Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lebensraum Revisited

[Update: Post “polluted” says M; read his comment.]

No, it’s not an old novel turned into a German period-costume flick. It’s returning to a post that Spot did in January about the parallels of Israeli intentions in the Occupied Territories and German intentions in places like the Sudetenland in the late 30s. An exchange with King Banaian here gives the term new currency for discussion at the Stool. Here’s a repeat of a quote from the BBC website about Lebensraum:

The term Lebensraum was coined by the German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904). During the last two decades of the 19th century, Ratzel developed a theory according to which the development of all species, including humans, is primarily determined by their adaptation to geographic circumstances.

Above all, Ratzel considered species migration as the crucial factor in social adaptation and cultural change. Species that successfully adapted to one location, he thought, would spread naturally to others. Indeed, he went on to argue that, in order to remain healthy, species must continually expand the amount of space they occupy, for migration is a natural feature of all species, an expression of their need for living space.

This process also applied to humans, who operate collectively in the form of 'peoples' (Völker), with one Völk effectively conquering another. However, according to Ratzel, such expansion could be successful only if the conquering nation 'colonised' the new territory, and by 'colonisation' he meant the establishment of peasant farms by the new occupiers.

Spot suggested, and again suggests, watching a CBS 60 Minutes segment by Bob Simon about Israel-Palestine. Oh, what the heck; Spot will embed it again:

The whole thing is very good, but if you’re in an especial hurry, fast forward to about 9:40 and watch and listen to the mayor of a West Bank settlement talk about intentions regarding the Occupied Territories, the West Bank in particular.

Now, back to Lebensraum. Spot said that Lebensraum, ethnic cleansing, and yes, genocide, amounted to the same thing. Spot also said that the Israelis intended to cleanse the Occupied Territories of Palestinians in order to, as the West Bank mayor says, make more room for Israelis: Lebensraum.

In a comment to his post, Spot asked the question: where did Lebensraum come from? Commenter Ep0pEE got it right: Darwinism. It’s how Charles Darwin got blamed for Nazism. But for a little explication of the connection, let’s return to the BBC webpage on Lebensraum:

Ratzel's ideas very much accorded with intellectual fashions in late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany, where various forms of 'Social Darwinism' were prevalent, and where there was a growing concern about the allegedly negative effects of industrialisation and urbanisation. There was also a belief in the virtues of agrarian society and, specifically, of the peasantry. Ratzel's ideas also fitted into the general debate about German imperialism.

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Moreover, during the years immediately preceding World War One, the focus of this colonialism shifted from the settlement of overseas colonies to the idea of conquering territory in eastern Europe, and of settling it with German peasants. The leading advocate of this notion was the influential chauvinist pressure group, the Pan-German League, and its associated propagandists.

*  *  *

The final elaboration of Hitler's programme for acquiring Lebensraum occurred while he wrote Mein Kampf during 1924-1925. Essentially, this involved his study of 'geopolitics', that is, the impact of the environment on politics, which provided him with a quasi-scientific justification for the plans he had already worked out.

During his period in Landsberg prison (where he had been incarcerated following the failure of his notorious Munich beer hall coup in November 1923), he read and discussed Ratzel's work and other geopolitical literature provided by a Munich Professor of Geography, Karl Haushofer, and fellow-prisoner Rudolf Hess.

Of course, the leap from Darwinism to Social Darwinism is one that Charles Darwin himself never made; Darwin was a biologist, not an imperialist. There is no small irony in the fact that some of the most fevered proponents of Social Darwinist claptrap — evangelical Christians and the Jewish orthodoxy — are the same ones who deny the existence of biological evolution. [Update: Be sure to read M’s very good comment to this post.]

The Israeli colonists are no different than the proponents of Lebensraum — both suffer from a “chosen people” delusion.

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