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Overcoming Romanticism with
Classical Art"

Helga Zepp LaRouche
June 3, 2000

Helga Zepp LaRouche presented this keynote speech via telephone from Germany, to the June 3 meeting of the newly-founded National Commission Against the New Violence, in Washington, D.C. It has been slightly edited and subheads were added.

I want to greet everybody, and talk about some of the underlying reasons which, in my view, are the cause for this present epidemic and outburst of violence.

This violence, especially among the children and youth, is by no means an American problem alone, but is happening around the world. Maybe in the United States, it’s a little more advanced, but it’s clearly a process which is happening globally right now.

Just to give you a few examples: In Meissen, which is a city in the eastern part of Germany, there was just a trial because of a 14-year-old boy, who had stabbed his teacher with 22 knife-stabbings to death. In Spain, just six weeks ago or so, a 14-year-old boy, basically annoyed his parents that he wanted to have a Samurai sword; and the mother was very hesitant, and this was for a good reason, because the moment he had the sword, he decapitated both parents with that sword.

Now, just a week ago, two girls in Spain were preparing to murder several people, claiming afterwards, that they wanted to imitate that boy with the Samurai sword, to become famous, so-called. In Rome, Italy, a four-year-old boy flew out of the eighth floor of a building—naturally, he died—because he thought he could fly like a Pokeamon, and would be able to do that without harm; obviously a complete cutting off of virtual reality from actual reality.

Now, how can one understand all of these things happening? At the founding conference of the National Commission Against the New Violence, Col. David Grossman, who is probably one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of killing, and teaching courses in universities, and who has written many books—he, at that founding meeting, called this a “soul disease,” a disease of the soul. And I actually want to focus today on that aspect: How did this disease of the soul develop? (See New Federalist, June 12 for excerpts of this speech.)

First of all, I think that one can really start without any serious debate, with the fact that there {is} a clear link between media violence, and violence in society—not disregarding that, obviously, other factors go into it. But already, in 1972, the American Medical Association put out a severe warning, that such a direct link between media violence and violence in society exists. Now, I said this exists in many countries, but coming from Europe, and having seen various things in America—in the movies, on TV, and so far—I must say that violence in American society has reached a degree of brutality which is really scary. Because the question immediately comes up, where is this all going to?

The most shocking thing is that such a large portion of the U.S. population does not even seem to notice it, because they’re living in it; they’re watching the TV movies, they rent the video games and the video movies over the weekend, and they just are immersed in this environment, so they don’t have their antennas up, because they somehow think it’s all natural

Gladiator Games

Now, one big question we have to solve, is: Why is this the case? Obviously, if the common view is that this is more or less normal, then one can come to the conclusion that popular opinion, popular taste, is really only to be compared to what the so-called popular opinion, the vox populi, was in the ancient Roman Empire. If you remember, in the ancient Roman Empire, the way the emperors and rulers would control the population, was by, first of all, keeping them fairly stupid; and at the same time, entertain them with bread and circuses, gladiator games with lions eating the Christians, and such things, and the equivalent of that today is mass entertainment. Hollywood movies, video games, and so forth.

And isn’t it a coincidence that just now, there is a big movie played up, not only in the United States, but also in Europe, called “Gladiator,” which I haven’t seen, but from reading the reviews, does portray the “heroic” games and psychology of the gladiators of ancient Rome? And the British press commented on that, and said, well, that really shows that even in periods in society when things are going well, violence always is, and has been, a means to control the population, and therefore that’s just the way it is.

Now, if you think, why would people accept this bestiality as entertainment? The fact that a large portion of the population goes to these movies, finds it quite okay, and enjoys them, is actually a proof of the fact that we are already in a Dark Age.... The problem is, that we are not only having this global financial crisis—which is indeed, in terms of its different aspects, much worse than the financial crisis of the 1930s—but, like in the 1930s, there is a danger that, out of a global financial crash and an economic depression, as in the 1930s, new fascisms develop.

Now, for anybody who knows history and is not blinding himself, this new fascism has already many ingredients of the old one. For example, what is happening, not only in the United States, but also in other countries, but especially in the United States with the health policy—the HMO, where accountants and managers decide who can live and who can die—that is really directly modelled on the euthanasia policy of the Nazis.

And, if you look at the privatization of prisons in the United States, this is again, modelled on the slave labor camps in the ’30s and ’40s. The fact that the United States is such a promoter of the death penalty is another sign of complete barbarism. Now, even Turkey is abandoning the death penalty, because they recognize that this is not part of a modern human society....

As Mr. LaRouche has pointed out many times, we have something which you could call a generational crisis. You have the Baby Boomer generation, many of whom have promoted for the last 30 years what you can actually call eco-fascist ideas—ecologically fascist ideas. But this is now being topped by the unbridled predator capitalists of the Internet firms, the Social Darwinist millionaires of Generation|X, who don’t care where their millions are coming from, or what is the source of their wealth.

