The New Germany Energy Program - and Its Deep Historical Roots

A disturbing glance at Germans' close identification with "nature."

When I was in Europe in the 1980s, starting my research on fascism, I had a German friend, an historian my age who subsequently wrote some excellent books on Italian fascism. At seminars and conferences, he invariably apologized for being German, which annoyed me to no end. After all, he was a post-Hitler German who had no responsibility for the Third Reich. I wanted him to just get on with his work and stop acting guilty for things he had not done. Nowadays, I wish we paid more attention to the country’s cultural history, which has an uncanny resemblance to its present in unnoticed ways.

I see that the Germans are going to do away with coal - and nuclear-generated electrical power. The abolition of nuclear power plants is old news, but the shutdown of the coal generators is new, and has been hailed by the Green Party and other environmentalists.

Those (few) of us who spent time studying German cultural history in the run-up to the Third Reich will have a frisson of deja vu at this announcement, for the Germans have long had a unique, weird, and durable relationship to “nature,” which is still with them. They have embraced the notion that modern civilization, with its scientific base, is dangerous to the human soul. This was the basis for an important mass movement that urged young Germans to get out of the cities and into the forests and mountains that constituted the “natural” setting for German life. This youth movement was called the Wandervogel, and shaped the thoughts and passions of a generation or two of young Germans.

Although it wasn’t an out-and-out racist movement, there was plenty of anti-Semitism. The Jews were stereotyped as “artificial” urbanites, people whose native habitat was the desert, and therefore sterile, soulless creatures who could not function like “real Germans.” You can read about this movement in George Mosse’s The Crisis of German Ideology on which I worked as Mosse’s research assistant at the University of Wisconsin way back in the 1960s. As you can see, the German youth movement laid the groundwork for much Nazi doctrine, from the stereotyping of the Jews to the significance of “nature” for a new, real Germany.

All this comes to mind when reading about the new German energy program. Of course, the official rationale for the energy program comes right out of the sacred texts of the climate change movement. The recommended program calls for roughly $46 billion worth of aid to areas affected by the measure, and it remains to be seen if parliament and local governments are going to swallow such a big pill. 

The new program, which would replace coal and nuclear with “renewables” such as solar and wind sources, makes little economic sense. It has more to do with faith than with science and euros. Both carbon and nuclear sources have been enormously improved in recent decades, and it is noteworthy that the Germans continue to manufacture both types of power plants, which they then export to third world countries in places like Africa and Latin America. See how neatly that fits with German tradition? Send the unworthy technologies to the unworthy peoples…

I think the Germans’ failure to deal effectively with Jew hatred, whether among their own ranks, or in places like Iran, likewise takes us back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I also suspect that one of the reasons that Germany accepted so many Arab and Turkish immigrants was because of their “naturalness.” They hadn’t been corrupted by the modern world (to put it as mildly as possible), and might bring an infusion of energy and creativity to ossified Europe.

Does this sound fanciful? Remember that the Germans cannot manage to put a halt to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. If the Germans cannot bring themselves to crack down on Hezbollah, they are headed for some nasty times, and the energy program is just a part of the ugly picture.

I wonder what happened to that old friend of mine; there’s a lot more to apologize for.


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