Ecofascism Revisited: Book Review, by Graham Strouts

Writing about books is a legitimate exercise of scholarship. Sometimes you don't want to read the book, but you want to know about it. Reading a review might not help, of course, since many reviewers actually tell you more about themselves than the book they are reviewing. But, either way, you can say you read about the book.

Ecofascism Revisited: Book Review, by Graham Strouts

Postby admin » Wed Jun 17, 2015 10:57 pm

by Graham Strouts
Lessons from the German experience
Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier
Pbck; 188pp
New Compass 2011
First published 1995




The historical connections between fascism and environmental movements remain relatively unknown in the contemporary world where “Green” issues are more generally associated with the Left and liberal values.

In Britain, early environmentalism was strongly influenced by eugenics and concerns about the burgeoning human population. A good overview of this can be read in Fred Pearce’s PeopleQuake. This in turn had been influenced by Malthus and his dire warnings of population outstripping the food supply -- perhaps the original single issue defining the course of the environmental movement.

First published in 1995, this updated work by Peter Staudenmaier provides a powerful historical analysis of how environmental thinking was adopted by some quarters in the Nazi party in 1930s and 40s Germany, and how this alliance between romantic environmental thinking and far-right politics may still be significant today.

The book consists of three essays, the first two reproduced unchanged from the original, and a new essay by Peter Staudenmaier reflecting developments since the mid-1990s.

Staudenmaier is an Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology and a Professor of modern European history at Marquette University, Milwaukee, and has been active in anarchist and green movements in the US. In 2010 he completed his dissertation Between Occultism and Fascism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race and Nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945 at Cornell University.

As a social ecologist he takes a pragmatic and rationalist approach to environmental problems, but keeps them rooted firmly in left-wing politics and issues of social justice: for the social ecologist, environmentalism is as much a struggle against structures of oppression of people as of the environment, and this is in stark contrast to the romantic and Malthusian, anti-human wing of environmentalism, which sees the enemy to be not capitalism and the profit motive, which exploits people and nature equally, but the human race itself -- or more accurately perhaps, certain racial groups.

In the Introduction, Staudenmaier explains:

In Europe as in the United States, most ecological activists think of themselves as socially progressive … For many such people, it may come as a surprise to learn that the history of ecological politics has not always been inherently and necessarily progressive and benign. In fact, ecological ideas have a history of being distorted and laced in the service of highly regressive ends -- even of fascism itself….

important tendencies in German “ecologism”, which has long roots in nineteenth-century nature mysticism, fed into the rise of Nazism in the 20th Century. During the “Third Reich”…Nazi “ecologists” even made organic farming, vegetarianism, nature worship, and related themes into key elements not only of their ideology but in their governmental policies.

Moreover, Nazi “ecological” ideology was used to justify the destruction of European Jewry. Yet some of the themes that Nazi ideologists articulated bear an uncomfortably close resemblance to themes familiar to ecologically concerned people today.


The authors stress they are not deprecating the efforts of serious environmentalists at protecting the planet, but to protect it from reactionary groups which use legitimate environmental concerns to further their own reactionary agendas:

we find that the “ecological scene” of our time -- with its growing mysticism and anti-humanism -- poses serious problems about the direction in which the ecology movement will go … these reactionary and outright fascist ecologists emphasize the supremacy of the “Earth” over people; evoke “feelings” and intuition at the expense of reason; and uphold a crude sociobiologistic and even Malthusian biologism. Tenets of “New Age” eco-ideology that seems benign to most people in England and the United States – specifically, its mystical and anti-rational strains -- are being intertwined with ecofascism in Germany today.

