It took even Adolf Hitler three years before he succeeded in banning the pursuit of quarry on horseback in July 1936.
The Nazis faced the problem of how to define a hunt. In order to avoid ambiguity even following a pack on horseback was made illegal. Hitler's ban on hunting with dogs remains in force.
The teetotal and vegetarian Fuhrer was by nature against hunting on grounds of cruelty, but riding to hounds roused the ire of the socialist in Hitler's National Socialism. German fox-hunters tended to be aristocratic, in his view effete and probably Anglophile. Goebbels, too, on occasion dirided the social world of riding. In the politics of resentment, few could beat the Nazis.
Hitler's first dictatorial act, after the passing of the Enabling Act (1933) was to regulate the cooking of lobsters (he was distressed by their screams when tossed into boiling water). Only then did he abolish free trade unions.
Apart from their opposition to hunting, what Hitler and some of the most extreme contemporary animal rights activists tend to share are an implacable self-righteousness and misanthropy. Advocates of "good causes" all too often confuse the justice of their cause with their own moral worth. Since they support a holy cause they are sanctified by it and brook no criticism. When that sort of self-righteousness peaks in an extreme animus, other moral considerations go out of the window. Supporting animal rights for instance can legitimise violence against human beings in such people's minds.
With some key Nazis this perversion of morality was central to their psychology. But it also had ideological justifications. The Nazis associated a raft of what they regarded as undesirable phenomena. They saw Jews as anti-natural and promoters of the alienation of man from nature. Their sentimentality about nature and their condemnation of millions of people as "unnatural" went hand in hand.
Hitler's chief mass murderer, Heinrich Himmler, regarded shooting birds or animals as "pure murder" and waxed lyrical about the ancient Germanic peoples had "respect for animals". Like many modern animal rights advocates, Himmler rejected the Judaeo-Christian tradition and looked to Buddhism for inspiration about how man (or at least Aryan man) should deal with nature. In his article 'Animal Rights' for the SS house magazine in 1934, Himmler recorded his admiration for medieval Germans who put rats on trial for their depredations and gave them a chance to change their ways!
Backed by Himmler, Hitler would have gone much further down the animal rights agenda but important Nazis such as Goering, who gloried in the title 'Reich Master of the Hunt' were not prepared to sacrifice shooting and fishing. However, Goering was anxious to be seen as politically correct, 1930's style. He assured a radio audience in 1933 that whereas democracy had consumed years of futile discussion about animal rights, he had moved decisively to stop maltreatment of animals, including vivisection in his own domain of Prussia. Warming to his subject, Hitler's number two threatened that anyone who flouted the Nazis concern for animal rights would be imprisoned.
Hitler's vegetarianism led him to experiment with a meat-free diet for his beloved German shepherd dogs – though before one could finish the course she was poisoned by her master to test cyanide for his own use as the Red Army arrived outside his bunker in April 1945.
Hitler's politically correct dogmas would no doubt have earned him the reputation of a prophet of modern attitudes if he had stuck to petty tyrannical regulation rather than combining it with mass murder and militarism. Today's Nanny State could hardly disagree with his ferocious anti-smoking views for instance. Towards the end of the war in March 1944 he found time to insist on the necessity of banning smoking in trams, fearing the effect of passive smoking on their conductors' health. Naturally he had already banned smoking in Nazi party offices years earlier. But even Hitler had to recognise that banning smoking in the Wehrmacht might be bad for morale and decided to leave that measure until after his final victory.
Nothing is more distressing than discovering uncomfortable ancestors in the genealogy of one's own beliefs. But it is certainly the case that a measure of subterranean intellectual continuity does exist between some contemporary Green movements and the Green/Brown world of ideas before 1945. It is also the case that the Authoritarian personality-type that attributes absolute moral correctness to its own views, and damnation to anyone who does not agree with them, is something which fanatics share. Misanthropy cannot be justified by a cloak of animal welfare.
So far the violence and intimidation exercised by hunt saboteurs may be only a faint echo of Hitler's combination of animal rights and inhumanity, but reasonable opponents of fox hunting ought to ask themselves how far their opposition is motivated by deep resentments which could turn ugly and how far by a more benign concern for animal welfare. People asking those questions should then ponder whether they want to be associated with the fanatics' cause.
(Mark Almond – Lecturer in Modern History, Oriel College, Oxford Jan 1998)
Click to view image: 'Hitler and Blondie'
Tags: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Blondie, Wehrmacht, Nazism, Fascism, National Socialism, Welfare State, Nanny State, Vegetarianism, Environmentalism, Animal Rights
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