Nature Conservation in England and Germany 1900–70: Forerunner of Environmental Protection?
Ditt, K.; Rafferty, J.
Contemporary European History 5(1): 1-28
ISSN/ISBN: 0960-7773 Accession: 085865330
Nature plays a significant role in the discussion for and against modernism, which got under way from the late eighteenth century onwards. The rationalists of the Enlightenment considered not only human nature, but also the whole uncultivated realm of nature beyond, that of the animals and plants, as wild and dangerous. It should, according to them, be tamed for the benefit of mankind and put to use. Thus they laid the ideological foundations that made possible the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources for the free development of the market and specifically for industrialisation, ie for material and ideological modernisation processes. The Romantics, on the other hand, emphasised the importance of non-material values. In their view the inherent and irretrievable beauty of nature should not be sacrificed on the altar of utilitarianism. A century later the critics of unrestrained economic modernisation expanded on the Romantics' view. They criticised the 'tumours' of industrialisation, urbanisation and materialism, advocating greater preservation of the wilderness and, indeed, of agrarian land and the rural way of life. For them, such things were not just symbols of originality, beauty and health, but were also part of the 'national character'. They were unique treasures, unlike replaceable material interests. Nature, as a source of raw materials, became a multifunctional cultural heritage. 'Materialism' and the idea of progress, the central characteristics of modernisation, were challenged by criticism of civilisation and by historicism. Thus the basic cultural and political camps were established, but also the decisive ideological preconditions for the emergence of a nature conservation movement.