The Ethics of Examining the Swastika, the Energizer Bunny of Hate Symbols

Steven Heller opens his latest treatise, The Swastika and Symbols of Hate: Extremist Iconography Today (2019, Allworth Press) by establishing the symbol now associated with Nazis as a “visual obscenity.” This acknowledgement serves as a framework for understanding the over 200-page exploration that follows, but comes 10 pages into the book, by which time the reader has already encountered several photographs, political cartoons, and various representation of Nazi regalia and culture. “If you want to know what the logo for hate looks like,” writes Heller, “go no further.”

One rightly imagines this book to be a tough a read for anyone of good conscience, but for someone like me, whose family line and continued existence stands in direct defiance of the stated agenda of Nazism, I had to ask myself: what is the point of this exercise? The point, for me, is to examine the power of a symbol. One cannot be concerned with art without a belief in the power of symbolism, and — as Heller notes there are few symbols as potent as the swastika. 

By Sarah Rose Sharp, Hyperallergic

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