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November 09th 2009 print

Merv Bendle

Eco-Fascism & Clive Hamilton

Because the Greens portray themselves as “progressive” in their political ideology and programme, questions about the “natural fit” between radical environmentalism and fascism have not been frequently asked.

Is the Greens candidate for Higgins, Clive Hamilton, an eco-fascist? This question arises out of several candid anti-democratic and demagogic observations made by him in a recent article posted last week on Quadrant Online, and noticed elsewhere in the media.

Because the Greens portray themselves as “progressive” in their political ideology and programme, questions about the “natural fit” between radical environmentalism and fascism have not been frequently asked. However, there is a good deal of scholarship on the topic, including such recent books as How Green Were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (2005), by Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller. Nazis like Ernst Lehmann defined the National Socialist vision in terms that could easily be found in a Green party manifesto – apart from the last few words:

We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a re-integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. That is the fundamental point of the biological tasks of our age. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole … This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought. (Biologischer Wille. Wege und Ziele biologischer Arbeit im neuen Reich, 1934)

And in his useful guide to Main Currents in Western Environmental Thought (2002), Peter Hay (himself an environmentalist) describes the eco-fascism of the Nazis:

Ecological ideas appealed to the Nazis because they, too, believed that the laws of nature were immutable, and … with their economics of state-managed rather than market capitalism, they approved ecology”s opposition to the laissez-faire market. (p.184)

This attitude lives on among contemporary neo-Nazis, who also blame the ecological crisis (and most other evils in the world) on the United States: “American cultural imperialism is genocidal of other cultures … and its technological imperialism is destroying the global environment” (p.184).

Indeed, even the environmental movement itself has confronted the tendency of environmentalists to “tip over” into extreme political authoritarianism and even fascism, as two social ecologists have observed: “The necessary project of creating an emancipatory ecological politics demands an acute awareness and understanding of the legacy of classical eco-fascism and its conceptual continuities with present day environmental discourse” (Janet Biehl, Peter Staudenmaier,  Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, 1995, p.26).

As far as Hamilton is concerned, his apocalyptic claim in his article that climate change in the very near future will be “so horrible that we [must] look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of “emergency” responses such as the suspension of democratic processes”, raises the question as whether he may be properly defined as an anti-democratic, authoritarian eco-fascist, typical of that stream of the environmentalist tradition that goes back to the Nazi Party in the inter-war years.

The question becomes even more relevant when other parts of his article are considered. These include his candid advocacy of political demagoguery, an art widely practiced and perfected by Nazis and fascists such as Hitler, Goebbels and Mussolini, and used by them to undermine and eventually destroy democratic institutions. Demagoguery involves the pursuit of power by politicians who deliberately avoid the use of reason and appeal instead to people”s emotions, instincts, and prejudices in a way that would otherwise be considered manipulative and dangerous. Here Hamilton’s views are quite explicit: “The purpose of political exaggeration is to stimulate stronger emotional responses, usually fear, and make [people] more likely to act in the way desired” by such demagogues.

It appears he believes that any such manipulation is justified as far as environmentalism is concerned:

Political actors typically engage in exaggeration to advance their agenda, and in the case of climate change the situation is no different … Environmentalists have often overstated the effects of environmental decline. The risks of nuclear power, though considerable, have been exaggerated. The dangers of urban air pollution have been inflated. The threats posed by DDT, lead pollution and pesticides, while significant, have usually been presented as much scarier than they actually are. And the likely effects of genetically modified crops have been blown out of proportion.

Such demagoguery is used to promote fear and emotional responses, presumably because the empirical evidence for the various claims associated with these issues is not considered ultimately convincing in itself (for example, the scare surrounding DDT was found to be grossly exaggerated and led to the deaths of millions of people from malaria).

Ultimately, the present global warming panic is unfolding according to the various ill-founded but panic-inducing “doomsday scenarios” that have blighted the environmental movement since its beginnings in the 1960s, and, as Hay pointed out in the book cited above, “scientists who determined the agenda and values of the early modern environmental movement … developed a politics that was undemocratic, authoritarian, pessimistic, repressive, illiberal, static and closed” (p.186).

Such people have found natural allies amongst activists and politicians who seek to replace democracy with an authoritarian regime that they can use to execute their own alarmist agendas and within which they expect to receive the reverence and power that they believe is their due.

Eco-fascism is a strong tendency within the environmental movement, precisely because it seeks to derive its theory of politics not from human beings, as is done in liberal democracies, but from brute nature, “red in tooth and claw”, just as the Nazis did. Shortly, the voters in Higgins will have an opportunity to consider such issues and pass judgment on Hamilton and the views on eco-apocalypticism, liberal democracy, and political demagoguery for which he stands.