Now obviously, Hollywood, and the whole video-game industry, are a very, very powerful lobby. But if one actually looks at the comparison to the 1930s and now, one can only come to the conclusion that the population has much less resistance against the danger of a new fascism, than they had even then, mainly because the population lost every positive reference point—or nearly all positive reference points. In the 1930s, even in Germany and Italy, the population, despite all other problems, a large section was still trained and educated in Classical culture. Today, this is much, much weaker, and in the United States, Classical culture is almost non-existent.

Overcoming the Disease of Oligarchism

In the recent period I have done some more research of what went into the long-term, long-wave development of the popular opinion of today. And I have come to the conclusion that if one wants to study the axioms of the post-modern, post-cultural way of thinking, in terms of the long wave of history—meaning not to start just with what happened 10 years ago, 30 years ago, but really to go back to the roots, when were the historical breaking points—one comes, in my view, to the following very interesting point: You have to ask yourself the question, when was the last time you had an international constellation which represented the hope for mankind to end what I always call the infancy of mankind, meaning oligarchism. Because I don’t think that oligarchism will remain with human beings forever, but it’s like the measles, or like a children’s disease, which eventually you can overcome.

Now, the last time such a constellation existed, was when you had the American Revolution, which, indeed, was a very powerful break with oligarchism, with the British Empire, and it was meant to be not only for the United States, but as the subsequent Presidents—from John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Monroe, as they elaborated—they wanted the world to be organized according to a community of principle among sovereign nation-states, which all would be committed to the inalienable rights of all citizens, and the general welfare.

Now, in Europe, people looked to the United States in a very hopeful way, and they hoped to replicate this idea of a republican sovereign nation-state, which unfortunately did not function at that time. They tried it in France, but the French Revolution essentially failed when it was taken over by the Jacobin terror, which was really instigated by a concerted effort of the oligarchs at the time.

In Germany, however, you had a very, very important development in the 18th Century, going into the beginning of the 19th Century, which was the German Classical period, the so-called Weimar Classics. Now this was an extraordinary development, because what occurred was that you had a Renaissance of Greek Classical thinking, and what this Greek Classical thinking essentially meant, was that, from Homer through the great tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and others, through Plato, the idea developed that man is capable of producing ideas, of making scientific hypotheses, and developing scientific knowledge, to understand the laws of the universe.

With this concept of ideas, for the first time the notion developed that the world was not governed by demons and magic, and that the only way man could relate to that was by superstition, and manipulation of some strange priests, but that man could develop valid ideas about the universe. And in Europe, in particular, Christianity then continued in that Greek Classical tradition, and added some very important features, especially the idea of more passionate love for mankind.

Now, when these ideas were revived in the German Classical period, the most beautiful image of man actually was developed by such poets as Schiller, and others, namely that every person could be a genius; that every person could be a beautiful soul; and if you give these ideas through universal education to all children, to all young people, then indeed you reach a society which is worthy of the human person. Now, that was the highest level of reason. And Schiller, Goethe, von Humboldt, they presented poetic beauty, which really was unmatched up to that point.

Romanticism vs. the Renaissance

Now imagine, from the standpoint of the oligarchs, a true republic developing in America, plus a Classical Renaissance with the idea of universal education, now that would really have meant the end of oligarchism. So, in my view, the Romantic movement was really a conscious counterdeployment against this high and noble spirit of the Classical period. And it just is demonstrable in each case of these Romantics, that their writings and their ideas, suited very much the interest of the Holy Alliance, especially after 1815, and it indeed cohered completely with the enemies of the young United States.

Now, most of the names of these people will be not familiar to you, and eventually you can look at them. It was the Schlegel Brothers, Tieck, Novalis, Fouqué, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and others. Basically what they did is, rather than focussing on the Greek Classical period as a model, like the Schiller and Humboldt circles had done, they glorified the Dark Age. And they had a fairly falsified image of the Dark Age: about the Middle Ages, which would have been completely unified by a Roman Emperor. They praised the knighthood, knights and nobility; they replaced the Greek mythologies with the Nordic mythologies, and basically filled their stories with unexplainable mystical events. They put in some elements of infinite longing for death, melancholy, and unrestrained living out of psychological disorders, and so forth. So it was quite an irrational mix, which they started to promote.

Now, Goethe, who was the other major poet, together with Schiller, of his time, later in the famous talks with his friend Eckemann, just said that the Classic corresponds to the healthy thinking of the mind, and the Romantic corresponds to the sick thinking of mind. Now, various people—Voss, another poet and translator of the Greek writings, Heine, Goethe—they all warned about the long-term damage these strange ideas of the Romantics would do to Germany. And indeed, they did. They started to focus on the “Niebelungen Saga,” another Nordic mythology, the “Edda,” a collection of tales from these Nordic mythologies, all of which were used later by Richard Wagner, in his infamous operas, and they were also, these mythologies, were then used by the Nazis as a cult.

The Romantics also had a very strange intimacy with nature. They were speaking with plants. They would write stories in which plants would tell you everything about the torture being done to Mother Earth. So, it really sounds very much like what Prince Charles is talking about today.

