Saturday, October 08, 2005

History of Green Fascism, Part 2.


"Don't rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the Bastard, the Bitch that bore him is in heat again." - May 6th 1945

Bertolt Brecht

Naziism didn't spring full-grown overnight from the German soil
like a bloody, pus-seeping mushroom; and Germanic people didn't suddenly throw themselves into fits of fascist psychosis on the spot at Nuremberg because Hitler was a great public orator and spiffy dresser. The cheap lies we hear today about Islam are the same cheap lies used to explain Germany's descent into Nazi madness, and just as stupid and pointless: The humiliation of proud people with a long and great culture pushed to desperate measures by an arrogant imperialist force bent on extracting every last drop of native blood; poor and desperate people trying to reclaim lost soil and the people of their nation; poor and desperate people who are anxious like we are anxious for peace, but for justice and dignity and just a few more places to add to the pot, places rightly German in the first place, and who are we to be propping up the Czechs and the Poles, the Magyars, the Letts, the Danes, and cetera. We can wash the arguments in shit all we like but the lies won't come out white.

The Germanic people worked long and hard for over a hundred years to reach the state of the last Reich. They were focused and dedicated, and they got what they worked for. It was no mistake. Today we see the same movement toward fascism, this time in new a coat but the same bitch in heat again.

What most well-intentioned and reasonable people think of as saving the whales and chickens and rabbits and what have you, saving the ozone, keeping the water drinkable; all these things are good in themselves; but what, gentle reader, underlies this push for saving Mother Nature from rape by Modernity? We don't bother addressing the concerns of unreconstructed Right-wing ideologues who would argue anything unreasonable simply for the sake of ideology. Those are garbage people of the Stalinist apologetic ilk not worth our time or spit. Our concern here is with the moderate middle class Westerner who is concerned about issues of health and safety for himself and his nation and the world at large. To address those concerns we must look into the gestational time of Nazi Germany, and from there we will see the hijacking by a small minority of terrorists who do not understand the nature of environmentalism. Ah, but we'll see too the fruits of fascism ripening in the fields of the suburbs, the growth of a new fascism unbeknowst to us. We'll see more of the roots of the fascism that is choking the West.

Our common understanding of the good and right of environmentalism, of saving baby seals and such, is not truly what we might think it is, it coming with underlying philosophical positions that we, if we know of them, will recoil from. We speak, of course of fascist irrationalism, racism, and anti-Modernist fascism.

Rather than continue here we'll continue with the second part of our look at the essay on the history of the Green fascist movement in Europe. As we've stated many times before, there are great things to admire about fascism, but they are few, and we must know what we think if we are to think clearly and not throw out the baby with the natural spring bathwater.

Just as old Nazis didn't arrive unbeckoned from nowhere one evening as everyone slept, so too post-modern fascism will not come upon us unannounced. It's visage is here with us-- if we will see it.
***

The Youth Movement and the Weimar Era

The chief vehicle for carrying this ideological constellation to prominence was the youth movement, an amorphous phenomenon which played a decisive but highly ambivalent role in shaping German popular culture during the first three tumultuous decades of this century. Also known as the Wandervögel (which translates roughly as 'wandering free spirits'), the youth movement was a hodge-podge of countercultural elements, blending neo-Romanticism, Eastern philosophies, nature mysticism, hostility to reason, and a strong communal impulse in a confused but no less ardent search for authentic, non-alienated social relations. Their back-to-the-land emphasis spurred a passionate sensitivity to the natural world and the damage it suffered. They have been aptly characterized as 'right-wing hippies,' for although some sectors of the movement gravitated toward various forms of emancipatory politics (though usually shedding their environmentalist trappings in the process), most of the Wandervöge were eventually absorbed by the Nazis. This shift from nature worship to Führer worship is worth examining.

The various strands of the youth movement shared a common self-conception: they were a purportedly 'non-political' response to a deep cultural crisis, stressing the primacy of direct emotional experience over social critique and action. They pushed the contradictions of their time to the breaking point, but were unable or unwilling to take the final step toward organized, focused social rebellion, "convinced that the changes they wanted to effect in society could not be brought about by political means, but only by the improvement of the individual." 16 This proved to be a fatal error. "Broadly speaking, two ways of revolt were open to them: they could have pursued their radical critique of society, which in due course would have brought them into the camp of social revolution. [But] the Wandervögel chose the other form of protest against society—romanticism." 17

This posture lent itself all too readily to a very different kind of political mobilization: the 'unpolitical' zealotry of fascism. The youth movement did not simply fail in its chosen form of protest, it was actively realigned when its members went over to the Nazis by the thousands. Its countercultural energies and its dreams of harmony with nature bore the bitterest fruit. This is, perhaps, the unavoidable trajectory of any movement which acknowledges and opposes social and ecological problems but does not recognize their systemic roots or actively resist the political and economic structures which generate them. Eschewing societal transformation in favor of personal change, an ostensibly apolitical disaffection can, in times of crisis, yield barbaric results.

The attraction such perspectives exercised on idealistic youth is clear: the enormity of the crisis seemed to enjoin a total rejection of its apparent causes. It is in the specific form of this rejection that the danger lies. Here the work of several more theoretical minds from the period is instructive. The philosopher Ludwig Klages profoundly influenced the youth movement and particularly shaped their ecological consciousness. He authored a tremendously important essay titled "Man and Earth" for the legendary Meissner gathering of the Wandervögel in 1913. 18 An extraordinarily poignant text and the best known of all Klages' work, it is not only "one of the very greatest manifestoes of the radical ecopacifist movement in Germany," 19 but also a classic example of the seductive terminology of reactionary ecology.

"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!

