Review in The Journal of Modern History

Journal of Modern History

David B. Dennis, Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture
Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture by David B. Dennis
Review by: Anthony J. Steinhoff
The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 86, No. 3 (September 2014), pp. 729-731
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 08/11/2014 18:36

“Little Review” from David Blackbourn

Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture by David B. Dennis (“little review”)

Dennis has read every article on culture published between 1920 and 1945 in the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and turned it into a book. The result is a detailed compendium of the many ways in which the Nazis appropriated and abused Western culture, praising the “Nordic spirit” of Dürer and Shakespeare, turning Dante and Rembrandt into Germans, and settling accounts with “Jewish” artists like Heine and Mendelssohn. There are few surprises in these 450 pages of exegesis. Romanticism is good, Wagner is a prophet, social realism is bad, jazz is degenerate, Thomas Mann is a rootless cosmopolitan, and the music of “the Jew Schoenberg” is “sickly and convulsive.” We should nonetheless salute the author’s fortitude.

David Blackbourn holds the Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair at Vanderbilt University and is professor of history there. His books include The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany; The Long Nineteenth Century; Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany; Populists and Patricians; and Class, Religion, and Local Politics in Wilhelmine Germany.

Interview on New Books in History

Here is an extensive interview about the book on this important new podcast site  about academic literature:

Here is the introduction on the site:

DAVID B. DENNIS Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture



I occasionally teach Western Civilization and you may have taken it in college. We all know the drill: Greeks-Romans-Dark Ages-Middle Ages-Renaissance-Reformation-Scientific Revolution-Enlightenment-Romanticism-Modernity. Or something like that. I teach Western Civilization as a “march of ideas”: Reason, Beauty, Freedom, Equality, Justice (caps intended) and the like. This way of telling the tale is sort of Whiggish, as historians like to say. It takes the liberal democratic present as its starting point and goes looking for the origins of a familiar now in an unfamiliar then. Flawed though it is, the “march of ideas” way of telling the story of the West works, at least for me, and I imagine it works for many of my colleagues.

It did not work for Nazis, for they did not believe ideas–liberal-democratic or otherwise–move history; rather, they believed races moved history, and more particularly the all-conquering Aryan race. Beginning from this premise, the Nazis re-imagined Western Civilization through a racist lense. The results, as David B. Dennis shows in his detailed, thoroughly-researched, and eye-opening book Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2012), were simply bizarre. Nazi writers–including many very learned academics–cast reason aside and “Aryanized” a past that was obviously not “Aryan” (whatever that means) in any way. The question, of course, is not whether any of it was true–it’s all the purest bunk. The question, rather, is whether anyone really believed it, a question David and I discuss at some length. Listen in.

 Interview with David B. Dennis [ 53:31 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download