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George Grosz, "Among Other Things, a Word for German Tradition" (1931)

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Among Other Things, a Word for German Tradition

Certainly we live in a transitional period. All ideas have gradually become dubious and have begun to totter, and dusk falls on a superannuated liberalism. No one knows anymore what to do with the “freedom” that dates from 1793. Everywhere reorientation and determined reaction appear toward what was universally valid the day before yesterday.

Right and left become ever more sharply divided in preparation for the final battle for power. Both have the common will to receive commands en masse from above and to snap to attention when the order is called.

How quickly it moves! After the war—I believe—not a single person was willing to think of uniforms, standing at attention, and such.

Whatever the case may be, I regard Germany now as the most interesting and most puzzling country in Europe. I have the feeling that our country has been called, as if by fate, to play a great role. It often seems to me as if we are living in an epoch similar to that of the closing Middle Ages. Then, too, there was tremendous pressure on everyone. Nevertheless that terrible time feared its artists; [Hieronymous] Bosch and [Peter] Bruegel painted their cosmogonies, which are unrivaled in the history of painting.

Perhaps we are now facing a new Middle Ages. Who knows? In any case, humanistic ideas seem to me to be in the process of dying out, just as no one any longer places much value on the human rights announced so ecstatically a century ago. Civilization is instead marching ahead on all fronts with a healthy disdain for human life. This makes no sense in the context of the socialism we apply to nearly everything and even carry out practically. But it is so.

The masses and the little man are trump. Frequently encountered at the top is his counterpart, a former worker—proclaiming to the man below the miracle of his rise. The purest materialism reigns. Work, work, work ... the alpha and omega of the operation. The dream is romantically offered and endlessly propagandized: life in comfort, bathtubs, sports, mass-produced automobiles, and when things are good, a weekend with cocktails and a beauty queen.

America led the way; we—set back a bit by the war—and by nature a little slow—follow surely after. In Marxist Russia, America is also the model and hotly desired goal. Goal means the rationalized exploitation of all raw materials to create comfort for the little man on the basis of mechanized mass production.

The precondition of culture, raising the standard, eating, sports, clothes, no more unemployed ... culture then comes along on its own ... from out of the working classes. So say the official theoreticians. America might present a different picture, but nevertheless.

I do not much believe in the official savants who can prove and disprove everything with economic statistics and tables. One thing is true: we lack today order and a plan.

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