We may all be Environmentalists now – but we must beware of the Dark Greens.
Over the last few decades most of us have learned to be feminists, and are generally comfortable with our conversion. But most of us have also learned to identify and avoid being grouped with the dark side of the feminist movement that remains deeply Marxist in its roots and intentions.
Similarly, most of us are now environmentalists. We take some pride in our efforts to care for our surroundings, and to ensure that we enjoy the world around us without despoiling it for others. However, we also need to be conscious of the motives of the “dark greens” who threaten our democracy and many institutions and attitudes we hold equally dear.
As election year moves into full gear our MMP system means the voters will want to know how post-election coalitions might emerge and just who might end up in Government. The Green Party has managed to present itself as a group of kindly folk who want to keep New Zealand clean and green but are essentially harmless – and many of them are.
However, we need to be aware that, around the world, the Dark Side of the Green movement is becoming more vocal in its declaration that we must move beyond democracy if we are to save the planet from humanity’s blight. In early December, Mayer Hillman, in an interview in “Local Transport Today” said among other things … “When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it. This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not.”
And, on Australia’s On Line Opinion, David Shearman, in “Climate Change, is democracy enough?” favourably compares the Chinese government’s ability to ban plastic shopping bags with the dithering of the liberal democracies, and writes:
Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. The subject is almost sacrosanct and those who indulge in criticism are labeled as Marxists, socialists, fundamentalists and worse. These labels are used because alternatives to democracy cannot be perceived! …. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties.
We need to know who we are dealing with, and where they might take us.
Many people characterize these Dark Greens as socialists – “watermelons” who are green on the outside but red on the inside. I suggest we have got our colours mixed.
In my essay, “The Rise of the Urban Romantics – the new Road to Serfdom” I argue that socialism is the dark side of the Enlightenment tradition while Fascism is the dark side of the Romantic Movement. 20th Century communism brought together certain elements of both – e.g. Communism was socialism, combined with fascism’s Charismatic leader.
Many people are vaguely aware that the Green Movement had its origins in NaziGermany and the ideologies and campaigns leading up to it. (The Nazi boy scouts were called Greenshirts). However, many seem unaware of how strong the “green” movement was in developing the most shameful politics of the Third Reich. In particular I wonder how many would refer to ecology so frequently if they were aware of its place in the development of Fascist thought and practice.
Probably the most concise guide to the role of Green thought in fascism is Fascist Ideology: the Green Wing of the Nazi Partyand its Historical Antecedents by Peter Staudenmaier:
Staudenmaier’s opening quote, which sets the tone of his essay, is fromErnst Lehmann, a professor of botany who, in 1930, characterized National Socialism as “politically applied biology”. It reads:
We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a re-integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. …. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole . .. This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought.
Opening the chapter headed “The Roots of the Blood and Soil Mystique” Staudenmaier writes:
Germany is not only the birthplace of the science of ecology and the site of Green politics’ rise to prominence; it has also been home to a peculiar synthesis of naturalism and nationalism forged under the influence of the Romantic tradition’s anti-Enlightenment irrationalism. Two nineteenth century figures exemplify this ominous conjunction: Ernst Moritz Arndt and Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl.
Arnds’ remarkable 1815 article “On the Care and Conservation of Forests”, written at the dawn of industrialization in Central Europe, rails against shortsighted exploitation of woodlands and soil, condemning deforestation and its economic causes. At times he wrote in terms strikingly similar to those of contemporary biocentrism: “When one sees nature in a necessary connectedness and interrelationship, then all things are equally important – shrub, worm, plant, human, stone, nothing first or last, but all one single unity.”
Biocentrism is at the heart of much environmental thought but is not necessarily linked to fascism as such. However, Arndt’s biocentricism was inextricably bound up with virulently xenophobic nationalism. His appeals for ecological sensitivity were always couched in terms of the well-being of the German soil and the German people. This rampant nationalism soon led him to rail against miscegenation, and to demand that teutonic racial purity be protected from ‘mongrelisation’ by French, Slavs, and Jews.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the connection between love of the German land and Germany’s emergent militant and racist nationalism was firmly set in place and ready to dominate political thought and action.
Staudenmaier then explains how LudwigKlarge’s Man and Earth underpinned the German Youth Movement, and as early as 1913 had proclaimed most current themes including the evils of urban sprawl:
Man and Earth anticipated just about all of the themes of the contemporary ecology movement. It decried the accelerating extinction of species, disturbance of global ecosystemic balance, deforestation, destruction of aboriginal peoples and of wild habitats, urban sprawl, and the increasing alienation of people from nature. In emphatic terms it disparaged Christianity, capitalism, economic utilitarianism, hyperconsumption and the ideology of ‘progress.’ It even condemned the environmental destructiveness of rampant tourism and the slaughter of whales, and displayed a clear recognition of the planet as an ecological totality. All of this in 1913 !
Although Klarge was a vicious anti-semite, in 1980 Man and Earthwas republished to accompany the birth of the new party of the dark “German Greens”.
Staudenmaier explains that many such ‘ecological’ authors and their ideas helped develop the Nazi ideology which combined the mystical notions of Blood and Soil.
