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Some time ago The Pomegranate, a Pagan academic journal, printed an attack on Paganism and deep ecology by Bookchinite Peter Staudenmaier: “Fascist Ecology: The ‘Green Wing” of the Nazi party and its Historical Antecedents.” Staudenmaier’s article appeared in issue No. 15, Feb. 2001 (4-21), when it was a hard copy journal. My response was in issue No. 16, May, 2001. (51-3). If I remember correctly, his response appeared in its first disc version, as did my final reply.
Much has happened since then, but the irritating old canard about deep ecology and the Nazis raised its head from time to time in publications from the left, like the Bookchinites, and also the right, such as Anna Bramwell’s in many ways very interesting as well as deeply flawed Ecology in the 20th Century. It also became in a milder way a point of contention in my debate some years back with Ken Wilber. For my response see “Ken Wilber’s Critique of Deep Ecology and Nature Religion” after you go here and scroll down. Happily, Ken has since substantially changed his views about us. Our last encounter was a very friendly one, though my views of an integral understanding of the world remain different from his.
The recent post by ‘ablue’ and MDM’s very nice support response have convinced me to offer up my comments again on this kind of argument.
Sadly I cannot provide Staudenmaier’s pieces but I think my responses discuss the bsic issues and I am sure if I make an error, folks like ‘ablue’ will be quick to correct me!
From The Pomegranate, No. 15, May 2001:
To the editor:
Peter Staudenmaier’s “Fascist Ecology” serves a useful purpose by alerting many Pagans and environmentalists to the shadow side of environmental thinking. Much as we may love Nature, our love does not automatically give us moral superiority over others. Unfortunately, this pretty much sums up the article’s positive contributions. The author’s analysis is logically, philosophically, and historically mistaken, and quietly pushes an agenda hostile to many spiritual values.
What Staudenmaier terms “ecofascism” is in fact “eco-Nazism.” This might seem picky, but it is not. Fascism today has lost most of its original meaning, serving mostly as an epithet. This is how Staudenmaier employs the term. But during the period he analyzes, Fascism referred to a specific ideology, rooted mostly in Italian thought. Fascism was not environmentally oriented, nor did it consider race a biological category. Many Italian Jews were members of the Fascist Party. Nazis, by contrast, were deeply committed to a biological conception of race. Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and others were forever excluded from membership in the German Volk. No such thing as ecofascism ever existed.
If one were to eliminate all references to race, German, or Volk, from Staudenmaier’s description of German environmental thought, we would read views with which we could often agree. But racism and anti-Semitism existed independently of environmental thought, as well as of any mystical conceptions of Nature. Staudenmaier admits as much in his descriptions of Goebbels and Goring as anti-environmental, for they certainly were Nazis.
If Staudenmaier used the term eco-Nazism, readers would have been alerted to the fact that the worst crimes of the Nazi regime had nothing to do with environmentalism and everything to do with racism. Its complete inapplicability to contemporary environmentalism would be obvious. But this would undermine his reasons for writing this piece.
In my view, Staudenmaier’s real target is contemporary environmentalism, particularly its Deep Ecological and Neopagan dimensions. He repeatedly emphasizes “irrational,” “neo pagan,” and “mystical” elements of German environmentalism as a central cause for many Germans embracing Nazi ideology. As he writes, “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.”(18) He contends “the substitution of ecomysticism for clear-sighted social-ecological inquiry has catastrophic political repercussions.”(19)
This is not true historically or logically.
Environmental concerns aside, the Weimar Republic faced a uniquely hostile public. Many millions of Germans disliked both it and the liberal democratic values for which it stood. Even so, a Nazi triumph was never foreordained. A tragic record of stupidity and wishful thinking by non-Nazis played a decisive role in Hitler’s rise to power. The Nazis never received a majority of votes in a free election.
There is a deeper error in Staudenmaier’s analysis. He suggests that Nazi environmentalists’ animus towards modernity helped lead them to Nazism. Absent is any reference to the other hideous totalitarian movement of the time. Marxism-Leninism explicitly endorsed modernity, cities, factories, science and all the rest. Like Staudenmaier, Marxism-Leninism also emphasized the evils of capitalism and the necessity of “correct” social analysis. Its followers also murdered millions of innocent people.
Obviously, anti-modern romanticism is not uniquely prone to totalitarianism nor is “correct” political analysis an antidote. Totalitarianism appealed to people who would have endorsed everything Staudenmaier writes critical of German environmentalists. Something vital is missing from his analysis.
What is absent is democratic liberalism, an ideology emphasizing democracy, peaceful politics, individual rights, and toleration. Totalitarian horrors do not arise in liberal cultures. Illiberal cultures are prone to such excesses, whether in the name of modernity and science or Nature and the countryside. Nazism, Fascism, and Marxism-Leninism all attacked and repudiated liberalism.
Today’s Western environmentalists and Pagans overwhelmingly endorse liberal democratic values, including individual rights, political freedom, and toleration of a diversity of views. Nor are they racists.
Staudenmaier, and Janet Biehl, his co-author, advocate “social-ecology,” a variety of left wing thought rooted in the work of Murray Bookchin. Bookchin has frequently attacked liberalism while applying the “eco-fascist” epithet to Deep Ecologists. Biehl has attacked eco-feminism for the “irrationality” of Goddess worship. Staudenmaier’s is simply another, albeit more temperate, attack on deep ecology and Nature religion.
I have extensively criticized Bookchin’s so-called “social ecology” in the name of both liberalism and deep ecology. I have posted this article on my web site www.dizerega.com. Check it out in the ecology section. My essay “Deep Ecology and Liberalism” is also worth a look in this regard, as is “Nature Religion in the Modern World” in the Spirit section.
AND in response to Staudemaier’s reply…
Peter Staudenmaier argues I must demonstrate “no important Nazi criminals were environmentalists” and “that Nazism’s genocidal impulse was unrelated to its biological politics.” I agree these statements are false. They are also irrelevant.
To say someone was a Nazi and an environmentalist does NOT establish causal, psychological, or logical links between these views. Nazism’s politics was based on a biological concept of race, and the survival of the fittest. Neither is particularly connected to environmental thinking. Non-environmental Nazis also believed in biological conceptions of race and politics. Survival-of-the-fittest doctrines more easily argue against preserving weaker ‘races’ or species than seeking their preservation. He has mixed different meanings of the word “nature,” creating the illusion of relationship.
Staudenmaier claims he is targeting deep ecologists and Greens who “recapitulate arguments and assumptions” of green Nazis. Who? What arguments and what assumptions? No influential deep ecologist or Green to my knowledge embraces 1) race as a biological category, 2) domination as a necessary condition between races, 3) hostility to democracy, 4) belief in dictatorship or 5.) extreme or “völkisch” nationalism. Where’s the threat?
Staudenmaier reads s a different history than I regarding totalitarianism. It is in the illiberal part of Europe that the violent Right most successfully manipulates Pagan, Christian, or whatever views to gain power – as the violent Left did the grievances of workers and peasants. Both created hellish societies. Marxist-Leninists liked science, cities, ‘rational’ analysis. If “mystical ecology” was a cause of totalitarianism they should have been immune.