological roots of “aesthetic,” as having to do not only with art, but also with the senses,53 Kracauer goes on to spell out the links between artistically and sensually pleasing fascist spectacle and mass domination. To grasp this phenomenon, Kracauer coins the term “Massenbildkunst,” which means literally an “art of mass images.” Kracauer points out that fascism views the constant reconstitution of the masses as not just as a means of delivering propaganda to the “people,” but itself as a form of propaganda. Seeing immaculately composed and efficiently functioning mass events—such as mass rallies and mass marches—provides aesthetic pleasure, in a manner not unlike watching a performance of the Tiller Girls, as analysed in The Mass Ornament. Fascist propaganda actively encouraged its audience to imagine themselves as an integral part—what Kracauer again calls a “mass particle”54—of such a “Volksgemeinschaft”, in which different parts of Germany are combined into one large, efficiently functioning and formidable machine. It is not a coincidence, Kracauer notes, that the Nazis actively recruited representatives from different parts of Germany to participate in their marches. This tactic is also on display in the famous scene from Triumph of the Will, in which twelve soldiers from different regions call out the names of their various “homelands.” When cut and edited in rapid succession, the calls form an aesthetically gratifying montage of a unified national community. Kracauer takes seriously Hitler’s claim that “the correct utilization of propaganda is a true art, of which the bourgeois parties were and are virtually unaware.”55 Whereas Hitler became a master of this art through long practice, Kracauer draws extensively upon Horkheimer and Fromm’s social psychological theoretical reflections to understand how and why the propagandist must be a “virtuoso of the instrument of the soul.”56 Drawing upon and reinforcing the authoritarian character structures that are the “natural” by-product of modern capitalist societies, the most important task of fascist propagandist is to bind individuals to a social order that runs contrary to their own best interests. Kracauer writes:

  • 57 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“The aesthetic grandiose […] is the overwhelming appearance of power; its function is to tear people out of the sphere of interests into a sphere in which they imagine they have been elevated above themselves and are partaking in the magnificence that is presented to them, or that they themselves represent.”57

In other words, the fascist aestheticization of politics has the same function as its cult of personality: preparing individuals to sacrifice themselves for an imagined community which, in reality, remains dominated by particular interests.

  • 58 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 59 Gustave Le Bon, The Crow: A Study of the Popular Mind, New York, Penguin, 1977, p. 13–21.
  • 60 For an elaboration and case study of this argument, see John Abromeit, “Transformations of Producer (...)

18Kracauer’s discussion of the differences between fascist and socialist rallies, but also his analysis of the fascist cult of personality, are helpful in explaining why fascism is a form of right-wing populism, and how right-wing populism differs from left-wing populism and socialism. In addition to what has been written above, what is crucial to emphasize is fascism’s appropriation and exploitation—as Kracauer himself puts it58—of political forms and strategies, such as the mass rally, that were developed by democratic and socialist movements and parties in the nineteenth century. One of the main reasons why fascism was so effective and why it represented an historically unprecedented political formation, was precisely this transformation of left-wing populist political forms and their successful implementation for a right-wing populist political project. As Gustav Le Bon had already pointedly remarked in 1895, his introduction to The Crowd, if conservative elites hoped to maintain their positions of power in the new age of democracy, they would have to learn to play the game of mass politics and mass manipulation.59 Fascism’s successful transformation of left-wing into right-wing populist political forms, whose mass appeal eventually outstripped the appeal of socialism, can certainly be seen as fulfilling Le Bon’s prognostication.60 Like Horkheimer, Kracauer pays very close attention to the subtle and not so subtle shifts in the movement from left to right that occurs in the fascists’ appropriation of populist forms. In addition to the crucial shift—mentioned above—from a focus on rational interests to emotional compensation, Kracauer emphasizes the inversion of means and ends in the fascist transformation of populism. He writes:

  • 61 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“As soon as totalitarian propaganda exploits the procedures used in the revolutionary camp, their function changes […]. The same actions […] that the one side directs toward revolutionary goals, lose on the other side any purpose transcending the mass, and now serve only to transform the mass into a tough, rigidly structured formation […]. The movement becomes an end in itself.”61

  • 62 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 63 See John Abromeit, Bridget Maria Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations (...)

