Kater in his richly researched, fluently written book, sets out to recast the story of Hitler’s Germany. Some of the material will be familiar; there has been plenty of work on the stage management of the regime, on its use of radio and cinema, the dubious role played by Leni Riefenstahl and the artistic currents that emerged in the desperate aftermath of the First World War. However, this book seeks to do more than provide a chronicle; it sketches the contours of the relationship between culture and tyranny. The way, for example, that propaganda is used to shape national identity; the techniques used to exclude the “other”.
Kater’s book makes angry, authoritative reading for anyone interested in the Nazi era. Just as only a relative handful of Germans were willing to resist Hitler as late as July 1944, so only a small proportion of artists defied Nazism, even by choosing exile. The author’s peroration expresses a seminal point, relevant in the 21st century to Russia, China, Iran and a depressing number of other societies: “Whether or not culture is even possible in a dictatorship remains a ripe question. If the aesthetic, formal and ethical power of culture thrives on contradiction to prevailing social and political norms...then it will arguably always fail under tyranny.”