Pevsner's politics

Pevsner never had any practical political involvement, never belonged to any political party. However, he had deep-rooted ideas on national spirit, Germany, art, society, the artist’s role in society, all of which had political implications. As an adolescent he held vague right-wing views, loosely centred on Thomas Mann’s Reflections of a Non-political Man. His creed was partly a reaction against his mother’s liberalism but it was also a means of expressing his emotional response to the art of the German Middle Ages - spiritual fervour within a framework of responsibility and discipline.

 

He was then strongly influenced by his Leipzig tutor, Wilhelm Pinder, a passionate German nationalist. Pinder saw German art as the core of Western culture and wanted to see Germany as the political hub of Europe, with a society shaped by the ideals of the Middle Ages. Pinder would become a member of the Nazi party and broadcast for the regime.  Elements in Pevsner’s thinking, too, could be perverted into some of the tenets of Nazism: reverence for Germanness, revulsion from the mess and disorder of the Weimar republic, dislike of materialism and, above all, his belief that artists should be servants of their times and  communities.

 

In the early 1930s in Göttingen Pevsner engaged in what he called ‘culture-politics’, possibly trying to secure a place within the Nazi art establishment, or perhaps aiming to promote his own ideas by lodging them in a Nazi context. Either way, he  failed. Having been forced from his job, in his first uncertain years in England he was still inclined to defend the regime. But as its philistinism and repressiveness became clearer his sympathy was reduced to a personal loyalty to Pinder, to whom he would persist in dedicating his Academies of Art as late as 1940.

 

This was despite the fact that he himself had been denounced by the Nazis for ‘art Bolshevism’  and included in their ‘Black Book’ listing enemies of the regime, to be  seized when England was invaded. Pevsner may have been involved in smuggling  dissidents out of Germany. He certainly wrote pieces denouncing Nazi art and architecture, and he was among the first to be employed by the Ministry of Information  in London to write anti-Nazi propaganda aimed at Germans in Britain.

© 2015 Susie Harries