right wing environmentalism

In Germany and elsewhere, the issue of environmental protection is often understood as a rather young movement originating in the non-mainstream, green milieu of the 1970s. In the case of Germany, this might – at least partially – be a slight misconception. Germany has a very long history of an ecologically oriented radical right. Today’s German right-wing ecological renaissance is built on a long history of conservative environmentalism dating back to 19th century German Romanticism.

For Germany’s extreme right-wing, it is the environmental protection of the German homeland as a mythical cultural landscape based on Aryan blood and soil. This became part of an historical-aesthetic paradigm of the natural conservation of Germany’s homeland.

In German right-wing mythology, the mythical Teutonic forest and the symbolic German oak tree become signifiers of a strong ultra-national pride. Early on, an Aryan naturalistic cult (the in-group) and anti-Semitism (the out-group) shaped an ideology that rose to satanic heights in Nazi Germany.

As early as 1935, the Nazis set environmental rules in their fascistic Reich Nature Conservation Act. For those familiar with the history of Germany, this act continued unchanged until 1976. Not uncommon is the fact that the Nazi environmental act was largely managed by the same Nazi staffers who managed it in the 1930s and 1940s, the height of Nazism. Perhaps even more devastating is the fact that the Nazi ideology of the act entered into the founding of the German Green Party, which is, after all, currently in the government in Germany.

It was not until the 1970s that a real paradigm shift away from Nazi eco-ideology occurred. It was initiated by Germany’s modern, science-based environmental movement and its shaping of the movement in a global context and in the spirit of universal human rights. This is the dominant stream inside Germany’s Green Party. The party has cleansed itself – more or less – of all ecofascist ideas.

Yet, then as today, the ecofascism of Germany’s right-wing has different ideas. Excluded from the Green Party, it is against wind turbines, against photovoltaics, and against – what it calls – the global climate mania.

By 2022, Germany’s radical right – including the AfD – had experienced deteriorating public interest. Its traditional hate campaign against migration has lost mass appeal. Both Germany’s right-wing extremists and the AfD have started to think about how to use nature and environmental protection for right-wing populism. The goal of Germany’s radical right is to challenge German progressives and, in particular, Germany’s powerful Green Party, with its voter support of 20% to 25%. To challenge that, the AfD’s mini-FührerBjörn Höcke – is calling for an ecological market economy, which he contrasts to cold global capitalism.

Within Germany’s right-wing extremism, this is supported by the Neo-Nazi mini-party: the NPD and its ecofascist Umwelt & Aktiv (active environmentalism) magazine. It fancies a threefold Aryan ideology of environmental protection, animal welfare, and homeland security – or Heimatschutz – to preserve the hallucination of an Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. The radical right positions local, i.e. highly limited, conservation against global climate protection.

Historically, environmental conservation has been a right-wing ideology based on “to conserve”. This conservative idea dates back to German Romanticism. One of German Romanticism’s foremost authors – Novalis – believed those were beautiful, brilliant times when Europe was Christian with an inner nature of man living a harmonious life. Romanticism’s environmentalism was spiced up with scenes of the romantic castles, old cemeteries, dark forests, foggy moors, mysterious grottoes, and unexplored caves.

This sort of irrational environmentalism was turbo-charged by French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau’s deeply racist argument about the inequality of the races (1855). He simply made up a superior Aryan master race set against what was to become the Untermensch of the Nazis.

As a consequence of Gobineau’s social-darwinistic demagogy, any mixing of races would lead to the degeneration of peoples (the Volk) and cultures. The message was that races – just like nature – have to be kept pure.

Much of this stood for anti-modernity, anti-enlightenment, anti-liberalism, and against an emerging industrial society. Environmental conservation became framed as the nationalistic homeland protection of a “völkische” Heimat – an untranslatable term meaning a kind Aryan homeland based on race, blood, and soil. During the late 19th and early 20th century, this narrative was enriched with hyper-nationalism, xenophobia, and a hefty dose of anti-Semitism. By the end of World War I, a synthesis between Romanticism and early völkische Nazis was well underway.

It linked a nationalistic community – the infamous Volksgemeinschaft – to a return to nature, which often found expression in naturopathy, naturism, nudism, organic food stores, rural living, and an Aryan pedagogy that saw unspoiled nature as a school of life.

