How the New Left Turned Our Sacred Love for Nature Into Secular Technocracy
Yes, the world is out of balance. But technocratic climate policies are part of the problem.
In this post, and in light of the ongoing push for Climate Change policies by activists and world leaders alike, I’d like to trace some of the ideological currents that led to the emergence of the “New Greens.” It is written from a German perspective: in many ways, Germany could be seen as ground zero for modern environmentalism and green politics.
When we think about the controversies surrounding climate change these days, what usually comes to mind are images of world leaders gathering at fancy conferences, urban climate activism, or the transformation of energy and transportation systems on an industrial scale.
We often forget that such images would seem utterly strange to many of the original “greens” who were, for the most part, genuine nature-lovers. They were the kind of people who would go to the woods to watch birds, become hobby zoologists, or simply enjoy the outdoors. Who were saddened by the pollution of their local river or stream, by the dumping of litter in the forests, and by the nonchalant attitude towards flora and fauna with which urban planners, industrialists, and politicians went about their business in the name of technological and economic progress.
One might even say that many of them had conservative leanings: after all, even in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not difficult to see the destruction and imbalance that modernity imposes on nature and our sacred relationship with it—a relationship worth conserving. So, while some of the earlier groups who campaigned for the preservation of nature were openly conservative, many more in the movement followed what we might today call a conservative impulse.
But it wasn’t just, or even primarily, conservatives, of course, who were concerned. The left also saw an important cause here. The most visible drivers of environmental havoc are, after all, big corporations and industry. In Germany, the structure of farming also began to change since the 1960s: whereas there had been many small farms and part-time farmers before, these became increasingly unprofitable, which led to a massive concentration of land in the hands of relatively few large-scale farmers. As is always a danger when relationships with our environment become more distant and abstract, this accelerated the commodification of nature and an outlook that prioritized utility over a deep connectedness to land and wildlife.
The anti-capitalist argument, then, was very easy to make: driven by profiteering, corporations will always seek to exploit and pollute nature even further, while the global markets—especially for natural resources like timber and agricultural products—upset the local balance. The decline of small-scale farming seemed to echo the Marxian concentration of capital. Combined with a certain skepticism of modernity and technology that parts of the left shared with parts of the conservatives, you got a powerful ideological force working against the pollution and destruction of the natural world, or more specifically: our sacred relationship with it.
If that is so, this begs the question: how did we get from a partly conservative, partly anti-globalism, partly anti-modernist, partly anti-capitalist movement to the Green Technocracy we are witnessing today, where globalized governments, together with big business, are pushing “green high-tech” at scale to “save the planet?“
Although the ideological shift has a longer history and much could be said about the development of earlier nature preservation movements, or the role of the German version of the 1968 revolt, not to mention the anti-war movement of the early 80s in Germany that swiftly turned into a precursor of the modern Greens, it seems to me that a key turning point had been the rise of the New Left, as represented by Tony Blair in the UK and chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Germany. It is no coincidence that the Green Party was Schröder’s coalition partner—a green party that, at the time, concluded its transformation from an anti-war, traditionally left, “alternative” party to a pro-war, pro-big capital affair full of cronyism and green careerists who saw, rightfully so, that their time had come and that the zeitgeist had turned to their favor, ready to catapult them into positions of power and riches.
It was during that period that the narrative began shifting mightily.
The first victim of the new narrative was the more conservative, nature-preserving, local approach to environmentalism. The line of thought, which, ironically, today is sometimes repeated by the right, goes roughly as follows: those nature-loving romantics represent a sort of “eco fascism,” where a direct line can be drawn from German Romanticism, things like the Wandervogel movement, blood-and-soil ideology, to Nazism. After all, wasn’t Hitler himself some sort of ideological and cultist nature worshiper? Isn’t the appreciation of the German forest, der deutsche Wald, almost völkisch?
There you have it: if you feel connected to your local nature instead of advocating for an abstract “planet saving,” you might as well be a deranged fascist obscurantist.
The second blow came in the form of the smear campaign against the anti-Globalism movement, which, as some might remember, used to be a thing on the left, with its criticism of multinational corporations exploiting man and nature, culture and wildlife, alike. Here, too, the Nazi card had to be played, which in Germany always works like a charm: you see, anti-globalism is literally nationalism, and nationalism is literally fascism. Ergo: as a good leftist, you can’t be anti-globalism.
These two attacks have been wildly successful.
And so, what in Germany used to be called nature protection first turned into environmental protection, and finally into climate protection. Just by the ring of these words, we can see the shift from a local connectedness with nature to an abstract, bureaucratic, global, distanced affair of centralized power—entirely disconnected from the individual and his humble admiration for his natural surroundings, from which he nourishes his soul.
This talk of soul-nourishment already hints at a third aspect of this story: there has always been a part of the early green movement which is often, with not-so-subtle accusatory undertones, called “esoteric.” Think of folks who are into alternative, natural medicine, those in the Rudolf Steiner tradition, early anti-vaxxers, New Age-affiliated groups, practitioners of eastern spirituality, and so on.But apart from the more fringe forms of spirituality, we also find a more broadly spiritual element there: the movement (if you could call it that back then) also included more traditionally religious people who saw in nature something sacred worth protecting against the onslaught of modernity. Let's not forget that Christianity has always included a more mystical, Jesus Freaks-like, pilgrimage-oriented, nature-loving element.
Combining a love for nature with a spiritual understanding of the world, including a spiritual dimension to our relationship with the natural world? The answer by the ruling class, no matter whether you call it global capitalism, the technocracy, or global communism, was a resounding “how dare you!”
I propose that it is precisely here that we find the most important clue about what we are witnessing today in the Green movement.
Those on the right like to call climate activism, which at this point is almost identical with the green movement, a doomsday cult. But this isn’t really true, for there is nothing genuinely religious in it: it’s a parody, an inversion, a materialist mimicry of our spiritual connection with sacred nature.
Climate Protection as the Ultimate Tower of Babel
Destruction wrought by severe weather events are, of course, part and parcel of religious thinking. These apocalyptic streaks seem almost universal across times and cultures. And for good reasons: such things happen. Although our historians tend to downplay or even outright deny them in the name of the dogma of gradualism, since time immemorial there have been civilization-altering or -ending floods, comets, ice ages, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, plagues, sudden climate change… the whole shebang. We moderns love to think of history either as the result of the actions of great men or, these days, in terms of some supposed sociological or economic mechanisms. We forget that mother nature has something to say, too.
Unlike us, for most of its history mankind has seen such events as signs by the gods, especially as a form of punishment and cleansing when people and civilizations have, once again, fallen into sin and decay. Importantly, the rulers of the day have often been blamed for having fallen out of favor with the gods, which meant they needed to be replaced.
This implies that there is a powerful motivation for the ruling class to give the impression that they are in control: that they can avoid the apocalypse. In fact, that it is only them who can do so. See where I’m going here? After all, you need a global approach and supreme force to save mankind, right?
And so the age-old idea of apocalyptic times following sin and decay, and a profound helplessness of the ruling elites in the face of calamities nobody could stop, has been turned upside down, perhaps somewhat analogous to how Marx had turned Hegel’s theistic teaching on its head and transformed it into a strictly materialist project, conveniently guarding an earthy version of all-powerful predictive capabilities when it comes to humanity’s destiny.
No, today we don’t want to have anything to do with angry gods cleansing and punishing humanity for transgressing against all that is good and truthful, including our sacred relationship with nature. Instead, we think we are directly responsible for the apocalypse in a strictly materialist, mechanistic way: the earth is seen as merely a machine, precisely like some apparatus in a laboratory simulating the greenhouse effect. All we need to do to avoid the apocalypse is change some of the machine’s parameters.
All our sins, our loss of meaning, our loss of our connection to the All, our responsibility for nature and beauty, our role as intermediaries between the higher and the lower spheres, all of that has been reduced to a single, controllable, mechanistic dimension: CO2.
In typical left brain hemisphere thinking,we delude ourselves that we can manipulate the entire Cosmos, the All-and-everything with its myriad interconnections, with its bottom-up and top-down causation, not to mention its intelligence and consciousness, using a single tool, a single technological lever: global policies aimed at reducing “emissions.”
We declare human action all-powerful, and hence our earthy rulers our saviors.
We cease to recognize the spiritual crisis we are in, and instead think we can save the world with “green high-tech” rolled out at a distance and on a large scale—technology we pretend to be exempt from the iron law that nothing comes for free in this world.
We pretend we can fight evil with evil, destruction with more destruction, soullessness with soulless actions based on soulless worldviews.
We have built a tower of babel, thinking we are gods who are so powerful that we can initiate an apocalypse with our machinery, and then escape it with more machinery. No wonder our rulers feel entitled to play god.
And just as it was with the tower of babel, all of this prevents us from even talking about such things.