Nature Presupposes a Spiritual Disposition
by Bruno Thuring

Einstein's work can be understood only as counterpart and antithesis to the intellectual tendency of a Kepler or a Newton. Whereas, still intoxicated with the tremendous successes of Kepler and Newton, their successors and spiritual heirs already became partly conscious, but increasingly less so, of the fact that the creative power of these two great men did not rest so much on their logical intellect as on their world-embracing outlook on life, with its simultaneous and equal concern for the realm of the material and the realm of the spiritual and non-material -- that is, on qualities of soul and disposition. Others of their followers turned deliberately toward what was essentially a purely materialistic conception of spiritual and material nature, in the hope of being able eventually to grasp the whole of nature in one mathematical formula. However, Kepler and Newton made their own anti-materialistic mode of thinking perfectly clear. The instinctive knowledge that nature and creation were not to be divorced from their creator and that the world of our paltry five senses, the world of matter, simply could not be the whole world, was so valuable and essential to their investigations that they expressed this knowledge not only in numerous private letters but also in their justly famous treatises. Their scientific aspirations, their drive to understand, and their inquiry into nature were in the first instance born of a deep religious feeling -- the word being used here in its true meaning -- and whenever they raised the question of the meaning and purpose of scientific inquiry, they never furnished any answer except their desire to comprehend and explain the existence and operation of God in the investigation of His plan of the world and His works. The ancient magnanimity of soul of the Germanic man, directed away from the world and all external appearance, posed the first world-encompassing question about nature and thus became the mother of natural science. If the generation from which Kepler and Newton sprang had been exclusively devoted to materialism -- if indeed it had been incapable of an inner view extending far beyond mere sensory perceptions -- Kepler's search for the divine harmony of nature would have been impossible and therefore unsuccessful. At the same time, his success did not come to him easily. Not only for years but for decades, he exerted all his genius for mathematics and creative combinations, which he knew how to subordinate to the primacy of exact. observation. No failure, no disappointment could ever shake his rocklike conviction that the world had to be in harmony, for its progenitors were perfection and beauty. "With God's help I shall certainly conclude this undertaking -- and indeed in a military manner, by issuing my orders boldly, daringly, and triumphantly today, and worrying about my funeral tomorrow," he wrote in a letter. And in another letter: "My whole being strives to penetrate form and existence, God Himself, the architect of creation -- and here is where the greatest joy beckons me." And again: "Here I throw the dice, and write a book either for my contemporaries or for posterity. Maybe it will have to wait centuries for its readers, but then God Himself waited thousands of years for someone to describe His works." Kepler wrote all this in the glowing flame of supra-terrestrial exultation over having finally succeeded in finishing his work. The drive to comprehend what can be perceived by the senses, born of a conviction and faith in what cannot be grasped by our senses, and a modest yet persevering devotion to the exact observation of nature, determined the scientific attitude which made Kepler the prototype and example of the German natural scientist. Therefore, his scientific achievements were, and remain, de spite their international reputation, the products of a thoroughly German and nationally conditioned conception of nature. The fairy tale of an international and absolute natural science that is independent of Volk, history, and race is smashed to pieces on Kepler. Conversely, a liberal theory of science could have come into being only in a period which, under the influence of persons of alien blood, increasingly fell victim to materialism and which was no longer able to see Kepler and Newton as anything more than great intellectualists and mathematicians.

But how can such a conception do justice to a man like Newton, who found it necessary in his main work, Principia Mathematica, to delve extensively into the problem of divinity and who, on the basis of his world-encompassing view of nature, could demand that divinity be evaluated as a problem of natural science? "Thoroughly similar only to itself," he describes divinity, "entirely ear, eye, brain, arm, feeling, insight, activity, and all in a manner not human, even less corporeal, but in an entirely unknown manner. We see only the structure and color of a body; we hear its sounds, we feel its exterior surface, we smell and taste it. But as regards the inner substances of matter, we can comprehend them neither through our senses nor through our intelligence. Even less do we have a conception of the substance of God." And he concluded this part of his contemplations as follows: "This I had to say about God, whose works it is the task of natural science to investigate." Is not such thinking and such knowledge of the threads that bind the realm of matter to the realm of the spirit, is not this awareness of the fact that with our limited number of senses we are able to grasp only a restricted part of the whole world, worlds apart from materialism, worlds apart from that relativistic conception according to which every description of nature may deal only with relations of matter to matter and according to which even space and time are only attributes of matter because there is, allegedly, nothing but matter? The formulation of general relativity as a principle of nature, as is done in Einstein's theory, can be nothing more than the expression of a thoroughly materialistic attitude of mind and soul. The feeling for nature and the racially determined concept of nature possessed by Nordic man, who strives to comprehend nature not only with his intellect but also with his heart and soul and with his imagination, are here opposed by a concept of nature which aims to set up the intellect alone as the cognitive principle in the investigation of nature and which consequently disregards the possibility of conceptions geared to our spirit in favor of a purely symbolical, mathematical, formalistic, and non-concrete representation of nature....

By starting out from facts alone, even though based on observation and experiment, we cannot arrive at a "decision" with respect to the "correctness" of either [the Nordic or the Einsteinian conception of nature]. Rather, the complex of facts is identical in both cases. The difference between the two concepts goes deeper; it lies on another level, namely, where natural science as an activity takes its point of departure. For that reason, the assertion of books popularizing the theory of relativity that it is a conception of nature based on experience is utterly untrue. For the substratum and essence of natural science are not to be found in this or that measurement, in this or that experiment, or in the exact reading of an instrument. All these are merely its exterior forms of expression, its results. and as such something which is objective, a datum provided by nature. But what is essential in connection with what concerns us today is to determine what lies at the base of inquiry, what it springs from, what use the investigator makes of it and what it can be utilized for. It is not the What which is the decisive factor, but the How, Whence, and Why. If that were not so, there would be no explanation for the fact that the natural sciences came into existence and blossomed among the valuable peoples and races of Europe, and among these overwhelmingly in the Germanic segments thereof. This fact cannot be ignored; it attests to the communality of an identical basic attitude of mind and spirit which coincides with the communality of racial and Volkish characteristics. Not only Kepler and Newton, but also Galileo, Guericke, Faraday, Gauss, Maxwell, Robert Mayer, and many others attest to this fact.

