Autobahns

As the title suggests, this is about the Germans and their beloved Autobahn for which, yet another piece of German forest – the Riegerwald – will be destroyed in a few days. This time it is on the A66A for Autobahn – the motorway with no limits on the madness of speeding.

Yet, the German obsession with the motorway is inextricably linked to nationalism, Nazism, masculinity, the car industry, and massive environmental vandalism. The latest fight against ever more motorways comes under the rhythmic slogan of, Wald Anstatt Asphalt – wood instead of asphalt.

Besides the destruction of nature, the – not unconnected – problem of masculinity represents the ongoing patriarchal contours of man-vs.-nature. It qualifies for the term toxic – the toxic Porsche-BMW-Mercedes-and-so-on driving males set upon nature and humans – the collateral damage of the daily road rage on the Autobahn. This comes with the equally destructive – often male – behavior of arrogant motorists displayed daily on German roads. Cars kill about 2,600 people per year in Germany alone.

Historically, highway construction has been an extremely important project for fascist Mussolini, the Nazi Adolf Hitler, and his adjacent criminals in the SS, and the killing squads of the Einsatzgruppen. To Italian and German fascists, motorways not only economically but more importantly, ideologically allowed the enslavement of thousands while claiming economic progress. Nazi propaganda and its successful propagandistic effects to hype up the Autobahn continued throughout the Nazi years, as well as the post-Nazi years and – worse – have an effect to this day. The common myth is “Hitler invented the Autobahn”.

Yet, motorways like the Autobahn were also part of Italian futurism as a fascist art movement. This fascist version of modernity underpinned fascist ideology. The seemingly simple issue of an Autobahn shows that our present contains the past – not just as mere sediments. In other words, the past isn’t just in the past at all – it is still with us. What we have today is the result of historical events. Today, the motorway is – again – presented as being without an alternative. This time around, it is what Neoliberalism calls TINA: there is no alternative.

Yet, there are alternatives. The forces behind the corporate destruction of the ecosystem aren’t inevitable. What is presented as TINA has – in reality – a lot to do with law and capital and the laws that furnish capitalism. And today, German capitalism includes the auto industry. After all, the net value of Germany’s car industry is €411 billion – $425bn.

The continued destruction of nature for ever more cars and the Autobahn also signifies the hallucination and desire for eternal economic growth – a euphemism for corporate profits. On which not even the move to electro-mobility will have an impact. Much of this is camouflaged through a green fig leaf as corporate greenwashing works its ideological wonders .

The idea of electro-mobility links neatly to auto-mobility – the continued existence of individual travel in which an ever growing traffic is not a collective good but, instead, is framed as an individual experience.

Whether for electric cars or not, e-cars and petrol-cars mean the expansion of motorways while cranking up global warming. Simultaneously, we see three issues at work: global warming continues almost unabated; blah-blah-blah festivals like COP27 are continued unabated; and the rise of the SUV and electric cars driving on motorways. Perhaps Germany’s motorway is just one more element in what Guterres identified as,

we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.

Perhaps, there truly is something like a death instinct inherent in capitalism despite claiming to be a reasonable economic system. Conceivably, the very existence of cars – and capitalism – is against reason. Indeed, the car remains the single most dangerous killing machine in peacetime.

The WHO estimates that there are approximately 1.3 million people who die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. In about half a year, a city like Boston is empty – everyone is dead. By year’s end, the people in two Boston-size cities would be dead, year by year. Compared to that, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine’s roughly 15,000 deaths look rather small – as evil as the war is. Yet, media capitalism has made it possible that we see the Ukrainian war as evil but cars as normal even though they kill 100 times more people.

From the beginning to today, the Autobahn remains associated with death. The origins of German-style car enthusiasm almost inevitably led to Hitler. Perhaps even Hitler’s own rather fragile masculinity had to be compensated by the Führer’s car driving down the motorway.

Much of this paved the way for an ideology supportive of the Autobahn. Today, we still have a corporately engineered rush of cheap, accessible, and very fast cars demanding suitable roads like the Autobahn. And, it all started in the year 1929.

Despite Nazi propaganda, Hitler did not invent the Autobahn. In fact, it was in the year 1929 when the construction of the Cologne-Bonn Autobahn – today’s BAB 555 (the federal BundesAutoBahn) began.

The first ever built Autobahn was in fact completed on August 6, 1932 – over half a year “before” Hitler was made Reichs-Chancellor – with the kind assistance of German conservatives. It was around that time when German reactionary Nazi-supporter and capitalist Fritz Thyssen infamously admitted, I paid Hitler. In fact he did.

With the Nazis and their wars of annihilation, the auto industry, the petroleum, coal, and chemical industry became dispensable for Hitler’s twisted dream of a thousand-year Reich. Up until today, these industries, corporations, and their CEOs have never been on the right side of history. Instead, some created Auschwitz and sold Zyklon-B to the SS while simultaneously exploiting, torturing, and killing countless victims.

Much of it was part of Hitler’s so-called economic recovery plan that always included not just slave labor but also Germany’s automotive industry and highway construction. Once in power, the Nazis abolished the vehicle tax and promoted motor racing – creating the cult of the car.

Yet only 48% were seduced. Hitler’s Nazis never got a majority of German voters in free elections. As a consequence of needing a right-wing, conservative and reactionary coalition government to get Hitler into power, the Nazis invented the myth of the Machtergreifung. Hitler’s Nazi never “took” power. There was no Machtergreifung. Instead, they were put into power by Germany’s conservatives – a fact conveniently pushed under the rug by German conservatives.

Yet, Hitler had many motorways built – partly to move troops to the front, partly for the Autobahn’s propagandistic value. Subsequently, Autobahn’s construction was used to attract workers to National Socialism – particularly to target those who were on the other side – the Red Front. In Nazi mythology, the Autobahn served as a symbol bridging class barriers while simulating the Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. As German philosopher Max Horkheimer noted on the construction of the Autobahn, in the digging of the soil, the war is looming.

The Autobahn remains linked to the Holocaust, its construction with destruction of human beings through inhumane work regimes – overseen by Hitler’s SA and SS. The economic irrationalism of highway construction seemingly led to the hallucination of a Nazi victory. Yet, one might argue that Hitler’s love for cars and highways also caused the neglect of the railway system and that this neglect contributed to the victory of civilization against Nazi barbarism.

After liberation, in post-Nazi Germany, the ideologically useful myth of the Autobahn continued. It created what might be called an “-ism” – Autobahnism as it created a political-economic movement with a defined dogma – the dogma of eternal progress through the construction of Autobahns.

It became an ideological–ism. It was used as a means to channel post-war conservatisms into a new nationalism based no longer on race and the Aryan Volksgemeinschaft but on post-war economic success, and on Germany’s integration into the global economy. The Autobahn no longer transported troops to invade neighboring countries.

Instead, it transported commercial goods to Germany’s neighbors that began to be seen – no longer as enemies – but as a marketplace. Today, truckloads of goods travel on the Autobahn to neighboring countries no longer inhibited by inner-EU borders.

This is Germany’s – now conveniently forgotten – toxic legacy of the Autobahn. Today, Autobahnism continues – no longer as the environmental Friday’s for Future – but instead, Autobahnism means Fridays for Hubraum – more cylinder capacity. Worse, Autobahnism is also part of an ideological Kulturkampf von Rechts – a right-wing culture war.

Yet, in the hallucination of right-wing culture war warriors, Autobahnism needs to be secured against those fighting global warming. Autobahnism marks the triumph of engine-powered masculinity over environmentalism.

After all, the car driving down the Autobahn was from the very beginning a machine of war and toxic masculinity. Yet, Automobilism remains a highly fragile scaffolding assigned to keep up the invented, but always a fake happiness of a motoring life. The Autobahn remains the symbolic embodiment of technological racism based on Euro-centrist fossil economy – the exploitation of fossil resources in distant countries.

This is, as it were, the historical, economic, and political essences of German Autobahnism – a desire to dominate others which has its roots in the weakness of the authoritarian character framed as normality. Autobahnism is the merger of authoritarianism with petro-fossil masculinity. This is the still popular and widespread form of what was previously known as elitist Eurocentric techno-racism.

Today, the hyper-masculinity of Autobahnism has turned into ecological irrationality to be understood as an expression of the masculine death instinct. It is the male killer ape that leads us to global ecocide generously supported by the capitalism of resignation and resentment. Autobahnism has put us on a highway to climate hell with the corporation’s foot still on the accelerator.

Thomas Klikauer  is the author of Managerialism.


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