News & Politics

The Nazis as Beatniks


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April 20, 1960, Vol. V, No. 26

The Nazis as Beats

By Theodore Price

April 20 is Hitler’s birthday. I take this occasion to tell you a few things about Hitler that you may not know and that you ought to know. I tell you as a warning, those of you who are of, or who identify with the Beat Generation. The National Socialists — dynamic and uncompromising anti-bourgeois intellectuals — were just such a generation in their time. The Beats, given the right mis en scene, can develop along the same lines.

For Hitler, as all serious historians agree, was an artist. His youth was spent, not in politics but in art – drawing and painting, sketching architectural plans, going to the theatre and opera, striving himself to write an opera, fleeing from relatives who kept urging him to get a practical job, spending half a decade without money or friends, taking odd jobs, dodging draft boards, living like a bum so he could think like a demi-god.

He went to war in 1914 with a copy of Schopenhauer in his knapsack. During the seething political days of the 20’s he would drag unappreciative comrades to this or that cloister or church to lecture them on architecture. He drove his generals frantic by regarding staff maps with the eye of an artist, asking for parts of the line to be straightened because their appearance was displeasing to the eye!

Other leading Nazis were artists. Goebbels, who spent five years at eight universities working on his doctorate on the history of Romantic Drama, wrote novels no one would publish, plays no one would produce. Heydrich, like Ribbentrop and Funk, was an accomplished musician and used to give violin recitals in his home. Rosenberg was an architect, Hess was a poet. Von Schirach felt he was “born for the arts” and exclaimed during the war: “Every boy who dies at the front is dying for Mozart.”

The man who coined the phrase “The Third Reich” was a translator of Dostoevski and like the character in “Raw Youth” killed himself for a theory. Dietrich Eckart, a progenitor of the movement, was a talented poet, author of the phrase, “Germany, Awake!”, a translator of Ibsen, an alcoholic and, like Goering, a junkie. Of course, the Nazis, like the Beats, were riddled with homosexuals.

In short, who were the Nazis? They were Bohemians – intellectuals who had not found their place in society, declasses by circumstance, not by choice. (From what I can observe, the beats are almost always sons and daughters of small bourgeois: teachers, druggists, dentists, shopkeepers, who send them money from time to time and are always there to go back to when things get really tough.) Otherwise the resemblance is strong: they cannot or will not identify with the American bourgeoisie. In an era of prosperity they are rebels with no place to go.

Seemingly so independent, they keep searching for a leader in whose authority they can lose themselves (hence the idolatry of Kerouac and Mailer). Sooner or later they may find the right one, at the right moment. Then look out. At any rate, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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