Earlier this year I ran a brace of posts by Harriet Bergman on eco-fascism (here and here). It’s a topic I want to keep half an eye on, and so I picked up a copy of Sam Moore and Alex Roberts’ book The Rise of EcoFascism: Climate Change and the Far Right.
One of the first things the authors do is question the term ‘eco-fascism’. It was coined by the environmentalist Murray Bookchin in response to a radical green fringe whose views had taken a particularly ugly turn. They were suggesting that the HIV crisis was a good thing, as it was reducing population numbers. But while it was and is used as a general term for far right environmental views, it isn’t necessarily fascism.
By the book’s definition, fascism is “a political form that seeks to revolutionize and reharmonize the nation state through expelling a radically separate ‘other’ by paramilitary means.” Barring some US armed groups, the paramilitary element of true fascism isn’t really apparent. It was always a mass movement, and it was about the purity of the nation first and foremost.
There is a risk that “while expecting fascism, we forget the variety of authoritarian politics,” warn Moore and Roberts. China has more draconian environmental laws than most and is not on the political right. The UK government has veered dramatically towards more authoritarian territory in the last couple of years. It doesn’t fit the criteria of fascism, and neither should we wait until it does to oppose it.
So despite the book’s title, one of its key messages is not to get hung up on the term eco-fascism. Instead, we should be alert to a broad and so far fragmented collection of far right environmental ideas. For example, Trump’s America and Bolsonaro’s Brazil have both pursued a militarized approach to borders and citizenship – a form of perverse climate adaptation – while maintaining a climate denial stance.
A second form is authoritarian tactics to secure the resources for the climate transition. This could be forced re-locations for energy projects, or turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the extraction of lithium and other materials needed for batteries, EVs and renewable energy.
Finally, the book investigates a third strand of far right environmental thinking that mainly exists online, with occasional violent outbursts into the real world.
In all of this, the book stresses that it isn’t really possible to point with any confidence to eco-fascism as a force. “We are writing in anticipation of a politics to come as much as reflecting on the politics of today.” Understanding the potential for climate action to get authoritarian and inhumane might just help us from turning to extreme solutions. “Oppose ecologies of domination with ecologies of liberation,” the authors urge, wherever they spring from.
“Whatever happens with the climate, it will always be made worse by the arrival of far-right authoritarianism. The politics of exclusion, racism, parochalism, hierarchy and conspiracy were fundamentally inadequate to the challenges that society faced at every point in its entire history. There is no reason to suspect they might suddenly be useful in the future.”