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Syberberg's Vision: A Review Of On The Fortunes And Misfortunes Of Art In Post-War Germany

On the Fortunes and Misfortunes of Art in Post-War Germany, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg; translated and annotated by Dr Alexandre Jacob, London, Arktos Media Ltd., 2017.

Sybergberg, the film-maker, and social and cultural critic is a man of the soil, like Knut Hamsun. From a landed heritage, his father managed estates. Syberberg remains close to the soil, physically, spiritually and culturally. Syberberg escaped denazification; he was seven when Germany was over-run and devastated from East and West, but was one of the generation subjected to “re-education.” Syberberg experienced Eastern occupation, and as a teenager came to the Western zone, where he had a university education. He attained note as a producer of documentaries and epic films, such as “Hitler – a film from Germany,” Wagner’s “Parsifal,” and his film on Ludwig II of Bavaria. He was awarded in 2011 the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture, their highest honor, and received acclaim for his gothic, surreal, “epic theatre” productions. He achieved success despite the fringe character of his films. Syberberg withdrew from the public entrainment industry many years ago, returning to the land and to the nature that is central to his world-view.

Break with the System

In his own estimation, Syberberg “confesses” in this book, a series of essays written at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, that he had too often compromised for the sake of recognition by the financial-democracy he abhors for its exploitation and destruction of nature.
Syberberg’s definitive, unequivocal rejection and accusation against the post-war system came with the publication of this book in 1990. Social Democratic ideologue Peter Glotz raised the alarm of Syberberg as “normalizing nationalism,” in a muddled condemnation that typifies Leftist critiques, and worried that Syberberg’s rejection of the Jewish-Leftist flatulence of Adorno, Marcuse, and others who had been purged from Germany, but returned after 1945 was a symptom of “Wagnerian anti-Semitism.” Glotz typifies why the Left cannot be anything but an impediment to actual resistance against globalization and “cultural imperialism.” For example, German resistance to pop, mass culture, and American art becomes “dangerous chauvinism,” in Glotz’s view. 1

For whatever suspicions might have been harbored against him until then, his critique of post-war German art is a frontal attack on the “guilt” and self-loathing that has been imposed on Germany since 1945, which impacts on the arts in the victory of a world-wide system that we today call globalization: rootless, exploitative at all levels of existence. Syberberg is an ecologist in his world-view, seeking a return to the organic, as opposed to the artificial and the superficial.

Contamination of the Market Place

Syberberg’s writing style is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra having ascended the mountain and looking down from having wandered among the haggling of the marketplace that dominates all, including art. In what often reads like a “flow of consciousness” or an “automatic writing,” from an inspired intuition, Syberberg declaims like Zarathustra that in the marketplace all that is superior is contaminated. Both Syberberg and Nietzsche look at democracy as the representative of this decay, which Syberberg places from the French Revolution, carried through Bolshevism and culminating in the crassness of liberalism and its money-centered ethos.

It was a process that was beginning in the aftermath of another German collapse, that of 1918, where the decadence of the Weimar Republic reached lows perhaps unseen since Sodom and Gomorrah. Here arose so much of today’s liberal rot from within the Marxian-Freudian Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, whose “University of Exiles,” were transplanted to the USA after 1933, courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation and U.S. State Department, who set the tone for the arts and social sciences in the democracies. The culture and moral sickness that engulfed Germany after 1918 returned to Germany, the “center of Europe,” in 1945. The “liberators of Europe” came to destroy the dreaded “blood and soil” that is the foundation of a healthy culture and state, but which was portrayed as inexorably leading to Auschwitz, the basis for the guilt-psychosis that has maintained the suppression of Germany, according to Syberberg but also, we might add, the entire Western Christendom.

Destruction of Germany as Heartland of Europe

Syberberg indicts those who have made the world worship before the altar of Mammon. Ezra Pound saw it coming before the war and condemned it during the war. Syberberg, born in 1938, witnessed it after.
This book is, writes Syberberg, to be “understood as a record, a stock-taking of the false conduct of intellectuals, and of art, in Germany after the war, from the point of view of the generation of the author,” who seeks “new forms” on the foundations of tradition, myth and connectedness with home, land and nature. As Ezra Pound stated, “make it new,” while maintaining as cultural predicates the traditional and mythic, without which, as Syberberg states, art becomes formless, grotesque, shallow, and at the base of it all, market-driven.
What the “liberation” brought to the arts was “an aesthetics of loss and downfall.” 2 The emigrants poured back in, having established with powerful backing their dominance in the arts and social sciences in the USA (what we now call “Cultural Marxism”), on the basis of their anti-Nazi credentials, and came to Germany as occupiers to “re-educate.” It was the victory of Jerusalem over Europe, and Syberberg says so. As mentioned, Freud combined with Marx, and Syberberg states that both of these were the products of Judaism. They made the perfect synthesis for the destruction of Western Civilization, and Germany as the heartland, according to Syberberg, of that Civilization. “The Jewish leftist aesthetic” was a pervasive guilt that is “an imagination-killing business.” The result is a commodity pop-culture, cheap, fast, and upheld by Allied bayonets, nooses, tribunals and an unrelenting propaganda that demanded perpetual atonement. What can arise that is healthy under such conditions?

Such mental contamination and bondage was the price that Germans paid for their mere physical existence, for Henry Morgenthau in the U.S. Treasury had conceived a plan for the dismemberment and physical elimination of the German people. The so-called “Morgenthau Plan” (which the likes of Deborah Lipstadt claims did not exist: Morgenthau Denial) was conducted on an ad hoc, de facto basis for several years, until it became evident that the wartime ally, Stalin, was not going to play ball with the USA in building a post-war world order, 3 and Germany would have to again become a frontline in confrontation with the East. Hence Marshall Aid reversed the dismantling of German industry and sought to rebuild Germany as a colony of the USA rather than as a permanent wasteland, like some tribe conquered and exterminated by the Israelites in the Old Testament.

The loss of the Eastern lands to the Soviet bloc robbed Germany of her rural soul, which is the “reservoir of persistent life,” “where the groves of the fathers are” 4, without which there is no genuine Patria, and in the process of a brutal expulsion, or “ethnic cleansing” as it is now called of some 15,000,000 ethnic Germans from their homes, some several millions died en route to the German rump land. The price was Germany’s soul and we might add, without doubt, the entirety of the West’s. Now every corner of the Earth forests and jungles are ravished beyond repair, clearing the way for Hollywood, MTV, and McDonalds.

Democracy: an Affront to Nature

Syberberg concedes nothing to democracy. He sees it as the edifice upon which exploitation and corruption are imposed and maintained in the name of “freedom.” It is the “freedom” to self-annihilate, individually, and collectively. What is lauded as “individualism” is the rootless, the alienated, whose life is increasingly virtual, mechanized, and meaningless. People’s become great through self-limitation, but democracy is heralded as individualism without limitations. There can be no greatness.

Syberberg’s foundations for aesthetics are traditional and the antithesis of modern concepts of art, where the narcissism and hubris of the artist as a rootless individual are lauded as the epitome of modern artistic endeavor. Contemporary art as a commodity cannot be based on self-limitations, on discipline, form or order, where a quick turnover is required in music, film, literature, and painting like any other marketable commodity 5. It is, therefore, a widely held falsity that the “freedom” granted by democracy allows the artist to soar unfettered; he is fettered by the demands of the market, and pandered to by the childish whims inherent in democracy. Here too the instant gratification demanded by the child serves marketability. The mass mentality that serves democracy and hence the market, is infantile.

Syberberg states that the culture of “comfort” kills at all levels. Where there is no striving there is no meaning, and what striving there is, is awakened by the realization of the meaningless of life as a unit in a production-and-consumption process.

In this Western affluence, where “happiness of the greatest number” is emblazoned as the highest virtue to be achieved, one finds suicide, alcoholism, and addiction, and none more so than amidst the most “successful” of this global regime, the denizens of Hollywood, who, as in the days of Louis B. Meyer, are too craven and psychotic to have questioned the long reign of Harvey Weinstein, the Israelite king of success par excellence in the Hollywood world empire. Who could dare challenge him, or Bernie Madoff, another archetype of success in the world-empire, for such would surely be “anti-Semitism,” of the stuff that leads to Auschwitz, before which all – not just Germans – all Westerners – must atone. Neither reached the summit of their career by doing anything other than that which has been implied by the post-war peace, where morality is defined by profit and the affluence of one’s lifestyle in terms of greed and narcissism. As Madoff is quoted as stating in a Television docudrama, his was the “biggest Ponzi scheme, within the biggest Ponzi scheme;” [6] that is, the entire economic system operates in that manner. Weinstein enacted what Hollywood has been promoting as democratic morality for decades. Tellingly, the great anti-Nazi crusader, who continues like so many to refight World War II, Quentin Tarantino, remained mute while knowing that actresses, including his then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino, were prey to Weinstein.

“Bread and Circuses” of Hollywood

For Syberberg, “Hollywood is the bread and circuses of democracy.” Even prior to this book in 1990, in his 1977 Hitler film Syberberg had vehemently condemned Hollywood’s treatment of Erich von Stroheim, with whom Syberberg identifies, as a victim of democracy, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. Syberberg calls post-war art “an attack on the soul” 7. It has become “base.” 8

Syberberg states that the “exemplary function of art decides the appearance of the world.” Weinstein and Sumner Redstone have decided the appearance of our world. The groundwork was being laid in Weimar after 1918. Syberberg quotes Theodor Adorno, one of the seminal figures of the Frankfurt School, from which so much rot in the arts and social sciences emanates, that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.” 9 Adorno and his colleagues sought to redefine post-war culture, after 1918 and after 1945; that would serve an anti-Western agenda. Hence, the conqueror redefined culture on the basis of a death-psychosis to which Jews, I think, are mentally enchained as much as Germans. A few years ago the French politician Jean-Marie LePen had the chutzpah to stated that “the holocaust is a footnote of history,” and one can imagine the furore; while Deborah Lipstadt states that “relativizing the Holocaust,” (i.e., comparing it to other tragedies), is worse than “Holocaust denial.”

Thanatos Joins Mammon

A post-war world that determines art according to the eternal lamentations for the dead, that seeks to make death the foundation of post-1945 consciousness, cannot but produce a world-empire that worship Thanatos; that “says no to Life,” in a reversal of Nietzsche’s acclamation, that sees reverence for forests and streams and lakes as something innately heathen and therefore suspicious, of Wotan waiting for release from the unconscious again, as Carl Jung warned when the Old God is repressed for too long. Hence the monuments are built to the Holocaust, not only in Germany, but in the USA, and elsewhere around the world, as centers of the secular state religion to which all must pay homage, in many states, under the impress of the law. Syberberg does not flinch from referring to a “U.S.-Israel axis.” “Prussia lost, Israel won.” [10] This is, for Syberberg, the “Jewish epoch of European cultural history,” buttressed by guilt and humiliation for Germany and for the entire West.

With this comes “secularized aesthetics” [11] where the traditional, religious, mythic, and heroic, fall down in subservience and quick elimination. The individual is detached from land and homeland, from the soil where forebears are buried, generation after generation (the actual meaning of “blood and soil”).

Attachment to land and homeland, to family and forebears, impedes the creation of individuals as economic units, as consumers of the junk of civilization that is created and quickly disposed of at the expense of flora and fauna. It is a death-culture that Syberberg calls a “self-destroying neurosis.” [12] He states that culture is “agrarian” in origin. But this suggests “blood and soil.”

