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Paul Schultze-Naumburg, "Art and Race" (1928)

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Should one search for an overall impression of contemporary art, it is above all that of utter chaos, of a planless and rootless mess, of an uncreative groping for sensations, of an utter lack of genuine, unpretentious humanity, and the absence of truthfulness of any kind. To this belongs the somewhat childish preference for wholly removed stages of sociological development, the nearly perverse ogling of alien races and their behavior. Whoever walks through an art exhibit these days has occasion enough to ask himself whether the Negro admixture about which the paintings literally boast is really based on an actual mixing of blood, or only on the outrageous renunciation of the painter’s own racial instinct. Genuine Negro art can naturally be of great moment and give us remarkable glimpses into the process by which human culture developed, even if it cannot satisfy the longings of those belonging wholly to another race. Artificial Western imitations of Negro art, however, vacillate between the silly and the disgraceful.

Wherever a race degenerates, racial feeling has to disappear as well, and wherever racial feeling disappears, the ideal type rooted in every genuine race is also lost. If any further proof were needed of how the population living within our borders is now experiencing an unsuspected racial decline, it would have to be the atrophy of the feeling for physical beauty in art.

We are confronted with the fate of a people to whom a large share of Nordic blood was entrusted, with the question of whether they are going to live or die.

There are indeed sufficient numbers of human ostriches with their heads deep in the sand thinking, oh, it won’t be that bad. Every era has regarded changes as dangerous and threatening, and it is not likely to be any different with us. If those with their heads in the sand were to take the trouble of acknowledging the many observable historical cases of the rapid decay of great cultures and empires, they would draw an entirely different conclusion. The fate of the Roman Empire, a consequence of its own racial degeneration, may be taken as the clearest warning. Many of those who are conscious of the magnitude of the tragedy merely hinted at here will perhaps be inclined to regard them as inevitable, against which human will is powerless. It is of course impossible to know whether the culture and art of the race to which one is devoted are approaching their decline. There has been no shortage of gloomy prophets willing to predict it. In this regard, however, everything depends on which race is threatened with such a fate. It is in the soft nature of one to submit passively to its doom, whereas the mightily inspiring ethos of another dictates that it rise in Promethean defiance of the gods. Since our people remain sufficiently endowed with this heroic blood, they must, from the deepest reach of their being, ask the question: how can I avoid this fate? And is there any possibility at all of putting a spoke in the wheel of world history?

The sociological point of view discloses that a developmental stage has been reached in which much that has been hidden in obscure drives has now crossed the threshold into consciousness. Thought has succeeded in raising to some extent the veil concealing the secrets of the renewal of the human race, and it is becoming possible to sense that something other than mere accident determines the rise and fall of nations and will determine what kind of race is one day to inhabit the planet.

Source of English translation: Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Art and Race (1928), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 496-99. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Kunst und Rasse. Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag, 1928, pp. 1-3, 86-88, 101-04.

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