Posts Tagged ‘Rudolf Hess’

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Book Review: Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience

July 10, 2016

Ecofascism Pic

By Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier (Edinburgh: AK Press 1995).

Biehl and Staudenmaier are two activists in left-wing, Green and Anarchist politics in Germany, while Staudenmaier has also been active in the US. The Green movement generally is the product of the 1960s ‘hippy’ counterculture, and its experiments to create a more peaceful, egalitarian society in harmony with the earth and the natural world. The ecological movement was launched by a congress of scientists, concerned at the damage to the natural world by pollution, in Rome in the early 1970s. Among the most influential works that launched the movement is Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, of 1962. Apart from its immense political influence, it also influenced SF literature in Frank Herbert’s massive Dune series of books, based around the desert planet Arakis, its sandworms, and the consciousness expanding spice they produce, which allows human to traverse the galaxy.

Germany was the country where the Green movement first became a formidable political force. Like Green parties and movements everywhere, German Greens were largely left-wing anti-authoritarians. I think the leader of the German Green party at one point was the Baader-Meinhof gang’s former lawyer. Back in the 1980s I wrote to the German Greens asking for information about them, and they kindly sent me an English language version of their manifesto. It’s cover showed that piccie from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, in which the great clown is crushed between two massive cog wheels. I can’t remember much about it, but as well as creating a more ecological aware and sensitive society, the party was also concerned to free people from being crushed by modern industrial society.

It was most definitely not Fascist stuff. But Fascists in Germany have been determined to appropriate it to gain electoral support. After Rudolf Hess died in the 1980s, for example, there was a Neo-Nazi rally, including outlaw bikers, outside his former home. They read out their noxious manifesto, which included their promises to find alternative forms of energy and properly conserve the environment. Noble ideals polluted by being adopted by such a politically vile group. It was combat this that Biehl and Staudenmaier wrote their book.

The book is actually written in two parts. The first, by Staudenmaier, is entitled ‘Fascist Ideology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents’. The second, by Biehl, is ‘”Ecology” and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-Right’. Staudenmaier in his piece traces the emergence of a peculiar, Volkisch, German racist ecological consciousness. This arose in the 19th century as part of the Blut und Boden, ‘Blood and Soil’ ideology, that became an intrinsic component of Nazism. Peoples were formed, both physically, mentally and spiritually, so volkisch ideologues argued, by their environment. And so German nationalists argued passionately for the conservation of their country’s landscape and its natural beauty. It’s quite a shock to read of how these writers combined ideas that at other times and places were highly progressive – concern for the natural world, and the respect and dignity of indigenous first nations, with virulent nationalism, and particularly anti-Semitism. This concern for the German environment continued into the Third Reich. The Nazi dictatorship set up a series of writers and officials, whose duty it was to minimise the damage produced through the Nazi state’s construction of vast industrial complexes and the autobahns. Care was taken to make sure these were specially sited and built to respect the landscape around them.

Biehl’s piece also discusses the emergence of mystic volkisch racial essentialism in the 1920s, and its rejection of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, including democracy, as enslaving and hostile to the fundamental German national character. She then describes the various neo-Nazi groups, organisations, and businesses that have tried to present themselves as ecological aware and active. These include the National Revolutionaries, Freedom German Workers’ Party, the Republicans – founded by a former SS squaddie, Franz Schonhuber – the National Democrats and the German People’s Union. Organisations with a rightist political orientation include the World League for the Protection of Life, and the former East German dissident Communist, Rudolf Bahro. Bahro was originally a Marxist thinker, who was persecuted by the East German state for his ideas. Since then, he became increasing occupied with Green issues and moved towards the extreme Right. Biehl describes an exchange between him and the veteran American Anarchist, Murray Bookchin, at a Green conference in Germany. Bookchin was one of the creators of post-scarcity Anarchism in the 1960s, an Anarchism adapted to the changed circumstances of the modern ‘affluent society’. He was also deeply concerned with the environment. At the conference, Bahro declared that ‘we need a Green Adolf!’, which rightly annoyed Bookchin. If I remember correctly, it drew a deeply critical response from Bookchin. I doubt if he was the only one disgusted by the comment.

In her conclusion, ‘A Social Ecology of Freedom’, Biehl notes how these developments were not limited just to Germany. Nick Griffin was also trying to present the National Front as being ecological aware, proclaiming ‘Racial preservation is Green’, and similar sentiments have been made in the US by White supremacists and racists there.

She writes

A love of the natural world and alienation from modern society are in themselves innocent and legitimate ideas, and it was by no means a historical necessity that they be permutated into a justification for mass murder. Nor is ‘ecology’ limited an interpretation as a social Darwinist racial jungle, or politicized along tribal, regional and nationalist lines. Nor is ‘ecology’ inherently an antirational, mystical concept. Finally, the ecology crisis can hardly be dismissed; it is itself very real and is worsening rapidly. Indeed, the politicization of ecology is not only desirable but necessary. (p.64).

And

‘Ecological’ fascism is a cynical but potentially politically effective attempt to mystically link genuine concern for present-day environmental problems with time-honored fears of the ‘outsider’ or the ‘new’, indeed the best elements of the Enlightenment, through ecological verbiage. Authoritarian mystifications need not be the fate of today’s ecology movement, as social ecology demonstrates. But they could become its fate if ecomystics, ecoprimitivists, misanthropes, antirationalists have their way. (pp.65-6).

The American Right has also bitterly attacked environmentalism and Green politics, deliberately linking them to the environmentally engated parts of the Nazi programme during the Third Reich. As this book shows, genuine Green activists like Biehl and Staudenmaier are well aware of the Nazis and their legacy, and actively reject those, who would attempt to appropriate ecological awareness in order to promote racism and tyranny.

Theresa May and the Faux-Feminism of the Tories

July 10, 2016

Okay, it appears from the latest developments in the Tory leadership contest that their next leader will not only be a woman, but probably Theresa May. May’s currently, I think, the Home Office Minister. Another Tory authoritarian, she’d like the spooks to have access to all our telecoms information to stop us joining ISIS and abusing children. Or at least, that’s what she says. Either way, she represents the continuing expansion of the secret state and its determination to pry into every aspect of our lives. Just in case we’re doing something illegal. In the polls Thursday night or so she won something like 144 votes compared to Andrea Leadsom’s 86 and Michael Gove’s 43. There was a shot of her at one of the party rallies, which showed Ian Duncan Smith, the former Minister in Charge of the Murder of the Disabled looking up at her with the same kind of rapture you see in pictures of Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg as he introduces Adolf Hitler.

May as the Modern Thatcher

The papers on Friday were full of the news of her probable victory. The Torygraph ran the headline, ‘If you want something said, go to a man. If you want something done, go to a woman’. Presumably this was a quote from May herself, trying to position herself as a go-getting woman of action, ready to sort out the mess the men have left. It’s also intended to get her support from Britain’s women. Look, she and her PR gurus are saying, I represent all the women in Britain, and their drives and frustrations in trying to get the top job. And I’ve done it, and, so vicariously, have Britain’s women through me. Vote for me, and we’ll sort Britain out again. The Mirror summed up her probable victory with the headline ‘Another Thatcher’.