We must have, at this Late Civilization cycle, the aesthetics of the city, concrete, steel, mechanization, pollution; the repudiation of beauty, form, tradition, mythic and heroic themes. It suggests order – natural order, cosmos: dangerous to a death-culture that wants everything in a state of flux, since modern mass production and consumption require transience and quick obsolescence, and modern art is the aesthetics of this production process. If art was to focus again on the beauty and from of nature, and on the endurance implied by family, home and homeland, on the aesthetics of what is called classical, this would challenge the domineering aesthetic intended to perpetuate the fast turnover demanded by commerce, where art itself is a commodity. Whereas landed aristocrats, rooted in the soil of a homeland over centuries, once patronized the arts, there place is assumed by “market agents and the public open industry” [13]. Art serves as an adverting gimmick, devoid of place and endurance. Hence, such an art implies pluralism, multiculturalism, “unfiltered selfishness in the depths of the soul.” [14] “Art becomes the show business of the leisure industry.” [15]

Loss of Center: Anything Goes

In Nietzschean style, Syberberg declaims against the art of the crippled, sickly, and dirty, as a strategy of cowards, traitors, criminals, whores; vulgar, and unnatural; the base against the classical. “Art as the brothel of the age, if it is still art;” “a mocking cripple.” “Through the loss of co-ordinates everything becomes equal.” [16] Like Yeats, Syberberg states that the center cannot hold and everything falls apart. This is called democracy, however, and “freedom of expression.”

Under such democracy, can anything be rejected as “art”? The smeared excrement of Picasso’s so-called “poo paintings,” gives him the possible distinction of being the first artist to paint with “human shit,” expressing “the full imagination of the artist,” according to a book by his daughter Diana Widmaier [17]. (It had to be baby poo). Jackson Pollock’s drunken splurges were championed as the epitome of “democratic art” during the Cold War, along with Abstract Expressionism generally, by the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom, which entered conquered Europe to “re-educate” Europeans as to the meaning of culture. Syberberg is aware of this Cold War kulturkampf: he alludes to CIA-sponsored “cultural imperialism” after 1945, and the cultural magazines in France, England (Encounter), Italy, Austria and Germany that were part of this. The CIA did establish culture magazines to “re-educate” the whole of Europe, and further afield from Africa to Australia. In Germany this was Der Monat, established in 1948. [18] This Cold War kulturkampf was to have lasting consequences. Modern, discordant music was formally promoted by the CIA, and launched in 1954 at the International Conference of Twentieth-Century Music, in Rome. [19] Saunders wrote that there was a “clear political message” to be imparted by music that announced it would eliminate “natural hierarchies” and previous laws on “music’s inner logic.” [20] Blacks were organized by the CIA and State Department to tour the world [21] showcasing the USA’s multicultural utopia, that could be Europe’s too. Today the State Department continues this with Hip-Hop as the preferred medium [22].

“Liberation” East and West

Syberberg, writing at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of rump-Germany, asked where are those who will demand the overthrow of the democratic system in the West? [23] Who will throw out the “scum”? he asks.

Despite his condemnation of the “materialism’ of the Soviet system, which he left behind as a teenager, he points out that the masses who revolted to achieve reunification were from the portion of Germany that had not been corrupted by the “luxury of the age.” We might consider too that the culture-junk that was imposed not only on Germany but across Europe after 1945, was not only to purge Europe of “Fascism,” but to counter Stalinism, which was resisting “rootless cosmopolitanism.” The Marxist emigrants of 1933 from Frankfurt, who redefined culture in the West, chose the USA as the place of refuge, not the USSR, where they would soon have disappeared, like the German Communist Party leaders. It was the USA that gave the world Cultural-Marxism, not the USSR, where it was denounced and purged in favor of “socialist realism.” If the CIA and its gaggle of returning Marxist emigrants were intent on eradicating the Fascist past, they were also intent on preventing a Stalinist future.

With the collapse of the German-Soviet state, the GDR, the German kin from the East “may now join the bribery orgies of Western consumerism,” Syberberg cynically but realistically states. [24] He asks of the Germans who have lived under democracy, “when will we too be able to say that we are liberated?” [25] However, surely this implies that the East Germans have not been “liberated” but have exchanged Soviet servitude for the slow spiritual death of democracy that is far more difficult to overcome, especially since the servitude is regarded – Orwellian style – as “freedom”?

Syberberg was writing at the time of German unification. He had witnessed the incorporation of German lands into Soviet territory as a youngster and, as an elder, the fall of the wall that divided Germany. He achieved fame as a fringe filmmaker, but harshly condemns himself for having collaborated with the post-1945 regime. He saw in the reunification of Germany, albeit still without much of its traditional territory, the hope of a new beginning. But it was only the defeat of the Soviet system, which had never threatened the soul of Europe like “finance-democracy.” Syberberg seems to have seen hope in the supposedly “spontaneous” demonstrations that brought down the Berlin Wall. However, they were part of a well-contrived series of revolts that continue to the present, in the service of the democratic-plutocracy that Syberberg condemns.

Syberberg wanted a return of Germany to roots that had long been obliterated: “an idealism of community, of state and of a people who are reconciled once again with nature.” [26] He hoped for a Germany again of the church spire able to be seen from a distance, cobbled streets, harvests and craftsmen, the village, farming families; “a cosmos of sowing and reaping,” from which emerges real art. [27] He wondered whether such a Germany and such a Europe, is possible, or whether the future for the West would be that of the “fellah,” using a word that Spengler adopted to described a people that had become historically and culturally passé. The predicament Syberberg describes for Germany is the same as for the entire Western Civilisation. [28] Yet Syberberg’s own art of the film with its synthesis of surrealism and tradition, shows that perhaps Spengler was incorrect in assuming Western Civilization cannot have anything more to say in the arts and could now only embrace a future of technology, and ultimately accept its fate and death. Syberberg, like Ezra Pound, Knut Hamsun, T.S. Eliot, Rex Fairburn, et al pointed the way for the continuation of artistic excellence founded on tradition, but able to “make it new,” as Pound said, while avoiding both the stasis of past repetition and the banality and fraud of modern narcissism.

This book is a call for a return to origins, to nature, and the rural basis of life; the suppressed foundation of “blood and soil,” for an ecology that nobody of the Green-Left could comprehend let alone write. It is a valuable contribution to the conservative-revolution that shows the anti-capitalist character intrinsic to any such revolt, and the conservative character of anything genuinely revolutionary.


[1] Peter Glotz, “The Social Democratic Intellectual Peter Glotz Warns Against a False Normalization,” 1994,

[2] Syberberg, xix.

[3] Bolton, “Origins of the Cold War,” Foreign Policy Journal, May 31, 2010,

[4] Syberberg, p. 90.

[5] Syberberg, p. 91.

[6] “Wizard of Lies,” HBO, 2017.

[7] Syberberg, p. 2.

[8] Syberberg, p. 3.

[9] Syberberg, p. 4; citing Adorno, Prisms, 1955.

[10] Syberberg, p. 62.

[11] Syberberg, p. 5.

[12] Syberberg, p. 6.

[13] Syberberg, p. 12.

[14] Syberberg, Ibid., p. 27.

[15] Syberberg, p. 42.

[16] Syberberg, p. 28.

[17] Sarah Sloat, “Picasso Poop Paintings Put the Body’s Natural Pigments to Use,”

[18] Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York: The New Press, 1999, p. 30).

[19] Saunders, p. 221.

[20] Saunders, p. 223.

[21] Saunders, p. 291.

[22] “Exchange Programs,” Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. State Department,

[23] Syberberg, p. 136.

[24] Syberberg, p. 144.

[25] Syberberg, p. 151.

[26] Syberberg, p. 197.

[27] Syberberg, p. 200.

[28] Bolton, The Rise& Fall of Civilisations (London: Black House Publishing, 2017).

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