A 1923 recruitment pitch for a woodlands preservation group demonstrates the truly Romantic environmental rhetoric of the time:
In every German breast the German forest quivers with its caverns and ravines, crags and boulders, waters and winds, legends and fairy tales, with its songs and its melodies, and awakens a powerful yearning and a longing for home; in all German souls the German forest lives and weaves with its depth and breadth, its stillness and strength, its might and dignity, its riches and its beauty – it is the source of German inwardness, of the German soul, of German freedom. Therefore protect and care for the German forest for the sake of the elders and the youth, and join the new German “League for the Protection and Consecration of the German Forest.”
The mantra-like repetition of the word ‘German’ and the mystical depiction of the sacred forest fuse nationalism and naturalism into a unified “holistic” package of thought. Our West Coast logging was doomed from then on.
Hitlerwrote in Mein Kampf that people “owe their higher existence, not to theideas of a few crazy ideologists, but to the knowledge and ruthless application ofNature’s stern and rigid laws.” Hitler’s found his “anthropomorphized nature” had some convenient truths to guide his Third Reich. For example, he wrote: “Nature usually makes certaincorrective decisions with regard to the racial purity of earthly creatures. She has littlelove for bastards.”
I am always stunned by the ease with which local Councils, with a wonderful lack of awareness of history, write into their district plans rules against the “mongrelisation” of plants and the need to eco-source native plants to maintain the “genetic purity” of the species.
Indeed the whole mantra of “native plants good – exotic plants bad” is an uncomfortable reminder of how strongly the preference for “purity” remains entrenched today.
Staudenmaier explains that Hitler was highly committed to all manner of Green ideas, including some of the nuttier ones:
Hitler and Himmler were both strict vegetarians and animal lovers, attracted to nature mysticism and homeopathic cures, and staunchly opposed to vivisection and cruelty to animals. Himmler even established experimental organic farms to grow herbs for SS medicinal purposes. And Hitler, at times, could sound like a veritable Green utopian, discussing authoritatively and in detail various renewable energy sources (including environmentally appropriate hydropower and producing natural gas from sludge) as alternatives to coal, and declaring “water, winds and tides as the energy path of the future.
Now, I do not wish to suggest that any and every green thought is a fascist thought. When I erected a windmill on my 20 acre country block I was not making a statement about my fascist leanings. When my wife and I planted over 80,000 trees and plants on the same block we were not declaring our allegiance to the NZ Nazi Party.
But we need to be aware that many of the beliefs which appealed to Hitler and his cronies appealed because were based on a philosophy which was anti-science, anti-reason, anti-intellectual and “anti” the Enlightenment and all it stood for.
We also need to be mindful of Karl Popper’s reminder that science and democracy are two sides of the one coin and that an attack on one is an attack on the other.
Perfectly legitimate environmental issues and attitudes were perverted by the Nazis and we need to learn from this history if we are not to repeat it. Staudenmaier’s final paragraph reads:
Thus the substitution of ecomysticism for clear-sighted social-ecological inquiry has catastrophic political repercussions, as the complexity of the society-nature dialectic is collapsed into a purified Oneness. An ideologically charged ‘natural order’ does not leave room for compromise; its claims are absolute. For all of these reasons, the slogan advanced by many contemporary Greens, We are neither right nor left but up front, is historically naive and politically fatal. The necessary project of creating an emancipatory ecological politics demands an acute awareness and understanding of the legacy of classical eco-fascism and its conceptual continuities with present-day environmental discourse. An ‘ecological’ orientation alone, outside of a critical social framework, is dangerously unstable. The record of fascist ecology shows that under the right conditions such an orientation can quickly lead to barbarism.
We have been warned.
Nazi-sympathising greens are still a powerful force in German politics today – Herbert Gruhl’s “Ecological DemocraticParty” (founded in 1982) keeps the old beliefs alive.
In the autumn of 1991, Monika Greifahn, the Environment Minister of Lower Saxony shocked manyobservers by awarding Gruhl a highly prestigious state honor for hisinternational best-seller A Planet Is Plundered. She explained that Gruhl had “placed ideas of environmental protection and care at the forefront of publicpolitical consciousness.”
It is not hard to see why some Germans were shocked. Janet Beil, in Ecology and the Modernisation of Fascism in the German Ultra-right, explains one of Gruhl’s nicer ideas:
The ‘laws of nature’, for Gruhl, offer a solution to Third World immigration, especiallythe ‘law’ that the only acceptable currency with which violations of natural law can bepaid for is death. Death brings the equalization; it cuts back all life that hasovergrown on this planet, so that the planet can once again come into equilibrium.” Fortunately, in his view, Third World people will accept this lethal solution sincetheir lives rest on a completely different basic outlook on life from our own: their owndeath, like that of their children, is accepted as fate.
So here we have the retro version of the “final solution”, but this time wrapped in Greenspeak.
So any party contemplating the Green Party as a coalition partner should not look too benignly on all these “green young things” and should press hard to establish the party’s attitudes to the principles of liberal democracy and the role of science in modern society.
And certainly no one should look at the link between Green Politics and the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany and console ourselves that “It could not happen here”.