Greta Thunberg and other ecologically sound people must have a certain ideal in mind, a country that shares their views and does its best to act accordingly.
Ideals are, alas, unachievable in this life. But one country came so close that it established in eternity its claim to being regarded as the greenest ever.
Since we are playing a guessing game here, see if you can figure out what that virtuous country was. I’ll give you a few hints.
This nation’s commitment to green politics was presaged by a man who protested against the environmental vandalism of the inchoate Industrial Revolution. In 1815 he wrote: “When man sees nature in all its connections and interconnections, then everything is equally important – a bush, a worm, a plant, man, a stone – nothing is either first or last, everything becomes a single whole.”
It was this seer’s countryman who in 1867 coined the word ‘ecology’ and began to establish it as an academic discipline devoted to a study of links between man and environment.
Moving right along, in 1913 a practitioner of the new science wrote a seminal essay that was later hailed by his colleagues:
“The essay Man and Earth presaged practically every theme of the modern ecological movement. It castigated the accelerated disappearance of species, the distortion of the global ecological balance, deforestation… and the general alienation of people from nature. The essay condemned in no uncertain terms Christianity, capitalism, economic utilitarianism, overconsumption… It even decried the ecological destructiveness of unrestrained tourism and whaling, while demonstrating a clear view of the planet as an ecological whole.”
In due course, a party animated by these visionary ideas formed the country’s government and stated its principles forthrightly:
“Anthropocentric views must by rejected as such. They would be valid only if we supposed that nature was created for man only. We categorically reject this supposition. According to our concept of nature, man is but a link in the living chain of nature, just like any other organism.”
The leader of the ruling party agreed: “When people try to rebel against the iron logic of nature, they find themselves in conflict with the very principles to which they owe their existence as people. Their assault on nature is bound to bring about their own downfall.”
The same politician confirmed his green credentials by writing back in the 1930s that fossil fuels would eventually be replaced by renewable sources of energy: “Hydro-, wind and tidal energy are the energy of the future.”
The country’s minister of agriculture put environmental principles into practice. He introduced large-scale organic farming, described as “land-tilling in accordance with the laws of life”.
Under his influence, the nation’s environmentalists secured a level of state support for ecologically sound agriculture that had no analogues in a single country before or since.
Some of the country’s policies, such as forest renewal, protection of animal and plant species, restraints on industrial development, were without a doubt “among the most progressive measures at the time”.
Yet the country’s virtue, as signalled to the world, wasn’t limited to ecology. Many of its leaders, including its head of state, were vegetarians, animal lovers and champions of homeopathy.
Vivisection, experiments on animals and general cruelty towards them were outlawed. The country’s anti-smoking campaign was supported by the government: smoking was banned for all women, enabling the country’s womenfolk to maintain Europe’s lowest rates of lung cancer well into the 1960s. Moreover, it was the country’s doctors who first established the link between smoking and that disease.
How are you doing so far? Have you guessed the name of the virtuous country yet? If you haven’t, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer.
That El Dorado of goodness was Nazi Germany. The quotations I’ve cited came from the writings of Hitler, Hess, Rosenberg, Darré (the agriculture minister I mentioned), Heidegger (the greenest of all philosophers) and their precursors in the 19th century Blood and Soil movement.
All of them were fire-eating nationalists and virulent anti-Semites. Darré described Jews as “weeds”, characteristically choosing a term from his agricultural brief, while the German sylvan romanticists of the 19th century tended to prefer more robust names.
Jews were seen as despoilers of the German race, using as their tools capitalism and rampant industrialisation. The Nazis, especially their green wing ably led by Hitler, Himmler and Hess, were anti-capitalists to a man – it’s not for nothing that their party had Socialist in its name.
They saw industry and technological progress as necessary evils and insisted that, if such pernicious activities had to go on, they should not be allowed to cause any damage to the environment.
That was part of the Nazis’ general commitment to a biological basis of their Weltanschauung. In fact, their movement has been aptly described as a political extension of biology.
At the heart of it lay their atheism, liberally laced with paganism, which saw man – other than the Aryan demigod – as nothing but a part of nature’s continuum. The Genesis teaching that nature is there only to serve man was repugnant to the Nazis. To be fair, they had no time for the rest of the Bible either.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, German ecoactivists instantly saw kindred souls. A study of various conservation groups (Der Naturschutz) shows that, by 1939, 60 per cent of their members had joined the NSDAP – as opposed to only 10 per cent in the overall male population.
None of this is to say that any of today’s ecofanatics are by definition fascists. Yet many of their premises and desiderata overlap with the Nazis’ – and the overlap is neither small nor inconsequential.
Journalists who like to juxtapose a photo of Greta with a Nazi poster of a young fräulein do have a point, although this particular horse ought not to be flogged to death.
P.S. The seminal work on Nazi environmentalism is Ecofascism Revisited, by Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier.