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Date:

August 14, 2000

Subject:

Nazis and Organic agriculture

 

It has become a staple of those opposed to GM to draw an analogy to the
Nazis. This past week, a press release by an anti-GM group of a
scientists offered us once again this comparison to the Nazis. Since
this warning and analogy is frequently offered as being self-evident,
it might be interesting and instructive to post a few tidbits about the
Nazi beliefs and practices so that we can all look into the mirror and
ask ourselves if any of it applies to us. I am sure that close to 100%
of both the pro and anti-GM debaters are against what the Nazis did for
but only one side, the anti-GM side, has sought to use it in the
debate.


Unlike those opposed to GM who rather casually make the Nazi, I will
begin by making a number of caveats and qualifaications. First and
foremost, I wish to state and will repeat below, that just because
somehow shares a trait with leading Nazi's, such as a passion for
organic food, it does not even remotely make them a Nazi. Remember,
this posting is primarily to counter the use of the Nazi analogy by GM
critics. There is an issue that should be explored further, namely the
historical ideological connection between the Nazis and the organic
food movement.


Before developing this further in drawing similarities between
contemporary romantic technophobic belief systems such as that of the
organic agriculture enthusiasts and the Nazis, we must first make a
disclaimer. Though there are far too many similarities to be mere
happenstance, we will try to be careful in highlighting the
similarities. The ethicist, Arthur Caplan, stresses the dangers
characterizing anything as Nazi lest we end up "diminishing the genuine
extremity of the Nazi experience." Just because we argue that the Nazis
were probably the first major proponents of organic agriculture and
anti-technology post-modernism does not mean that one can reverse the
argument and claim, therefore, practice of organic agriculture is a
contemporary version of the Third Reich, with all the horror this
implies. One is always hesitant to make such connections because the
evil of the Nazis is so great that it is difficult to think only in
terms of a limited set of comparable ideas. However, many of the
beliefs are so strikingly similar between the Nazis and organic
agriculture proponents, animal rights activists, environmentalists and
post-modernists, that the issue cannot be totally ignored. I wish to be
especially careful not to antagonize those who have suffered from the
Nazi terror by seeming to be casual in making modern comparisons to
it.


In reference to the "founding of the Soil Association in the late
thirties," Wood mentions (in his magnificent posting on Natural
Pesticides) their "belief that there was a vital principle in plants
which came from the `natural' soil, and which promoted plant health,
and in turn, human health. It couldn't be proved, but that didn't
matter." This was late in the decade after many leading Nazis had
become exponents of the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and his
"bio-dynamic agriculture."


The list of similarities between contemporary movements and the Nazis
is in fact quite substantial. At the top of the list is the opposition
to rational, scientific inquiry which is deemed to be "reductionist,"
while preferring synthesis over analysis. Following from this is a
romantic view of nature and what is "natural;" organic agriculture
(bio-dynamics - opposition to manufactured fertilizer and pesticides);
vegetarianism; animal rights; a view of conservation involving the
forced removal of people; holistic healing and medicine; and the "blood
and soil" garden (opposition to "alien species"). Himmler had organic
honey bee hives at Dachaus where they raised the herbs and spices for
the German Armry. previously, the Nazi party ahd sought to control the
European market for mineral water.


Those activists who opposed genetically modified crops by "rooting out
genetic pollution" in the fields are unfortunately describing their
actions in language that is all too reminiscent of the 1930s, though we
would not wish to trivialize the latter by comparing them in any other
way. Yet, underlying all of these similarities is a shared sense of the
"purity" of their thoughts and actions and a sense that they are acting
in defense of self and defense of higher moral principles. The
comparison of modern transgenics to Nazi eugenics, is ridiculous on the
face of it, since the Nazi in all things, but race and species in
particular, favored the pure over what to them would be the impurity of
any alien importation.


It is this sense of purity, and a belief that they are responding to a
higher calling, that I find to be dangerous, whether to preserve the
purity of the volk or to save planet earth from contamination from
genetically modified crops. These beliefs validate taking forceful
actions that interfere with the rights of others. "No compromise in
defense of mother earth" means that others are prejudged to be guilty,
so that any action taken that harms them is simply punishment for their
sins. An apocalyptic view that the earth is threatened with imminent
destruction absolves one from having to understand the consequences of
one's actions, since the good of saving the planet cleanses any wrong
that one may do in saving it. A problem in fully criticizing these
actions is that the verifiable damage actually done may be trivially
small compared to the larger consequences of the unverifiable harm that
follows from it. No one can say for sure that someone whose research
was disrupted by animal rights activists would have, without the
disruption, found a cure for a disease that debilitates tens of
millions of people or that destroying research in agricultural
biotechnology might have prevented advances in agriculture that would
feed hundreds of millions. Science and technology do not deal in such
certainties, but purists do. We can demand that these questions of harm
of major proportions be part of the discourse and debate on these
issues.


Vegetarianism and commitment to organic agriculture were a component in
Nazi ideology. Hitler and other elite Nazis became vegetarians. Rudolf
Hess's food had to contain "biologically dynamic ingredients." One pair
of writers on the Nazis argued that "Vegetarianism became the symbol of
the new, pure civilization that was to be Germany's future." (Arluke
and Sax 1992, 17). Synthetic fertilizers were opposed because they
alien to the environment, because they were "man-made" and above all
because they were dead.


The Nazis also favored holistic medicine and healing as they condemned
rational scientific medicine as being Jewish. There were also strong
elements of support for animal rights. With the Nazis and
some contemporary animal rights advocates,
attempts to elevate animals often ends up degrading people. Post World
War II ideas on wildlife conservation in Africa had origins other than
the colonial countries. Bernhard Grzimek, zoology curator at the
Frankfurt zoo under Hitler, was famous for the book and Oscar-winning
film, Serengeti Shall Not Die and honored as the
father of modern African conservation. Grzimek's ideas were in line
with already established Colonial wildlife conservation policies that
wildlife areas should be cleared of all humans.


The German nativists and later, the Nazis, also sought to give the
German people a "blood-and-soil-rooted" garden, free of alien species.


In Conversations with Hitler, Hermann
Rauschning quotes Hitler:


left,out

We stand at the end of the Age of Reason. A new era of the magical
explanation of the world is rising. There is no truth, in the
scientific sense. That which is the crisis of science is nothing more
than that the gentlemen are beginning to see on their own how they have
gotten onto the wrong track with their objectivity.


(Rauschning 1940, quoted in Slakey 1993, 50)


This quote is in a 1993 article in the New Scientist
(Francis Slakey. When the Lights of Reason Go Out. New
Scientist
. 139(1890):49-50, 11 September, 1993.) that
argues that many of these same views hostile to reason have become
pervasive among the educated population in the United States and
Europe. Slakey adds that currently, the "elegant and modern fashion in
thought" is to "reject objective reason and question the value of
science, embrace subjectivity and trust your feelings." Slakey adds
that "according to anti-science intellectuals, contemporary science has
taken us maddeningly close to the edge of the abyss and it will take us
over the edge if we are not careful." John Lukacs, contemporary
post-modernist guru, is quoted that it is not given to "humans to
explain everything" (Lukacs 1993, quoted in Slakey 1993, 49). Slakey
counters that it is the abandonment of objectivity and not the practice
of science that leads to the abyss" (Slakey 1993, 49). A reasonable
case could be made that the Nazis were the first post-modernists, which
is ironic, because many post-modernist writers, particularly among the
French, have tried to argue that the Nazis were the logical outcome of
modernity when in fact there was a connection between the Nazi
ideologists and early leading lights of post-modernism. In fact, it has
become a staple of many organic agriculture/ecofeminists etc. that Nazi
Germany was the culmination of modernist, reductionist,
anti-environment, male dominated ("logophallocentric") "western"
science that is destroying the earth when the Nazis were in revolt
against the modernism of Germany in the 1920s. This presumed "fact" of
a Nazi-Modernist connection is simply repeated without any evidence to
support it because there isn't any. it should not have come as a big
surprise when it was discovered post-humously that one of the leading
lights of post-modernism, had written for a pro-Nazi Belgian newspaper
during World War II.


Clearly not all repudiation of reason will give rise to forces of hate;
however, the repudiation of reason carries a price, and it is one of
sufficient concern that the rose-tinted glasses of romanticism cannot
hide. Further, for the organic agriculturalist, anti-technology
post-modernists and others who hold to this constellation of ideas, one
would hope that this significant overlap in beliefs with the Nazis
would make them uneasy and force them to do what we all should do, that
is, reexamine and rethink our belief systems.


This is not intended as an exercise in name calling or an attempt at
guilt-by-association. I am a member/journal subscriber to professional
population organizations, many of which shared a commitment to eugenics
(and racism in various forms) with the Nazis. Social systems like
biological ones have atavisms that can emerge in disguised forms.
Wisely, reputable population journals will occasionally run articles
that explore their eugenics past which is helpful for those of us who
wish to make sure that it remains in the past. Are the organic
agriculture people willing to engage in the same exercise? Or are they
simply in denial? Was there any connection between the Soil Association
and the Nazis at its founding or were they both derived from the same
set of independently existing ideas? If nothing else, this exercise can
get them to stop calling us Nazis.


There are many more similarities than I have mentioned and I have
documented all of them in a forthcoming book in which they occupy an
entire chapter. Sorry but time does not permit me to explore the issue
here further but the facts as I presented them are readily
documentable. The intent of the posting is not to pin the Nazi label on
anyone but to try and keep others from repeating this libel against us


Tom DeGregori


Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.

Professor of Economics

Department of Economics

University of Houston

Houston, Texas 77204-5882

Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838

Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798

Email trdegreg@uh.edu

Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg