Tag Archives: Weimar Republic

Living in Weimar 4: Ideal Bodies


Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

Living in Weimar 2: Creative Ferment

Living in Weimar 3: How Bad Can It Get?


Laurie and Debbie say:

When we think (if we must) about fascism, one thing we think about is the Nazi idealized body. The image of the young, fit, blond, blue-eyed Aryan, with the prominent cheekbones and athletic frame was not created by Hitler and his cronies. Instead, they took a well-known European romantic trope which had been built over the previous centuries, and made it into a fascist wet dream.

A contemporary Aryan site, proudly featuring a swastika in its header, yields this quotation (under a picture which graphs the ratios of a “perfect” face:

Just as the NSDAP inner circle was far from flawless in physical appearance, we have no objection at all to physically unremarkable non-Jews joining us. But this does not mean we should set no standard for appearance as a racial ideal, as some other movements do. What we ourselves look like does not matter, but what type we consider to be beautiful reflects our idealism, and therefore matters a lot. (Emphasis in the original.)


To the Nazis, and historically many other Europeans before them, beauty was spiritual and soulful as well as physical; the outside reflected the inside. The Weimar Republic was in a period, as we are today, of change and opening up of standards, of including more kinds of people, more kinds of bodies. As always when this is happening, an undercurrent of fear was also growing. The Nazis were in the center of that fear: experiencing it, fanning its flames, making it their whole world and their road to power. They used the image of the body and made it Aryan. The vision was already very much in the cultural zeitgeist, so it was easy to transform into one way to exclude, to caricature, and to turn fear into hate, and hate into hateful action.


Trumpism is not fascism, let alone Nazi-ism. Nonetheless, we have recently been treated to a very clear vision of Trump’s fascination with the ideal body. Where Nazi adaptations of European idealized bodies were male and female, athletic, and committed to the fascist values, contemporary America’s ideal bodies are models and beauty queens, perfect unblemished women, available for rating on a numerical scale. What they do have in common with fascist beauty is the requirement that they be fit, young, blonde, and blue-eyed. (In this time and place, the social image of a flawless body is primarily about women’s bodies.)

Trump has completely bought into the American vision of the ideal woman, and into his penis-given right to judge which women are ideal, or how far they fall short.  Trump is utterly comfortable saying (in this case about actress Nicolette Sheridan) ““A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

Buying into the ideal of the perfect body is a direct route to marginalization and racism. It’s not just about fat or flat-chested or old bodies, but of dark skin, dark eyes, or any other ethnic characteristic which doesn’t belong in either the Nazis’ or the Trumpists conception of a “master race.”

Ideals of beauty are not necessarily fascist; however, simplistic stereotypical ideals of beauty, especially when paired with fear of the outsider, are a breeding ground for fascism.



Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink


Laurie and Debbie say:

bill of rights

We’ve been talking to each other, and to our close friends, for several months now about how much Donald Trump frightens us, and about just how dangerous we think he is to the United States and the world. Laurie started our catch-phrase for this, which is “living in Weimar.” The Weimar Republic was the unofficial name of the German Reich from 1918 through 1933: the period when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, which was also a period when activists and artists were making great strides toward equality and positive social change. Living in Weimar means, to us, living in a time when vicious, dangerous ideas are powerful, when terrifying threats loom, and when taking action can change history very significantly for the better. (If you Google Weimar now, the first entries after the basic historical links are about the 2016 U.S. election.)

This week, as the Republican National Convention progresses in Cleveland, Ohio, our fears are being demonstrated. The Republican Party has adopted its most reactionary platform in decades–in some cases, the most reactionary positions it has ever held. The platform:

takes a strict, traditionalist view of the family and child rearing, bars military women from combat, describes coal as a “clean” energy source and declares pornography a “public health crisis.”

… the document … amounts to a rightward lurch even from the party’s hard-line platform in 2012 — especially as it addresses gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

In direct contravention of the principle of separation of church and state, the platform “demands that lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating, stipulating ‘that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.’”

And in keeping with that, the Republican Party has also declared itself to be above the U.S. Constitution, a document that has weathered crises for 230 years:

The Platform does not simply interpret the First Amendment in ways that are agreeable to conservatives and anathema to liberals, it proclaims that the Republican interpretation of the First Amendment is impervious even to a new constitutional amendment that repudiates this interpretation! If Congress were to propose, and the states were to ratify, a constitutional amendment overruling the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Republican Party’s position is that this amendment would be null and void.

In that context, we are not just looking at a president who might launch nuclear weapons if someone criticizes the size of his hands. We’re looking at a genuine American revolution, one which Donald Trump may not even care about, and which he is nonetheless poised to lead. And yet, many people still seem to see Trump as some sort of a fluke who got this far but cannot possibly get any further.

In this context, we are grateful to Hannah Koslowska at Quartz for locating the New York Times’ very first article about Adolf Hitler: what the dangers of living in Weimar looked like from across the ocean in 1922. The headline was “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria: Hitler Credited with Extraordinary Powers of Swaying Crowds to His Will.

Several reliable well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your final real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

Donald Trump is not Hitler. As Harold Meyerson says in an excellent article at The American Prospect, which we will discuss more in future articles about living in Weimar:

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Trump is a demagogue; he’s thrilled to whip crowds into a frenzy of hatred; and he only cares about his own power. He doesn’t have to be Hitler to be terrifying. And we don’t have to be living in the actual Weimar to be terrified. The key thing, however, is to turn terror not into paralysis, but into action. As in Weimar, this is a time when really positive possibilities for social change and cultural shifts exist along with the threats, which makes it a time when we all need to do what we can to make it happen.