December 10, 2020 in History

What Was Nazis Ideology on Nature


German Nazi philosophy has a strong correlation with nature and general ideology of deep ecology. Nazi leaders viewed nature as an essential part of Germanys domain seeking to protect and preserve it. Their nature-centric philosophy had a deep impact on their decisions and actions as well as on the perception of modern environmentalism. This essay explores the history of the connection between these seemingly unrelated philosophies: National Socialism and Ecology.

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The roots of ecology in Germany

During last 20 years a wave of scientific studies have been carried out regarding the connection between ecology, green movement and European Nazi movement. It is evident from many scientific sources as well as direct words of leaders of Nazi Germany that their views were deeply connected with environmentalism and preservation of nature. However, it is also evident that despite their ideologies, their national doctrine has failed to preserve and protect nature in any meaningful way. Ideas of deep ecology and environmentalism served Nazi regime as an excuse to practice Social Darwinism and cast aside those they deemed unworthy to be a part of their natural habitat. In essence, Nazi ideology was theoretically green and favorable to nature, but in practice it was quite the opposite. Their environmentalism was bound to extreme xenophobic views and was set out to protect, preserve and spread the Teutonic nature as it was meant to serve only the Germanic people. Thus despite a clear connection between environmentalism and Nazi ideology, their regime cannot be called green or ecological. Thier views of nature are just a continuation of their nationalist ideology and and should not be viewed as separate philosophy. Dominick, Raymond H. The Environmental Movement in Germany: Prophets and Pioneers, 1871-1971. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

We believe the power of nature to be an omnipotent force driving our existence, our God. …We, National Socialists must live freely and as naturally as possible so that we can stay closer to laws of life. We must observe and follow the laws of natural life as we correspond to the will of this force. – Martin Bormann.

Looking at the German eco movement of 19th and 20th century, the historical and cultural background should be taken into consideration. The ecological views in Germany have sprung up under the influence of Romantic irrationalism which created a peculiar fusion of natural conservation and radical nationalism. Several historical figures can be pointed out as forefathers of German eco movement. Among them are Ernst Arndt and his student Wilhelm Riehl as well as now renowned philosophers Ernst Haeckel and Martin Heidegger.

The definition of ecology as an ideology and later science has originated in Germany and was coined and worked on by 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel. Due to his worldwide recognition as a key figure in the environmentalist movement philosophy many overlook his overzealous commitment to the nationalist ideology. When discussing the green nature of German nationalist views one cannot look past his work and his views on humanity, mankind and evolution as they are intertwined. One could even argue that Haeckels ideas of nature cannot be considered a separate or unique view of the world as it is merely a continuation of his radical nationalist theories. Haeckel, Ernst, and Joseph McCabe. The Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century,. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1900. Ballard, Frank. Haeckel’s Monism False; an Examination of ‘The Riddle of the Universe’; ‘The Wonders of Life’; ‘The Confession of Faith of a Man of Science’;. London: C.H. Kelly, 1905, 12.

Haeckels views on nature conservation were connected to and widely similar to the idea of Social Darwinism – a societal system where the strongest and the most enduring survive while others are cast away by nature itself. Therefore, according to this ideology even such large social entities as whole states, nations and communities could be categorized as inferior, weaker and not deserving of the place under the sun. However, ecological views were not exclusively connected to nationalism but rather established itself alongside Nazi ideas. The collection of Haeckels expression and ideas below serves a great example of the connection between his eco and nationalist views.

…. man is just a tiny particle in the natures organic framework. Man exists not above but merely in nature. These words by itself are harmless and resonate quite well with the modern ecological views, but their connection to German nationalism becomes crystal clear when paired with words of Adolf Hitler regarding this issue. Man must never believe that he governs or can ever be the lord of nature… man must submit himself to infinite wisdom of nature and never try to free himself from it but only try to understand it. Haeckel believed that nations and societies are governed by the same laws as nature and organic life. This idea was reflected by some of the Nazi leaders. According to Hans Schmenn Nazism is just correctly applied biology. Haeckel, Ernst. The Evolution of Man: A Popular Exposition of the Principal Points of Human Ontogeny and Phylogeny. From the German of Ernst Haeckel. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1897, 456. Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, Chapter. Founder and Head of the National Socialist Teachers Association.

Another key figure in the formation of green philosophy as well as Nazi ideologies was Martin Heidegger. Many modern day historians overlook his Nazi views because of his vivid influence on contemporary green philosophy. But the fact that he was a devoted Nazi remains there. His views are consistent with those of modern deep ecology. He used to be an advocate of anti-technology movement and a let it be attitude of non-interference with natures course of action. While many would say that Heidegger has turned away from Nazism in the later years of his life, Emmanuel Faye, a French scholar in his book Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars clearly uncovers the truth behind his ecological views. Even more so, even after allegedly denouncing Nazism Heidegger has stated that he believed National Socialism to be a superior ideology. Heidegger wanted to destroy western way of life, get rid of social entities and rules in favor of living in harmony with nature. However, modern environmentalist overlook the fact that Heideggers metaphysical being – existing as a part of nature, not its ruler was meant not for everyone but strictly for Germanic people whom he viewed as superior. He officially joined the Nazi party in 1933 with a symbolic speech at the stadium of University of Freiburg during the burning of books harmful to Nazi ideology. Faye, Emmanuel. Heidegger, the Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

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Views on Nature

The Nazi view of nature was a an explosive mix of mysticism, ecology, anti-egalitarianism and Teutonic mythology which focused on returning to the roots and lands of forefathers. The predominant themes in their ideology were of natural order of things natural supremacy of one race over the other. Hitler and other leaders of Nazi Germany have rejected anthropocentric views as they would imply that nature was created for men.They believed that men are a link in the natural environment just as any other being. According to Hitler, the key to social harmony was the acceptance of eternal laws of nature and the organization of society in accordance to them. When mankind attempts to fight nature, it starts a conflict with the principles of human existence. Hdorn, Ingolfur. The Green Agenda: Environmental Politics and Policy in Germany. Keele, Staffordshire: Keele University Press, 1995.

