Monday, April 18, 2005


"We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind's own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a reintegration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. That is the fundamental point of the biological tasks of our age. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole...This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought."
German botanist and Nazi Ernst Lehmann, 1934.

Take out "National Socialist" and add "Democratic" or "Anarchist" or whatever and you have what is likely a very appealing statement to a large number of environmentalists. This cuts to the heart of what I believe to be the greatest problem with modern environmentalism--the rejection of humanism. More than one Nazi rejected humanism in favor of a fairly radical environmentalism, including Rudolf Hess and to a lesser extent, Hitler. Many of the ideological ancestors of the Nazis called for environmental preservation for the sake of the German nation. And even today, especially in Europe, many environmentalists, for whom the environment is the only issue worth considering, flirt with fascism or ignore the near fascism of many of their allies.

Can this happen in America? Could environmentalism be taken over by right-wing thugs who tie environmentalism up with reprehensible ideas. I believe the answer to be yes. The major point that I worry about is the anti-humanism that is so wrapped up in American environmentalism. I believe this problem to be worse in America than in Europe. In Europe the lack the wilderness and the sheer population density of the place has generally led to an environmentalism that focuses on the problems of people, particularly pollution, nuclear power, urban environmentalism, etc. In America, environmentalism is, and has been for most of its history, specifically aimed to separate most people from the environment. The emphasis on wilderness and wildlife protection, while worthy projects, has demonized people as bad and wolves as good, let's say. People are only supposed to enter nature in very specific circumstances. Work is separated from the environment. Hunting and fishing are often demonized. We only are supposed to interact with the environment in very specific ways. Access should be limited to those who deserve to go into the wilderness, says many environmentalists.

The flip side of this argument is the rural myth that dominates so much of American culture. America has always been a rural oriented culture. But in the past it was that way because most Americans lived off the land. However, today the vast majority of Americans live in urban environments, but they want to live in the country. This feeling has driven a lot of the suburbanization that has driven American urban development since the end of World War II. This pseudo-getting in touch with the land easily blends with conservative politics. People like consuming deer both through eating and watching wildlife, and increasingly its the latter that dominates. The same people who grouse about the government being on their backs and their high taxes and who vote for George W. Bush and Tom DeLay like birdwatching, recycling, deer watching, and having a national forest as a backyard. And many of these suburban environmentalists also attend fundamentalist churches.

There have been several recent stories lately on how evangelical Christians are beginning to show an interest in environmental protection. Undoubtedly, this is leading to consternation among the insiders of the Republican party who love the votes of the Christians so long as Ken Lay's lawyers can write legislation. When I first heard about the evangelical interest in environmentalism, I got a good laugh. I thought about what would happen the first time that evangelical environmentalists worked with Earth First! But then I realized that the two groups have a great deal in common--a disdain for humanism. Both radical environmentalists and fundamentalist Christians often see liberal materialist culture as the greatest evil of America and if both see a potential foil to this in environmental protection, they could make powerful allies. Moreover, consider that today we are seeing the most powerful right-wing populist movement in American history right now. If they turned to environmental protection as a key to their war, they could become extraordinarily powerful. This doesn't mean necessarily that such a movement would take on fascist characteristics. One line of argument says that this wouldn't happen because Americans avoid radical political movements. But this argument is being sorely tested as we speak. Today's German ecofascists connect environmental protection, extreme nationalism, and the need to ban abortion. Can anyone not see how these connections could easily be made in modern America?

I might sound like a doomsday prophet right now. And I don't mean to say that some sort of ecofascist movement is likely in America. I rather think that it's unlikely. But it's important to realize that it is possible and that it would have serious repercussions if it came to pass. The opposition to humanist thought is coming from many angles in today's America and threatens liberal culture in many ways.

Finally, consider how vulnerable the environmental movement is to allying with right-wing groups. Look at some of today's most prominent environmental leaders in America:

1. Ralph Nader--Nader now embodies a combination of environmental protection, hatred of corporations, and disdain for liberal culture. See his screed against "corporate pornography" and recent support of Terry Schiavo's parents for this last point. It's hard to see Nader joining a right-wing environmental movement within the Republican party but it's real easy to see him leading such a movement outside of the 2-party system.

2. Dave Foreman--Founder of Earth First! Foreman was the most prominent environmentalist to support George W. Bush in 2000. Why would such a radical environmentalist be a Republican? A few possible reasons: a) he hates the federal government (odd considering the role of the federal government in environmental law), b) racial prejudice, c) opposition to the cultural liberalism supposedly embodied in the Democratic party, d) a combination of the above. A figure such a Foreman could be a real threat considering he or another similar figure also has shock troops in the Earth Firsters.

3. Russell Means--Former leader of AIM was a active supporter of Bush in 2004. He's also an anti-Semite to boot. He's too much of a crank to be a real player but someone could easily appropriate him and ideas about Native American spirituality for the purposes of a right-wing movement.

Also, like the Nazi ecofascist movement, America's environmental movement has provided plenty of historical figures that could be used by a right-wing environmental movement. Here's a few:

1. Theodore Roosevelt. America's most famous environmental president. He wanted to protect the environment in part to efficiently use the nation's resources. He also saw the forests and mountains as the place where Anglo-Saxons could go to rejuvenate their manhood and whiteness to save the race from the hordes from southern and eastern Europe. He was a racist, an imperialist, and a borderline eugenicist. Yikes!!

2. Madison Grant. A good friend of TR and a leader in the early conservation movement. He was also the author of The Passing of the Great Race, America's most infamous racist book. If you want to connect Hitler and TR, here's the link. Grant, TR's friend and colleague, was brought to Germany early in the Nazi regime and honored for his work in promoting racial purity and eugenicist thought.

3. Edward Abbey. Generally nonpolitical but also a virulent anti-humanist. His fetishization of the man alone in the wilderness could easily be appropriated by right-wing thinkers and his legions of followers could potentially go along too.

If you're interested in Germany's history with ecofascism, I recommend Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier's Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience.