Winter 2006

Gothic horror

Steven Heller
ARCHIVE / Nazi type

The Nazi party’s obsession with cultural dominance extended far into calligraphy, lettering and type

During their period of rule over Germany (1933-45), the Nazis politicised art and nationalised aesthetics in an attempt to control all aspects of life. And they succeeded. No detail was too minute, no facet of everyday existence too arcane for a master plan devised and administered by a slew of functionaries both high and low. All art forms were strictly scrutinised and rules established to insure conformity within the bounds of ideological purity.

Early in the rise to power of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, commonly known as the Nazi party), infighting triggered fierce debates between proponents of Modernism (i.e. those who accepted Expressionism and, to a certain extent, Bauhaus ideas) and Völkism (i.e. those who revered Teutonic folk traditions). Ultimately a rigid, retrograde Nazi style developed that inveigled its way into society through the concept of Gleichschaltung (literally, ‘synchronisation’), the integration and consolidation of National Socialist cultural dominance over everything from architecture to typeface design.

Propagating the rightness of commonplace letterforms became part of the Nazi party’s culture-creating mission as a direct consequence of its belief that stringent doctrines, issued through extra-legal decrees and enforced by slavish bureaucracies, were the way to German hearts and minds. The cumbersome title of Alfred Rosenberg’s Office for the Supervision of the Entire Cultural and Ideological Education and Training of the National Socialist German Workers Party, speaks volumes about the weight Hitler placed on artistic matters, and graphic design was included. The Führer Princip (or principle of the ‘Leader State’) demanded that unquestioning conformity begin at the top and trickle down through bureaucrats, some of whom, by virtue of their early party membership, assumed undue dominion over the ‘new’ graphic and typographic design . . .

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