By William Kay
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In 2015 Tim Duggan Books of New York City published Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Tim Duggan Books is a subsidiary of Crown Publishing, which is owned by Penguin Random House LLC – a division of Bertelsmann.
Headquartered in Gutersloh, Germany, Bertelsmann made a $1.3 billion profit in 2015 off sales of $20 billion. Most of its 117,249 employees are German citizens.
Bertelsmann’s television and radio division is a market leader in several European countries and is one of the world’s most prolific television program producers. Another Bertelsmann division produces 500 magazines and online offerings, and several German newspapers. Bertelsmann’s music subsidiary owns the rights to 2.5 million recordings spread across 11 music markets, and it has signed contracts with thousands of contemporary performers and song-writers.
70,000 Bertelsmann employees work for its Arvato subsidiary providing e-commerce, transaction processing, phone reception, warehousing, and consulting services to thousands of businesses. While Arvato is a global enterprise, most of its business is conducted from its 100 European offices of which 58 are in Germany. Bertelsmann boasts: “Every German consumer comes into contact with Arvato eight times a day.” (1)
Another Bertelsmann division, Penguin Random House, the world’s largest book publisher, puts out 15,000 new books each year under 250 labels (Doubleday, Viking, Alfred Knopf, etc.). Penguin’s CEO, Markus Dohle, typical of Bertelsmann execs, is a 50-something German who has been with the company for over 30 years. All Bertelsmann’s book, magazine, and newspaper publishing is done in-house at Bertelsmann Printing Group facilities.
Bertelsmann has been a family affair since 1835. Mohn family members and Mohn-controlled foundations own 100% of its shares. Christoph Mohn is Chairman. His mother, Elizabeth, is Vice Chair. His sister Bridgette is also a director. They are joined on the board by top officials from: Volkswagen, Nestle, E.ON, BMW, Henkel, and Daimler. (2)
Bertelsmann was the main publisher of Nazi propaganda during the Third Reich. More recently the Mohn family have been deeply involved with the uber-environmentalist Club of Rome. Over the last 40 years Bertelsmann has produced and distributed literally hundreds of thousands of environmentalist books, magazine articles, and news stories.
Writing Black Earth was a collective endeavor. Fourteen European archivists and librarians provided the primary data. Twenty-three academics and/or publishing execs reviewed drafts and submitted comments. Several more academics reviewed specific chapters. A late manuscript was chewed over by students in Professor Snyder’s History 987 class at Yale. Snyder also bounced the manuscript’s arguments off audiences at a dozen elite universities before submitting the final draft to Bertelsmann. (3)
Bertelsmann released Black Earth simultaneously in 24 countries and in every European language. Thanks to the formidable Bertelsmann echo chamber, the book immediately became a best seller in four countries and won numerous awards.
The book has been rightly called “a muddled hotchpotch of political prejudices masquerading as academic analysis” (4). Of the several agendas showcased in the book, none is more prominent than “Holocaust obfuscation.” Snyder is a hired gun for the “Double Genocide” movement.
Some date the Double Genocide movement to the June 2008 Prague Declaration of European Conscience and Communism, but by the time the Czech Senate passed this resolution scores of like-minded academic institutes and museums had already sprung up across Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, etc. Supporters demand Nuremburg style trials for the leaders of Eastern Europe’s former socialist states.
In September 2008 this movement successfully lobbied the European Parliament into declaring August 23 as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism (August 23, 1939 being the day the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Treaty was signed). The same coterie of East European politicos failed in December 2010 to persuade the EU to make expressing scepticism about the extent of the “crimes of communism” an actual crime itself (as it now is in parts of Eastern Europe). During the 2010 brouhaha many Western EU states, notably Britain, protested that a Lithuanian Interior Ministry historian was referring to the Holocaust as a “legend” and that a Lithuanian court had ruled the swastika was a “traditional Lithuanian symbol.” (5)
Despite professing impartiality, the Double Genocide movement obsesses on the crimes of communism and ignores the crimes of fascism. The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, aptly located in a former Gestapo headquarters, was entirely filled with anti-communist exhibits until public protests compelled the director to set aside a tiny basement room acknowledging the Holocaust. The Museum’s director organizes Neo-Nazi parades where he is joined by parliamentarians decked out in the white armbands of the Lithuanian partisans who executed hundreds of thousands of civilians (mainly Jews) during WWII. (6)
Many scholars recognise the Double Genocide movement’s false symmetry. Critics contend the crimes of Eastern Europe’s former socialist regimes in no way approach the intent or the extent of Nazism. Others highlight the prevalent “Holocaust inversion” theme wherein Jews are linked to Nazism. False symmetries and smears abound in Black Earth.
