Totalitarian temptations: The Ecologist Terror against our Civilisation

A police officer (L) stands outside the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague, where three individuals were arrested for attempting to smudge Vermeer's painting 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. Photo: PAP/EPA

Van Gogh, Monet, now Vermeer: it is the third time a major piece of classical European art has been needlessly and cold-bloodedly vandalised by so-called “climate activists”. Convinced that the (allegedly impending) climatic apocalypse justifies all means, they do not seem to feel bound anymore by laws or decency: attracting attention to their cause is all they want - whatever it takes.

“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your very eyes? That is that same feeling when you see the planet being destroyed”, one of the eco-terrorists shouted to bystanders in a terribly naïve syllogism.

But does the fact that “I” feel pain gives me the right to inflict the same pain unto all others to sensibilise them to my own concerns? And even if this pain were not a purely personal one, but somehow linked to collective interests: do not all of us have very different views on what specific kind of “greater good” is truly the most important - and which one is presently under threat? Personally, I deeply deplore the present decline and destruction of European civilisation, which is undoubtedly also priceless and beautiful – should I start vandalising wind power generators to make ecologists feel my inner sorrows?

The eco-terrorists’ reasoning is, needless to say, a thoroughly and explicitly totalitarian form of thought. Whoever absolutises his own ideological agenda and wants to force it upon other people “for their own good”, sooner or later ends up dismissing any basic form of respect for the other and his property: the “cause” seems way too important to let individual human beings and their puny littles personal interests interfere with it.

This is a major threat to all of us, and we should not downplay the consequences of this mindset: I, for one, can only see quantitative, but not qualitative differences between the public vandalisation of paintings by Van Gogh, Monet or Vermeer in the name of climate ideology and the terrorisation of bourgeois counter-revolutionaries by the Bolsheviks in the name of communist ideology.

Art vandalism is only the peak of the iceberg: Already now, the numerous incidents of blocked highways, demolished public property or occupied public buildings are not only generating stress and disorientation on an ever-larger scale, they are also causing tremendous costs for our society - and obviously, in the future, there is much more in store for us.

For sooner or later, in their endeavour to “save” humanity, climate ideology, exactly as all other totalitarian thoughts, will put human lives in danger and trigger considerable resentment and reactions by all those fed up with being bullied by a bunch of privileged and self-satisfied kids totally absorbed by an unconfirmed ecological hypothesis and a highly problematic anthropology...

We may thus also wonder about the obvious trainwreck of Western education. For years, pedagogy all over Europe and America had been firmly based on the post-war thought of “never again” letting totalitarianism happen, and on the firm commitment to rather value the integration of civic values than the mere assimilation of knowledge to educate critical and responsible minds. But it seems that these civic values have not only become increasingly hollow, they also have been successfully pirated by a leftist-liberal propaganda that is now using the very same educational patterns designed to safeguard democracy to destabilise and perhaps even destroy it from within.

In Germany in particular, leftist and climate activists, convinced they are (at least this time) on the historical “side of good”, are terrorising society and endangering free speech, art, public safety, the economy, even democracy while being fully convinced to work for the “greater good”. Only recently, acclaimed ecologist Luisa Neubauer asserted publicly on a major German TV station that installing a “climate dictatorship” in order to “save humanity” was an absolute priority – without any serious contradiction (imagine, just for the fun of it, if a so-called “conservative” had made an analogous statement…).

Whoever refuses to hear the alarm bells ringing from all sides and to see the obvious symmetries between the arguments of ecologist ideology and the many totalitarianisms of the 20th century can only be pitied – and should be considered as highly dangerous to the survival of what is left of the West. For what is perhaps the most scary in the acts of vandalism mentioned above is the total lack of any significant response from public authorities, media, academia, public intellectuals and of course the museums themselves.

Of course, there were some lukewarm condemnations of the attacks, but in the next sentence, they usually hasten to express their own support for the ecological agenda and their commitment to climate politics. Given the fact that most of these activists are subsidised by the innumerable state-sponsored leftist NGOS and dispose of significant financial means in order to eschew any serious legal pursuit, we should cease seeing these events as mere over-the-top acts committed by misled, but otherwise idealistic youths, and instead as the coldly planned message the are: Even the most sacred, precious and inoffensive creations of our European civilisation are not safe anymore from the wrath of the new ideology dominating our Western world; and our public institutions, from the museums over the media and politics right up to the criminal courts, are ultimately on the side of the attackers, not of the attacked.

This should make us wonder what might happen when human lives will be at stake –before it is too late.

Prof. Dr. David Engels (born 1979) is the chair of Roman History at the University of Brussels (ULB) and currently works as research professor at the Instytut Zachodni in Poznań, Poland. Author of numerous scholarly publications and essays for the larger media, he is most well-known for his books "Le Déclin" (Paris 2013); "Studies on the Seleukid Empire" (Leuven 2017); "Renovatio Europae" (Berlin 2020); "Oswald Spengler" (Stuttgart 2021) and "Co robić" (Gdańsk 2022). Photo: Prof. Engels's private archive