19One of the consequences of the movement becoming an end in itself in this way, is that a state of total mobilization must be permanently maintained, in order to stifle any doubts about the authenticity of the illusory world created by propaganda. This need for permanent reaffirmation of the totalitarian Weltanschauung also explains the fact that leaders play a much more significant role in right-wing populist and fascist movements, than in left-wing populist and socialist movements. In the latter, the leader’s function is primarily to articulate the best means to achieve the material interests of the individuals in the movement. In the former, the primary function of the leader is social-psychological: he must create and maintain the emotional ties that bind the imagined community together. Indeed, he must become the physical embodiment and symbol of that community. Neither Kracauer nor Horkheimer deny that such emotional bonds also exist in left-wing populism and socialism, but they insist that they are secondary to the primary, rational function of leaders in those movements.62 If such emotional attachments to the leader begin to eclipse the rational pursuit of material interests, then the movement runs the risk of transforming itself into a right-wing populist movement—which is, historically, hardly a rare phenomenon.63

  • 64 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

20The sixth section of Kracauer’s essay contains what can arguably be seen as his most important and distinctive contribution to a historically specific theory of the rise of fascism. With the possible exception of Franz Neumann’s Behemoth, Kracauer’s analysis of the recent social and historical preconditions of fascism surpasses anything that the other Institute members wrote on the topic. As we have seen, Kracauer draws liberally upon Horkheimer’s macrological analysis of the socio-historical roots of fascism in modern bourgeois society as a whole, and Fromm’s analysis of the social-psychological mechanisms at work in fascism, but neither Horkheimer nor Fromm provide a sustained analysis of the social and political situation in Germany in the 1920s, which set the stage for the triumph of National Socialism. As Kracauer vigorously emphasizes, fascist propaganda can succeed only under specific social conditions. He writes: “If the society, into which propaganda is introduced had not been receptive to it, it would have never been as successful as it was.”64 What then, according to Kracauer, were the specific social conditions in Weimar Germany that made fascism possible? Above all, he stresses the political consequences of the hyperinflation of 1923, which hit the German middle class particularly hard and delegitimated the ruling parties in their eyes. The interlude of economic recovery brought by the Dawes Plan succeeded temporarily in holding the anger and distrust of the middle class in abeyance; but when the economy collapsed for a second time after the Great Crash of 1929, many came to the conclusion that Germany’s experiment with liberal democracy had failed and that a radical alternative was necessary. Kracauer argues that the experience of the hyperinflation had created anti-capitalist attitudes among large sections of the middle classes’. He also discusses how these attitudes were reinforced by the strong tendencies towards the concentration of capital in the mid-1920s, with the “rationalization” of the production process and the formation of even larger monopolies. Many member of the alter Mittelstand (“old” middle classes) were further damaged by these tendencies, while at the same time the ranks of the neuer Mittelstand (“new” middle classes) swelled, as the massive new companies hired white-collar workers to staff their bureaucracies.

  • 65 Siegfried Kracauer, The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany, translated by Quin (...)
  • 66 As Kracauer puts it: “beyond class” (Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Sti (...)
  • 67 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 68 In his own analysis of Metropolis about ten years later, Kracauer states that “Maria’s demand that (...)
  • 69 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 70 Max Horkheimer, “Authority and the Family” [1936], in: Critical Theory: Selected Essays, translated (...)

21Kracauer had of course already established himself as a leading authority on these Angestellten—the salaried white-collar workers who formed the most rapidly growing social group in Germany in the 1920s.65 As in his earlier study, here too Kracauer stressed the social dislocation—the Obdachlosigkeit—of the salaried masses, and their illusory belief that they somehow stood outside the social antagonisms of modern capitalist society. Kracauer points explicitly to Marx’s remarks about the social position of the petty bourgeoisie, which leads them falsely to believe they were “extra-territorial in relation to class,”66 and to yearn for a reconciliation of class antagonisms brought about by a powerful outside force—such as the state. Kracauer argues that Marx’s analysis “can also be applied to the new middle class masses.”67 Like Freder in the sickly sentimental ending of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis68—who extends one hand to his father (the capitalist boss) and the other to the representative of the working class, in a naïve effort to mediate between the “head” and the “hands” of the industrial society of the future—the new middle classes dream of playing a “constructive mediating role”69 between wage labor and capital. Despite their anti-capitalist attitudes—which were, according to Kracauer, more pronounced among the German than the Italian middle class—they refused to join their logical ally, the workers, for two main reasons. The first reason was that the socialist and communist parties had become too fixated on the industrial working class as the sole “subject” of revolution, and failed to welcome the politically radicalized middle classes. The second reason—and here Kracauer draws on Horkheimer’s concept of a “cultural lag” in his introduction to the Institute’s Studies on Authority and Family70—was that the consciousness of middle class remained firmly bourgeois even though the material life conditions of much of the old and new middle class differed little from that of the working class—especially after the hyperinflation.

  • 71 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 72 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

22Kracauer concludes the sixth section of his essay with a discussion of how the Nazis adapted their own propaganda to fit perfectly with the confused belief system of the downwardly mobile, and politically mobilized middle class. If fascist propaganda must adapt itself to the pre-existing attitudes of its audience, in order to strike a chord with them, “National Socialist propaganda plays every string correctly and resonates perfectly with the impoverished middle classes.”71 Rather than dismissing it as an obvious contradiction, the middle class recognizes its own inchoate feelings and beliefs in the Nazis’ amalgamation of anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist propaganda. Above all, however, they recognize the Nazis’ determination to reestablish strong authority. As Kracauer puts it, “the middle classes know instinctively that a class reconciliation within the framework of the dominant economic system could only be imposed and maintained by unlimited authority.”72

  • 73 Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, New (...)
  • 74 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 75 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 76 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

23Kracauer’s analysis in this section of the dynamic social relations in Weimar Germany, as a necessary condition of the success of Nazi propaganda, contributes to our understanding of the essential right-wing populist dimensions of fascism in at least three ways. First, his critique of the Social Democratic and German Communist Parties anticipate a suggestive argument made nearly four decades later by Ernesto Laclau.73 Like Laclau, Kracauer castigates both the SPD and the KPD for focusing too narrowly on the working class as the sole possible subject of the revolutionary transformation of society. In so doing, the SPD and KPD leave the door wide open for fascists to appeal to the déclassé middle classes, who had developed anti-capitalist attitudes, but who were spurned by the socialists and communists. Drawing on progressive populist (democratic and republican) and socialist ideas from the nineteenth century, fascism transforms these ideas into a right-wing populist direction, which culminates in their radical nationalist concept of the “Volk”. Kracauer describes this failure to reach out to the disaffected middle classes in terms of the socialists’ loss of a “total vision of society.”74 He argues that “during the crisis the workers’ parties completely lost sight of their former vision of society as a whole, even though the surge of new masses should have drawn their attention to society as a whole.”75 Also, importantly, Kracauer criticizes the SPD for its reluctance to carry out a true revolution. Even though power fell right into its lap, the Social Democrats did not understand how to use it, and their pusillanimous revisionism made them “forget to take control of the judicial and military apparatus,” thereby leaving the conservative elites from the Kaiserreich firmly entrenched in their positions, where they would patiently wait for their opportunity to undermine the Republic. Kracauer concludes that “the absence of a real revolution heightens the appeal of a pseudo-revolution among the proletarianized middle classes.”76

24The second and closely related way in which Kracauer underscores the right-wing populist dimensions of fascism, is his description of how the Nazis stole the very idea of socialism from the SPD and KPD. Here he develops further arguments from earlier in the essay relating to the aim of propaganda to separate people from their material interests, and how the delegitimation of the party system—which was based precisely on representing those interests—greatly facilitated this task. Kracauer writes:

  • 77 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“The dissolution of structures, which totalitarian propaganda was determined to destroy, had already been set in motion by the collapse of the party system. This collapse set the stage for this propaganda by creating a breach into which it could leap. The more the German workers’ parties failed to meet expectations, the easier it was for National Socialist propaganda to attract the masses, who had been produced by the crisis, with the idea of socialism, while at the same time suppressing the interests upon which socialism was based.”77

25Here Kracauer gives us not only an excellent example of the fascist appropriation of left-wing political ideas and their transformation into right-wing populist ideology; he also provides us with a compelling explanation of why such transformations are socially necessary—in precisely the sense Marx discussed in his theory of ideology. If liberal political and economic ideas were the socially necessary form of ideology in the liberal capitalist societies of the nineteenth century, the rapid concentration of capital in the monopoly and state capitalist societies of the twentieth century created the need for new forms of right-wing populist ideology, which assume their most extreme and virulent form in fascist and National Socialist propaganda. Kracauer buttresses his argument here with the following statement from Ignacio Silone:

  • 78 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

“In a country like Germany, in which almost three-quarters of all voters are employees, a bourgeois parliamentary majority is only possible if the capitalist parties present themselves as populists (volkstümlich auftreten) and make all kinds of promises to the poor masses […]. The dictatorship in Germany was necessary.”78

26In short, as society becomes dominated by an increasingly narrow group of particular interests, ideology must become increasingly intense and sophisticated in order to conceal blatant contradictions and to cajole the majority into sacrificing their clear interest in an emancipatory transformation of capitalist social relations.

  • 79 See Max Horkheimer, “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” [193 (...)
  • 80 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 81 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

27As we have seen, social psychological mechanisms come to play an increasingly important role in this transformation of capitalist ideology from liberalism to right-wing populism. According to Horkheimer, psychoanalysis has little to teach us about rational social movements, which are grounded in the pursuit of individuals’ material interests, but it has much to teach us about the irrational mobilization of masses for aims that run contrary to their own interests.79 The third and final lesson to be learned in this section about fascism and right-wing populism is related to the social psychology of totalitarian propaganda. Elaborating upon the remarks he made in section four, on the crucial role of sadism in fascist movements, Kracauer identifies the basic social-psychological mechanism of totalitarian propaganda as “arousing elementary passions and directing them against external objects.”80 The consciously pursued end of this tactic is mass deception: “The more intense the rage that is fixated on such objects, the less capable the bedazzled masses are of seeing the contradictions in the propaganda.”81 So, Kracauer clearly recognizes the central importance of such psychological mechanisms at work in the right-wing populists’ need to constantly fabricate a clear and present danger posed to the “people” by their internal and external “enemies.” Yet, as Adorno pointed out in his critique of Kracauer’s essay, his appropriation of psychoanalysis was not sophisticated enough to articulate theoretically how and why these mechanisms functioned. For this reason, Kracauer also relied heavily on the more theoretically elaborated synthesis of Marx and Freud developed in the 1930s by Horkheimer and Fromm.

  • 82 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 83 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)
  • 84 Franz Neumann, The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory, ed (...)
  • 85 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 201 (...)

28A brief discussion of the seventh and concluding section of the essay will suffice, since it introduces few new elements. Indeed, Kracauer does not introduce any new or original elements to his analysis of totalitarian propaganda or the right-wing populist aspects of fascism. Kracauer reiterates the crucial point that propaganda is socially necessary for fascist regimes. He writes: “Propaganda is not just something used occasionally by modern dictators, it is anchored in the foundations of these dictatorships.”82 He discusses the fascist instrumentalization of law, and its reduction to “whatever is useful to the German people.”83 But for a much more penetrating theory of the fascist destruction of the rule of law, one should rely on Franz Neumann, not Kracauer.84 Pointing to the organization of leisure time in fascist Germany by the Nazis’ Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy), and in Italy by Mussolini’s Dopolavoro programs, Kracauer gives further concrete examples of the important role of psychological compensation and the maintenance of the illusion of class equality in both regimes. However, the most important point in the conclusion of Kracauer’s essay is perhaps his strong emphasis on the social origins of fascism, and on the concomitant necessity to develop a critical social theory of fascism. In contrast to Carl Schmitt and later theorists who were influenced by him, such as Ernesto Laclau, who move away from social theory and see in the pronounced populist dimensions of fascism evidence of the “primacy of the political,” Kracauer remains—like Horkheimer, Fromm and Adorno—a critical Marxist who rejects the autonomy of “the political” from social and socio-economic relations. Kracauer states clearly his conviction that “the autonomous life (Eigenleben) of social reality determines the dictatorships.”85

Adorno’s Critique of Kracauer’s Essay

29Next, I would like to briefly examine Theodor W. Adorno’s evaluation of Kracauer’s essay in order to reflect more generally upon the strengths and weaknesses of Kracauer’s analysis of fascism, but also upon the ways in which his analysis was indebted to Horkheimer and Fromm. In March 1938 Adorno wrote an evaluation of Kracauer’s essay for Horkheimer, to aid him in deciding whether or not Horkheimer should publish it in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. Adorno argues first that Kracauer is not rigorous enough theoretically, especially in regard to his inadequate grasp of historical materialism and psychoanalysis. For Adorno, this alleged shortcoming also meant that Kracauer did not share the same theoretical premises as the Institute, and that he did not adequately grasp Horkheimer’s writings, upon which he had relied so heavily in the essay. Adorno’s second main criticism of Kracauer was that his essay was not sufficiently grounded empirically, that his conclusions were based on a spotty sampling of the scholarly literature on fascism up to that point. Although Adorno’s overall evaluation of Kracauer’s essay was negative, he did find some things to praise. Adorno states that Kracauer had succeeded in giving clear and nuanced expression in literary form to many important features of fascism, which he and others had experienced personally in the 1920s and early 1930s. Adorno praises the astuteness of Kracauer’s observations and attributes their high quality to his “phenomenological” approach to the subject. Adorno also appreciates Kracauer’s argument that fascism must constantly produce “the masses,” and that the fetishization of the “personality” of the leader cannot be separated from this ideological necessity.

  • 86 See for example Theodor W. Adorno, “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda” [1946] and “Freudian Theo (...)
  • 87 Lukacs’ notorious rejection of psychoanalysis certainly also played a role in his inability to move (...)

