The threat of ecofascism

The crisis of climate breakdown presents opportunities for the far-right. So how can progressives respond?

Violence will become an increasingly major part of billions of people’s lives worldwide. 

 

 

Apocalypse has often been a fascist narrative. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming.

Climate breakdown will be a source of enormous stress on the global economy, culture, and our collective life support systems. Some parts of the globe will become uninhabitable. Violence will become an increasingly major part of billions of people’s lives worldwide.

It seems likely that some parts of Europe will be sheltered from the worst of the immediate climate impacts by virtue of their wealth, political power, and the comparatively mild climate.

Predicament

But the vast majority of people in Europe and North America will not be spared the sudden, unpredictable and irreversible contraction of their standards of living, instigating unprecedented climate migration.

Across the globe, in highly uneven ways, it will begin to look a lot like the end of the world. If this seems alarmist, consider that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was almost certainly the first of many increasingly damaging environmental crises.

Climate breakdown will not be a single event, but a series of highly complex stressors on society: broken supply chains; alienation; shelter-in-place orders; intrusive state interventions into life; emergency legislation; and racism. These waves of shock will be highly unpredictable, but their overall frequency and intensity is likely to increase. 

Eventually the pattern of social shocks will shift over into turbulence, and each crisis will become indistinct from the last, their effects rapidly spiralling beyond control.

As narratives of long-term material progress face their self-evident refutation and atrophy even further, people in Europe and North America will support whoever promises to extricate them from their predicament.

Geopolitical

Indeed, the struggle to articulate and explain the unfolding disaster of anthropogenic climate breakdown might well be the central challenge of political narrative-making in the 21st century and beyond.

Why are we saying all this? In part, because the far right will almost certainly be well positioned to provide a compelling, if entirely false, narrative about both the breakdown’s causes and its drastic solutions.

Violence will become an increasingly major part of billions of people’s lives worldwide. 

 

 

In the long term, this might coalesce into any number of movements and political formations that could be labelled in advance as ‘ecofascism’.

What is perhaps so worrying about the relationship of fascism to the climate crisis is how well they seem to fit together: the collapse of a ‘natural order’ through unstoppable and catastrophic ‘decadent’ growth seems to lead inexorably to the opportunity for a racist ‘palingenetic’ movement of national or civilizational rebirth.

Fascism requires a sense of crisis, one that needs immense violence to prevent or reverse. Again, climate change, which seems insoluble within both the current economic system of capitalism and with the current geopolitical order of – as the far right sees it – compromise, hedging and mediocrity, might be just such a crisis.

Roots

There are multiple strands to far-right thinking about the environment, which we can separate into three groups: far-right political parties; a variety of movement-based identitarian approaches; and "blackpilled collapsists". 

The first group contains some parts which are explicitly strategising around our climate-breakdown future and some which will opportunistically push through their existing policies in times of crisis.

This might include the New Ecology initiative of the Rassemblement National in France; the coalition of the right-wing Austrian People’s Party and the Green Party and the Fidesz government in Hungary.

Environmental politics have been alloyed with anti-immigrant and far-right policies in the Five Star Movement in Italy and have been cynically used by the US Center for Immigration Studies to promote anti-immigration policies.

The deep institutional roots of these organisations and their ability to organise politics at the scale of the nation-state will likely make them key players in the early right response to climate breakdown.

Hate

However, some of these parties have been embroiled for too long in climate denial, and their fundamental interest in maintaining a relatively conventional capitalist modernity will prevent them from taking what will increasingly seem like necessary action.

In this they are likely to be understood from their right as simply another instance of the failed political centre. As their supporters withdraw from these groups, they will not automatically join progressive environmentalist movements, which will seem to them too committed to social justice. Where will they go instead? Perhaps, rightwards. 

The second group – movements and identitarians – are perhaps the most worrying group for the long term.

Their main focus – cultural politics and its variations – is flexible enough to produce widespread hate towards refugees, assuming these increase by virtue of climate change.

