There’s a lot more behind modern environmentalism than the enjoyment of furry animals and beautiful landscapes. Existentialism and Postmodernism have made significant contributions, and they, in turn, have their own deep roots.
Rev. Mark Musser, an expert on German Romanticism, Idealism, and Existentialism, has written at length in his book Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust, on the roles they played in shaping Nazism and later Postmodernism.
Surprising to many will be the role all of those, in turn, played in recent events at the quintessentially liberal Evergreen State College in Musser’s hometown of Olympia, Washington, where a white Jewish professor is being persecuted for declining to absent himself from campus on a day when Blacks had determined there should be no Whites on campus—a connection Musser makes in a recent article in The American Thinker. Here’s one brief excerpt:
After the war, Heidegger’s writings became more opaque, which managed to disguise his Nazism. In so doing, Heidegger’s racism and anti-Semitism were replaced with anti-humanism, which should by no means be understood as any kind of progress, but a deepening of all the problems connected to his existentialism. Thanks to Heidegger, much of postmodern Western philosophy is deeply committed to various forms of anti-humanism, particularly with regard to the misanthropy of environmentalism. By overvaluing all of life, whether that be nature itself, or even by overemphasizing the willpower, passions, and instincts of human behavior rather than a thoughtful morality, Romanticism and Existentialism invariably opened the door to amoral anti-humanism where the laws of the jungle ultimately prevail — as was particularly the case with regard to National Socialism.
Closely related, it was Arendt who gave to the Western world the “banality of evil” thesis concerning the Holocaust while writing on Nazi SS official Adolf Eichmann’s (1906-1962) trial for The New Yorker. Published in February of 1963, Arendt used Raul Hilberg’s detailed historical account, which focused on the German bureaucracy that administratively carried out the destruction of the Jews step by step. However, Arendt added her own existentialist kink to Holocaust interpretation by accentuating the bureaucratic everydayness of Eichmann’s evil. According to Arendt, Eichmann was a “cog” in a vast bureaucratic machine in which monstrous evil become monotonously “banal.” Thus, crimes without conscience became an existential routine during the war.
The phrase “the banality of evil” has become a common observation in today’s Postmodern world, and it sounds sophisticated, but it is a symptom of calloused conscience. Evil is never banal, but contemporary society, in an effort to assuage a guilty conscience, tries to pretend it is. There is hardly a better explanation of the ease with environmentalists justify policies that trap billions in poverty and early deaths for the sake of “saving the planet.”
The debate over environmentalism isn’t just about science or economics or the two coupled together. It’s a debate about fundamental worldviews and their implications of ethics. Musser’s work is an important contribution to it.