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I recently have come across some
arguments about a supposed “eco-fascist” threat to America. It is usually paired with claims that
Paganism has fascist implications.
Both the secular Left and the classical liberal and religious Right have
been making these claims. Since my
search on Google revealed no serious rebuttals except a quick one I penned some
while ago, I am adding a lengthier more deeply argued reply in the hope
others will find it useful.
The secular left attacks
environmentalism and Paganism because it remains infatuated with the image of
scientific control over our future, and regards earth-centered spirituality as
atavistic. Peter Staudenmaier and
Janet Biehl’s Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience is a recent broadside from that direction.
The right does so because anything that does not serve their adoration of power
over Nature (and beyond the libertarians, in many cases over other people) is the
“enemy.” On the right, at a
serious intellectual level we have Anna Bramwell’s Ecology in the
Twentieth Century. But Bramwell is not anti-environmentalist enough for some, as the “ecofascism” website demonstrates. William Kay the principle writer at this site also finds a disturbing fascist
connection to Pagans and Deep Ecologists.
The religious right adds to this
poisonous mess their demand for total spiritual domination by their Sauronic
Master. Anything suggesting Nature is valuable in itself, let alone that there are other approaches to spirituality, send them into conniptions. Among the less bad of a pretty bad lot, see Michael Coffman’s Environmentalism:
The Dawn of Aquarius or the Twilight of a New Dark Age?
Given that we get from sloppy scholars in both
directions, who may convince their followers that they know what they are talking about, we need to know what is wrong with this strange claim.
Nature and Nazism
Before and immediately after WWI in Germany there was a strong interest in many issues that would be familiar to today’s NeoPagans, as well as to environmentalists in general.
People were interested in preserving nature, natural medicine, organic
food, and getting out into nature.
Many were worried that technological society would
destroy the natural world and our connection with the other than human
world. Many also argued
that secular instrumental reason was a prime mover in these disturbing trends. Some
Germans also became interested in pre-Christian Germanic deities.
It is also true
that many of these people later became members of the Nazi Party, and that a number
of leading Nazis, though by no means all, were sympathetic to these values. When in power the Party promoted a number of ecological
measures, particularly in agricultural policy. All of this has been extensively demonstrated by a number of
writers arguing for a connection between environmentalism, NeoPaganism, and
True as all this
is, it falls far short of evidence there is any causal link between NeoPaganism
or environmentalism and Nazism or fascism.
The authors who claim otherwise, are picking and choosing those elements
they need to make their case from among the ideological currents of this complex, disturbing and fascinating time in European history.
At the same time they ignore evidence that shows their claims to be
seriously over blown and sometimes complete rubbish. In a kind of intellectual
McCarthyism they try and prove causation through guilt by association.
Errors Both Left and Right
These six basic
claims in time will eventually grow into an article by me. But I think they stand by themselves pretty well even in
this attenuated form.
I. The political
conclusions people drew from their concern with nature were interpreted through
their pre-existing political
views. How could it be otherwise? Today Libertarians and
classical liberals have tried to develop “free market environmentalism” because
they come to these issues from a libertarian perspective. Indeed, years ago that is where I started. Socialists have tried to develop a “socialist environmentalism,” having previously been Socialists. This is what we would expect.
That portion of
German society which was most critical of the rise of secular industrial
modernity and most friendly to ecological values tended to have always been
anti-liberal, nationalist, and anti-Semitic. These were old currents in European culture, long preceding
any environmental concerns. They
also long preceded any concern with earth centered spirituality.
significant about what is happening today in America and Europe is that concern
with these issues is arising among people who accept modernity, accept liberal
values, and who almost universally are seeking ways to address their concerns
within this framework. This was
not the case in Germany.
II. The views Staudenmaier, Biehl, Bramwell
and others find so significant among National Socialist Germans were found in
many places, and held by many people who were in no sense of the term National
Socialists or fascists. For example, Theodore Roosevelt was
deeply concerned with conservation and admired John Muir. He also thought that contending with
wild nature would help to reverse what he saw as a softening of American
character brought about by urban living.
Roosevelt admired military values and as president flexed America’s
military muscles. If America had become fascist, or if
Roosevelt had done so later on, his concern with nature would presumably have
been used by these people as evidence of how conservation and fascism had some
was a committed democrat, one who spoke out strongly against Woodrow Wilson during World War One.
As he put it, “To announce that there
must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the
president, right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally
treasonable to the American public.” No Führer Prinzip there. In addition, Roosevelt and
the Progressives in general were strongly in favor of equal rights for
women. His “Bull Moose” Party gave
women more positions and emphasized their issues more than any previous
American party had managed. By
comparison, the Nazis emphasized women’s traditional role as breeders for the
On the other
hand, beliefs absolutely essential to Nazism such as anti-Semitism existed with
no relationship towards Green values. Anti-Semitism has a
long and sordid history in Europe and one could make a better claim that
anti-Semitism played a causal role in the rise of Nazism than any other single factor except, perhaps, nationalism. The German Martin
Luther said of the Jews
What shall we
Christians do with . . . the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not
tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and
blaspheming. . . . I shall give you my sincere advice.