In Germany, you can see this dynamic playing out in the form of a profound conflict between “climate activists” and their political organizations, and traditional environmentalists who, kindred in spirit with the original bunch described above, cling to their genuine love for nature.
The conflict particularly erupts when climate policy leads to the destruction of nature, as is so often the case. A prime example is renewable energy.
Wind Energy: The Perfect Symbol for our Spiritual Malaise
Wind turbines are perhaps the best and most direct example of this development towards Babel—not only because they are literally towers. They are the most visible symbols, the ugly and soul-sucking cathedrals of the modern greens, the perfect representation of the dark parody that is our age.
For those who are not affected by them, it is hard to imagine how destructive wind turbines are. They turn beautiful landscapes into dystopian hellholes that often become almost indistinguishable from industrial wastelands. Their characteristic and nerve-wracking sound drives people mad who have to live around them (you can hear them even at a 2 km distance). They kill endangered bird species by exploding their lungs, even at a distance, if they don’t chop them up directly. Their ultrasonic emissions, whose existence is vehemently denied by the profiteers of the highly subsidized green tech industrial complex, seem to be a severe health hazard for many people, as more and more doctors acknowledge. Forests need to be destroyed to build them, upsetting the local wildlife (long roads need to be cut into the woods for the heavy trucks to get there). The flash effect from their wings covering the sun transforms even the most picturesque, sun-lit house in the woods into an unnatural, highly disturbing artificial reality.
Even on German mainstream TV, just a few years ago you could find heart-wrenching documentaries about these effects on people and nature. Now, of course, this is considered too politically incorrect. You must go on YouTube, where you’ll find testimonies after testimonies, and not only from Germany.
But we can’t complain about it: we lost our language. After all, how can you even admit your suffering to yourself if it seems so insignificant compared to the looming global apocalypse? How can you argue against it when you are told that these things will save mankind?
One German blogger described this very situation very poetically in a haunting, bone-chilling text under the heading “The Sunken Village:”
When a valley is flooded for a hydroelectric power plant, the people who lived there lose their homes. They have to leave their homes and with their homes they lose their history, their past, their culture, everything that has made up their lives so far. Everything sinks, everything is swallowed up by the floods of an energy-hungry time. Only the steeple sometimes still stretches its arm out of the water like a drowning man who no one rushes to help.
What should the inhabitants of the village do? They know: They cannot escape this sacrificial ritual. Their lives are sacrificed to make another life possible - one that corresponds to the feverish dream of modernity, the dream of a life of sitting, a life as a Master that monitors the dynamics of world affairs from its throne.
In this way, people submit to their destiny and move to the places they are offered as alternative quarters - places without history, without past, without culture. But in their hearts, what they have lost lives on. The image of the old homeland remains alive in them. In this way they can shape their new places of residence according to the image of their old homeland. Certainly, it will not be the same homeland. But perhaps it will be a home and, who knows, at some point a new home for their descendants.
If a valley is surrounded by wind turbines, the people who live there will also lose their homes. From one day to the next their village is only the front yard of a power station, their hills are transformed into foundations for gigantic industrial plants that stain the valley with their flickering shadows. Past, culture, history - everything sinks into the vast shadow of an energy-hungry time.
Of course: the houses are still standing. No reservoir has flooded them, and even the steeple still rises undamaged from its centre. If it could speak, however, it might wish to be able to rise out of a large, dark lake as a memorial to the loss suffered. In reality, it looks like a warning dwarf finger, which nobody notices next to the gigantic steel towers.
The inhabitants of such a village are also sacrificed to the feverish dream of modernity, which is electrified by its own seemingly unlimited possibilities. They also lose their homeland, their culture, their lives. Nobody wants to live like them, nobody wants to trade with them. Like the ferryman in the fairy tale, who is condemned to sail back and forth between life and death in the twilight realm until an unwary traveller takes the helm from him, they are ostracized, with whom no one wants anything to do.
But they are told: What do you want? Your houses are still there! What could be more beautiful than living under the cathedrals of the present? Or do you want to refuse to believe in the new age? Do you seriously deny the salvific power of the great miracles of wind exploitation?
And so there is no escape for the inhabitants of the village. There are no resettlement programs for them, no one offers them to rebuild their old homeland in another place, illusory as that may be. They cannot say to themselves: Well, the old is destroyed, but it lives on in our hearts, let us re-create it according to this image. For the images in their hearts do not remain untouched by the reality of the buried world in which they have to live.