It is apparent that German nationalist believed in sacred unity of blood and soil and that their ideologies have been deeply intertwined with those of ecological movement of the time. In the historical context, however, the Nazis can hardly be called green simply due to the fact that there was no such thing as green movements or green ideologies at that time. They in fact never really prioritized green politics over any other kind of politics. Nazi movement was rightist, xenophobic, conservative and anti-egalitarian in its nature. They did however pioneer conservation of nature but it was German nature and not any other. They did not hold any regard over natural environments of other countries or people. Habitats which were not Teutonic were not worthy of preservation.

However, it is incorrect to fully dismiss the idea of green Nazis as the ideology of ecological movements became synonymous with the ideas of extreme nationalism. But when one looks at actual results of their ideologies he or she would never call them green or ecological. In reality Nazi regime did not care about the environment or its protection beyond German soil. Their war machine has systematically destroyed natural habitats in complete contrast to the words of their own leaders. Haeckel’s views of unity of men with nature, the natures omnipotence may have been supported by Hitler and his regime on words but in reality it was nothing but an excuse to kill and invade. Scorched earth policies, orchestrated starvations and racial cleansings prove that their green policies were just a ruse. Nazis were more ‘red’ as in the blood they spilled, rather than ‘green’. Mosse, George L. The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1966.

Going even further beyond a general discussion regarding the green nature of Nazi ideology, a more disturbing link between ecology and nationalism can be observed. Holocaust can be considered a social, ethnic and racial project carried out by the regime, but according to their ideas of nature, it can be also considered a human ecology project.Following the ideas forged by Haeckel, Nazism set out to impose ecological system which would control the relations between men and environment. Those unworthy of being a part of this biological environment would be removed from Germanic living space thus further proving that Nazis had no intention to actually preserve or protect nature. The best way to view the connection between Nationalism and ecology is to define it as ecocide. Which means removing, distancing everyone who does not belong to Germanic world from the environment. They would simply be denied the right to call Earth their home. Pois, Robert A. National Socialism and the Religion of Nature. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.

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When Richard Darre stated that the unity of blood and soil has to be restored and protected he officially established a connection between environment and German people. In other words, he established a claim that land belongs to German blood and has to be protected. Darre was one of regime’s main racial and social theorists. He was a minister of agriculture from 1933 till 1942. From this position he enacted several doctrines in support of ecological and green agriculture. He worked to establish principles of eco production during the Battle for Production. As a matter of fact, during Second Farmer’s Congress, he pronounced that the first doctrine of new production system is healthy soil. He advocated farming according to the laws of nature. Bramwell, Anna. Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darre and Hitler’s “Green Party” Abbotsbrook, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire: Kensal Press, 1985.

Only 2 years after gaining full political power, the Nazi German government has passed a law regarding the preservation of natural environment and animal life. The aforementioned law was of an unmatched scale at the time and set out to protect, conserve and look after natural habitats and German natural assets. In the center of this legislature was a desire to protect Germany’s renown forest in an attempt to preserve their industrial, historical and recreational significance.

The law besides outlining the plan for protection of German forests has established a way to define natural reserves of the country in addition to creating a tool for expropriation of land with a goal of its preservation. The green law also allowed to penalize those refusing to give away their land under the pretense of protection and preservation. Even attempts to regulate and control pollution were made. Moreover, the laws have outlawed the non-anesthetized animal slaughtering and limited the experiments on them. Organic farming was also encouraged by promoting the use of manual ploughs instead of machinery in the smaller farms.The importance of nature in the philosophy of the party ensured that even the rapid industrialization and production took a green hue. However,despite the fact that the achievements of the green wing of the Nazi party were significant and important at the time, we should not overestimate their importance in general.

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Even though, Nazism had a lasting and peculiarly strong impact on modern green ideologies, it cannot be viewed as green. The above mentioned policies and philosophies of course would constitute German Nationalist as green or ecological in theory. However, in practice it is quite the opposite. The experience of Nazi green policies is a vivid reminder that the ideology of deep ecology can be volatile and used as an excuse for prosecution and xenophobia. It however, does not prove in any way that Nazi germany were truly green and that any ecological movements of today can be associated with far-right politics. In the case of Germany, the views of nature and ecology served only the German people and were meant to be used as a tool for removing other nationalities. The only true achievement of the green wing of Nazism is a stained perception of modern ecologists. Their racial theory in many ways gave birth to ecological movements but in the case of Germany it is a prime example of how sound ideas and philosophies can be used for terrible doings. Their ways have taught us that ecology cannot be used as a reasoning for extremism nor it can be applied to every part of our lives. In the end, when calling Nazis green, we should remember not their laws or ideologies but real deeds and in doing so it would become clear that they were neither green nor ecological.

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