Yale Professor on Nazi Environmentalism: So Close, yet So Far

In the opening chapters of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Yale professor Timothy Snyder forcefully acknowledged what he calls the "ecological" Anti-Semitism of the Führer: "[a]n instructive account of the mass murder of the Jews of Europe must be planetary, because Hitler's thought was ecological, treating Jews as a wound of nature."  In spite of such an assertion, however, the great caveat of Snyder's book is that he inexplicably fails to discuss the Nazi ecological historical record that should have informed his thesis.  Snyder goes on to reduce Hitler's racial ecological worldview to a strict Malthusian war over natural resources, which leads him to faulty conclusions at the end of his book.

(Masquerading as science, Malthusian math is the longstanding myth that there are too many people relative to shrinking natural resources that has been at the very heart of the green movement for well over a century.)

Snyder's introduction presents to the reader one of the most incisive descriptions of Nazi Germany's ecological anti-Semitism ever summarized in print:

For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew.  It was the Jew who told humans that they were above other animals, and had the capacity to decide their future for themselves.  It was the Jew who introduced the false distinction between politics and nature, between humanity and struggle.  Hitler's destiny, as he saw it, was to redeem the original sin of Jewish spirituality and restore the paradise of blood.  Since homo sapiens can survive only be unrestrained racial killing, a Jewish triumph of reason over impulse would mean the end of the species.

In Hitler's mind, the humanistic "nonsense" of the Jews was that they tried to live above Nature through global capitalism in the West, or through global communism in the East – both of which were hopelessly based on the modern emptiness of economic materialism.  Worse, such materialism allowed the weak to live and leech off the strong so that Germany was being sapped from within in the face of an inauthentic universal culture alien to the Aryan man – i.e., the German volk.  For Hitler and the leading Nazis, "[t]he solution was to expose the Jew to a purified nature, a place where bloody struggle rather than abstract thought mattered, where Jews could not manipulate others with their ideas because there would be no others."

In spite of such scholarly revelations, for all of Snyder's academic acumen and language skills, he wrongfully concludes in a very revealing endnote, "Hitler's understanding of nature also had little to do with German traditions of thought."  Citing Hegel and Marx, both of whom had an enlightened view of nature inherited from the Judeo-Christian worldview that constituted man above nature, Snyder also mentions Kant in the same breath.  Yet the German master's famous "Critique of Pure Reason" was essentially a critique of the Enlightenment that opened the door to German Romanticism and Existentialism – both of which were nature-based movements that not only laid the philosophical foundations for modern environmentalism in the 1800s, but also were eagerly absorbed by National Socialism in the 1930s.  Kant's philosophical work essentially gave to the world a sustainable form of reason by limiting it so that German natural theology, mysticism, romanticism, existentialism, and postmodernism could develop and flower into what is otherwise known today as modern environmentalism.

Thanks to a robust anti-Semitic romantic-existentialist movement that predated National Socialism by well over 100 years, the Nazis made Germany the greenest regime on the planet in the 1930s.  With the exception of Martin Bormann, virtually every leading Nazi had his finger in a green pie that represented everything from nature protection to animal rights, from vegetarianism to organic farming, from sustainable development to green hunting laws, from stormwater concerns to green building, from environmental bureaucracy to a "local only" Aryan green farming campaign, from recycling madness to sustainable forestry, and a concern over invasive species.  While Hitler was by no means a deep ecologist, nor an extreme environmentalist, he was most certainly an environmental fascist with totalitarian goals that would have even gone so far as to include some vegetarian diet plans for the Reich had Germany won the war.


While Snyder is fully aware of Hitler's Social Darwinism, where Ernst Haeckel's Germanized Darwinian zoology was misapplied biologically to politics and society from the late 1800s until 1945, he does not bother to note that eugenics was considered big science in those days, perhaps very akin to how global warming/climate change has taken center stage today.  Ernst Haeckel, the very father of German Social Darwinism, coined the term "ecology" in 1866.  Haeckel was the first scientist to view the Jews as a biological problem, since they were deemed an alien to the natural order.  As such, eugenics, biology, and ecology were all intertwined at the very foundations of the green movement in Germany.

Such critical omissions with regard to Germany's environmental history also lead Snyder to confuse Karl May's sauerkraut fictionalized westerns with America's drive for open spaces.  Hitler loved Karl May's westerns.  As such, Snyder tries to associate Hitler's blitzkrieg with the colonial conquest of the American West without the slightest realization that Karl May's westerns were actually anti-cowboy books that extolled the warrior ethos of an Apache hero named "Winnetou" together with a German frontiersman called "Shatterhand."

Most surprisingly, rather than repudiate Malthusian math as an environmental fascist myth that needs to be eradicated from the Western mindset, Snyder resurrects it once again after severely criticizing Hitler for believing the same.  Snyder believes that global warming/climate change will lead to a Malthusian natural resource crisis in the future, in which countries will once again return to a war of genocide in order to obtain living space for the sake of national survival.  Snyder thus concludes that the climate change crisis has to be resolved by strong state support of climate science.  He then criticizes climate skeptics in particular and characterizes them as anti-scientific climate deniers akin to Hitler, who will only help precipitate national/international security problems across the borders of the entire planet. 

However, it is the green movement itself that is throwing gas onto the Malthusian fire by adding myriads of restrictions, rules, taxes, and regulations onto the modern economy – restrictions that everything artificially scarce and more expensive with an ever diminishing return of environmental gains.  Worse, the poor of the world cannot pay for a green paradise conjured up by elitist environmental lawyers, who think Eden can be regained through an existential triumph of the will. 

Since nature today is their primary guide rather than thought, most greens cannot tell the difference between science and Malthusian math.  Herein lies the real problem facing the Western world today, as it has conjured up an imaginary crisis of its own making with regard to the global warming/climate change myth.  Malthusian math construes environmental data that invariably leads to millenarian and/or apocalyptic concerns and dangerous anti-human political policies that are holistic and totalitarian by design, and thus fascist to the core.  This is the real history lesson of Hitler's anti-Semitic ecological worldview that Snyder completely ignores.

Mark Musser is a pastor, author, missionary professor, and a farmer who lives in Olympia, Washington.  His book Nazi Oaks provides a sobering history lesson on the philosophical foundations of early German environmentalism, which was absorbed by National Socialism in the 1930s.




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