That’s true, and it looks very much like the Tory party is trying to hark back to Margaret Thatcher’s victory way back in 1979, and the thirteen years of flag-waving, prole-bashing that unleashed. Thatcher was Britain’s first, and so far, only female Prime Minister. Her election was instrumental in getting the Tories female support, and presenting their agenda of poverty, welfare cuts, joblessness and general immiseration as somehow empowering and progressive. It presented a faux-feminist veneer to what was an acutely traditionalist party. Thatcher did not see herself as a feminist, but nevertheless, her lackeys in the press ran features on her deliberately aimed at women and gaining their support. When she was ousted, Germaine Greer, who had been bitterly critical of her time in No. 10, wrote a piece in the Groan ‘A Sad Day for Every Woman’. And this propaganda line continued with other female Tories afterwards. I can remember a piece in the Mail on Sunday discussing what politics would be like in a female dominated House of Commons about the time Virginia Bottomley joined Major’s cabinet. It imagined Britain as an anarcho-capitalist utopia, where everything was privatised, and instead of the police neighbourhoods hired private security guards. And it ran the notorious factoid that’s been repeated and debunked ever since: that managing the country’s economy was like running a household. Women, so the article claimed, automatically had a better understanding of how the economy should be run through their role controlling the household budget. It’s actually rubbish, as the Angry Yorkshireman, Mike over at Vox Political and a number of left-wing economists and bloggers have repeatedly pointed out. For example, when budgeting for a household, you try to avoid debt, or pay it off as quickly as possible. But no-one has wanted to pay off the national debt since at least the late 18th century, and governments contract debts all the time with the deliberate intention of stimulating growth, as well as having the ability to manipulate circumstances in ways that the average householder can’t. They can, for example, affect the economy by setting the value of their currencies in order to promote exports, for example. The Japanese have deliberately kept the Yen weak in order to make their exports less expensive and so more competitive on foreign markets. They can also alter, or affect exchange rates to control public expenditure outside of immediate state spending. Ordinary people can’t do any of this. But nevertheless, the lie is repeated, and as we’ve seen, believed. A little while ago a man in the audience at Question Time challenged one of the politicos there with not running the country properly. He claimed it should have been obvious to anyone who’s had to run a household. Or possibly their own business.

Women Suffering the Most from Tory Misrule

In power, Thatcher – and the Tories’ policies in general – have hit women the hardest. Women tend to work in the poorest paid jobs, those least unionised, and so with the fewest protections. They are also more likely than men to be active as carers, with the immense responsibilities and pressures that entails. The Tories’ austerity policies have seen more women laid off, and more suffering cuts to hours and pay, with worsening conditions. These have been inflicted on male workers and carers as well, of course. I personally know blokes as well as women, who’ve been put on zero hours contracts, of have had to fight battles with the DWP to get disability benefits for their partners. Women haven’t been solely hit by any means, but they have been especially hit.

Tory Feminism only for the Rich

But I’ve no doubt that the Tories will try to hide all that, and positively divert attention away from it, by pointing to the success of May in finally getting to No. 10. It’ll be presented as another crack in glass ceiling preventing women from getting the top jobs. I’ve also no doubt that there will be some noises about making sure that business, industry and parliament becomes more representative of the country. There will be loud announcements about getting more women into parliament, on the boards of business, and in male-dominated areas such as science and engineering.

But this will all be done to give power and jobs to women from May’s background: well-heeled, well-educated middle class public school gels from Roedean and the like. Rich, corporate types like Hillary Clinton in the US. It isn’t going to be for women from council estates and comprehensive schools, ordinary women working back-breaking jobs in factories, as care home staff, nurses, cleaners, shop assistants, office workers and the like, all of whom are increasingly under pressure from the government’s austerity programme. They, and the men alongside whom they work, doing the same jobs, aren’t going to be helped by the Tories one little bit.

The Thin Veneer of Tory Liberalism

May’s faux-feminism is part of a general thin façade of progressivism, which the Tory party occasionally adopts to promote itself. Cameron came to power pretending to be more left-wing than Tony Blair. When he took over the Tory party, he made much about shedding the party’s image of racism and homophobia. He cut links with the Monday Club, went around promoting Black Tory candidates. Gay MPs were encouraged to come forward and be open about their sexuality. In power, he ostentatiously supported gay marriage, presenting it as Tory victory, even though it had practically already been introduced by Tony Blair in the guise of civil partnerships. Cameron and IDS wanted to be seen as liberal modernisers. But all their reforms are extremely shallow, designed to disguise the rigidly authoritarian and hierarchical party underneath. A party determined to make the poor as poor as possible for the corporate rich.

