Right About the Environment
The Rise of Ecofascism: Climate Change and the Far Right, by Sam Moore and Alex Roberts (Polity: 2022), 171 pages.
Sam Moore and Alex Roberts are researchers, anti-fascist activists, and the hosts of a podcast about the far right. So says the jacket of their new book, out this week. They’re Brits, too. That’s all I know about them. I know a little bit of them now, however, having read some 130 pages of their writing (not the end notes): mainly that they seem to be earnest chaps, sincere in their efforts to do the work. This book is short, yes, but it performs conscientiousness on every page, pop academic leftism doing its best to be as fair as being helpful to the cause will allow.
To be clear, I am not recommending this book to most of my readers. Its definitions are baroque and boutique, and the argumentation unsatisfyingly semantic. It is as breezy as acadamese gets, but it is still written in the language of contemporary social science. If, however, you are something of a researcher yourself, perhaps an activist of sorts, maybe even the host of a podcast, then perhaps you’ll find a leftist survey of right-wing ecological thought mildly interesting. After all, you may not be interested in climate politics, but climate politics is interested in you. I don’t regret the couple hours I spent with The Rise of Ecofascism; it is illustrative, not only semi-informative.
What it illustrates is the reality that, when it comes to environmental activism, serious leftists find themselves in a bit of a bind. “Climate justice” looks a lot like globalist greenwashing. Meanwhile, environmentalism and ecological thinking have a long, if occasionally sordid, pedigree on the right, more so probably than the left. The right, in its particularism and recognition of difference, sees the relationship between the environment and the person, and in seeking to preserve a mode of life naturally seeks the conservation of place. The left, in its commitment to liberating humanity from all inequalities, seeks to flatten distinctions, and especially in the Marxist vein has historically seen the formation of mass industrialized society and all its environmental consequences as a step in the synthetic march to a classless future where, without the crucial intervention of Christ’s kingship, Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
This is a flattening that closely resembles the reduction of humanity to homo economicus and aspirations to global governance that characterize what leftists prefer to call “neoliberalism.” This “capitalist” world order, like the left, also focuses on a planetary scale, and thus on climate and carbon and temperature (that is, I think, the accurate direction of causality in both cases), while playing a cups and ball game with unsustainable and degrading industrial practices. In their honesty Moore and Roberts recognize that similarity, and why those on the right might find it more than a little suggestive. They write:
Much of the far right thinks international capitalism and the left are the same thing. How is such a peculiar conflation possible? It rests on the central distinction of far-right politics: not between the dominant and the dispossessed, still less between the international working class and capital, but between the national and international per se. Neoliberalism, understood from the far right as an international phenomenon (it is correct on at least this point), is opposed to the national, and thus is cast as ‘left-wing’. This view is reinforced by the cosmetic support for social liberalism (and even some aspects of social justice) adopted by international companies, and by the seeming identity (although for different reasons) of left-wing and neoliberal support for migration.
That last parenthetical holds the semantic out for leftists like Moore and Roberts. They do not support the free movement of people because it represents a growing client class, as it does for the liberal establishment, or depresses wages and bargaining power in developed nations, like it does for multinational corporations. Instead, “climate justice” demands that the global south invade the global north, a form of reparations, the redistribution of wealth to make up for a history represented as exclusively predatory and exploitative. “We must identify, defend and amplify ecological relations which restore and respect natural systems whilst attacking systems of private ownership of the means of production and attempting to re-common the world,” they write. There will be no private property and thus no ill-gotten gains after the revolution, comrade. Of course, to the right that all comes out to the same thing, class war, the destruction first of the middle-class economy in which the natural family can thrive and, eventually, of the nation.
Again, Moore and Roberts seem sincere, sincere enough to recognize that the systems of control suggested by efforts to cool the entire planet sound like the makings of a totalitarian future, which they insist is not what their idea of solidarity demands. The main thing, of course, is to not be a reactionary:
Because the problems overlap and ‘express themselves through each other’, they might seem to require a form of total governance, the temptation of authoritarian expansion. It is largely within this authoritarian expansion that the far right will situate their responses to the complex sum of these problems, each perhaps superficially revolutionary. Indeed, without reducing our opposition to its ideas one bit, we might nevertheless admit that, as they have in the past, the far right might once again offer ‘plausible solutions to modern social problems’. There is likewise no particularly good reason to imagine that future far-right politics will be inflexible or hopeless. But there is plenty of good reason to believe it will be disastrous.
