The Triumph of the Will Reborn
The city of Nuremberg, Germany is faced with a problem: what to do with the decaying monuments of the Third Reich, including Zeppelinfeld, the huge stadium that saw the Nazi rallies of the 1930s.
Zeppelinfeld in the 1930s.
The restoration of the colossal and wordless testament to Nazism's power continues to present a dilemma to the citizens of Nuremberg. Some think the ruins should be preserved as a warning for future generations; others believe that the whole complex should be allowed to disintegrate.
Looking at the ruins of Nuremberg, part of the empire that was to last for a thousand years, it is perhaps difficult to believe the powerfully mesmerizing impact the grand formations of Nazi soldiers and symbols at one time had.
Perhaps no one documented the effects of Nazism's intoxicatingly splendiferous grandeur better than filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whose Triumph of the Will remains a cinematic masterpiece even though 73 years have passed since the fall of the Third Reich. Students of cinema still study her work.
Riefenstahl's genius was not limited to technologically advanced camera work and exciting new photographic angles. Her brilliant cinematography, accompanied by heroically themed music, captured the hypnotic power of Nazi ideology, including its messianic hope that one man could, by the mere power of his will, completely re-order German society and, through it, re-order the entire world.
From the opening scene, which depicts Hitler descending from the clouds in a pictorial reversal of the ascension of Christ, to the stunning shots of the parade grounds packed with rank upon rank of examples of the supposedly perfect Aryan race, and at last to the hypnotizing closing speech of der Führer, the film was a ground-breaking cinematographic masterpiece as well as a triumph of National Socialist propaganda.
William Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, was later to comment on the intoxicating effect Nazi rallies had on the masses. He wrote that "every word dropped by Hitler seemed like an inspired word from on high. Man's – or at least the German's – critical faculty is swept away at such moments, and every lie pronounced is accepted as high truth itself." Hitler himself declared that the Nazi Party "will be unchangeable in its doctrine, hard as steel in its organization, supple and adaptable in its tactics. In its entity, however, it will be like a religious order[.]"
It causes great sadness to think back on all that the decaying monuments and buildings of the Third Reich represents. It is grievous still, almost three quarters of a century later, to see the lingering results of the attempted murder of European civilization.
It is sadder to recognize the ideology that supported the Third Reich. Namely, the deeply flawed and essentially falsely religious idea that the power of the unfettered human will can restructure reality continues in the West, albeit in new forms.
The fact is that the belief in the triumph of the human will to power continues to be reformulated in today's identity politics. It exhibits itself in the belief that any human being can identify one's essential being as one wishes and in the idea that society must then be restructured to suit the perception and the will of the self-identified. To put it another way, fascistic messianism has been rerouted to individuals, including mere children, who supposedly have an infallible inner divine light that gives the right to identify the self and to reorder society to conform to one's chosen identity.
That such a pathology migrated to our shores and now is expressed by the American left, now hopefully in its death throes, is a testament to the so-called intellectual flaccidity in academia, including many of the nation's seminaries. Too often, orthodox theology concerning mankind as created imago Dei has been sidelined as a specialty with no particular relevance to modernity other than to fight old battles of the past, engage trivialities of the present, or provide a justificatory framework for new "progressive" ideals of modernism and postmodernism.
The new fascistic messianism now available to the masses repudiates both nature and revelation in order to embrace the lies of the ideologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, relying on fantasies that have been proved disastrous over and over again in all their multitudinous forms, be they the fantasy of the perfect Aryan or the perfect communist. The rebirth of the pernicious idea that any human being can redefine being and force the complete restructuring of society in order to reinforce the fantasies conjured in his brain at any given moment is disastrous.
The powers of the human will are intrinsically limited, either by laws of nature or by miraculous intervention and the will of the Almighty. Free will does not give power to declare oneself the opposite of the sex one is born as any more than free will enables a human to breathe under water. Free will does not enable humans to change the structure of the universe to accommodate any fantasy conjured from the brain.
As Solzhenitsyn prophetically stated in his Nobel speech of 1970:
One kind of artist imagines himself the creator of an independent spiritual world and shoulders the act of creating that world and the people in it, assuming total responsibility for it – but he collapses, for no mortal genius is able to hold up under such a load [– j]ust as man, who once declared himself the center of existence, has not been able to create a stable spiritual system. When failure overwhelms him, he blames it on the age-old discord of the world, on the complexity of the fragmented and torn modern soul, or on the public's lack of understanding.
Solzhenitsyn added that using one's own personal scale to decide things for everyone always results in the triumph of lies and violence:
Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with lying ... and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his method must inexorably choose lying as his principle. [The lie] does not always or necessarily go straight for the gullet; usually it demands of its victims only allegiance to the lie, only complicity in the lie. The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let that [lie] come into the world and even reign over it, but not through me. Once lies have been dispelled, the repulsive nakedness of violence will be exposed – and hollow violence will collapse.
Those who proclaim allegiance to the lies and to the violence of the left will find themselves, as Dostoevsky noted, in "slavery to half-cocked progressive ideas."
As Solzhenitsyn wrote, "[t]he defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals." That is because the triumph of the individual human inevitably involves force against those who do not believe in what fascistic messianic figures believe and wish themselves and society to be. To be opposed to the new messianic left is to be considered hateful and so worthy of punishment.
The triumph of the will is the result of the belief in the autonomy of individual persons from any higher force above them. It is the very height of anthropocentricity, with the individual at the center of everything that exists.
Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice[.] ... The West [has] ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.
The result has been, Solzhenitsyn continued, a moral poverty no none could have imagined even as late as the 19th century. He added: "I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging everything on earth – imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects."
If there are no limitations to the power of individual will, the uncontrolled power of the individual triumph of the will inevitably results in malice toward all and charity toward none, not even toward the anointed Self.
But for many if not most of us, asserting and reasserting what the heart, mind, and soul cannot believe will never succeed. Messianic fascism failed and continues to fail, no matter how pervasive the lies and the application of force.
That is because the sum of Truth resides not in the will of man, but in the mind and heart of God the Savior, who alone can free the individual from the tyranny of Self.
Fay Voshell holds an M.Div. from Princeton Seminary, which awarded her its prize for excellence in systematic theology. She is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. Her thoughts have appeared in many other online magazines. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.