In today's entry of Philip Johnson's fascist writings, we have his first piece as "foreign correspondent" for Todayʼs Challenge, written in summer of 1939 in London and Paris and published in the August-September issue. This completes my upload of the three pieces Johnson writes for the magazine. Worse is to come.
This piece puts down the French and English as weak and ineffectual, drawing the implicit conclusion that it will be the Americans who will have to bail them out if their foreign policy leads to war. Nothing too bad, you say? Alright, well here is the conclusion, which hints at what we are going to see in his writing for Social Justice.
"Another serious split in French opinion is that caused by the Jewish question, a problem much aggravated just at present by the multitude of émigrés in Paris. Even I, as a stranger in the city, could not help noticing how much German was being spoken, especially in the better restaurants. Such an influx naturally makes the French wonder, not only about these incoming Jews, but also about their co-religionists who live and work here and call themselves French. The facts that [former Prime Minister and Popular Front leader Léon] Blum and the men around him are Jews, that there are two Jews in the present cabinet, Messrs. Zay and Mandel and that the Jewish bankers Mannheimer, de Rothschild and Lazard Freres are known to stand behind the present government all complicate the situation.
The position taken by the Daladier government on this question is an interesting commentary on its policies in general. There are two decree laws which concern the press, one against publishing propaganda paid for by a foreign government. Under these laws, the patriotic weeklies Le Defi and La France Enchainee were just recently uppressed, presumably for getting money from Hitler; but LʼHumanité, which no one doubts gives out Russian propaganda, paid for by Russia, has been left alone. What is freedom of the press and for whom is it done, the French ask."
Today’s entry from amongst Philip Johnson’s fascist writings is “Inside War-Time Germany,” published in the November-December 1939 issue of Today’s Challenge. Unlike the previous piece, then, this one is written after the outbreak of war, on which we will hear much more from Johnson later.
The essay begins with a reverse echo of the present day, with Johnson condemning the main stream media: “The American newspapers have done their job of indoctrination well…” The piece is worth reading in its entirety, but I will quote one section to introduce you to the sort of mental gymnastics that Johnson makes:
“none of those opposed to Hitler that I know would prefer the liberalism of the Weimar Republic to National Socialism as a system of government. They remember too well the humiliation of the Versailles treaty, the misery of inflation and the later miseries of mass unemployment. They remember that the Weimar Republic brought civil strife, battles of brother against brother; and such civil war to them was more hateful than the World War. They do not like Hitler, but they feel that if Hitler were not Hitler but some imaginary person that would be nice in their own particular way, then National Socialism or rather national socialism, would be a good idea. Such thoughts are not the stuff of revolutions.
Also, no matter what the objections they have to Hitler, close to 100% of the Germans appear to approve of one particular part of Hitlerʼs work — his foreign policy. … since 1911, Germany has been growing rapidly. Even the bitterest foes of the National Socialist ideology are proud of German greatness. This natural pride in their power and success stultifies foreign criticism of their methods or their morals. Similarly, we Americans would not have brooked any criticism of our doctrine of ʻmanifest destinyʼ in the 19th century when we were busy conquering our empire in the west. So today the Germans are impervious to the moral admonishment that they ought not to conquer their neighbors. Conquest is good or bad, depending on who does it, you yourself or somebody you donʼt like.”
Where the Jews are in all this is rather unclear (actually it is perfectly clear… they are suppressed or deemed unfit to testify) although at one point Johnson uses well-known code language, referring to the common “anti-international banker” stance between the Nazis and the Soviets.
Over at Bookforum, Terence Riley reviews the Philip Johnson Tapes. I am thoroughly delighted by the review. The Philip Johnson Tapes was fascinating to put together and its great that it’s getting some attention.
Two things are worth expanding on. I certainly appreciated Riley’s point that at times the interviews "do little to make Johnson more accessible, underscoring instead how impossibly distant his life experience was from most of ours." Absolutely. As T. J. Clark has written, "modernity is our antiquity." I am glad the book conveys the foreignness of that time to us.
When Riley mentions that "the most rigorous of historians will have to look elsewhere" to fact-check certain information on Johnson, it’s unlikely that people will find much more. The archives have largely been exhausted and the team of researchers at Stern’s office did an first-rate job digging up what they could. Here and there, I’m sure we’ll find something, but on the whole, great mysteries are going to remain barring the release of unseen archival material. For example, what was Johnson doing translating Werner Sombart’s Weltanschauung, Science and Economy? What was his involvement with the Veritas press, which was, in part at least, sponsored by the Nazi government? How about his friendship with Viola Bodenschatz, wife of Major General Karl Bodenschatz, Hermann Goering’s top aide? Johnson’s life falls in the inconvenient period in which people neither communicated primarily via letters (his chief letter-writing phase ends around 1931, or so it seems) nor via e-mail but rather via telephone. To address that difficult time, as I explain in my conclusion to the book, historian Allan Nevins developed oral history. And so it is, that with the oral history of Johnson’s life in hand, we’re unlikely to get a whole lot more.
Once again, for emphasis: modernity is our antiquity.
The second of my three book projects this year, the Philip Johnson Tapes, Interviews by Robert A. M. Stern has just been published. My role in this project was to take a set of raw tapes of interviews that Stern conducted with Johnson in 1985 and turn them into a coherent, readable narrative. According to the readers who’ve seen the book, I was successful. A beautiful design by Pentagram and a huge amount of photo-archive research and fact-checking by Stern’s office made this something I am quite proud of.
Expect some Johnson-related events in the near future as well as more work on Johnson from me. A critical analysis of the architect’s role and work is in the future, I suspect…
In looking back at the blog, I realize that I haven’t mentioned a project that I’m bringing to closure this month. For the Buell Center, I’ve been editing the Philip Johnson Tapes, a set of interviews that Robert Stern conducted with Johnson in 1985 about the architect’s life. It’s been a fascinating process since this document not only surveys Johnson biographically, it also reveals Johnson’s role as the consummate networker, something I explore further in my essay "Philip Johnson’s Empire" for the forthcoming Yale University Press book on the architect. I do have intentions of one day doing a critical survey of Johnson, but that will have to wait. With this out of the way, Networked Publics in final copy edits, and Infrastructural City printed this spring (I hope), it’ll be time for me to spend my year on the Network Culture project, something I’m very much looking forward to.