National Socialism and Animal Rights
by Klaus Kund
ONE CAN quite confidently say that National Socialist Germany was the first country where animal rights and environmental issues made a real impact on policy and legislation.
In comparison, many nations in the world today, almost 80 years later, still have no legislation that protects animals against abuse. We in northern Europe have some anti-cruelty legislation, though abuses still exist.
National Socialism developed early in its history an organic view of the world, as opposed to the reigning human-centered (anthropocentric) and geocentric worldview, which we largely inherited from Judaism and Christianity.
According to the anthropocentric worldview, animals were only created to serve people. The animals were supposedly missing a “soul” and were considered to be a kind of machine. National Socialism opposed this anthropocentric vision. According to National Socialism, humanity is a part of the natural order and must follow the laws of nature. Man was thus not automatically worth more than the other animals. National Socialist Germany pioneered anti-cruelty laws that protected animals subjected to harmful experiments, and that protected them from a painful slaughter. It also introduced protection laws for wildlife. The basic idea was not that the animals should be protected so that man could profit from them, but that the animals should be protected for their own sake.
For many “anti-Nazis” this view of man as only a part of nature was thought to be dangerous, because to the extent it made the lives of animals more valuable, they claimed, it led to a downgrading of the value of human life and thus, according to their logic, indirectly paved the way for the alleged genocide of the Jews. This argument lives on today in the disputes between radical environmentalists and their critics who fear that the former want to severely limit the human population on this planet.
For Christians — and those who are not Christians but who have inherited the anthropocentric view — all human life is considered equally “holy,” and it is inherently worth more than other animals’ lives. There is, of course, no objective justification for this. Those infected with this worldview demand special existential rights for our own species, based on the perception that we are the “chosen.”
We Scandinavians can be proud that the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus was among the first who dared to go against this then-prevailing dogma, when he asserted that man was a primate and therefore was an animal. Despite criticism from Christians, he argued that animals could be considered to have a soul and that they should be treated well.
We were born into this world, and it was not we who determined its fundamental laws. We humans (at least until the development of modern agriculture), just like many animals, were forced to kill in order to live. But just because we are forced to kill to survive does not mean that we have the right to cause other creatures unnecessary suffering. On the contrary, as intelligent and noble people, we have an obligation to treat other living creatures decently.
By decently, we mean that we should treat the other living creatures as well as possible under whatever circumstances may exist. Those of us who live as carnivores are forced to kill other animals. But ignoble and cruel husbandry in the name of maximum profits is reprehensible. Keeping animals in captivity to produce luxury items is also totally unacceptable. (One thinks of the mink farms that still exist here in the North.)
In the Nordic countries the issues surrounding animal rights have generated some progress, but in other parts of the world there is not any legal or moral protection for animals. It is very difficult for us to understand how bad animals can be treated in other cultures and many people cannot even imagine what goes on in these dark places. There was a recent article that dealt with a group in China who had succeeded in documenting how raccoons were skinned alive to get their fur. There was also an article about a bear (also in China) that had first killed its own cub and then itself in order to avoid a life in captivity where their gall bladders were regularly drained, with the contents being sold as components of traditional Chinese medicine.
In a National Socialist state cruelty to animals was — and should be in the future — considered a serious offense. It is my personal opinion that people who have been found guilty of serious cruelty to animals have lost their right to exist.
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