Generational Differences in Voting

Looking through the stats with friends on Friday, it seems that there’s a marked divergence in political attitudes between young women, and those over 55. The majority of women over 55 tend to vote Conservative, according to the stats. I know plenty who don’t, and so this can be challenged. My guess is that, if this is accurate, it’s probably due to the fact that women generally haven’t worked in the kind of manual trades occupied by men, which require considerable solidarity and so have produced strong union bonds, like mining, metal work and so on. It’s also possibly partly due to the prevailing social ideology when they were born. There was a marked lull in feminist activity between women finally gaining the vote in 1928 or so and the rise of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s. During those forty years, the dominant social attitude was that women should concentrate on their roles of wife and mother. Many firms in this period would not hire married women, a practice which caused immense hardship to women, and families generally that needed two incomes to make ends meet. Also, generally speaking, support for the Tories is higher amongst pensioners.

Younger women are more likely to be left-wing and socialist. If correct, this generally follows the trend of the younger generation being more idealistic and progressive than their elders.

I hope that despite all the pseudo-feminist verbiage and lies the Tories will spout from now onwards, trying to make themselves more presentable to the nation’s female voters, women will recognise them for what they are, and vote them out. As soon as possible.

Vox Political on Blair’s Defence at the Chilcott Inquiry

June 7, 2016

Mike this morning put up a piece pointing out the profound differences between Corbyn’s supporters and Tony Blair. Corbyn’s fans are planning a tour of rock musicians, poets and comedians, culminating in an appearance at the Labour Party conference in September. Blair, by contrast, is planning his defence against the allegations that his invasion of Iraq was illegal.

Apparently, the old warmonger wishes us to consider, as part of his defence, what would have happened if Saddam Hussein had been left free to develop weapons of mass destruction, and the destabilising effects of al-Qaeda in the Middle East. He will claim that it wasn’t failures in post-conflict planning, which has resulted in Iraq descending into an anarchist slaughterhouse, but intervention in the country by Iran and the above Islamists.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/06/the-difference-fans-plan-concert-to-honour-corbyn-while-blairites-prepare-defence-against-chilcot-report/

The man’s an inveterate liar, and absolutely nothing that he says about the causes of Gulf War II should be trusted. Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. They had all been dismantled, and there’s no evidence he was doing anything to change that. Furthermore, Hussein had not ventured outside Iraq since Gulf War I. And when he did in that conflict, it was because the Americans told him that they would not do anything to stop his annexation of Kuwait and its oil supplies.

Bush and Blair had absolutely no plans for what would happen after the allies won. They relied almost totally on Ahmed Chalabi, a bullsh*tter with absolutely no support in the country, who managed to convince them that they would be hailed as liberators and he could be happily installed in the government.

As for Iran and al-Qaeda, these were effectively checked by Hussein when he was in charge of the country. His removal effectively opened the country up to them, especially as disaffected Sunnis from the armed forces soon joined the al-Qaeda militants. Also, America is deeply implicated in the bloodshed. Shi’a terror gangs were given full support by one of the American generals in the occupying army. These gangs were responsible for massacres of the Sunni population. The private military contractors hired by the Americans and British to aid in the invasion have also run amok. They are responsible for prostitution rings, and the brazenly casual murder of Iraqi civilians. There have been instances of mercenaries shooting Iraqi civilians in the street as they drove past in their cars, for absolutely no reason at all.

For information on the political manoeuvres leading up to the Iraq Invasion, and the real reasons for it, see Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse. I’ve put up a series of pieces on this blog from news channels such as Secular Talk, The Young Turks and so on about the atrocities committed by the mercenaries.

There is absolutely no doubt. Blair is a war criminal, and if there was any justice our German friends would reopen Spandau and shove him in it, so he could spend the rest of his days in captivity like Rudolf Hess.