A later representative of this strange movement—his name is E.T.A. Hoffmann, about whom you may have heard because Jacques Offenbach wrote this Romantic opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann.” He is probably the most far-gone in focussing on the dark side of human nature. And if you read his works—and I really don’t suggest you read all of them—they are all really an incredible discussion of bipolar schizophrenic people, paranoia, multiple personalities, and so forth. And it is not coincidental that E.T.A. Hoffmann was indeed very much concerned that he would go crazy; he was in contact with the leading psychiatrist of his time. And, isn’t it funny, that Sigmund Freud and most of the modern psychology and psychiatry very consciously trace themselves back to the idea of the Romantic movement, and especially E.T.A. Hoffmann, Kleist, and other such people?

Now, what is the common denominator between the Romantics and modern psychology—or at least a good portion of it—it’s the idea, not to cure the crazy person, but to make him feel comfortable: To let him live a happy life, you know, getting somehow in tune with his neurosis, not feel the conflict anymore. And, you know, this indeed is a very important ingredient in the degeneracy of society....

Now, another one of of these people, called Fouqué—who defended violently the superiority of the innate nobility and the privileges of the oligarchy—if you read what he is writing, his arguments are exactly the same ones of the Confederacy arguing for racial superiority. And, just to mention it here, if you want to have an absolute typical example of a Romantic story, it is “Gone with the Wind.” I mean, this has all of the ingredients of Romanticism.

For the Romantics, man was not the focal point, but only one aspect in between nature, the night, the oceans, the clouds, and, you know, just a complete schwärmerei. Schiller, who placed extremely high demands on the poets, demanded that the poet, since he has the key to the innermost emotions of the soul, that the poet only should dare to talk to the audience, if he has idealized himself to be the perfect human being; and, he has to choose a subject of universal truth, because otherwise, he should not even call himself a poet. The Romantics objected to this and said, “No, to be popular is the most important. Don’t be on the high ideal of Schiller, be popular, go down to the masses, and it’s not the questions of idealization, but the key thing is to be original. As a matter of fact, the very word ‘novel’ means nothing else but ‘something new.’|”

The Romantics insist that there is no knowable truth, but you have to have the right for your own opinion, because only this way do you have the largest possible of options, and therefore no one opinion, no one person can say that he possesses and knows the truth.

The Classics, on the other side, said, “We need clear rules. We need a lawfulness, we need freedom in necessity. And, if we enlarge the rules, this has to be done in a free way. The Classical art form must have an inner architecture and a necessary form.”

The Romantics, on the other side, said, “No, we want ecstacy. We want no end to a story. It should go on, and on, and on like a soap opera.”

Now, the Classics said, “But, acting on the basis of necessity, any existing conflict can be overcome, because man, when he fulfills his duty, is greater than destiny.”

If you confront these two totally different images of man—and these two methods of thinking—one can actually see how this idea of just living out your emotion, just letting it go, focussing on the mysterious, the absurd, the perverse, how that is really a long, long, long line of movies, where one becomes worse than the other.

Just go back to the movie “Gone with the Wind.” Then, think about the terrible movie “Friday the 13th.” It was really in the ’60s, one of the first generation of these cult horror movies, where you have violence for no purpose other than strange mystery, strange horror, dark sides of human nature: This is Romanticism. Or, think about the movie by Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho,” where you have a psychotic person acting out his innermost conflict—this is Romanticism! To focus on the dark side of human nature and indulge in it: That’s Romanticism. And obviously this becomes worse from one generation to the next.

All these Hollywood movies, especially in the recent period, they have no story, they have no plot, they have no development, no resolution, just blood and gore and violence, and many of the things which are happening are unexplainable, just for the sake of the effect. Now, that is generally around you. You do not have Classical movies. You do not have Classical tragedies, or dramas, around you where conflicts get worked through in such a way that they would ennoble your soul, or would ennoble your emotions; but, you have just more effects, more and more mystical, violent, strange things, and on and on and on

The Children Are the Victims

Now, the children watching all of this, they are the victims. And, as the statistics show, in the last 15 years of this kind of movie and video-game environment, violent acts and murder, I think, have increased seven times in the United States. Now it has reached a new level of violence and perversity in these movies and videos. Can you imagine what American society will look in 15 years from now, when people have gone through this without any other choice?

Therefore, the point Lyndon LaRouche is making, and which I’m making, very, very strongly, is we have to return to Classical art and Classical thinking. We have to go back to consciously confront children and society with beauty, with access to their own true creativity. And, we have to think about ways of overcoming what Colonel Grossman has called, “the soul disease.” Now, this soul disease is a sickness which did not develop overnight, but it has to be seen as a virus which started with the Romantic attacks on the Classics, and then developed and changed, and basically transformed itself to the present form. Now we have to return to the Classical way of thinking. And once we understand that these killer kids and the decadence of society are the result of the popular taste and popular opinion, then I want you to have a revulsion whenever you see a Romantic movie movement which has no purpose but to go beyond the effects reached in the previous movie or video game—just being more violent, more perverse, and more ugly.

And, unless we can cause the population to revolt against that, and inoculate your mind so that you recognize whenever you see such a Romantic movie, that you reject it. Because only this way you can cure your soul from this disease, and make your soul beautiful and happy. And I think that only if you have beautiful souls can you be an instrument to help to save American culture and to save our present world civilization.

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