First . . . set
fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury or cover with dirt whatever
will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of
them. This is to be done o=in
honor of our Lord and Christendom . . .
Second, . . . their houses be razed and destroyed.
Third, . . . all
their prayer books and Talmudic writings . . . be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise
that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and
Fifth, I advise
that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.
Staudenmaier, Biehl, and others’ logic, Protestant Christianity is far more
obviously a precursor of Nazism than is Pagan spirituality or concern for Nature. Yet to any sane thinker this is obviously wrong because many areas
of the world have had Protestantism, even Lutheranism, and not become
Nazi. The same is equally true
with concern for Nature.
III. The term “Nature” needs to be very
carefully understood when reading the writings of the time. Words
like “Nature” change meanings in important ways over time. Right wingers and left wingers, for
their opposite reasons, like to say our Founders disliked democracy, never ever
mentioning that the word meant something different at the time they wrote than
it means today, or that James Madison defined the American republic exactly as
we now define representative democracy (a term that did not then exist).
“Nature” has the same problem. As
used during that that time “Nature” had a strong survival-of-the-fittest
flavor, with conflict and struggle being the primary value within life. People argued over the units that
competed and struggled, from Social Darwinists who initially emphasized individuals
to Hitler and the Nazis who emphasized races. Nazis justified their violence in part by claiming it was in keeping with “Nature.”
There is no evidence of awareness
of symbiotic relationships being particularly important, though Peter Kropotkin
had drawn initial attention to them. He was largely ignored at the time, but today we know symbiosis (cooperation) is fundamental to evolution. “Nature” like so many important words can only be understood in context and
with sensitivity to the times.
IV. Bizarrely, these various critics leave
unmentioned the fact that at the same time there was another powerful
totalitarian movement rising in Europe: Communism. Firmly established in
Russia, Communist Parties subservient to the Soviet Party were powerful forces
in German and other politics.
Stalin’s Russia was as violent, expansionist, and murderous as the Third
Reich. Before Germany attacked it,
Russia had invaded and annexed Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, half of Poland, and
was attempting the same in Finland.
Communist ideology was the exact opposite
of the ecologically oriented “Green Nazis.” Communists glorified human power over nature, ultimate human
control over our history, and the wonders of industry, technology and science.
To claim that Nature oriented values led to authoritarian politics while its
opposite did not is one of the most historically ignorant claims it is possible to make.
V. What environmentally aware German Nazis
and Communist advocates of total control over nature shared in common was
mutual antipathy to liberal society and its values. In my opinion, both the
authoritarian romantics on the political right and the Communists and
anarchists on the political left correctly identified important problems within
liberalism as it was then advocated. But tragically, both made the fundamental
and disastrous error of concluding these problems could not be addressed within
a liberal context of respect for individuals and democratic values. Their cures were far worse than the
ills they saw.
As I believe I
have shown in other writings that can be downloaded here and here, the weaknesses in liberal ideology that made it vulnerable to critiques from
ecological and earth spirituality perspectives can be addressed within a
liberal framework. The same holds
true for the valid criticisms from the Marxist and anti-capitalist left.
Is There EcoFascism in America?
There is a
theoretical threat of eco-fascism in the US, although not one we need at
present to worry about, nor do I think there ever will be except in Glenn Beck’s imagination. Simple fascism
is a vastly bigger threat. Robert Paxton,
in his exhaustive study The Anatomy of Fascism concludes that at its core, under its various national differences,
fascism can be defined as
behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation
or victimhood, and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which
a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but
effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties
and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints
goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (p. 218)
whose judgment helped give us the Iraq War, with a similar depth of understanding has urged the Tea Party movement to
“go green.” If the Teabagger movement were to become ecologically aware, then something
with similarities to the precursors of
Nazism would have arisen in the US.
It would be culturally and probably racially focused, concerned with
keeping our country free from contamination, mostly by Mexicans. It would be populist in tone,
nationalistic, and superficially opposed to big corporations and banks. It would want an aggressive foreign
policy. It’s symbolism would be
conservative Christian, not Pagan.
As it has demonstrated over and over again, it would have little use for
democratic values and the rule of law. What would
still be lacking is actual violence against Americans who disagreed, and the
rise of a single leader. The Teabaggers
are not fascist, but they are the closest thing to it post WWII America has yet
to begin a more detailed examination of the charges against us could start with
Daniel Hindes’ review of Bramwell’s book.