New Man the Hero?

The composition and fate of the hero has been the subject of culture and literature since antiquity.  The idea of one individual, surpassing common constraints and achieving greatness has long held an important place in the human psyche.  The creation of the New Man, by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, transformed the concept of a new , modern human being into their own unique ideal.  Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck argued in Beyond Totalitarianism that the Nazi hero exemplified the optimal Aryan purity and perfection, while Soviet Russia allowed every individual to achieve greatness through self-reformation into the proletarian socialist.

The relationship between the physical body and this transcendent state of being occurred in both ideologies.  Soviet Russia concentrated its efforts in creating the ideal proletarian New Man by changing the human body through modernization and mechanization.  One example, Bogdanov underwent blood transfusions in order “to create a communal proletarian body.”1  In this case the individual attempted to change their blood, the very essence of their being, in order to create a New proletarian Man.  Although the physical transformation of the body into the New Man faded from mainstream Soviet ideology, the body (this time young, healthy, and robust) remained a secondary indicator of the ideal Soviet New Man.2

Similarly, Nazi Germany utilized the physical as a representation for the important ideas meant to create the New Man.  The racial purity espoused by the Nazi Party was meant to guarantee a superior race of human beings capable of world domination; by perfecting the body through race the German people could once more achieve greatness.3  The body must therefore be continuously transformed through generations of racially pure matches in order to create the ideal New Man.  Moreover, the idealized Aryan eclipsed racial purity and applied to clothing, exercise, and, diet.4  The New Man relied on physical and aesthetic, not just mental enlightenment; similar to the concept of the New Man in Stalinist Russia.

In both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, the regimes attempted to create a New Man by manipulation not only of the mind, but also the body.  How does this physical manipulation relate to the construction of the modern state?

  1. Peter Fritzche and Jochen Hellbeck, “The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany,” in Beyond Totalitarianism, ed. Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 316 []
  2. Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 320 []
  3. Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 328 []
  4. Fritzche and Hellbeck, “The New Man” in Beyond Totalitarianism, 329 []

2 thoughts on “New Man the Hero?

  1. One way this manipulation relates to the development of the modern state is through the use of science to create the New Man. In our earlier class discussions, we’ve talked about how one of the defining factors of the modern state was the veneration of science. In creating the New Man, both regimes looked to science and reasoning (Eugenics, blood transfusions, regulation of marriages to ensure racial purity etc.) to create this New Man. Do you think you can see any of this happening in the United States during this era? What about today?

  2. I though that it was interesting that so much more emphasis has placed on the body than on the mind. Even when it came to education, as seen in previous classes, the curriculum was not entirely academic, but instead was more centered on the body by training the youth to be good soldiers, athletes, and mothers. This demonstrates how collectivism was the prevailing practice and democracy was completely ignored because of the proof of its previous failure after the First World War. The construction of the modern state relies heavily on the collective population and therefore, physical manipulation is necessary when creating the modern state since individuals are used to serve that state.

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