Yes, the right’s attempts to answer the problems of ecological disorder will not be the left’s, for they will not be global in scope. We, like Moore and Roberts, “acknowledge — as many in the climate movement have argued for years — that much of the struggle needs to be over the conditions of adaptation. Indeed, politics is a rather more responsive system than the climate.” But being on the right, and American, I consider these environmental concerns in relation to America and the American continent. Being on the left, and Brits, in a backwater with limited self-determination in our current global order, Moore and Roberts consider environmental concerns in international and post-national terms. “Whatever forms of parochialism are brought against it, the climate crisis remains determinedly planetary in scope,” they write. “Solidarity within, at and across borders is therefore essential.” This solidarity “is an attempt to overcome the split from which governance derives its power. Governance masks prior unity.”
This presumed pale-blue-dot human unity divorced from reference to the imago Dei, humanity’s equality as creature, gets at the heart of an anthropological divide vital to all political questions. Right and left agree, scarcity as such is a matter of conflict, not of natural potential, but where the right sees in this conflict a reaction to locality and natural difference, the left sees an unnatural imposition, only libido dominandi. The religious right can point to fallenness here, but also to a theological tradition that sees natural government as existing in potential even prior to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden; had our first parents remained in growing grace, they and their children would still have not been identical, equal in an earthly sense, because of differences of age and sex and aptitude, and so authority and direction would still be needed for the full flourishing of that unfallen human community.
In his political philosophy qua business book Zero to One, cowritten with Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, Peter Thiel presents four quadrants for speculating about the future. On one axis is the classic optimist and pessimist dichotomy, and on the other is definite and indefinite thought. Moore and Roberts seem unable to pick a plane for their thinking. They write:
There are two very different stories about technology in the twenty-first century. On the one hand, there is techno-optimism: Moore’s law, terraforming, freely available green energy, kelp farming, bespoke algae production, space mining. The other, a much more sobering account, points to the dwindling resource base for these technologies as well as the deep inequalities that they reinforce.
Some of these are, of course, definite factors under consideration, in a book whose very purpose is to point out a cause for definite pessimism on the part of the left, namely that the right will have more compelling definite answers to the complex of issues labeled a climate emergency. But the concluding optimism in reply is as indefinite as that of the techno-optimist and green regulator, both of which are equally confident some sort of technological discovery will make old industrial systems sustainable or so-called renewable systems work without driving energy costs up too much. Moore and Roberts write, “Solidarity is not just an obligation. It should also be a mode of enlivening, a mode of extracting ourselves from our parochialism and opening out into the planetary ecology we collectively live through.” Enlivening sounds very nice, but it is not a cause for definite hope.
The trouble for the serious leftists like Moore and Roberts is that, like the neoliberal masters of the universe they despise, they want global action. At the planetary scale, everything becomes indefinite, and a commitment to class conflict against the bourgeois middle means obvious and existent state-level solutions, such as nuclear power, are off the table. Cheap electricity will perpetuate reactionary social arrangements, or something like that. But the right is all about the definite: definite places, definite people, definite solutions. There is solidarity in the nation and the family; natio means “birth.”
The right, then, has a real chance of providing a more compelling alternative as the nexus of political problems that are put under the label “climate” comes to a head in the next couple decades, problems such as mass migration and energy supply and food production and natural disasters and declining birth rates and hormonal disruption and mass die-off. Moore and Roberts are almost there when they write, “We are dependent on a particular climatic system, a fact which, for most of us, modernity has obscured.” Replace “we” with “Americans” and “climatic” with “environmental.” As they put it, “Thus, solidarity must extend not just to those humans and societies upon which we depend, but to the more-than-human nature that we exist within as well.” From sea to shining sea.