Yet, the key milestone for Nazi environmentalism and ecofascism remains Hitler’s Reich Nature Conservation Act (RNG) – issued on 26th May 1935 by the Reich Forestry Minister and super-Nazi Hermann Göring. Unsurprisingly, it made strong references to the Aryan hallucination of blood and soil. This ideology demands the transformation of the German people into an Aryan race (read: to the exclusion of Jews) as guardians of effective nature conservation.

Under the Nazis’ environmental law, Nazi officials were assigned a voluntary nature conservation unit combining a centralized Nazi hierarchy with a voluntary commitment to the Volksgemeinschaft. The act also defined four categories of protection:

  1. Naturalistic, nationalistic, and chauvinistic monuments,
  2. Designated nature reserves,
  3. Protected areas considered worthy of preservation, and
  4. Special sections of a particular landscape deemed worthy of protection.

Unsurprisingly for post-Nazi Germany, the Nazi law continued until 1958 as a federal law and as state, or Länder, laws until 1976. Interestingly, one of the law’s main thinkers – speleologist and legal expert Benno Wolf (1872-1943) – was forced to leave Germany’s civil service in 1933. Wolf had Jewish parents. He was murdered in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in early 1943. Being quite familiar with Wolf’s work, his boss Hans Klose never mentioned Wolf again in the years afterward.

The main goal of the Nazi’s RNG was the improvement in the aesthetic component of landscape and nature to create visual harmony, as well as the preservation and protection of ecosystems. So much for Nazi propaganda.

Soon, the idealism of Nazi environmentalism collided with increased demands for agricultural production. Undeterred by their own environmental law, bogs and wastelands were plowed under. The harvesting of timber from local forests increased by 50% – a blatant violation of the sustainability requirement.

This was quickly followed by a gigantic job creation program in water, dam, and highway (or Autobahn) construction. Marshes and swamps were drained, peat bogs were cut off, and wastelands were plowed under. Much of this was to feed a pre-war population – now organized into a Volksgemeinschaft – and for the Nazi plan to build 1,000 kilometers of Reich Autobahn every year.

The Autobahn – a pre-Nazi concept in 1932 that was successfully turned into a Nazi propaganda tool by Hitler’s propaganda ministry – had one additional function: it was good for moving troops and tanks during Hitler’s war.

Yet it all came as part of a brutal Nazi reality superimposed onto the false promise of a strong and pure Aryan Volk living on their own formative soil. The Nazi spirit of racial and natural greatness was further fueled by the creation of new environmental professions, such as landscapers and garden architects.

In 1933, the unemployed garden architect and Nazi Alwin Seifert saw a chance to implement his Aryan design during the construction of the Nazis’ Reich Autobahn, providing ornamental greenery while safeguarding Germany’s landscape as highway construction went full steam ahead. Nazi Autobahns followed the swinging lines of Alpine roadways with the aim of landscape-adapted “green roads” so that German drivers could enjoy the Teutonic landscape during an automobile journey.

Top-Nazi Fritz Todt promoted such a Reich landscape as he gathered landscape architects, botanists, and conservationists around him. His construction secured natural vegetation that served as natural planting strips, edges, and embankments along the Autobahn.

While Seifert’s rhetorical pro-Nazi propaganda qualities were much greater than his environmental abilities, he also warned of a desertification of Germany due to re-routing rivers, draining swamps, and clearing land.

Alwin Seifert also described low vegetation grasslands as un-German and called for the conquered Eastern European territories to be Aryanized by planting German-looking hedges. He planned to develop occupied areas environmentally, once they were Jew-free (Judenrein) through mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen and mass gassings of the Untermensch in German concentration camps.

German killing fields, brutalities, and cruelties meted out to the Eastern Europeans were often orchestrated behind the façade of neatly trimmed native landscapes. The goal of Germanization was to establish a Völkisch-defensive landscape in the course of de-population, to be re-populated by Aryans.

These Aryan battle-villages (Wehrdorf) offered German farmers – with Ariernachweis – dense planting as a visual protection against enemy aircraft. Seifert even dreamed of the greening of the Siegfried Line or Wall – a 630-kilometer-long Nazi fortification system.

The aim was to create a camouflaged anti-tank barrier, with gun emplacements and bunkers made invisible by integrating them into the landscape using German vegetation. Outer bunker walls were to be adorned with hanging bird nesting boxes. Nazi environmentalism even extended all this to the SS model city of Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz, German plants were supposed to form a border between the residential city and the extermination camp. At the request of the camp commander, Rudolf Höß, a green belt was created around Auschwitz’s crematoria I and II. Nowhere else was the juxtaposition of nature conservation and the systematic extermination of human life as visible as in the world’s worst place: IG-Farben’s German-run Auschwitz.