Yes, their world has perished as if in an invisible reservoir. One can dive through them as if through an underground museum that silently bears witness to a bygone time. Ghostly, as their own revenants, the inhabitants sneak around their houses.
This text is so spot-on because the author puts his finger on the massive contradiction between genuine attachment to one’s natural surroundings and the destruction of precisely that for “protecting nature.” It is here that this whole development raises its ugly, sinful and decayed head: we went from loving nature to actively killing it in the name of modern environmentalism.
I’m not one who denies climate change. It seems real enough to me. And perhaps we will even see an apocalypse (although the timing and nature of it will likely surprise those who delude themselves into believing they can box the Cosmos into a simplistic model and slap a number on it).
But the maniacal, nature-destroying push for CO2 reduction is not only not the solution, it is perhaps one of the starkest expressions of the problem.
Like our forebears tried to express in their own ways, moral chaos and decay, the oppression of people, the careless destruction of nature and our connection to it—these are the very things that might lead us towards the end of the world as we know it: towards a profound cleansing, a great reset that isn’t man-made, and yet, as we intuitively sense, is somehow caused by man.
The insanity can’t go on, and something has to give. Yes, part of this insanity has to do with rampant consumerism, the mindless overuse of energy, the overproduction of goods that nobody really needs. The “degrowth” slogan is so successful because there is some truth to it.
But the deeper reason for our malaise is not that we have too many factories, drive too many cars, or buy too much stuff. It is the sheer meaninglessness of our understanding of the world, our wrong theories, the lies we believe.
It is not the energy we use per se, it is the purpose of our energy consumption that is off.
Even more than modernity’s hunger for energy, our sin is that we try to satisfy it by sucking dry the souls of those villagers from the piece quoted above, and then steal their voice to force them into silent, inexpressible agony.
Babel has won, and it rules the day.
Our world lacks spiritual balance wherever you look. The loss of our sacred connection with nature is part of it. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that should the apocalypse come, it won’t be because of CO2 or fiddling of machine parameters, for the world is not a machine. No, it will come because someone says, “enough already, these guys have lost the plot.” Call it nature, call it God, call it Darwin’s revenge: nobody, and certainly no politician babbling hollow phrases about “emissions,” could save us.
Many of those who go along with the climate movement have the right intuition: something about our world is off; there is a massive imbalance that can’t be without consequences forever.
However, technocratic and authoritarian policies are not the remedy. Spiritual awakening is. And by that I mean something concrete: developing a new understanding of the world and the cosmos, not by abandoning ancient wisdom or modern science, but on the contrary by using that treasure to reconnect to the All, the Subtle, the Higher—that which lets us perceive the otherwise invisible soullessness, soul imprisonment, and soul torture that characterize our world, and at the same time provides us with the means of getting out.
And it is my hope that this project could bring together the sane people both on the conservative and on the more leftist end of the spectrum, just as it once was, when people genuinely cared about nature as the sacred, soul-nourishing realm that it is, of which we are part, and towards which we have a duty.
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Shoutout toand for providing some of the inspiration to write this up. Paul wrote beautifully about our connectedness with nature and its misguided association with "eco fascism," while TEP reminds us that conservatives and Marxists not only share some bad stuff, as is sometimes argued, but also some good stuff.
That kind of “esotericism” has, of course, also been smeared as somehow “Nazi.” Wasn’t Hitler into this stuff as well? Can’t you see that Steiner, Homeopathy etc. are deeply suspicious because of that? I guess the reductio-ad-Hitlerum move will never get old.
Roger Scruton wrote beautifully about this more conservative, and more traditionally religious aspect of nature preservation.
Interestingly, the anti-Covid protests in Germany seemed to have reunited those groups somewhat, and more than a few observers noted the striking similarities between the participants of the protests and the early Green Movement. You saw alternative hippies marching together with suburban conservatives, evangelical Christians with the alternative health crowd, and so on. People have realized, I suppose, that you don’t need to be a communist to be against global corporations, you don’t need to be a theosopher to be against experimental mandatory medication, and that you don’t need to be a libertarian to criticize centralization and government overreach, etc.
See Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s work, most recently his brilliant The Matter With Things.
Just to give you an example: Conductor and environmental activist Enoch zu Guttenberg fought bitterly against the rollout of wind turbines, and found allies in various, often smaller and independent, environmental groups.
Refined Deepl translation, original here: https://rotherbaron.com/2019/01/27/das-versunkene-dorf/