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David Martin

East Germany—Nature & Artifact

The character of the DDR.

What kind of society was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik? Mary Fulbrook in The People's State believes that the DDR was in some sense normal, whereas Arvid Nelson, writing about its approach to Nature in Cold War Ecology, and Eli Rubin, writing about its approach to artifacts in Synthetic Socialism, disagree. Nelson and Rubin provide a lens for thinking about the DDR in terms that are wider than what we conventionally label as religion but nevertheless bound up with fundamental attitudes to the world—above all to Nature and the nature of the human artifact. Furthermore those who postulate a religious instinct, whether existentially or biologically based, or who regard religion as a functional requirement of society, are prone to regard Communism as sharing key characteristics with religion. Indeed Nelson uses the word "religion" both with reference to some purist forms of Marxism and to the German reverence for Natur. Marxism picks up the religious idea of human dominion over Nature through the exploitation for human purposes of the powers of production, while being less sympathetic toward the equally religious or, at any rate, religiously romantic reverence for Nature, in Caspar David Friedrich, for example. For Germans the landscape, whether of the Rhineland or the Brocken, is iconic, just as the English landscape is iconic for English people. Music and literature are both accorded a quasi-religious respect in Germany, and Marxist ideology consistently attempted to harness the great names of the East of Germany, Goethe and Schiller, Bach and Handel, even Luther and Schleiermacher, to its own genealogy of progress. Ironically it was the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra which, with the church, played a major role in the fall of the regime in 1989.

What exactly is Mary Fulbrook's case for the normality of the DDR, or rather for the widespread existence of normal life? She admits, of course that a society based on surveillance and manipulative intervention, one that ...

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