Seifert linked his holistic ecological approach specifically to Nazi ideology. Seifert believed that recognizing real nature met the Nazi concept of an unspoiled Aryan landscape. In the immediate years of post-Nazi Germany, Seifert succeeded in enlisting numerous ex-Nazi colleagues when denazifying himself. Not much later, ex-Nazi Seifert headed the environmental organization Bund Naturschutz Bayern from 1950 to 1960, later becoming its honorary chairman.

He and virtually an entire generation of ex-Nazi civil servants and conservationists continued to uphold the post-Nazi legend of, it wasn’t all that bad under Hitler, because the Führer built the Autobahn! In 1971, Seifert published a book entitled Gärtnern, Ackern ohne Gift – still available today on Amazon.

Ex-Nazi Seifert’s garden books became the bible of the ecological movement, according to the former Nazi publisher Beck Press. Seifert’s book sold over 250,000 copies and was published in its 20th edition in 2021 – another German Nazi continuation defining post-Nazi Germany.

In fact, Seifert’s book influenced an entire generation of German anthroposophists, wholefood nutritionists, and environmentalists. Since 2008, the book has contained a semi-critical fig leaf afterword. Much of all this generation includes German environmentalist and lifelong anti-Semite Ursula Wetzel-Haverbeck, who maintained close contact to the one of the most prominent founders of the German Green Party, Petra Kelly.

Of similar importance are Renate Haußleiter-Malluche and husband August Haußleiter, who was a follower of the Nazi street thug Otto Strasser.

Meanwhile, Nazi and SA member Werner Georg Haverbeck wrote, the Volk (people) is a biological fact … ecology opens our eyes to the fact that the Volk is shaped by the soil from which it grew and by the space that surrounds it. Werner Georg Haverbeck wrote this – not in 1933 – but in 1983.

In 1981, led by his deeply anti-Semitic wife, Ursula Wetzel-Haverbeck, who throughout her life explicitly refused to distance herself from Nazism or Adolf Hitler, he signed the Heidelberg Manifesto, which stated that Völker (peoples) are a biologically living system of a higher order with properties that are passed on genetically and through traditions.

The manifesto is directed against migrants and against Germany’s immigration policy. From the 1970s onward, German right-wing extremists also found support in Haverbeck’s ecofascist Collegium Humanum, which quickly developed into a center for anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

When the Green Party was founded in 1980, Haverbeck pulled strings to get right-wing and ex-Nazi ideology established inside the Green Party. Haverbeck remained a lifetime right-wing extremist. His ideological convictions were essentially the same in his youth as in the last twenty years of his life. He and plenty of other right-wing environmentalists were – and still are – convinced that the city is permanently conquered by cosmopolitan elements while the countryside remains pure and unspoiled.

They dream of a countryside populated by fanatical ecofascist settlers, organic farmers, and a movement based on the völkische soil. Recent election statistics support this idea. In fact, Germany’s Neo-Nazi party – the AfD, which shares this anti-urban sentiment – is doing far better in small remote villages and the rural countryside than in big cities. Germany’s ecofascist radical right celebrates this as the revenge of the village.

In recent years, the German radical right frames environmental conservation increasingly within the issue of Neo-Nazis’ concept of Heimatschutz – a kind of Aryan homeland defense – which draws on an anti-modern, anti-technology, and deeply ecofascist ideology linked to the Nazi master philosopher Martin Heidegger and his rejection of technology.

Yet, some elements of German environmentalism also go back much further, reaching deep into Germany’s hyper-nationalistic and irrational Romanticism as well as Hitler’s ecofascistic Nazi Reich. Today, these are confined to the fringe, featuring mostly an attempt by the AfD to find a new battleground in its increasingly unsuccessful electoral campaigns.

While Germany’s radical right finds it hard – if not impossible – to manipulate environmentalism into a right-wing populism, German environmental ideology has a long history of conservative, reactionary, and at times outright Nazi thinking.

While Germany’s predominant environmental political party – The Greens – has overcome those ideologies, the merger between German Romanticism and Nazi environmentalism continues to exist in the political landscape of Germany.

Thomas Klikauer has over 750 publications including a book on Media Capitalism.


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