But a word about the space-time problem. The conceptions of space and time are thought frameworks given to us by nature, into which we order and arrange all physical and chemical phenomena, but also all manifestations of life, mind, and soul. They are forms of thinking of our innermost being, so to speak, Our "weapons" for confronting the outside world. Newton, as a true Germanic natural scientist, was fully conscious of that and he regarded space and time not as purely logical concepts, but as concepts strongly anchored in intuition. It is altogether different with the Jew Einstein. The attempt to view space and time as attributes of matter exclusively and the desire to understand them solely as matter, so that on the basis of this mental attitude it had to be claimed that the motion of matter is meaningful only in relation to other matter, are fully in keeping with the thoroughly and onesidedly materialistically oriented spirit of the theory of relativity. For the relativist, this is a self-evident concept and in return he acquiesces in all the violence done to intuition. Intuition and feeling are sacrificed to the worship of matter and pure logic....

Still another closely connected difference between the relativistic, Jewish and the Nordic-Germanic conception and representation of nature lies in their attitude toward the concept of energy. Power, strength, energy, is something immediately clear and understandable to the Nordic man; not only does he possess it himself, but it has confronted him from the primordial beginnings of his history and from the beginning of his personal life in his work as a craftsman, in the effort of physical activity. He knows from experience that through energy one can set bodies in motion or bring moving bodies to a stop. For Kepler and Newton, as Germanic men, it was immediately obvious, whenever they encountered such changes in motion, to speak of the effects of energy. Kepler was the first to give voice to the idea that the sun was the source of an energy which determines the trajectory of the planets. Newton founded his general mechanics on an exact and measurable definition of energy.

It is no coincidence that the half-Jew Heinrich Hertz [1] and the full-Jew Einstein attempted to create a structure of mechanics from which the concept of energy has wholly vanished. The Jewish philosopher Spinoza likewise was ignorant of the concept of energy. It seems to be entirely alien to the world-feeling of the Jew, and he is therefore at pains to exclude this alien phenomenon from his consideration of nature. Hertz clothed this aspiration in his demand that all anthropomorphisms, such as energy, be excluded from natural science. But in doing so he overlooked the fact that every construction of a scientific concept arises in principle from human experience, that is, from a cognitive process in which the specific nature of the cognizing subject is as essentially involved as the specific nature of the cognized object. Finally, even Hertz's attempt is anthropomorphic if in place of energy he postulates the coupling of mechanical systems, whose motions thereupon lose all freedom.

Einstein's theory of relativity, however, sets aside the concept of energy through the most radical upheaval of all space-time concepts. He postulates, in a purely mathematical, formalistic way, a curvature of space in the environment of all matter and necessarily connected with it. In this curved space the planets follow trajectories analogous to the so-called geodetic lines, that is, to the shortest possible lines between two points in curved planes. Thus, through the elimination of the concept of energy, dynamics become, with Hertz as well as with Einstein, a kind of cinematics.

We can see by this example what is involved here: Not new cognitions of natural events, not new findings of scientific research, but something relating to human inwardness, something concerning the soul, world-feeling, attitudes, and racial dispositions.

There have been repeated attempts in lectures and books to present the theory of relativity as the grand capstone of centuries of progressive scientific development, which began with Copernicus and Galileo and led, via Kepler and Newton, to Einstein. No! Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton are not Einstein's predecessors and pathfinders, but his antipodes. Einstein is not the pupil of these men, but their determined opponent; his theory is not the keystone of a development, but a declaration of total war, waged with the purpose of destroying what lies at the basis of this development, namely, the world view of German man. Therefore, it could be so joyfully saluted and enthusiastically celebrated only by a generation that had grown up on purely materialistic modes of thought. This theory could have blossomed and flourished nowhere else but in the soil of Marxism, whose scientific expression it is, in a manner analogous to that of cubism in the plastic arts and the unmelodious and unharmonic atonality in the music of the last several years. Thus, in its consequences. the theory of relativity appears to be less a scientific than a political problem.

The flooding of the book market shortly after the war with popular and semi-popular expositions of the theory of relativity naturally could not aim to acquaint the large public interested in natural sciences with the highly difficult logical and mathematical thought-content of the theory. Such a goal cannot be attained in this way. Rather, the effect of these books was to be found mainly on the level of the inner soul and a world view. Some even ventured -- and they were not altogether wrong in this assumption -- to look upon the theory of relativity as a typical expression of our time. Colin Ross, [2] in his book Die Welt auf der Waage (The World in the Scales), declared that Einstein's theory could have been discovered only in our time, that the principle of relativity gave our time its keynote and left nothing untouched, no moral law, not even Kant's categorical imperative.

In this manner, assisted by advertising in the newspapers and lectures from the professorial chairs, this purely scientific theory, whose main ingredient was the postulate of relativity, grew into a physical world view. And since it is always impossible for several world views -- say, a physical, a philosophical, an astronomical, or a religious world view -- to exist simultaneously without affecting and influencing each other, the theory of relativity threatened to become the dominant world view altogether and in every direction. This development be. came possible only because of the general recognition accorded natural science as a scientific discipline, characterized by the highest objectivity since it supposedly deals exclusively with established facts, whose existence is in no way subject to being conditioned or determined by the cognizing subject. It was deliberately overlooked that all interest in nature in itself presupposes a certain spiritual disposition, and that the perceiving subject has his own manner and content of conception and his Own method of inquiry, all of which must depend On himself and his particular endowments. The few who were of different opinions were disregarded. Nevertheless, it remains forever true that the natural scientist in his work remains a son of the people and a representative of their feelings and yearnings, as is also true in the case of the artist and the statesman. This obvious fact could be misunderstood only because nobody took the trouble to delve deeply enough into the wellsprings of natural-scientific inquiry; everyone remained suspended at the point where facts were observed, experiments made, results recorded. To prove the dependence of natural science on racial stock requires less study of results in textbooks and more study of the original works of the great discoverers and their personalities as scientists. Kepler and Newton as Nordic men on one side, Einstein as a typical Jew on the other, are the most illuminating examples -- the former because they did not shrink from allowing the reader an insight into their own spiritual life, the latter as a contrast to them.