Although Snyder is American-born, he is far better known in Europe than the USA. Much of his success derives from his involvement with the Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences (IHS). This Institute employs 40 academics and is funded by the Czech, Austrian, and German governments. Their main propaganda initiative operates under the heading: United Europe – Divided History. The problem, as IHS sees it, is:
Thus far, the enlarged Europe has seen a confirmation of national stereotypes, which have proven to be a barrier to a common foreign policy, and, most importantly, a limit on the sense of European identity.
A historical account that addresses these problems of memory, stereotypes, and politics must be built from the ground up, on the basis of thematic daring… (7)
IHS seeks to sponsor a sweeping re-writing of European history toward a narrative useful to Central Europe’s contemporary ruling powers. IHS holds out Snyder’s books as their own accomplishments.
Thus, Snyder’s frothing anti-communism should come as no surprise. The surprising themes that do appear in Black Earth become less astonishing if one keeps Snyder’s patrons in mind. (While working on the book, Snyder was a guest of the Polish Government.) The book traffics in anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism – both staples of old school Euro-conservatism. As well, the book overflows with a militant statism seldom heard in the English-speaking world.
Black Earth is also a meticulously calculated environmentalist propaganda tract concluding with a long and preachy chapter devoted to the subject of Global Warming. The book betrays a bitter contemporary tension between Europe’s extreme and mainstream environmentalist factions; with the latter being held out as representatives of responsible traditional conservatism while the former assume the role of reincarnations of Hitler’s zoological racism.
Black Earth is a battle cry from Pan-German elites and their ultranationalist Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic clients. Snyder wrote this book while simultaneously publishing reams of articles in the mainstream press defending the 2014 violent overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government. In these articles, and in Black Earth, the Russians, particularly Putin, are vilified. Russia’s (and America’s) vast fossil fuel reserves are described as an existential global threat.
In 35 separate passages Snyder’s Black Earth affirms the Nazi-environmentalist connection. Here are 15 examples:
Hitler’s scheme of international relations was derivative of his ecology. (1)
An instructive account of the mass murder of the Jews of Europe must be planetary, because Hitler’s thought was ecological, treating Jews as a wound of nature. (2)
Hitler’s views of human life and the natural order were total and circular. All questions about politics were answered as if they were questions about nature; all questions about nature were answered by reference back to politics. (3)
The Judeobolshevik conception allowed Hitler’s portrait of a planetary ecosystem polluted by Jewish ideas to crystallize as planning. The Judeobolshevik myth seemed to define the point where the application of German force could win an empire and restore the planet. (4)
In Hitler’s ecology, the planet was despoiled by the presence of Jews, who defied the laws of nature by introducing corrupting ideas. The solution was to expose Jews to a purified nature, a place where bloody struggle rather than abstract thought mattered. (5)
By presenting Jews as an ecological flaw responsible for the disharmony of the planet, Hitler channeled and personalized the inevitable tensions of globalization. The only sound ecology was to eliminate a political enemy; the only sound politics was to purify the earth. (6)
Hitler: was a zoological anarchist who believed that there was a true state of nature to be restored. (7)
Nazis acted: “in the name of biology and in the expectation that biology can then reassert itself.” (8)
“A people that is rid of its Jews,” said Hitler, “returns spontaneously to the natural order.” (9)
The struggle against the Jews was ecological, since it concerned not a specific racial enemy or territory but conditions of life on earth. (10)
The planet had nothing to offer but blood and soil, and yet Jews uncannily generated concepts that allowed the world to be seen less an ecological trap and more as a human order. (11)
Races followed nature and fought for food and land, whereas Jews followed the alien logic of “un-nature.” They resisted nature’s basic imperative by refusing to be satisfied by the conquest of a certain habitat and they persuaded others to behave similarly. (12)
Nature was nothing more than society, society nothing more than nature. (13)
The racial German empire would revise the global order and begin the restoration of nature on a planet polluted by Jews. (14)
By combining what seemed like the pattern of the past (racial empire) with what seemed like an urgent summons from the future (ecological panic), Nazi thinking closed the safety valves of contemplation and foresight. (15)
Many historians, and top Nazis, knew the Jews were merely scapegoats. The real enemy was classical liberalism, i.e. free market industrial capitalism. There were, of course, plenty of German capitalists and plenty of Germans of a libertarian bent, but rather than confront these people and their ideas head-on the Nazis racialized the issue. Snyder speaks much about the Judeobolshevik myth, but he neglects the Judeo-liberal myth wherein “the Jew” became a metonym for unregulated capitalism.
If one rereads the above 15 passages substituting the phrases “the corporations” or “industrial capitalism” for the phrase “the Jews” one can see how closely Hitlerian rhetoric resembles contemporary environmentalist rhetoric.
Snyder stresses how Hitler always thought on a planetary scale and discussed current affairs with ecological references (16). Like other Nazi ideologues, Hitler believed human events should be described biologically because “politics was nothing but biology.” (17) Snyder repeatedly uses the adjective “zoological” to describe Hitler’s worldview and reminds us that the Nazi meme, lebensraum, derived from the French word for “habitat.” (18) Nazis sought to “save the planet” (19) from the “ceaseless attempt of Jews to warp the structure of nature.” (20) Hitler maintained “man has never conquered nature in any matter” and so on… (21)
More specifically, Hitler’s writings reveal a Malthusian orientation. Here’s Snyder:
Nothing can be known about the future, thought Hitler, except the limits of our planet: “the surface area of a precisely measured space.” Ecology was scarcity, and existence meant a struggle for land. (22)
Even “in the best case,” he (Hitler) insisted, hunger must outstrip crop improvements. There was a “limit” to all scientific improvements. Indeed, all of “the scientific methods of land management” had already been tried and failed. There was no conceivable improvement, now or in the future, that would allow Germans to be fed “from their own land and territory.” (23)
Such “limits to growth” talk should be familiar to any observer of modern environmentalism. However, a true Malthusian contends that Hitler’s solution of expanding the amount of land under cultivation will also ultimately fail to solve the hunger problem as population growth will inevitably overwhelm any increase in food production resulting from the expansion of farmland.
While Snyder validates the “environmentalism is fascism” thesis, caution is warranted. Snyder’s treatment of this topic is superficial; seldom rising above name-calling. Snyder green-baits Hitler to distinguish him from other fascist dictators. He stresses how Poland’s Pilsudski “formed no alternative structures based in aspirations to zoological anarchy”. (24) More directly, Snyder declares:
Soviet ideologists presented Pilsudski and Hitler together as “fascists,” which overlooked the very significant differences between an authoritarian defender of statehood and a warmongering biological anarchist. (25)
Referring to Polish fascists generally, Snyder adds:
The vision of a future Poland without most of its Jews was certainly anti-Semitic, but was not an antisemitism that identified Jews with the fundamental ecological or metaphysical evils of the planet. (26)
Likewise, Snyder acknowledges that Lithuania’s Antanas Smetona (r. 1926-1940) headed up a “right-wing dictatorship” but is quick to add that Smetona campaigned against Hitler’s “zoological nationalism.” (27) Snyder also points out that Mussolini did not see the Soviet Union as a planetary peril, nor did Mussolini seek to return Europe to some pre-industrial Eden. (28)
Snyder’s strategy is to use Hitler’s more obvious commitment to ecology to isolate Hitler from the other fascist dictators (whom Snyder gives gentle treatment). This tack reflects contemporary political divisions within Central Europe between traditional establishment parties and upstart, vote-splitting Green Parties (of course, even though the former of these two factions is far greener and far more corporatist than any major party contesting elections in the English-speaking world). The strategy also has the effect of exonerating Euro-fascism in general from its crimes by pinning maximum blame on that zoological mad genius, Hitler.
In an ancillary theme, again aimed at separating Hitler from the flock of fellow fascist dictators, Snyder repeatedly asserts that Hitler was NOT a nationalist and that he held no true sympathy for his homeland. (36 37 78). Snyder offers no evidence for these bizarre claims, which are really a tedious attempt by an academic to parse words in ways that might redeem the broader Euro-fascist legacy.
That said, Snyder acknowledges that Adolph Hitler’s core ideology consisted of:
a) A profound commitment to ecology;
b) A hostility to free market capitalism;
c) A belief in an overpopulation crisis;
d) A disdain for modern agricultural technology;
e) A deification of Nature; and
f) An overriding phobia that industrial activity was destroying the planetary ecosystem.
In other words, Snyder and his academic cronies have signed onto the thesis that Hitler was, by today’s standards, a militant environmentalist.
Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning devotes more page-space to Climate Change in the 21st century than it does to Auschwitz. Snyder’s opinions about the severity of the danger posed by Climate Change place him on the strident fringe of the global warming faithful. He summarily dismisses those who question climate science orthodoxy. He also embraces the neo-Malthusian (food scarcity) agenda. More to his main point, Snyder actually argues that future Holocausts can be prevented by carbon taxes and wind power.
Snyder spares space in a book on the Holocaust to spell out the Catastrophic Global Warming Hypothesis:
Internal combustion engines and factories produce gases that trap the sun’s heat within the atmosphere. The ongoing destruction of forests and wetlands accelerates warming, since plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. A mass of global data demonstrates an increase in annual minimal temperatures of the surface of the earth, of the air at the surface of the earth, of the higher atmosphere, and of the surface of the oceans. (1)
According to Snyder, the consequences of humanity’s heat trapping emissions are an “expected increase of average global temperatures by four degrees Celsius this century.” (2)
Reality check: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report predicts temperature increases this century of between 0.3 to 4.8 C. (3). Hence, even among climate crisis sopranos, only the shrill sing of a 4 C increase.
Snyder embellishes his temperature prophecy with apocalyptic scenography. Siberia’s permafrost will melt. Polar ice sheets will collapse. Half the world’s cities may be inundated. Deserts will sprawl. The Nile dries up. There will be droughts, floods and so on.
Snyder’s main worry is that nefarious politicians may exploit the climate crisis to implement Hitlerian agendas:
A problem that is truly planetary in scale, such as climate change, obviously demands global solutions – and one apparent solution is define the global enemy. (4)
In a scenario of mass killing that resembled the Holocaust, leaders of a developed country might follow or induce panic about future shortages and act pre-emptively, specifying a human group as the source of the ecological problem, destroying other states by design or accident. (5)
Climate change as a local problem can produce local conflicts; climate change as a global crisis might generate the demand for global victims. (6)
For an example of the latter, Snyder posits:
Muslims might blame Jews for both local problems and the general ecological crisis; that was, after all, Hitler’s approach. (7)
Snyder’s case studies on local climate-induced conflicts come mostly from Africa. He contends:
Climate change can also increase the likelihood that Africans will find ideological reasons to kill other Africans in times of apparent shortage. (8)
In a matter-of-fact style, Snyder claims the mass killings in Rwanda resulted from an ecological crisis (overpopulation). Starvation in Somalia and the Sudanese Civil War are “climate-related.” (9)
Snyder’s phobia of murderous demagogues exploiting ecological crises is reworked in several passages. Looking critically at these passages, one can discern, lurking in the verbiage, an irrepressible admiration for the Fuhrer. Consider the following four (emphasis added):
The planet is changing in ways that might make Hitlerian descriptions of life, space, and time more plausible. (10)
Perhaps the experience of unprecedented storms or relentless droughts will jar expectations about the security of basic resources and make Hitlerian politics more resonant. As Hitler demonstrated during the Great Depression, humans are able to portray a looming crisis in such a way as to justify drastic measures in the present. Under enough stress, or with enough skill, politicians can effect the conflations Hitler pioneered: between nature and politics, between ecosystem and household, between need and desire. (11)
In much of the world, the dominant sense of time is coming to resemble, in some respects, the catastrophism of Hitler’s era. (12)
People have no choice but to think on a planetary scale – as Hitler and Carl Schmitt never tired of emphasizing. (13)
Hitler is depicted as a relevant thinker, a visionary, a great communicator, an ideological pioneer! Of course, Hitler invented neither the conflation of science and politics nor the faux eco-panic. Such things existed centuries ago and were well used in the 1800s. Moreover, the use of looming eco-crises to justify drastic policies is exactly what the modern environmental movement is doing so well.
Leaving nothing to extrapolation, Snyder drafts a blueprint for preventing the next Holocaust:
In the case of climate change, we know what the state can do to tame panic and befriend time… We know that efficiency of energy use is the simplest way to reduce greenhouse gases. We know that governments can assign prices to carbon pollution… governments can stimulate the development of appropriate energy technologies… (14)
By “appropriate technologies” Snyder means wind power, solar power, and biofuels. Thus, Snyder recites the green energy gospel. He uses a separate pitch for carbon taxes to further assail climate heretics:
A government can assign a cost to pollution, which internalizes the externality and thus reduces the undesired consequence. It would be simple to internalize the costs of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. It requires a dogma to oppose such an operation, which depends upon markets and in the long run will preserve them, as anticapitalist. On the American secular right, some supporters of the unrestrained free market have found that dogma: the claim that science is nothing more than politics. Since the science of climate change is clear, some American conservatives and libertarians deny the validity of science itself by presenting its findings as a cover for conniving politicians. This is a merger of science and politics – quite possibly a dangerous one. (15)
Snyder spares not a word for the concerns actually raised by climate sceptics; preferring ad hominem attacks. Deniers are religious loons and oil company hacks. During this attack Snyder lets loose arguably the worst climate argument ever to grace a published page:
Though no American would deny that tanks work in the desert, some Americans do deny that deserts are growing larger. Though no American would deny ballistics, some Americans do deny climate science. Hitler denied that science would solve the basic problem of nutrition, but assumed that technology could win territory. It seemed to follow that waiting for research was pointless and that immediate military action was necessary. In the case of climate change, the denial of science likewise legitimates military action rather than investment in technology. (16)
This mash of anti-Americanism, Hitler-baiting, and pretentious pacifism rests upon the absurd argument that today’s apocalyptic climate scares are on an equal scientific footing with the assertion that motorized vehicles can operate in deserts!
After dropping this fallacious bomb, Snyder returns to the offensive:
If people do not take responsibility for climate themselves, they will shift the responsibility for the associated calamities to other people. Insofar as climate denial hinders technical progress, it might hasten real disasters, which in their turn can make catastrophic thinking seem more credible. A vicious circle can begin in which politics collapses into ecological panic. (17)
Snyder takes further shots at open market processes by scolding the reader that “the market is not nature” and lecturing that:
The claim of a “right” to destroy the world in the name of profits for a few people reveals an important conceptual problem. (18)
The main climate-associated calamity, for Snyder, is hunger. Droughts and floods will lead to famine and war. He adds that this food crisis exists independently of the climate crisis:
The Green Revolution, perhaps the one development that most distinguishes our world from Hitler’s, might be reaching its limits. This is not so much because there are too many people on earth, but because more of the people on earth demand ever larger and more secure supplies of food. World grain production peaked in the 1980s. (19)
By “Green Revolution” Snyder means the post-World War II spread of modern agricultural technology that boosted harvests in the developing world. Snyder believes such advances petered out in the 1980s. A quick trip to the archives of the US Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (or any of the grain-specific websites) will reveal that production of wheat, corn, and rice have increased by 50% to 100% since the 1980s, with major increases being registered in the last ten years. (20) (Snyder’s sloppy footnoting leaves it unclear as to where he got his spurious factoid.)
Basically, Snyder is saying that while Hitler was mistaken in believing the overpopulation crisis was imminent, nevertheless, what the Fuhrer had to say on this topic is now relevant. Malthusians have been blaming hunger on overpopulation for over 200 years. Their predicted limits on humanity’s food-generating capacity have been debunked time after time. This does not prevent them from forever recycling the same “limits to growth” propaganda.
Snyder further betrays himself on this point. On the one hand, he claims that the peoples of the world have a fundamental right “not to have their homelands defined as habitat” by foreign powers. (21) He also notes that half the world’s untilled soil is in Africa; then he frets that foreign powers (especially China) have designs on Africa’s untapped agricultural potential.
What Snyder avoids is that the environmental movement is keeping out of production an area of land equal in size to half the world’s farmland. 110,000 wilderness parks now speckle the globe. (22) Areas with tremendous agricultural potential, like the Amazon and Congo River basins, have been specifically targeted by conservationists. Farming these lands would dramatically increase food production. The foreign powers obviously and explicitly guilty of defining other peoples’ homelands as habitat are the environmentalists. Their sequestration of land is the principal cause of hunger in this world today.
On both land and climate issues Snyder twists the truth 180 degrees.
The Climate Change campaign is demagoguery aimed at imposing draconian energy and land-use policies.
Snyder’s Black Earth promotes an extremely statist variant of classical conservatism while denigrating classical liberalism. Unfortunately for the reader, Snyder uses political terms in a confusing manner.
The meanings of “conservativism” and “liberalism” (like “Right” and “Left”) morphed after World War II. In popular parlance “liberalism” before World War II signified a pro-capitalist, pro-market, limited-government orientation similar to what many today call “libertarianism.” Liberals were counter-posed by elite conservatives seeking greater government control over cultural and economic affairs. The fascist parties dominating Europe between 1918 and 1945 were expressions of a militant old-school conservativism, and as such they opposed free market capitalism in word and deed. These parties were referred to by their opponents, and by themselves, as “the Right.”
With this in mind, read the following passage from Snyder (emphasis added):
On the Right, the dominant explanation of the Holocaust can be called the Vienna School. Followers of the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek claim that the overweening welfare state led to National Socialism, and thus prescribe deregulation and privatization as the cure for political evil. This narrative, though convenient, is historically indefensible. There has never been a democratic state that built a social welfare system and then succumbed to fascism (or communism) as a result. What happened in Europe was rather the opposite… Hayek’s homeland Austria practised capitalism according to free market orthodoxies of the time.... (1)
Firstly, by the phrase “On the Right” Snyder uses the modern dichotomy wherein “Right” corresponds to a pro-business, pro-market perspective. This not what “Right” meant in 1930s Austria.