30Adorno’s criticisms of Kracauer are most justified in relation to his inadequate grasp of psychoanalysis, and of social psychology and mass psychology more generally. Kracauer’s theoretical weaknesses in these areas are precisely what led him to draw so heavily upon Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings from the 1930s, which pioneered a qualitatively new approach to critical social theory that was grounded in a sophisticated synthesis of historical materialism and psychoanalysis. Although many of Kracauer’s astute observations could be used as examples of the social-psychological mechanisms at work in fascism, one should not seek in his work a rigorous, conceptual explanation of how they function. In this regard, Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings from the 1930s—but also Adorno’s writings on the social psychology of fascism in the 1940s86—are without doubt superior to Kracauer’s essay. Also, as noted, Kracauer’s failure to address the literature on mass psychology, from Gustav Le Bon, William McDougall (and others) to Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (which was published in 1921), underscores his inadequate theoretical grasp of social psychology, group psychology and psychoanalysis. With regard to Kracauer’s allegedly insufficient understanding of Marx’s theoretical categories, Adorno’s argument is less convincing. We have seen here how Kracauer avoided the reductionism of traditional Marxist approaches, which failed to grasp the crucial right-wing populist dimensions of fascism. Kracauer’s more supple interpretation of Marx, combined with his astute sociological observations, led him to focus precisely on this key aspect of fascism, particularly as it manifested itself in the realm of fascist propaganda. Although Lukács’ interpretation of Marx was certainly more sophisticated than Kracauer’s—Adorno drew liberally upon Lukács’ pathbreaking reinterpretation of Marx in his own writings—Lukács’ fetishization of the proletariat as the “subject-object” of history prevented him from grasping the crucial populist dimensions of fascism in the way that Kracauer did.87 At the same time, Kracauer remained enough of a Marxist to see through the spurious claim—made by theorists then (Schmitt) and later (Laclau)—that fascism signified the replacement of socio-economic relations by politics as the new foundation of society.

  • 88 On Adorno’s efforts to win Horkheimer’s loyalty in the mid- to late 1930s, and his rivalry with Eri (...)
  • 89 Zeev Sternhell (with Mario Sznaider and Maia Asheri), The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural (...)

31Adorno’s second main criticism of Kracauer’s essay, that it lacked solid empirical foundations and was not adequately grounded in the scholarly literature on fascism, is justified to a certain extent. As Adorno points out in the sections of his essay on Italian fascism, Kracauer relies almost exclusively on Ignazio Silone’s writings. Kracauer stands on firmer ground in the sections on National Socialism, in which he draws not only upon studies by respected contemporary scholars—such as Arthur Rosenberg, Erwin von Beckerath and Eric Wernert—but also extensively upon the writings and speeches of Nazi leaders, such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Gregor Strasser, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, and others. Kracauer also makes use of a number of studies of propaganda from both German and English-speaking scholars. Finally, Kracauer draws extensively on the writings of Fromm and—to an even greater extent—Horkheimer throughout the essay. Although Kracauer’s theoretical premises were not the same as Horkheimer’s, it is not the case—as Adorno claimed—that Kracauer failed to understand their writings. On the contrary, Kracauer seemed to have intuited his own theoretical weaknesses and to have used Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings effectively to supplement his own analysis of fascism. The fact that Adorno was engaged at this time in an intense—and ultimately successful—attempt to win Horkheimer’s loyalty, not to mention Adorno’s troubled personal relations with Kracauer and his rivalry with Erich Fromm, probably contributed to Adorno’s tendentiously negative evaluation of Kracauer’s essay and of his appropriation of Horkheimer and Fromm’s writings.88 That said, Adorno did praise the power of Kracauer’s “literary” and “phenomenological” observations, which could themselves be seen as a form of “empirical” evidence. In any case, Kracauer’s analysis of fascism was grounded in earlier “empirical” studies he had carried out in Weimar Germany—most notably, of the burgeoning group of white-collar workers (Die Angestellten). As I have argued here, some of Kracauer’s most original and insightful analyses of fascism—especially in section six of his essay—are clearly indebted to these earlier analyses. Finally, I have also tried to point out throughout this essay the many remarkable ways in which Kracauer’s analyses anticipated later scholarship on a variety of issues—from Zeev Sternhell’s writings on the important role of national-syndicalist workers in the formation of Italian fascism, to Ernesto Laclau’s early writings on fascism and populism, to Peter Fritzsche and Geoff Eley’s emphasis on the centrality of populist ideology to the success of Nazism.89 Even if Kracauer’s essay may not have had sufficient empirical foundations, subsequent scholarship has demonstrated the truth content of many of his insights.