May the young generation of natural scientists and philosophers recognize, therefore, what is meant by the concept of German natural science! If, however, someone asks: How can we arrive at a German natural science? our answer must be: A new National Socialist science cannot create, as if by sorcery, arbitrary and amateurish world systems and conceptions -- only infinite damage could come of this. Rather, it must reverentially immerse itself in nature itself, and in the great Nordic discoverers and interpreters of nature, to find there the essence of German being in glorious abundance. As for the rest, let us keep as far away as possible anything that comes from the hands of the Jew, and let us be Germans and National Socialists in all our work and thought! Then everything will be all right. I shall close with a variation of a quotation from R. Eichenauer: "Natural science is not a root, but a blossom. Let us take care of the roots. The blossom will appear by itself." [3]

-- Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich, by George L. Mosse

"Religion of the heart"

Religion mated with German nationalism in the eighteenth century and produced a fever in the people called Pietism. Schleiermacher had been visited by this fever in his youth, and although he forged his own path as a theologian and philosopher, he said his ideas remained closest to this "religion of the heart." To Schleiermacher, the highest form of religion was an "intuition" (Anschauung) of the "Whole," an immediate experience of every particular as part of a whole, of every finite thing as a representation of the infinite. This was the perfect theology for an age of nature-obsessed Romanticism, and at times Schleiermacher's rhetoric, adorned with organic metaphors of the whole derived from nature, shaded into pantheism and mysticism. By 1817, he most certainly infected Karl Jung with it, as he did that entire generation of young patriots through his sermons, his writings, and especially his revisions of the Reformed Protestant liturgy, making it more simple, festive, and Volkish. Additionally, in the decade before he met Jung, he had published translations of Plato and, by his own admission, had become quite influenced by Platonism. This, too, must be remembered when we fantasize about what the older spiritual adviser imparted to the enthusiastic young convert.

German Pietism was loosely related to contemporaneous religious movements, such as Quakerism and enthusiastic Methodism in England and America and Quietism and Jansenism in France. Pietism, however, was to play a key role in developing Volkish self-consciousness and a sense of nation in the politically fragmented German lands. In the spirit of Luther, Pietism was born of disgust with orthodoxies, dogmas, and church hierarchies in the traditional Protestant denominations, making it a form of radical Lutheranism. Pietists dared to question authority and to be suspicious of foreign interpreters of Christianity. They called it a Herzensreligion, a "religion of the heart," a spiritual movement that emphasized feeling, intuition, inwardness, and a personal experience of God. [15] The function of thinking, indeed reason itself, was disparaged and could not be trusted. To experience God, the intellect must be sacrificed. (For example, according to Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a prominent eighteenth-century Pietist who influenced Schleiermacher and twentieth-century figures Rudolph Otto and Hermann Hesse, only atheists attempted to comprehend God with their mind; the True sought revelation.)

Pietists' mystical enthusiasm is reflected in some of their favorite incendiary metaphors for their ecstatic experiences. It was the fire of the Holy Spirit that must burn within; indeed, it was often said that "the heart must burn." They emphasized the burning experience of "Christ within us" instead of the inanimate, automatic belief in the dogma of a "Christ for us." Such subtle distinctions had profound implications for German nationalism, for the belief arose in the feeling of group identity bound by common inner experience, a mystical blood-union of necessity, rather than as something external existing for an individual. Hence, the Pietist emphasis on service to others as a method of serving God.

Prussia, the most absolutist of the many German political entities, welcomed the Pietists to Berlin. Attracted to Pietism's rejection of the Lutheran clerical hierarchy -- which threatened the overriding legitimacy of the state -- the eighteenth-century rulers of Prussia adopted Pietism's religious philosophy and offered sanctuary to many of its exiled leaders. As populist movements, Pietism and pan-German nationalism were as threatening to the royal rulers of the dozens of German states as to Lutheran clerics, for they challenged the political status quo. Prussia, however, as the strongest of the German states, already presaged its manifest destiny as the unifier of Germany, and so its short-term goals coincided with those of such movements. Nicholas Boyle, one of Goethe's biographers, described the immense significance of this convergence of affinities for the next two centuries of German religious life and political history:

The particular feature of Pietism which makes it of interest to us is its natural affinity for state absolutism. A religion which concentrates to the point of anxiety, not to say hypochondria, on those inner emotions, whether of dryness or abundance, of despair or of confident love of God, from which the individual may deduce the state of his immortal soul; a religion whose members meet for preference not publicly, but privately in conventicles gathered round a charismatic personality who may well not be an ordained minister; a religion who disregards all earthly (and especially all ecclesiastical) differentiation of rank, and sees its proper role in the visible world in charitable activity as nearly as possible harmonious with the prevailing order ... such a religion was tailor-made for a state system in which all, regardless of rank, were to be equally servants of the one purpose; in which antiquated rights and differentiae were to be abolished; and in which ecclesiastical opposition was particularly unwelcome, whether it came from assertive prelates or from vociferous enthusiasts unable to keep their religious lives to themselves.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, German nationalism had become so intertwined with Pietism that the literature of the time blurs distinctions between inner and outer Fatherlands. The "internalized Kingdom of Heaven" became identical with the spiritual soil of the German ancestors, a Teutonic "Land of the Dead." In these patriotic religious tracts the sacrificial deaths of Teutonic heroes such as Arminius (Hermann the German, who defeated the Romans in the Teutoberg forest) and the mythic Siegfried are compared to the crucifixion of Christ, thus equating pagan and Christian saviors. By the early 1800s, this identity became even more explicit. To Ernst Moritz Arndt, the subjective experience of the "Christ within" was reframed in German Volkish metaphors. In his 1816 pamphlet Zur Befreiung Deutschlands ("On the Liberation of Germany"), Arndt urged Germans, "Enshrine in your hearts the German God and German virtue." They did. By the end of the nineteenth century the German God had reawakened and was moving to reclaim his throne after a thousand-year interregnum.

The primary literature of Pietism consisted of diaries and autobiographies, most driven by the psychological turn inward so valued as the path to reaching the kingdom of God. These confessional texts emphasize the spiritual evolution of the diarist. Each account peaks dramatically with the description of what Schleiermacher called the "secret moment," the tremendous subjective experience that completely changed the life course of an individual and became the central, vivid milestone of his or her faith. This experience was known as the Wiedergeburt, the "rebirth" or "regeneration." Sometimes this experience was preceded or accompanied by visions. Several of the more famous texts, such as the autobiography of Heinrich Jung-Stilling, became part of the canon read by educated nineteenth-century Germans.

Several of these spiritual autobiographies were in the library in C. G. Jung's household when he was growing up, and he cites some of them (such as the work of Jung-Stilling) in MDR and in his seminars. While MDR is highly unlike usual biographies or autobiographies, its story of Jung's spiritual journey is similar in many ways to the Wiedergeburt testimonies of the Pietists. MDR is indeed the story of Jung's rebirth, but the book diverges from the tradition in one uncanny respect: Rather than recording the renewal of Jung's faith as a "born-again Christian," MDR is a remarkable confession of Jung's pagan regeneration.

-- The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung, by Richard Noll

One of the key ways in which this intertwining of green ideas and fascism can be seen is through the Nazi doctrine of Blut und Boden. The Nazi mystics believed there to be a powerful, ordained connection between Das Volk and Das Vaterland -- the notion of a sort of chosen land for a chosen people, the Aryan race. This link was expressed naturally enough through farming practices, which needed to be “pure” so as not to pollute the blood through “unclean” food. Purity of the soil -- the Land -- meant purity of the food and therefore of the Blood -- and therefore, of the Race.

This might explain the adoption by some high-ranking Nazis in the 1930s of Rudolph Steiner’s strange mystical method of farming, Biodynamics, a mixture of astrology and magical compost preparations.

The chief patron of Biodynamic Agriculture was Rudolph Hess, who served as Hitler’s personal deputy for two decades.

An inveterate nature lover as well as a devout Steinerite, Hess insisted on a strictly biodynamic diet -- not even Hitler’s rigorous vegetarian standards were good enough for him -- and accepted only homeopathic medicines.

It was under Hess’s patronage that the “green wing” of the Nazi party was able to achieve its major successes.

Under the Nazis as early as 1933, a wide range of environmental legislation was implemented including re-forestation and habitat preservation, with the first nature reserves in Europe being created under the Nazi State.

Staudenmaier is at pains to stress that this historical link between fascism and green initiatives does not mean that “even the most reprehensible political undertakings sometimes produce laudable results…the real lesson here is just the opposite: Even the most laudable of causes can be perverted and instrumentalized in the service of criminal savagery.”

This included an influence and partial justification for the Holocaust:

Here, too, ecological arguments played a crucially malevolent role. Not only did the “green wing” refurbish the sanguine antisemitism of traditional reactionary ecology; it catalyzed a whole new outburst of lurid racist fantasies of organic inviolability and political revenge. The confluence of anti-humanist dogma with a fetishization of natural ‘purity’ provided not merely a rationale but an incentive for the Third Reich’s most heinous crimes…the displacement of any social analysis of environmental destruction in favor of mystical ecology served as an integral component in the preparation of the final solution…


-- Toward the One, by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

The Crusade against the Grail

Rahn's first published work, Kreuzzug gegen den Graal (Crusade Against the Grail), was devoted to a study of what is sometimes referred to as the Albigensian Crusade: a war that took place between the Roman Catholic Church and a Christian cult known alternatively as the Albigensians (after the town of Albi in southern France) or the Cathars: "the Pure." The Cathars were a type of fundamentalist Christian sect that enjoyed enormous popularity in thirteenth-century Europe, even among the nobility. They were opposed to the materialism of the Catholic Church and what they perceived to be the corruption of Christ's teachings by the Church. In many of their beliefs, they were closer to the Gnostics and Manichaeans than to Roman Catholics; indeed, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that they might have been a Manichaean survival. Regardless of their actual origins, however, they began attracting converts in large numbers, particularly in France.

