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Since prehistoric times, when men communicated through crude drawings on cave walls, art has been used to elicit an emotional response. Everyone has had the experience of viewing a piece of art that “touched” them in some way. Whether that feeling was happiness, sorrow, anger, or lust, and whether the art form was a painting, or weaving, or sculpture, is immaterial. It still evoked a response on some level of your psyche. In my personal experience, I have sometimes had a feeling from a painting I had seen stay with me for days. Art, therefore, is often used to voice an opinion that the author, for one reason or another, is unable to express verbally.
Prior to World War II, western societies were largely optimistic about life and about the future of our world. After the horrors of World War I, the rise of communism in the Soviet Union, and the success of fascism in Germany and Italy, the future was no longer viewed with optimism. Artists’s forms of expression changed to reflect the disillusionment and anxiety that people felt.
Both Hitler and Stalin wanted the people in their country to believe that things were still wonderful. That humans were making great progress. That “all was well with the world.” Hitler specifically liked traditional, “sentimental” forms of art that summoned feelings consistent with traditional values. Modern art was viewed as decadent and growing out of a free society. A free society, in turn, indicated freedom of expression. Freedom of expression, by its nature, is the enemy of totalitarianism because freedom of expression celebrates the individual.
The antithesis of totalitarianism is freedom of expression. Freedom of expression would also indicate intellectual freedom. Both Hitler and Stalin were fiercely “anti-intellectual.” They viewed intellectualism as a threat to traditional rules and values. They didn’t want people to think. They wanted their people to conform and to cherish fundamentalist ideals. Modern art didn’t honor traditional values. An atmosphere of intellectual freedom would be at odds with a totalitarian/fascist regime.
Churchill once was quoted as saying that he “did not become Prime Minister in order to oversee the dissolution of the British Empire.” His vision was that Great Britain would remain a supreme world power. He genuinely believed that the sun would never set on the British Empire. By the end of World War II, however, Great Britain’s position as a “world power” had been greatly diminishedn, and was never again regained. The saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” came from the fact that at one point in history, no matter what time zone you were in, there was a British colonial holding on which the sun shone. But, the British Empire is no more. By 1997, of her once vast colonial holdings, only Hong Kong remained; and now, Hong Kong has been returned to China.
Stalin’s dream was to see the worldwide spread of communism and for the Soviet Union to take her rightful place as a “world superpower.” He was adamantly opposed to the “free election” of any governments in Eastern Europe. This vision, too, has ultimately failed to attain success. There are few communist countries remaining and, of those, most have chosen a capital/communist way of life. Even the Soviet Union itself has recently embraced capitalism. Of all the countries that were considered communist immediately following World War II, only Cuba continues to strive towards maintaining a true communist government.
Roosevelt’s vision was for a democratic world society with the United States as the dominant world power. His vision for democracy, ultimately, has prevailed. Democracy is increasingly favored as a form of government. Many formerly communist countries now have elected officials. Civil wars are being fought all over the world in favor of individual rights and self-government.
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