Conclusion

32In addition to summarizing the main arguments in Kracauer’s essay, I have attempted to demonstrate here what the essay can still teach us about the crucial links between right-wing, authoritarian populism and fascism. Kracauer’s lengthy essay on fascism provides us with many important insights into the ways in which Italian fascism and German National Socialism relied upon right-wing populist ideology and political tactics to secure their catastrophic victory. These include the following: the Manichean—and ideologically motivated—division of society into “friends” and “enemies” of the “people,” with the former portrayed as virtuous and productive, and the latter as immoral and parasitic; the stress on patriotism and national unity, and the suppression of individual and group interests in the name of the good of the imagined community as a whole; the mobilization of the masses with the seemingly contrary aim of making people politically passive, individually isolated and powerless; the central role of psychological compensation, in the form of both sadism (permission to hate and harm official “enemies”) and masochism (identification with the overwhelming power of the rulers); identification with powerful leaders, and / or the replacement of one’s own ego-ideal with the ego-ideal of the leader; the crucial role of economic crises in greatly enhancing the appeal of populist movements and parties; the ideological appropriation of key concepts (the “people”, “socialism”) and strategies (mass rallies) from the left and their transformation into tools of social domination.

  • 90 For one suggestive attempt to conceptualize the historical relationship between fascism and right-w (...)
  • 91 John Abromeit, “Critical Theory and the Persistence of Right-Wing Populism,” Logos: A Journal of Mo (...)

33The resurgence of right-wing, authoritarian populist movements and parties in Europe, the United States, Latin America and other parts of the globe in more recent times has generated new interest in both the history of populism and fascism, and the historical links between them.90 Although it is conceptually imprecise to label contemporary right-wing, authoritarian populist movements as “fascist,” it is justified—conversely—to view fascism as a sub-species of the larger category of “right-wing populism.” Fascism can be seen as an extreme, and National Socialism as perhaps the most extreme form of right-wing, authoritarian populism. Hence, we can still learn important lessons about contemporary right-wing, authoritarian populist movements by studying the history of fascism, and the historical transformation of populism from left to right, which was so essential to the success of fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The analysis of fascism by Kracauer and the other Frankfurt School Critical Theorists can also teach us important lessons about why right-wing populist ideology has persisted—in other words, why it has remained socially necessary—in advanced capitalist societies right up to the present day.91

Notes

1 “As it actually was,” here referring to Leopold von Ranke’s famous dictum about the study of history. On the difference between Ranke’s traditional historicism and the critical historicism of Marx, see John Abromeit’s review of Gareth Stedman Jones’ book Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion (The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 90, No. 4, 2018, p. 968–971). On the centrality of critical historicism to Horkheimer’s early Critical Theory, see John Abromeit, “Reconsidering the Critical Historicism of Karl Korsch and the Early Max Horkheimer,” in: Achim Seifert et al. (eds.), Karl Korsch zwischen Rechts- und Sozialwissenschaft. Ein Beitrag zur Thüringischen Rechts- und Justizgeschichte, Stuttgart, Boorberg, 2018, p. 151–176.

2 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1966, p. 358.

3 John Abromeit, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 1–5.

4 John Abromeit, “Critical Theory and the Persistence of Right-Wing Populism,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, Vol. 15, No. 2-3, 2016. Available on <http://logosjournal.com/2016/abromeit>.

5 John Abromeit, “Max Horkheimer et le concept matérialiste de la culture,” in: Pierre-François Noppen, Gérard Raulet, and Iain Macdonald (eds.), Les normes et le possible. Héritage et perspectives de l’École de Francfort, Paris, Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2013, p. 53–70.

6 See Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, New Left Books, 1977, as well as Peter Fritzsche’s books, Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany, New York / Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990, and Germans into Nazis, Cambridge (MA) / London, Harvard University Press, 1999.

7 Peter Fritzsche, “The Role of ‘the People’ and the Rise of the Nazis”, in: John Abromeit, Bridget María Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 5–14.

8 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 16.

9 Zeev Sternhell (with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri), The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, translated by David Maisel, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994.

10 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 16.

11 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 20.

12 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 18.

13 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 26.

14 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 23.

15 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 29; Max Horkheimer, “Authority and the Family” [1936], in: Critical Theory: Selected Essays, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell, New York, Continuum, 1992, p. 68 sq.

16 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 29.

17 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 39.

18 Max Horkheimer, “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” [1936], in: Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer, and John Torpey, Cambridge (MA), MIT Press, 1995, p. 49–110.

19 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 34 sq.

20 Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, New York, Penguin, 1977, p. 13 sq.

21 Giovanni Gentile, “The Origins and Doctrine of Fascism,” in: Origins and Doctrine of Fascism: With Selections from Other Works, edited and translated by A. James Gregor, London / New York, Routledge, 2017, p. 1–11.

