‘Make ecology right again’: Reading radical right eco-publications

While the radical right has long had an ideologically-driven affinity towards environmental protection, the latter has become increasingly associated with the left since the 1970s. However, in recent years, we have seen renewed attempts to ‘make ecology right again’.

Bernhard Forchtner

Radical right ecological thinking has a long history. This history, which dates back to the nineteenth century and concerns ‘the nation’ being interwoven with ‘its homeland’, a domestic ecosystem which has to remain ‘stable’ and ‘pure’ for the benefit of both, is still alive in radical right movements today. In Germany, one of the most significant mouth pieces for this has been the magazine Umwelt & Aktiv (Environment & Active, subtitle: Nature Protection – Animal Protection – Homeland Protection), which was first published in 2007.

Sadly for researchers of radical right ecology, the lights went out at the end of 2019. According to the final editorial, economic reasons were ultimately to blame. I therefore take this opportunity to introduce 13 years of radical right ecology by what was likely the most ambitious eco-publication by the German radical right since 1945 before its closing – and consider developments since then.

The final (double) issue of Umwelt & Aktiv (3-4/2019)

At roughly 40 pages per edition, Umwelt & Aktiv was a rather well-made quarterly that could easily have featured at your local news stand. It was this intersection of a fairly professional, radical right magazine and a supposedly left-wing issue which led to the magazine becoming itself an object of mainstream attention. Indeed, Umwelt & Aktiv was not straightforwardly identifiable as ‘radical right’ by non-specialists. However, the magazine was very clearly ‘radical right’. Published by the association Midgard e. V.,  there were both ideological and personal connections between key proponents/authors and radical right extremism in Germany, including the National Democratic Party of Germany. Consequently, the magazine was mentioned in the annual report of the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution for years. Its ideology was visible already in its first editorial:

‘The protection of nature commences locally, in the native forests, mountains, lakes and beaches, in short, in the homeland. And this also includes the protection of culture as a grown carrier of local environmental and animal protection, free of commercial constrains. To establish this necessary insight within society is our concern. We will not any longer surrender the topic of environmental and nature protection to those people who do not care at all for the homeland.’

The editorial goes on to oppose ‘unscrupulous internationalists’ and calls upon the reader to remember: ‘“ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IS NOT GREEN”, but essential for us, our children and our country!’. Indeed, to disassociate the left/Greens from environmental protection, and to realign the latter with the right, was crucial to the magazine. As such, it aimed to shift public understanding of environmental protection and the relationship between humanity and the environment towards a radical right interpretation. Importantly, it would be too easy to dismiss this as a cunning attempt to lure people into the radical right. Rather, Umwelt & Aktiv voiced ideologically-driven visions of the relationship between humans and the environment, revolving around the idea of a particular piece of land being an essential site for the symbolic and material reproduction of the nation – in contrast to the allegedly ‘globalist’ orientation of today’s environmental movement.

Delving more into the contents of the magazine, Umwelt & Aktiv was structured around the protection of nature, animals and the homeland. Taking the magazine’s final (double) issue as an example, thematised in terms of the effects of organic farming on biodiversity – the latter having long been a key topic in Umwelt & Aktiv. The article reports only limited benefits but calls for the creation of structures which enable farmers to cooperate at a regional level so as to increase biodiversity. Concerning animal protection, Umwelt & Aktiv criticises the development towards big agricultural business and, specifically, the breeding of ‘super chicken’ and ‘a system solely based on profit and mass.’ The author points to consumers to counter such drives towards efficiency and growth. Finally, the section on homeland protection contains a most clearly ‘radical right’ piece entitled ‘Germany dies – biologically and spiritually!’. Even if birth-rates would pick up, the article argues that if national customs are not lived out, the biological base is futile.

At the beginning of 2018, the magazine experienced a revamp and although circulation allegedly increased to 5000 copies, this did not prevent the end of the project. However, the end of Umwelt & Aktiv did not spell the end of radical right ecology in Germany. After all, the final editorial promised the reader another magazine which would give voice to ‘the conservative, right-wing environmental movement’.

Indeed, the end of April 2020 saw the launch of Die Kehre – Zeitschrift für Naturschutz (The Turning – Magazine for Nature Protection). As the editor, who also writes for the leading magazine of the German New Right (Sezession) and has a history of activism in radical right contexts, points out, the publication takes its name from Heidegger’s work on technology. Having long been a source of inspiration for the New Right, Heidegger’s notion of technology contains both ‘danger’ and ‘saving power’ and uses this notion of ’turning’ (‘The danger is the saving power … In the coming to presence of the danger there comes to presence and dwells a favor, namely, the favor of the turning about of the oblivion of Being into the truth of Being.’). Die Kehre therefore aims to support regaining ecology, the ‘»crown jewels«’ of the right until the 1970s, from the left by illustrating what constitutes ‘»conservative ecology«’. Accordingly, the editorial describes ecology as the ‘doctrine of the entire environment, the cultural landscapes, rites and customs, therefore also house and yard (oikos)’. Based on this understanding, the magazine criticises unbridled industrial progress and the belief in a technological fix to ecological issues – a criticism Die Kehre also directs against modern conservatives, including the radical right party Alternative for Germany – arguing instead for ‘»deceleration«’.

At a weighty 60 pages, the first issue of Die Kehre speaks to this agenda by rejecting the ‘narrowing’ of ecology to climate protection as being technology-driven and harming nature (e.g. as wind turbines kill birds). For example, the editor’s article on traces of energy consumption acknowledges that ‘our homeland’ is hardly untouched, but ‘cultivated by humans’. The author critically discusses our energy-hungry societies and points to work published in 1916/17 by the homeland protectionist Paul Schultze-Naumburg on landscape (without mentioning Schultze-Naumburg’s later involvement in Nazism and his ‘racialized vision of landscape’). Accordingly, the article focuses on wind farms and their effect on ‘harmonic scenery’, contrasting ‘landscape-disruption on German soil’, ‘permanent spinning’ and ‘blinking’ with ‘a positive emptiness … quiet’ (‘harmony’ also being a category in Schultze-Naumburg’s writing) – though conventional energy sources and energy production are also criticized for their environmental impact. For example, the article mentions a lignite-fired power plant. However, as renewables are scattered all over the land, they ‘leave no space to breath freely’ without their intrusion. Of course, renewables have an environmental impact too and current levels of energy consumption must decline. But: this focus on beauty and harmony is not only in line with the aesthetic sentiments visible across the contemporary radical right, but also illustrates an ‘essentialisation’ of the cultural landscape already present in 19th and early 20th century Germany. As such, the meaning of wind turbines is not understood as constructed and, thus, potentially signifying freedom from some pollution, but as polluting cultural landscapes.

The first issue of Die Kehre (1/2020)

To conclude, Die Kehre illustrates that the environment remains an important site for parts of the radical right and, thus, warrants a much more detailed analysis in the future. Indeed, the magazine’s opposition to unsustainable growth and destruction of German cultural landscapes, while arguing for deceleration and against technological fixes, might not only resonate with fellow travellers on the right, but also with wider parts of the environmental movement. However, Die Kehre gives voice to a radical right agenda rooted in the triadic relationship between human-nation-nature, an agenda which has been publicly welcomed by, amongst others, Björn Höcke, one of Alternative for Germany’s best known and most extreme right politician.

Dr Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in the School of Media, Communication and Sociology at University of Leicester. See his profile here.

© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).