Secondly, Germany, Austria (and Argentina, Chile et al.) were democratic states with welfare systems that succumbed to fascism. (Snyder adds the escape clause “as a result” at the end of his sentence, knowing it is impossible to prove causation in such matters.) Snyder himself acknowledges Austria’s pre-1933 welfare system and extensive public housing program.
Thirdly, Austria succumbed to fascism on March 4, 1933. Snyder concedes that Austria’s ruling party, the Fatherland Front, was “authoritarian” and “like a fascist organization.” He further claims however that the Fatherland Front “was among the most conservative European governments in its economic policy.” This misuses the term “conservative.” The Austrian state implemented corporatist economic policies involving much government intervention and trade restriction. Today “conservative” may mean pro-free market capitalism, but in 1930s Austria it meant big government corporatism.(After misrepresenting Hayek, Snyder then tars Ayn Rand with the Hitlerian brush by asserting that Rand and the Fuhrer were ideological allies due to their shared passion for competition.) (2)
Traditional conservatives, and even more so fascists, worshipped the state as a manifestation of the divine. They held minimalist views about personal liberties, and they championed state propaganda and censorship. They coveted a much enlarged state payroll. “Totalitarian” was a compliment. Keep this in mind when reading the following quote from Snyder (emphasis added):
On the political Right, the erosion of political power by international capitalism seems natural; on the political Left, rudderless revolutions portray themselves as virtuous. In the twenty-first century, anarchical protest movements join in a friendly tussle with global oligarchy, in which neither side can be hurt since both see the real enemy as the state. (3)
In that passage the “political Right” are a pro-market global oligarchy wishing to erode state power. This is not your grandfather’s political Right!
Other quotes betray similar historical obfuscation. Here is Snyder on Nazism (emphasis added):
In reality, National Socialism involved the aspiration to destroy communism in order to build a massive empire that would insulate Germany from the vicissitudes of global capitalism; there was nothing remotely conservative about that aim. (4)
Practically every scholarly account of pre-World War II conservatism highlights the conservatives’ aspiration to protect their nations from the harmful effects of global capitalism. This was a defining feature of their ideology.
(Hedging his thesis, Snyder concedes in passing that Hitler ‘appeared’ to be conservative (5) and was supported by traditional conservatives (6). Both declarations are, of course, gross understatements.)
State adulation is a German dementia predating its most illustrious babbler, Georg Hegel, whom Snyder approvingly references. (7) Snyder also thrice paraphrases the most famous maxim of another titan of German officialdom, Max Weber:
The significance of the state in the banal conservative sense of a monopolist of violence and an object of reciprocal duties and rights… (8)
The unglamorous conservative definition of the state, the monopolist of violence and the enforcer of laws… (9)
A conventional state that sought to monopolize violence was destroyed by a racial regime that sought to channel anarchy. (10)
The third quote contrasts Hitler with Poland’s Jozef Pilsudski – a leader who gets favourable treatment because of his “fundamental respect for the state as opposed to Hitler’s disdain for it.” (11)
Snyder is loath to use the term “fascist” when discussing Pilsudski, although the boot fits rather well. After Pilsudski seized power in 1926, he quickly neutered all democratic institutions. Political opponents were incarcerated and abused. His regime relied heavily on cult-of-personality propaganda. After his 1935 death, his hand-picked successors revealed extreme anti-democratic and anti-Semitic tendencies. Snyder best reveals Pilsudski’s orientation by mentioning how his party always “yielded to the voices of the noble landholders it came to see as bastions of the state.” (12)
Accusations of Nazi state destruction form a main theme of Black Earth. The phrase “state destruction” appears 21 times. The phrase “destruction of the state” appears 14 times. The phrase “state destroyers” (usually referring to the SS) appears five times. In the book’s fourth and longest chapter (titled “The State Destroyers”), variations on the phrase “state destruction” appear 31 times.
To mask this cheap argument-by-repetition tactic, Snyder often replaces the word “state” with synonyms like: authorities, polities, statehood, sovereignty, state institutions, state apparatus, political entity, etc. Preceding these synonyms of “state” one finds the verbs: annihilate, obliterate, nullify, dismantle, smash, demolish, abolish, eliminate, etc. Such variations on “state destruction” are gratuitously wedged into the book over 150 times, up to three times a page.