Indeed, versions of far-right environmentalism were adopted by the American Identity Movement, which summarised its connection with environmentalism in one of its sticker campaigns: "Plant trees, save the seas, deport refugees."

Survivalist

These group’s organisational flexibility, and perhaps even more importantly their relative youth, will let them thrive when the right and far-right parties look, by comparison, like increasingly sclerotic apologists for the liberal capitalist order.

Political savvy and ability to translate smoothly between racist fears about migration and the spectacle of a declining natural order make this kind of movement the most serious threat.

Presently, these groups - at least their European variants - seek to influence the state, although depending on the success of their broader meta-political strategy, they could come to be a serious alternative to the largely left-leaning mainstream climate movement.

The last group are blackpilled collapsists. Blackpilled collapsists are those on the far right who have given up all hope of a conventional political solution to the problems they see, and therefore look to climate change with hope.

They reason it might make their wish for a chaotic free-for-all (in which they imagine themselves triumphing) come true. They often deploy survivalist and prepping language and, in America at least, dovetail neatly with existing militia groups.

Blackpilled

One of the most important cultural changes in the last few years, both on the far right and in the wider culture, is the mainstreaming of prepping.

As unexpected breakdown events become more frequent, so the logic goes, so too does the rational case for preparing for them become stronger.

In retrospect – writing from the inside of the COVID-19 pandemic – the turn of these blackpilled groups, such as international group The Base, towards recruiting from the ex-military wing of the US prepping scene seems like extraordinary foresight on their part.

Climate breakdown, that long dark tunnel into which our planet is heading, has no clear solution, and neither do the distinctions between these three segments have much solidity.

There is a tension between deadly violence and movement building but it may not always be so: the contradiction between the two is resolvable. As the 21st century progresses, the currently stark distinction between identitarians and the blackpilled might start to wane. 

Life

In the context of global catastrophe, one central plank of anti-fascist strategy – pointing out the connections between movements and the terrorists they would attempt to disavow – might begin to be less effective.

The central argument of anti-fascist opposition to ‘ecofascism’ must be that it is not only likely to be politically catastrophic but also unlikely to solve the climate crisis itself.

Indeed, despite the long history of environmental concern on the far right, it has extracted from the box of ‘nature’ a large number of distinct lessons: it has, in power, consistently worked to destroy the natural environment. 

Ecofascism is not concerned with a biocentrist defence of the sanctity of all life.

What it has almost entirely been concerned with, through this history, is not nature but access to nature: preserving both a particular structure within nature and the social relations that allow people to access and engage with it. It is this we call ‘right-environmentalism’.

Extreme

Right-environmentalism is built around the attempt to stabilise and resolve a contradiction between two opposed conceptions of nature.

On the one hand, nature is conceived of something true and eternal, whose ultimate triumph is guaranteed: nature is the central regulatory ideal of society. On the other hand, nature is almost always presented as something that has been obscured in fact.

Thus, it must be restored by the deliberate and often extreme acts of its most ardent exemplars - often a particular race.

On the one hand, nature is eternal and pure and irresistible. On the other, it has always already inexplicably been resisted by the far right’s enemies.

Globalisation

Attempting to resolve this underlying contradiction in the ideology of nature is the central task of right-environmentalism.

What does this have to do with capitalism? Perhaps such a contradiction simply indexes a deeper ambivalence in far-right politics: a wish to enjoy the spoils of capitalist expansion without the attendant social transformations that such a process has often entailed.

Racial domination cannot be achieved without the operations of capitalism. However, capitalism also entails both ever-escalating production and resource extraction, destroying particular aspects of the life-world the far right wants to root itself in.

Further, capitalism inexorably tends towards its own globalisation. Rootness - and its attendant social forms - is undercut by the force 0f capitalism that gives that rootness its particular sense of its own superiority.

These Authors

Sam Moore and Alex Roberts are researchers on the far right and the authors of two forthcoming books, Post-Internet Far Right (Dog Section Press, 2021) and The Rise of Ecofascism (Polity Press, 2021). They host the podcast 12 Rules for WHATThis essay is an abridged chapter from Post-Internet Far Right.

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