Their beliefs included the doctrine that Christ was pure spirit and had never inhabited a human -- that is, a material -- form; that the dead will not be resurrected in the body, since the body was made of matter, which the Cathars viewed as Satanic; that there were two forces in the universe, one of good and the other of evil; that procreation was evil, as it increased the amount of matter in the world and trapped souls within material forms.

That death was good, and not a time for mourning; that there was no particular reason why the bodies of the dead should be revered since the bodies were the evil part of the human constitution.

Naturally, they were branded as heretics by the Church and eventually Catholic armies were sent to destroy them under order of Pope Innocent III in 1209. It was from a Catholic commander -- a Cistercian abbot, no less -- surrounding a French town composed of both Cathar and Catholic civilians (men, women, and children) that we receive the immortal line: "Kill them all. God will recognize his own."

The belief of the Cathars -- and of their close relatives, the Albigensians or Albigeois of the Languedoc region of France -- that matter was essentially impure and evil, and that only spirit was pure and good is a patently Gnostic doctrine. The belief in two gods -- one evil, the other good -- is both Gnostic and Manichaean. Hence, it has been argued that the Cathars were an extension of a Middle Eastern sect of Manichees or of Gnostics in possession of a "secret tradition" concerning the life and death of Christ and the origins of Christianity. The Cathars claimed that the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) was full of references to an Evil God -- Jehovah -- even as they insisted that the Bible was either full of errors or had been interpreted incorrectly by generations of self-serving Roman Catholic theologians. (One should remember that in 1209 the Gutenberg press had not been invented and that Bibles were in scarce supply. Those that existed were in the dead tongues of Latin and Greek, and in the possession of the Church. The average person knew very little of what was in the Bible, except for what he or she was told by a priest.)

Another Cathar peculiarity is that -- perhaps late in their tragic story -- they legitimized a form of ritual suicide, called the endura: one simply starved oneself to death, or was poisoned, or was strangled or suffocated by the brethren. They also rejected most of the sacraments of the Church as so much superstitious nonsense. In their anti-Papal stance they were close to the rather more Calvinist Waldensians with whom they have been frequently -- and erroneously -- linked.

At dinner ... he spoke of India and Indian philosophy. This led him to speak of a subject which was a hobbyhorse of his: in a lively manner he described to me the result of researches in German witchcraft trials. He said it was monstrous that thousands of witches had been burned during the Middle Ages. So much good German blood had been stupidly destroyed. From this he began an attack on the Catholic Church, and at the same time on Calvin; before I had caught up with all this he was discussing the Spanish Inquisition and the essential nature of primitive Christianity. [2] -- SCHELLENBERG

These words from Foreign Intelligence Chief Walter Schellenberg's memoirs concerning a meeting with Himmler in the Ukraine in the summer of 1942 indicate just how interested the Reichsfuhrer-SS was in such philosophical and metaphysical questions, including early Christianity, Calvinism, the Inquisition ... even the witch trials, on all of which Himmler considered himself something of an expert.

The Cathar ideology must have appealed to him and the other Nazis in a profound way. After all, the very word "Cathar" means "pure," and purity -- particularly of the blood as the physical embodiment of spiritual "goodness" -- was an issue of prime importance to the SS. The Cathars railed against the gross materialism of the Church; the Nazis viewed themselves as inherently anti-Capitalist, even though they were forced to deal with large industrial concerns in order to obtain absolute power in Germany. (To Hitler and his followers, Capitalism was immoral and they equated it with the excesses of the Jewish financiers that -- they said -- had brought the nation to ruin during the First World War and the depression that followed.)

The Cathars, in denying the value of the Old Testament and in attacking Jehovah as a kind of Satan, naturally seemed to be in perfect agreement with Nazi ideology concerning the Jews and, as we shall see, with the current incarnation of neo-Nazi ideologues in the Christian Identity movement and in the Process Church of the Final Judgment.