Snyder was commissioned to write a story with two morals: a) states are great; and b) the Nazis were awful. Resolving this contradiction gave rise to a stream of silliness alleging the Nazis were anti-state; i.e. that the Nazis were literally anarchists. Thus, the crimes of fascism cannot be used to impede the noble work of our deft technicians of state creation. (13)
The great fear is:
When the Holocaust is blamed on the modern state, the weakening of state authority appears salutary. (14)
And again (emphasis added):
A misunderstanding about the relationship between state authority and mass killing underlay an American myth of the Holocaust that prevailed in the early twenty-first century: that the United States was a country that intentionally rescued people from genocides caused by overweening states. Following this reasoning, the destruction of a state could be associated with rescue rather than risk. (15)
Snyder bemoans how:
The dominant stereotype of Nazi Germany is of an all-powerful state. (16)
To deconstruct this “stereotype” he again deploys relentless repetition. Words and phrases like: statelessness, lawlessness, stateless zones, stateless predicament, absence of state institutions, etc. are drummed into the reader’s mind in over 40 passages. Hitler and/or the Nazis are flat-out called “anarchists” several times. They are accused of exporting anarchy, of yearning for anarchy, and of creating anarchic colonies in the East. (17) Sadly for Snyder, the “stereotype” of the Third Reich as a governmental bureaucratic leviathan contains more than a kernel of truth.
Snyder contends that the Third Reich’s misdeeds occurred mainly outside Germany in places where a state had been destroyed. However, it was not as though once a territory had been taken over by the Third Reich (as in Austria, Poland, or the Netherlands) that pure anarchy then reigned. One regime replaced another. The new regimes were some combination of a puppet state and/or direct governance by the occupying German military. The new regimes were larger and more intrusive than the regimes they replaced. In no instance was anarchy implemented – brief moments of chaos perhaps, but anarchy never.
Snyder further contradicts himself by conceding that even in the German-occupied areas of Eastern Europe, which he defines as stateless zones, the atrocities were mainly committed by: a) the SS (a branch of the German state after 1933); b) regular German Army soldiers; and/or c) transferred German Police officers. Efforts to whip locals into anti-Jewish or anti-Soviet frenzies came to naught. The perpetrators were state employees following state orders.
Yet, this is not how Snyder wants the Holocaust to be remembered. He can speak no evil of the state. Governments protect minorities, they do not abuse them. Consider these three quotes:
Bureaucracy has the reputation of killing Jews; it would be closer to the truth to say it was the removal of bureaucracy that killed Jews. (18)
German Jews died not because of bureaucratic precision in Germany but because of the destruction of bureaucracies in other countries. (19)
Bureaucracies in Germany could kill Jews only when bureaucracy-free zones elsewhere had been established. (21)
Again Snyder resorts to argument-by-repetition. Only stateless Jews suffered, i.e. Jews who had been separated from the state, excluded from state protection, deprived of state protection, made into stateless refugees, made stateless, etc.
A final quote exemplifies Professor Snyder’s agenda:
Indeed, the number of French bureaucrats increased quite impressively during the German occupation, from about 650,000 to 900,000. The contrast here with Poland is instructive: For every educated Pole that was murdered during the war, an educated Frenchman got a job in the civil service. (22)
Never mind that Snyder again commends and defends a fascist regime; his metric of a regime’s worth is the sheer number of civil servants it employs. Utopia is where every politically correct university grad gets a swivel chair and a pension plan.
Timothy Snyder is a Benedict Arnold. He is an Ezra Pound, he’s a Tokyo Rose. He’s part of that shameful tradition of Americans whose ideology, vanity, and greed drove them into the arms of foreign reactionaries determined to scuttle the American project. It is hard to believe many of the statements found in Black Earth could have been written by an American, such as:
A common American error is to believe that freedom is the absence of state authority. (1)
A free press is a press not subject to state censorship. Free trade is trade unrestricted by governments. Such definitions of freedom are ingrained in American thinking. One would have to travel far from US shores to find a place where such thinking is deemed erroneous.
Another example occurs while Snyder is discussing the Fuhrer (emphasis added):
Hitler was not a king innovating from established notions of legitimacy and sovereignty. He was not the dynastic embodiment of a people with duties and interests. (2)
This is pure monarchist lingo. Europe’s fascists were almost universally monarchist. America is first and foremost a republic founded upon the rejection of monarchism.
