Yale Professor Explains Hitler’s Malthusianism, Thinks There’s Something to It

Timothy Snyder

In my 2012 book, Merchants of Despair, I exposed the role that Malthusian thought — the belief that the world cannot support a growing human population — has had in motivating most of the worst atrocities of the past two centuries, notably including those of Nazism and more recent antihuman movements operating under the “population control” and “environmentalist” banners. Now prominent Yale historian Timothy Snyder has written Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, which also lays out the Malthusian ideology behind the Holocaust.

But instead of forcefully rejecting the axioms of Malthusianism and the claims of its modern adherents, Snyder argues there’s something to them. The world faces catastrophe from the overconsumption of fossil fuels, anthropogenic global warming, and impending food and resource shortages, he says — echoing similar pernicious claims of the 1930s — and for this he blames the U.S.

In an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times promoting his book, Snyder makes his case. Snyder starts out well enough, with the historical facts:

The quest for German domination was premised on the denial of science. Hitler’s alternative to science was the idea of Lebensraum. Germany needed an Eastern European empire because only conquest, and not agricultural technology, offered the hope of feeding the German people. In Hitler’s “Second Book,” which was composed in 1928 and not published until after his death, he insisted that hunger would outstrip crop improvements and that all “the scientific methods of land management” had already failed. No conceivable improvement would allow Germans to be fed “from their own land and territory,” he claimed. Hitler specifically — and wrongly — denied that irrigation, hybrids, and fertilizers could change the relationship between people and land.

The pursuit of peace and plenty through science, he claimed in “Mein Kampf,” was a Jewish plot to distract Germans from the necessity of war.

Moving his attention to the present day, Snyder then offers this insight: “Climate change threatens to provoke a new ecological panic.” For example:

Climate change has . . . brought uncertainties about food supply back to the center of great power politics. China today, like Germany before the war, is an industrial power incapable of feeding its population from its own territory, and is thus dependent on unpredictable international markets.

This could make China’s population susceptible to a revival of ideas like Lebensraum. The Chinese government must balance a not-so-distant history of starving its own population with today’s promise of ever-increasing prosperity — all while confronting increasingly unfavorable environmental conditions. The danger is not that the Chinese might actually starve to death in the near future, any more than Germans would have during the 1930s. The risk is that a developed country able to project military power could, like Hitler’s Germany, fall into ecological panic, and take drastic steps to protect its existing standard of living.

But then, having warned about such “panic,” he proceeds to promote it:

China is already leasing a tenth of Ukraine’s arable soil, and buying up food whenever global supplies tighten. During the drought of 2010, Chinese panic buying helped bring bread riots and revolution to the Middle East. The Chinese leadership already regards Africa as a long-term source of food. Although many Africans themselves still go hungry, their continent holds about half of the world’s untilled arable land. Like China, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea are interested in Sudan’s fertile regions — and they have been joined by Japan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in efforts to buy or lease land throughout Africa.

Nations in need of land would likely begin with tactfully negotiated leases or purchases; but under conditions of stress or acute need, such agrarian export zones could become fortified colonies, requiring or attracting violence.

So we are looking at the grim prospect of world war and genocide over resources. And it’s all America’s fault:

By polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the United States has done more than any other nation to bring about the next ecological panic, yet it is the only country where climate science is still resisted by certain political and business elites. These deniers tend to present the empirical findings of scientists as a conspiracy and question the validity of science — an intellectual stance that is uncomfortably close to Hitler’s.

The full consequences of climate change may reach America only decades after warming wreaks havoc in other regions. And by then it will be too late for climate science and energy technology to make any difference. Indeed, by the time the door is open to the demagogy of ecological panic in the United States, Americans will have spent years spreading climate disaster around the world.

But Snyder has it horribly wrong. Competition for scarce resources (land, food, energy) is effective as a demagogic myth, but it is not reality. There was no ecological crisis in the 1930s, any more than there is today. What there was then, as there is today, was ideological insanity. The Nazis’ war had no rational basis. Germany never needed more “living space.” Germany today has much less land per person, but a far higher living standard, than it had under the Third Reich. The problem was all in their heads.

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Similarly, today there is no resource crisis. There are far more resources available per capita today than ever before in human history. That is because resources are defined by human creativity. Thus, contrary to Malthus and all of his followers, the global standard of living has continuously gone up as the world’s population has increased. The more people — especially free and educated people — the more inventors, and inventions are cumulative.

#share#In this respect, America has been the most productive of nations. It is an anti-American — and anti-human — lie to say that we are destroying the world’s resources. The opposite is true. Through our inventiveness we have played, and are continuing to play, an outstanding role in creating the world’s resources. Since the dawn of the republic, America has been a powerhouse of invention, responsible for, among other things, the lightning rod, the steamboat, the telegraph, petroleum drilling and refining, recorded sound, the telephone, electric lighting, centrally generated electric power, airplanes, motion pictures, mass-produced automobiles, television, nuclear power, computers, communication satellites, modern agriculture, the Internet, laptop computers, mobile computers, and shale fracking, to name just a few. The United States may use more oil than any other country, but if not for us, no one would have any oil, because we invented the petroleum industry. Other countries would not be richer if America did not exist. On the contrary, they would be immeasurably poorer.

We are not threatened by there being too many people. We are threatened by people who say there are too many people.

Similarly, America would not benefit by keeping the rest of the world underdeveloped. We are 4 percent of the world’s population but are responsible for half the inventions. We can take pride in that, but in fact we would be much better off if the rest of the world were contributing inventions at the same rate we do. The world needs more Americans.

The real lesson of the Holocaust for our time is this: We are not threatened by there being too many people. We are threatened by people who say there are too many people.

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Snyder, of all people, should be aware of this, because he follows developments in Russia and Eastern Europe closely and has written articles warning of the danger posed by the growth of the anti-American, anti-freedom “Eurasianist” movement led by Russian fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. It is the contention of the Duginites that the world would be better off without America. Indeed, I was present at a conference on global issues held at Moscow State University, Dugin’s home turf, in October 2013, when one of his acolytes got up and gave a fiery speech denouncing America for using up all the world’s resources, including its oxygen supply. Such words amount to a call for war. It is appalling that Snyder, along with many others of today’s politically correct set, should essentially embrace their underlying logic.

The fundamental question boils down to this: Are humans destroyers or creators? If the idea is accepted that the world’s resources are fixed, with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.

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But if we choose instead to have faith in the power of unfettered creativity to invent unbounded resources, then every new life if a gift, and every person, race, and nation becomes ultimately the potential friend of every other, and, rather than suppression, the fundamental purpose of government must be to protect human liberty at all costs.

Only in a world of freedom can resources be unlimited. Only in a world of unlimited resources can all men be brothers.

—Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory. The paperback edition of his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism,was recently published by Encounter Books.

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