It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Klages was throughout his life politically archconservative and a venomous antisemite. One historian labels him a "Volkish fanatic" and another considers him simply "an intellectual pacemaker for the Third Reich" who "paved the way for fascist philosophy in many important respects." 20 In "Man and Earth" a genuine outrage at the devastation of the natural environment is coupled with a political subtext of cultural despair. 21 Klages' diagnosis of the ills of modern society, for all its declamations about capitalism, returns always to a single culprit: "Geist." His idiosyncratic use of this term, which means mind or intellect, was meant to denounce not only hyperrationalism or instrumental reason, but rational thought itself. Such a wholesale indictment of reason cannot help but have savage political implications. It forecloses any chance of rationally reconstructing society's relationship with nature and justifies the most brutal authoritarianism. But the lessons of Klages' life and work have been hard for ecologists to learn. In 1980, "Man and Earth" was republished as an esteemed and seminal treatise to accompany the birth of the German Greens.

Another philosopher and stern critic of Enlightenment who helped bridge fascism and environmentalism was Martin Heidegger. A much more renowned thinker than Klages, Heidegger preached "authentic Being" and harshly criticized modern technology, and is therefore often celebrated as a precursor of ecological thinking. On the basis of his critique of technology and rejection of humanism, contemporary deep ecologists have elevated Heidegger to their pantheon of eco-heroes: Heidegger's critique of anthropocentric humanism, his call for humanity to learn to "let things be," his notion that humanity is involved in a "play" or "dance" with earth, sky, and gods, his meditation on the possibility of an authentic mode of "dwelling" on the earth, his complaint that industrial technology is laying waste to the earth, his emphasis on the importance of local place and "homeland," his claim that humanity should guard and preserve things, instead of dominating them—all these aspects of Heidegger's thought help to support the claim that he is a major deep ecological theorist. 22

Such effusions are, at best, dangerously naive. They suggest a style of thought utterly oblivious to the history of fascist appropriations of all the elements the quoted passage praises in Heidegger. (To his credit, the author of the above lines, a major deep ecological theorist in his own right, has since changed his position and eloquently urged his colleagues to do the same.) 23 As for the philosopher of Being himself, he was—unlike Klages, who lived in Switzerland after 1915—an active member of the Nazi party and for a time enthusiastically, even adoringly supported the Führer. His mystical panegyrics to Heimat (homeland) were complemented by a deep antisemitism, and his metaphysically phrased broadsides against technology and modernity converged neatly with populist demagogy. Although he lived and taught for thirty years after the fall of the Third Reich, Heidegger never once publicly regretted, much less renounced, his involvement with National Socialism, nor even perfunctorily condemned its crimes. His work, whatever its philosophical merits, stands today as a signal admonition about the political uses of anti-humanism in ecological garb.

In addition to the youth movement and protofascist philosophies, there were, of course, practical efforts at protecting natural habitats during the Weimar period. Many of these projects were profoundly implicated in the ideology which culminated in the victory of 'Blood and Soil.' A 1923 recruitment pitch for a woodlands preservation outfit gives a sense of the 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."24

The mantra-like repetition of the word "German" and the mystical depiction of the sacred forest fuse, once again, nationalism and naturalism. This intertwinement took on a grisly significance with the collapse of the Weimar republic. For alongside such relatively innocuous conservation groups, another organization was growing which offered these ideas a hospitable home: the National Socialist German Workers Party, known by its acronym NSDAP. Drawing on the heritage of Arndt, Riehl, Haeckel, and others (all of whom were honored between 1933 and 1945 as forebears of triumphant National Socialism), the Nazi movement's incorporation of environmentalist themes was a crucial factor in its rise to popularity and state power.

http://www.social-ecology.org/article.php?story=20031202115218246

We will continue this presentation of the roots of Green fascism in our next installment. As we do so we expect the readers will see clearly the rise of Irrationalism and philobarbarism emerging from the swamps of our most primitive life prior to Modernity. For some it will not matter. For others the world will begin to make more sense as it is, and they will find a new energy to fight against the retrograde forces of fascism.

2 comments:

Bob Merkin said...

Jesus your goddam blog really intimidates me because it has so much goddam Facts and Stuff in it, like you've been reading a whole bunch of Books. It makes me feel like it would take me five years of solid reading and studying before I could dare to tell you that ANYTHING you've written is crap.

Right now I can't even begin to figure out if there's anything in your blog that I think maybe IS crap.

(I pretty much stopped doing homework and required reading assignments, unless I enjoyed it, in the third grade.)

Your blog makes me and my blog feel like I live in a trailer park, there's empty Budweiser cans all over the floor, it's noon, and I'm sitting around in underwear with holes in it watching a Jerry Springer episode about cross-dressing Boy Scouts.

I can't find your e-mail addie anywhere. Mine's in my Profile on Vleeptron. Send me an e-mail please. Assuming you're willing to dialogue with a trailer park blog guy like me.

You make me feel like my trailer's not even an Airstream.

As for the rest of you, visit Planet Vleeptron at http://vleeptron.blogspot.com
On Vleeptron, you'll never feel inadequate, and there are lots of pretty color pictures.

I now turn control of this Comment over to my good friend Sam Cooke:

========================================

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for

Don't know much about the Middle Ages
Looked at the pictures and I turned the pages
Don't know nothin' 'bout no Rise and Fall
Don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' at all

Chris said...

Just a short thought on the use of the word "Geist."

If it were used idiosyncratically I would assume a hegelian meaning which would be closer to "a common spirit." That is, for Hegel, Geist was the active element that created "community," "nationhood," and "humanity." So a wholesale denial of Geist would be a denial of socio-political norms.

Certainly no less pro- (or proto-) fascist but not necessarily a complete rejection of rational thought entire.