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 hosts of a podcast about the far right. It says so on the cover of her new book, out this week. They are British too. That’s all I know about her. I know a little bit from however, they now, having read about 130 pages of their writing (not the endnotes): mainly that they seem to be serious guys trying seriously to get the job done. This book is short, yes, but it shows conscientiousness on every page, the pop academic left doing its best to be as fair as aid to the cause will allow.
To be clear, I do not recommend this book to most of my readers. His definitions are baroque and boutique, and the reasoning unsatisfactorily semantic. It’s as breezy as academics can get, but it’s still written in the language of contemporary social science. However, if you are something of a researcher yourself, maybe some kind of activist, maybe even a podcast host, then you might find a Leftist overview of Rightist ecological thinking mildly interesting. After all, you may not be interested in climate policy, but climate policy is interested in you. I don’t regret the few hours I spent with The rise of eco-fascism; it is illustrative, not just semi-informative.
What it illustrates is the reality that serious leftists are in a bind when it comes to environmental activism. “Climate justice” looks a lot like globalist greenwashing. Meanwhile, environmentalism and ecological thinking have a long, if occasionally dirty, pedigree on the right, probably more so than on 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 way of life, naturally seeks the preservation of place. The left, in its commitment to rid humanity of all inequalities, seeks to smooth out differences, and particularly in the Marxist sense, it has historically seen the formation of a mass-industrialised society and all its ecological consequences as a step on the synthetic march toward a classless future where , without the decisive intervention of the kingship of Christ, Every valley will be exalted and every mountain and hill will be brought down.
This is a flattening that comes very close to the miniaturization of humanity homo economius and global governance aspirations 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 exact direction of causality in both cases), while pursuing a cup-and-ball -Playing game with unsustainable and degrading industrial practices. In their honesty, Moore and Roberts acknowledge this resemblance and why the right might find them more than a little suggestive. You write:
Much of the far right thinks that international capitalism and the left are the same. How is such a strange merger possible? It is based on the central distinction of far-right politics: not between the rulers and the dispossessed, still less between the international working class and capital, but between national and international per se. Neoliberalism, understood by the extreme right as an international phenomenon (at least on this point it is correct), opposes the national and is therefore labeled “left”. This view is reinforced by the cosmetic endorsement of social liberalism (and even some aspects of social justice) by international corporations, and by the apparent identity (albeit for different reasons) of leftist and neoliberal support for migration.
This last bracket holds the semantics for leftists like Moore and Roberts. They do not support the free movement of people because it represents a growing clientele, as is the case for the liberal establishment, or because it depresses wages and bargaining power in developed countries, as is the case for multinational corporations. Instead, “Climate Justice” demands that the Global South invade the Global North, a form of reparation, a redistribution of wealth to balance a history portrayed as exclusively predatory and exploitative. “We must identify, defend, and strengthen ecological relationships that restore and respect natural systems while attacking systems of private ownership of the means of production and attempting to reunite the world,” they write. After the revolution there will be no private property and hence no ill-gotten gains, comrade. To the right, of course, that all amounts to the same thing, class struggle, the destruction first of the bourgeois economy in which the natural family can thrive, and finally of the nation.
Again, Moore and Roberts seem sincere, sincere enough to recognize that the systems of control being proposed by the entire planet-cooling effort sound like the stuff of a totalitarian future, which they claim is not is what their idea of solidarity demands. The most important thing, of course, is not to be a reactionary:
Since the problems overlap and express each other, they seem to require some form of total domination, the temptation of authoritarian expansion. The extreme right will largely locate its responses to the complex sum of these problems, each of which may be superficially revolutionary, within this authoritarian expansion. Indeed, without reducing our opposition to their ideas a bit, we could still concede that the extreme right, as it has done in the past, may once again offer “plausible solutions to modern social problems”. Nor is there any particularly good reason to imagine that future far-right politics will be inflexible or hopeless. But there’s plenty of good reason to believe it’s going to be disastrous.
Yes, attempts by the right to answer the problems of ecological disorder will not be those of the left, for they will not have global reach. We, like Moore and Roberts, “recognize—as many in the climate movement have argued for years—that much of the battle must be fought over the terms of adaptation. In fact, politics is a slightly more responsive system than climate.” But being right-wing and American, I look at these environmental concerns in terms of America and the Americas. As leftists and Britons caught in a backlog of limited self-determination in our current global order, Moore and Roberts view environmental concerns in international and post-national terms. “Whatever forms of narrow-mindedness are advanced against it, the climate crisis remains resolutely planetary,” they write. “Solidarity within, at and across borders is therefore essential.” This solidarity “is an attempt to overcome the divisions from which governance draws its power. Governance obscures prior entity.”
This putative pale blue human entity, separate from the reference to the picture you, the equality of humanity as creatures, goes to the heart of an anthropological divide that is crucial to all political issues. Both right and left agree scarcity as such is a matter of conflict, not natural potential, but where the right sees this conflict as a reaction to locality and natural differences, the left sees only an unnatural impertinence dominant libido. The religious right can refer here to fallenness, but also to a theological tradition that sees natural government as potentially present before Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden; Had our first parents remained in increasing grace, they and their children would still not be identical, equal in the earthly sense, due to differences in age, sex, and fitness, and so authority and guidance would still be required for the full flourishing of this unfallen human community.
In his political philosophy qua business book zero to one, along with Arizona Senate nominee Blake Masters, Peter Thiel presents four quadrants for speculation about the future. On one axis is the classic dichotomy between optimist and pessimist, and on the other determinate and indeterminate thinking. Moore and Roberts seem unable to pick an airplane to think about. You write:
There are two very different stories about technology in the 21st century. On the one hand, techno-optimism: Moore’s Law, terraforming, disposable green energy, kelp farming, bespoke algae production, space mining. The other, much more sobering account, points to the dwindling resource base for these technologies and the deep inequalities that they reinforce.
Some of these, of course, are specific factors considered in a book whose real purpose is to show a reason for a certain pessimism on the part of the left, namely that the right have more compelling, definite answers to the complex of questions that has come to be known as the climate emergency. But the final optimism in response is as vague as that of the techno-optimist and the green regulator, both equally confident something Some sort of technological discovery will make old industrial systems sustainable, or so-called renewable systems, without driving up energy costs too much. Moore and Roberts write: “Solidarity is not Just an obligation. It should also be a kind of invigoration, a way of freeing ourselves from our narrow-mindedness and opening ourselves to the planetary ecology that we are living through together.” Invigorating sounds very nice, but it is not a reason for concrete hope.
The problem for the serious left like Moore and Roberts is that, like the neoliberal masters of the universe they despise, they want global action. At the planetary level, everything is becoming vague, and a commitment to class conflict against the middle class means that obvious and existing state-level solutions, like nuclear power, are off the table. Cheap electricity will perpetuate reactionary social arrangements, or something like that. But the law is about specific things: specific places, specific people, specific solutions. There is solidarity in the nation and in the family; nation means “birth”.
So the right has a real chance to offer a more compelling alternative as the nexus of political issues lumped together under the climate label will come to a head over the next few decades, problems such as mass migration and energy supply and food manufacturing and natural disasters and declining Birth rates, as well as hormonal imbalances and mass deaths. Moore and Roberts are almost there when they write, “We are dependent on a particular climate system, a fact that modernity has obscured for most of us.” Replace “we” with “Americans” and “climate” with ” Environment”. As they put it, “Therefore, solidarity must extend not only to the people and societies on which we depend, but also to the more than human nature in which we exist.” From sea to shining sea.