22 To use Franz Neumann’s concept; Kracauer speaks mainly of “monopoly capitalism,” but also emphasizes the desire of monopoly capitalism to establish a much stronger state, in order to run the economy in a more authoritarian and autonomous manner. See Franz Neumann, Behemoth: Struktur und Praxis des Nationalsozialismus, 1933–1944, Frankfurt a. M., S. Fischer, 1984, p. 269–286.

23 For one astute critique of the Sonderweg thesis as applied to Germany, see Geoff Eley, “In Search of the Bourgeois Revolution: The Peculiarities of German History,” Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 7, 1988, p. 105–133.

24 Symptomatic of the new right-wing populist strategy was the arch-conservative Kreuz-Zeitung, which changed its masthead after WWI from “Vorwärts mit Gott für König und Vaterland” to “Für das deutsche Volk” (Peter Fritzsche, Germans into Nazis, Cambridge (MA) / London, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 111).

25 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 48.

26 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 57.

27 Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” in: The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, New York, Norton, 1978, 2nd edition, p. 16–23.

28 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London / New York, Verso, 2005, p. 67–128.

29 See Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, New Left Books, 1977.

30 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 78.

31 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 69.

32 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 72.

33 On Kolberg as Goebbels’ last desperate attempt to maintain the illusory world of Nazi propaganda, see David Welch, “Nazi Film Policy: Control, Ideology, and Propaganda,” in: Glenn R. Cuomo (ed.), National Socialist Cultural Policy, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1995, p. 115–118.

34 For a more recent study of Nazi Germany that emphasizes the importance of the Nazis’ creation of a “welfare state,” see Götz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, translated by Jefferson Chase, New York, Henry Holt, 2008.

35 For an ideal typical analysis of the commonalities and differences between left and right-wing populism, see John Abromeit, Bridget María Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. xvi.

36 See John Abromeit, “Transformations of Producerist Populism in Western Europe,” in: John Abromeit, Bridget María Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 231–264.

37 See Horkheimer and Adorno’s analysis of this important trope of Nazi ideology—in terms of what they call “bourgeois anti-Semitism” (Dialectic of Enlightenment, edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, translated by Edmund Jephcott, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 141–144). Kracauer also mentions this same trope in his essay; he cites Hitler’s statement that “schaffende Arbeit” (productive labor) is “ewig antisemitisch” (eternally anti-Semitic) (Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 87).

38 Erich Fromm, “Zum Gefühl der Ohnmacht,” Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, Vol. 6, 1937, p. 95–119.

39 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 76.

40 Erich Fromm, “Theoretische Entwürfe über Autorität und Familie” [1936], in: Max Horkheimer (ed.), Studien über Autorität und Familie. Forschungsberichte aus dem Institut für Sozialforschung, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1936, p. 127. Cited here by Kracauer (in: Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 76).

41 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 75 sq. One of the most striking examples of the links between sadism and populism in Nazi propaganda can be found in the film Jud Süß, which was commissioned by Goebbels and released in 1940 to prepare the German population for the so-called “final solution” to the Jewish question. In the film, which is set in 18th century Württemberg, the virtuous and hard-working German people are portrayed as the victims of a sinister, lecherous and parasitic Jew called Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, who succeeds in bringing the guileless and profligate Duke of Württemberg under his control by granting him loans he is unable to pay back. Oppenheimer uses his influence over the Duke to repeal the laws against Jews living in Stuttgart, the capital city of Württemberg. Oppenheimer also aggressively pursues a married, Christian woman, and after she repeatedly refuses his advances he rapes her. Soon thereafter the virtuous German people rise up to liberate Stuttgart and Württemberg from the sinister machinations of Oppenheimer, who is given a summary trial and executed (to great fanfare) at the end of the film.

42 A more detailed comparison of Kracauer’s emphasis on the centrality of atomization in totalitarian regimes with Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the same in The Origins of Totalitarianism would be interesting here.

43 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 90.

44 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 89.

45 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 94. Kracauer is paraphrasing Horkheimer here.

46 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 93.

47 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 95.

48 See for example, Horkheimer’s critical historicist analysis of the concept of “skepticism” in these terms, or Herbert Marcuse’s analysis of the concept of “Kultur” along the same lines (respectively in Max Horkheimer, “Montaigne and the Function of Skepticism” [1938], in: Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer, and John Torpey, Cambridge [MA], MIT Press, 1995, p. 265–312, and Herbert Marcuse, “On the Affirmative Character of Culture” [1937], in: Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro, Boston, Beacon, 1968, p. 88–133).

