Aesthetics deals with the nature of beauty which, as Dostoevsky asserted, will save the world. However, in the 20th century, beauty was used by the most barbaric and repressive regimes, be it in Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Franco’s Spain. In the transition to Modern times aesthetics replaced theology and beauty lost its sacredness. Its secular equivalent–Sublime–was politically instrumentalised by totalitarian regimes which created reactionary populist mobilizational cultural projects based on perfect simulation of beauty. Therefore, totalitarian kitsch has to be understood not simply as a decline of taste, but as a byproduct of cultural democratization and means of legitimizing terror in which aesthetics played a pivotal role.
Evgeny Dobrenko is Professor and head at the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies and Co-Director at the Prokhorov Centre at the University of Sheffield. Currently he is a EURIAS Visting Fellow at the IWM.