Thomas Mann: Democracy Will Win!
“It is a terrible spectacle when the irrational becomes popular,” said Thomas Mann in his famous speech at the Library of Congress in 1943. The resistance of this famous German author is both inspiring and, alas, deeply relevant today, as we witness the fundamental values of democracy once again being called into question by a increasingly virulent populism and nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic that are putting democratic society under massive pressure.
As a polemical contribution to these current debates, the Princeton German Department is hosting the touring exhibition Thomas Mann: Democracy Will Win! whose spatial and metaphorical center is the Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades, California. For it was from this sanctuary in exile that Mann campaigned tirelessly for a new understanding of democracy. Today Mann’s West Coast residence is once again at the service of intellectual exchange and transatlantic understanding.
The first part of the exhibition presents the development of Thomas Mann’s political biography from monarchist to powerful opponent of National Socialism and committed fighter for democracy. Photographs, texts, excerpts from the famous radio addresses “To the German Listeners!” and original exhibits trace his intellectual, political and spatial paths.
The second multimedia section connects this history to the present. What makes a political person? How does one become a supporter of democracy? How does one defend one’s stance? Film clips and interviews, tweets and quotes from personalities from politics, popular culture, literature and society – ranging from Greta Thunberg to Saša Stanišić, from Donald Trump to Barack Obama, from Igor Levit to Edward Snowden – illustrate the importance of the question: How can we defend and sustainably strengthen democracy as a responsible model of social organisation? This is a task that is more important than ever today, in times of rampant neo-fascisms, global migration, climate change, and new pandemics.
The exhibition is structured around the terms Beginnings, Zeitgeist, Affirmation, Take Action, and Responsibility which convey some of the ambivalences that even a democratic system cannot eliminate. Thomas Mann’s life offers numerous points of departure for examining the current state, the fragility and the future of democracy – inspired by Mann’s dictum: “DEMOCRACY WILL WIN!”
The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be on view November 6-28 in the Lower Hyphen of the East Pyne Building on the Princeton University Campus.