49 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 95.

50 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 96.

51 Kracauer does mention Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in which he develops the concepts of the “aestheticization of politics.” But Kracauer mentions the essay in the context of a different discussion, and seems to develop his ideas on the aestheticization of politics independently of Benjamin (Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 80).

52 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 64.

53 For a more detailed discussion of the evolution of the concept of the aesthetic from “pertainting to the senses” to the “philosophical study of art,” see Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, Boston, Beacon, 1955, p. 172–196.

54 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 98.

55 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 63.

56 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 64.

57 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 102.

58 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 97.

59 Gustave Le Bon, The Crow: A Study of the Popular Mind, New York, Penguin, 1977, p. 13–21.

60 For an elaboration and case study of this argument, see John Abromeit, “Transformations of Producerist Populism in Western Europe,” in: John Abromeit, Bridget María Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 231–264.

61 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 97 sq.

62 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 97. For Horkheimer’s discussion of the crucial differences between genuinely progressive and authoritarian leaders, see his article “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” [1936], in: Between Philosophy and Social Science. Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer, and John Torpey, Cambridge (MA), MIT Press, 1995, p. 77 sqq. In the more recent literature on populism there is also a lively debate about the role of the leader in contemporary right-wing populist movments. See John Abromeit, “A Critical Review of the Recent Literature on Populism,” Politics and Governance, Vol. 5, No. 4, 2017, p. 177–186.

63 See John Abromeit, Bridget Maria Chesterton, Gary Marotta, and York Norman (eds.), Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas, London, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. xvii-xix.

64 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 106.

65 Siegfried Kracauer, The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany, translated by Quintin Hoare, London, Verso, 1998.

66 As Kracauer puts it: “beyond class” (Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 119).

67 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 119.

68 In his own analysis of Metropolis about ten years later, Kracauer states that “Maria’s demand that the heart mediate between hand and brain could well have been formulated by Goebbels. He, too, appealed to the heart—in the interest of totalitarian propaganda” (Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1947, p. 163 sq.).

69 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 120.

70 Max Horkheimer, “Authority and the Family” [1936], in: Critical Theory: Selected Essays, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell, New York, Continuum, 1992, p. 65.

71 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 126.

72 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 124.

73 Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, New Left Books, 1977, p. 81–142.

74 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 112. He takes this idea from Ignacio Silone.

75 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 111 sq.

76 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 115.

77 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 115.

78 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 115.

79 See Max Horkheimer, “Egoism and Freedom Movements: On the Anthropology of the Bourgeois Epoch” [1936], in: Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer, and John Torpey, Cambridge (MA), MIT Press, 1995, p. 49–110.

80 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 130.

81 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 130.

82 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 132.

83 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 134.

84 Franz Neumann, The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory, edited by Herbert Marcuse, New York, The Free Press, 1957.

85 Siegfried Kracauer, Totalitäre Propaganda, edited by Bernd Stiegler, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 146.

86 See for example Theodor W. Adorno, “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda” [1946] and “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1979, p. 397–432.

87 Lukacs’ notorious rejection of psychoanalysis certainly also played a role in his inability to move beyond a traditional Marxist interpretation of fascism.

88 On Adorno’s efforts to win Horkheimer’s loyalty in the mid- to late 1930s, and his rivalry with Erich Fromm, see John Abromeit, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 349–382; on Adorno’s difficult relationship with Kracauer, see Martin Jay, “Adorno and Kracauer: Notes on a Trouble Friendship,” in: Permanent Exiles: Essays on the Intellectual Migration from Germany to America, New York, Columbia University Press, 1986, p. 217–236.

89 Zeev Sternhell (with Mario Sznaider and Maia Asheri), The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, translated by David Maisel, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994; Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism, London, New Left Books, 1977; Peter Fritzsche, Germans into Nazis, Cambridge (MA) / London, Harvard University Press, 1999; and Geoff Eley, Nazism as Fascism: Violence, Ideology, and the Ground of Consent in Germany 1930–1945, London / New York, Routledge, 2013.

90 For one suggestive attempt to conceptualize the historical relationship between fascism and right-wing populism, see Federico Finchelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History, Oakland, University of California Press, 2017.

91 John Abromeit, “Critical Theory and the Persistence of Right-Wing Populism,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, Vol. 15, No. 2-3, 2016. Available on <http://logosjournal.com/2016/abromeit>.

Auteur

John Abromeit, Associate Professor of History, State University of New York, Buffalo State. Publications on Frankfurt School Critical Theory and Modern European Intellectual History. Co-editor of Transformations of Populism in Europe and the Americas: History and Recent Tendencies (Bloomsbury, 2016) and author of Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

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