Black Earth is a collage of several such reactionary European agendas. A fifth of the book is taken up with heroic tales about individual East Europeans who assisted Jews fleeing persecution (although by Snyder’s own admission, many did so only for money). In other passages, he whitewashes over the extensive involvement of Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians in war crimes and the Holocaust. Snyder stands widely accused of being a propagandist for Ukrainian nationalists, and he has received lavish praise from Baltic ultra-nationalists and Nazi-apologists. (3) This target audience is divided between an unreconstructed Nazi faction and a politically savvy faction more presentable to the West. While Snyder openly aligns with the latter, he concludes his book by reaching out to the former, as when he concedes:
No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth. (4)
And in the following passage, which leaves the reader wondering who the “we” are:
We share Hitler’s planet and several of his preoccupations; we have changed less than we think. We like our living space, we fantasize about destroying governments, we denigrate science, we dream of catastrophe. (5)
Regarding the Nazi-Green connection Snyder made an astonishing admission in an interview with The Atlantic magazine in 2015; to wit:
It started with an intuition, which was actually present in my earlier book, in Bloodlands: that ecology was much more central to Hitler’s thinking than we had realized. And that was just an intuition from practise, from looking at what Hitler actually did…
So these were intuitions, so then I went back and reread (Hitler’s manifesto) Mien Kampf, and reread the second book, and read all the major Hitler primary sources, and I was really astonished to see how clearly these ideas came out – that in fact, that Hitler’s quite explicitly an ecological thinker, that the planetary level is the most important level. (6)
Snyder obtained his PhD in History from Oxford in 1997 and went on to teach at Yale and Harvard. His field of expertise is Central European politics circa World War II. Nevertheless, in 2010 Snyder possessed only a vague intuition that there may be a connection between ecology and Nazism! By 2010 over a dozen books describing in minutiae the ecological orientation of the Third Reich had rolled off the university presses at Yale, Cambridge, etc. None of the works of any of the scholars who have researched the eco-Nazi link (Bramwell, Gasman, Staudenmaier, Uekoetter et al.) appear in Black Earth’s 800-plus list of secondary sources. This is not so much evidence of suppression on Snyder’s part as it is evidence of an intellectual poseur – of a celebrity pundit who signs off on texts largely written by underling apparatchiks.
Snyder’s shoddy scholarship and professional anti-Americanism come together in his treatment of German novelist Karl May. Snyder claims the opening of the American West inspired Hitler’s craving of lebensraum in the East. He argues that Hitler was a great fan of May whose novels romanticized the Cowboy-Indian conflicts of late 19th century America. However, as Mark Musser has pointed out, in May’s novels the Indians were the heroes and the colonists were the bad guys. (7) May’s books bemoan the opening of the West. Thus, Snyder tossed out a hypothesis without having researched the matter.
Lastly, Climate Change is not a topic about which Europeans can simply agree to disagree and then move on. Accepting the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis, and implementing the corresponding catastrophic energy policy changes, are conditions precedent to maintaining friendly relations with the EU. As Trump marches the English-speaking world out of Europe’s Climate crusade transatlantic relations will surely plummet. At the same time, and to the further mortification of the Europeans, US-Russia relations are due for a thaw. After all, it was not Moscow that mounted a multi-decade economic warfare campaign against the energy infrastructure of the English-speaking world under the guise of Global Warming; no, that was our “allies” in Brussels.
Footnotes for: The Text in Context
Footnotes for: Ecolph Hitler: the fall-guy
Footnotes for: How renewable energy can prevent the next Holocaust
Footnotes for: Black Earth a parade float for extreme statism
Footnotes for Concluding Remarks
Delman, Edward. Understanding Hitler’s Anti-Semitism. The Atlantic September 9, 2015.
Dowis, Mark. Conservation Refugees. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2009.
IPCC AR5 Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report, page 60, https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf
Lazare, Daniel. Timothy Snyder’s Lies. Jacobin 2014/09.
Musser, R. Mark. www.rmarkmusser.com Yale Professor Concedes Hitler’s Ecological Anti-Semitism but Ignores Nazi Environmentalism.
Phillips, Leigh. EU rejects eastern states’ call to outlaw denial of crimes by communist regimes. The Guardian, December 21, 2010.
Pinto-Duchinsky, Michael. Hitler’s Ecological Panic Didn’t Cause the Holocaust. September 2015, Standpoint.
Snyder, Timothy. A Dangerous Misreading of the Boston Tea Party from Right Wing Anarchists. The Guardian, August 19, 2011.
Snyder, Timothy. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Tim Duggan Books, New York, 2015.
Snyder, Timothy. Trump’s Putin Fantasy. New York Review of Books, April 19, 2016.
Weiss, Clara and Wolfgang Weber. Historian Timothy Snyder Falsifies History at German-Ukrainian Conference. June 5, 2015, World Socialist Web Site.
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