Further, the Cathars were fanatics, willing to die for their cause; sacrificing themselves to the Church's onslaught they enjoyed the always enviable aura of spiritual underdogs. There was something madly beautiful in the way they were immolated on the stakes of the Inquisition, professing their faith and their hatred of Rome until the very end. The Nazis could identify with the Cathars: with their overall fanaticism, with their contempt for the way vital spiritual matters were commercialized (polluted) by the Establishment, and with their passion for "purity." It is perhaps inevitable that the Cathars should have made a sacrament out of suicide, for they must have known that their Quest was doomed to failure from the start. They must have wished for death as a release from a corrupt and insensitive world; and it's entirely possible that, at the root of Nazism, lay a similar death wish. Hitler was surrounded by the suicides of his mistresses and contemplated it himself on at least one occasion before he actually pulled the trigger in Berlin in 1945. Himmler and other captured Nazi leaders killed themselves rather than permit the Allies to do the honors for them. Haushofer committed suicide. Even Sebottendorff plunged himself into the Bosporus. Perhaps the passionate desire of concentration camp survivors to see all Nazi war criminals executed for their crimes -- even at this late date -- represents an unconscious realization that suicide (like a natural death) is too good for the monsters of the Reich; that, like the Cathars whom they admired, the Nazis saw in suicide that consolation and release from the world of Satanic matter promised by this most cynical of Cathar sacraments.

-- Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult, by Peter Levenda

The authority of a king or duke, territorial limits to episcopal sees, and personal freedom—are all directly rooted in the soil, even though these forces competed, and still do, for ascendancy. If it is clear now that it was the most purely Nordic Germanic states, peoples and tribes which most consistently and resolutely defended themselves against the assault on everything organic by Roman ecumenical conformism, then we shall be able to see that even before the great victorious awakening of those forces from the hypnotic influence of Rome and the Levant, there was an heroic struggle in progress directly linked to the still pagan Teutons. The history of the Albigensians, Waldenses, Cathars, Arnoldists, Stedingers, Huguenots, the reformed church and the Lutherans, as well as of the martyrs of free inquiry and the heroes of Nordic philosophy, draws an impressive picture of a gigantic contest for character values, those prerequisites of soul and spirit without the assertion of which there could have been neither European nor national culture.

-- The Myth of the 20th Century, by Alfred Rosenberg

Staudennmaier goes onto stress that the rallying cry that Green politics is “neither Left nor Right” but purely ecologically motivated is vacuous, and can lead precisely to the extreme case of genocide under the guise of environmental protection. Environmental policies must always be mediated through a social context, and while a wide spectrum of ideologies have adopted a green agenda at different times, the most consistent ‘pro-natural’ response has come from the Right.

In the second essay in the collection, Janet Biehl considers how various contemporary far-right groups in Germany draw on this historical legacy and continue to use an appeal to ecological purity to further racist and nationalistic agendas.

Biehl cites a group known as the National Revolutionaries whose main ideologue, Henning Eichberg, “calls for the assertion of ‘national identity’ and a ‘liberation nationalism’.

Sounding like many New Agers in the United States, Eichberg calls for a return to pristine nature, to the alleged primordial sources of people’s lives, psyches, and authentic cultures, and for people to heal themselves within as part of healing the ecological crisis, overcoming their own alienation, and rediscovering themselves.

Another group she mentions is the World League for the Protection of Life which basis its ideology on Anthroposophy and the teachings of Rudolph Steiner.

Of particular relevance here is Steiner’s belief in “Root Races” and racial karma:

Peoples and races are after all, merely different developmental stages in our evolution toward a pure humanity. The more perfectly that individual members of that race or people express the pure, ideal human type – the more they have worked their way through from the physical and mortal to the super sensible and immortal realm – the “higher” this race or nation is.

-- ‘How to Know Higher Worlds’, by Rudolf Steiner, (an edition last published 2008, Anthroposophic Press)

Biehl notes that “Many people have been and continue to be attracted to these efforts and to Anthroposophy without any notion of the less savory aspects of Steiner’s work.”

Biehl argues that Anthroposophy with its concept of “root races” are still popular with eco-fascists today, citing for example Gunther Bartsch, an Anthroposophist who is also a National Revolutionary; she also says “it should be noted that Anthroposophy is also well-funded by huge multinational corporations like Siemens and Bertelsmann” although it is not clear what she is implying here -- that Siemens and Bertelsmann are fascist supporters? that all multinationals have fascist sympathies?

A key figure discussed by Biehl is Rudolph Bahro (1935-1997), the East German dissident who became involved with the nascent German Green Party on his arrival in the west in 1979, affirming that “red and green go well together.”

Bahro seems to personify these links between German nationalism and romantic “spiritual” ecology, even calling for a “Green Adolf”. Biehl ruefully notes that “it is presumably cheering that”, in Bahro’s words, “in spite of all bad experiences…the strongest political-psychological dispositions of our people” make “the Germans more responsive than other people’s to charismatic leadership.” Bahro claimed that “the Nazi movement [was] among other things an early reading of the ecology movement” and expressly believed that “the ecological crisis is resolvable only through authoritarian means.”

This view can still be found within the environmental movement today. Shearman and Smith for example argue in the recent book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy that democracy cannot provide an appropriate response to climate change, and what is needed instead is a technocracy -- rule by scientific experts.

Critics of environmentalism argue that, to the extent that it prioritizes the perceived needs of the Natural world over and above those of humans, it must inherently be against democracy. James Delingpole argues in his recent book Watermelons that the climate change movement represents corrupt science in the service of anti-democratic impulses who wish to control our lives by regulating energy consumption through the auspices of technocratic supra-national organisations such as the IPCC, validated by presumed inviolable science.

Others have pointed to the close affinity of environmental dogma with Judeo-Christian religion, and its consequent moralistic -- and therefore anti-democratic -- tendencies: Nature, the Pure Garden of Eden, sullied by Man’s Original Sin of Technology and Science.

One might also point to many of those green gurus listed under the Green Agenda, including high-ranking UN officials Maurice Strong and Robert Fuller, who have spoken in quasi-mystical or religious terms about how they see their mission and motivation in service of Mother Earth.

Staudenmaier and Biehl have made an impeccably argued case that in Germany at least, the fascist origins of the green movement still influence some tendencies in environmental thinking today, and support their case with strong historical evidence.

But where then is the green movement free of such tendencies and associations? Biehl and Staudenmaier point to one of their own influences, Murray Bookchin, rooted in a socially aware green movement that resists the mystical New Age content that seems endemic in much green thought. One might ask though which comes first, the “social” or the “ecological”, for it seems that these two concerns do not sit quite so well together as the social ecologists may imagine, or at least not in the way they presume.

For example, reading Staudenmaier’s account of how two influential “Green Nazis” -- Todt and Seifert in the 1930s -- “vigorously pushed for an all-encompassing Reich law for the protection of Mother Earth,” I could not help drawing parallels with recent attempts by barrister Polly Higgins’ attempt to introduce a new law of “Ecocide”.

Environmentalist critic Ben Pile here argues that such laws are inherently “anti-human,” since many things that we do to improve the quality of our lives will have a negative impact on the environment.

Seifert apparently reported that “all of the ministries were prepared to co-operate save one; only the minister of the economy opposed the bill because of its impact on mining” which pretty much sums up the conflict: if we restrict extraction industries, we may restrict human development and well-being. I feel the authors fail to grapple with this issue, perhaps because of their left-wing bias: they place blame for environmental damage firmly on the shoulders of the Right and Capitalism, rather than seeing it as largely a consequence of human development through technology.

Where do social ecologists stand on these difficult issues of mining or preservation, one wonders? Surely a mine will be similar in its impact on the environment, whether it is run by greedy capitalists or a workers’ collective.

Neither do they address the argument that environmentalism is a product of development, a product of capitalism therefore, rather than a radical response to it: poor people are not generally environmentalists, while as people grow wealthier and have more of their basic needs met, environmental protection becomes much more of a priority.

In the third essay, the new addition for this edition, Staudenmaier assesses the historical legacy of Nazi ecology, and provides a closer look at the role of Anthroposophy, showing that “the biodynamic movement had been eager to prove its National Socialist credentials for years and had in fact cultivated contacts with Nazi circles well before Hitler’s rise to power.” The biodynamic organisation Demeter “celebrated Nazi Germany’s military conquests and called for using prisoners of war in environmental projects.”

He quotes Robert Pois who writes “the national Socialist religion of nature not only implicitly provided for extermination policies as a ‘final solution’, but in fact made them logically and, above all, ethically necessary.”

Staudenmaier comments “The fact that war criminals like Ohlendorf and Pohl (both of whom were executed after the war for crimes against humanity) actively intervened on behalf of biodynamic agriculture lends further weight to this line of inquiry.”

Again, I could not read this without thinking of the notorious 10:10 climate change video nasty ‘No Pressure”, leaving me wondering if the relic of Nazism is more relevant even than Staudenmaier suggests.

10:10 -- No Pressure

Staudenmaier concludes however that “if greens today are guilty of anything, it is historical ignorance, not Nazi sympathies.”

This is why this compelling historical analysis is so important. Ignorance of history will surely lead to its repetition. Many people today are attracted to green ideas as an antidote to what is perceived as an overly rational, materialistic and perhaps soul-less modern world. New Age spirituality and anti-science, anti-modernist and anti-technology ideas abound within many dominant strands of the Green movement, whether at the influential Steiner-oriented Schumacher College in England, or the association of the British Green Party with homeopathy.

Steiner’s biodynamic farming methods strongly influence organic farming institutions around the world still today; the UK’s Soil Association still promotes biodynamics, and one of its founders, Jorian Jenks, was a former member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and closely associated with Oswald Mosley.

Grassroots environmental movements such as Transition Towns and Permaculture, while pertaining to be progressive, are infused with Biodynamics and other aspects of New Age mysticism, either because they have no effective way of resisting infiltration, or because they do in fact depend upon support from proponents of such beliefs.

Either way, this strong anti-science, anti-modernist stance, yearning for an imagined “simpler” and “more natural” life from the unspoilt, pre-industrial past seems almost inseparable from Greens, who are increasingly under attack for anti-science views on key policy issues such as nuclear and GM crops. Take away these irrational elements and I begin to wonder whether there is really anything distinctively “green” remaining at all.

We are left, I feel, with a contradiction the authors neither address nor resolve: if environmentalism is to mean anything, it must be socially progressive in a way that actually prioritizes human rights and Enlightenment values over the natural world, which we will continue to change and fashion according to our own needs. Unless this is explicitly stated, it may be that any environmentalism will always tend to revert to the extreme regressive and reactionary forms of which Staudenmaier and Biehl warn so cogently in this book.
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