This post is largely about the UK. The last decade has seen a huge increase in climate change deniers and supporters of fossil fuel extraction industries promoting unscientific agendas and lobbying politicians, many of whom are also supporters of all forms of fascism and violence. However, with climate change issues being given higher profile and fossil fuel divestment growing, exactly the same people are also quickly trying to jump on a new environmental bandwagon and twist their xenophobic, racist policies in apparent support of nature. So it’s very timely that Richard Smyth’s article on eco-fascism has summarised this history.
Whilst not implying that all nature writers, conservationists and supporters of environmentally friendly policies are fascist – just where eco-fascism creeps in – with the rise of fascist politicians who now openly and loudly try to make the unreasonable appear reasonable and the unthinkable appear thinkable in their unscientific supremacist quest for power and resources.
The fascism of Williamson and Jenks echoed the fascist and anti-Semitic “peasant politics” of interwar central and eastern Europe, and took its lead, most particularly, from Nazi Germany. “Nature, with all its violence and beauty, was the primary model for conceiving German history and identity in the Third Reich,” the scholars Robert G Lee and Sabine Wilke have argued. The anti-industrial German Romanticism of the 19th century fed a surge of feeling for the notion of German soil and German forest: “There was no escaping the imagery, and there still isn’t,” Paul Scraton writes in his book Ghosts on the Shore. “The German word for beech forest, a very normal descriptive word… now carries the weight of a very different meaning: Buchenwald. The name of the extermination camp at Auschwitz? Birkenau. Birch meadow.”
The first Germany-wide environmental protection legislation came into effect under Hitler’s government, in 1935. A form of environmentalism was locked into the far-right politics of the period…
…In scrutinising our cultural engagement with nature in the 21st century we can see, without looking especially hard, a frightening resurgence in Nazi-oriented green-ism: “eco-fascism”. In 2012, Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation condemned the country’s far-right “green” movements, which have their roots in the nativist rural communities established in the wake of reunification. In promoting organic produce and healthy living, said the co-publisher of the foundation’s critique, Gudrun Heinrich, “they’re trying to become a very normal part of society – which is dangerous, since they hold very dehumanising beliefs”. The historian Nils Franke told the news outlet DW that the far right was seeking to use environmentalism as “a Trojan Horse” in a bid to capture a mainstream following <1>
Just as they did in the early days of the web, flooding news sites and blogs with paid for comments, they have replicated this on social media and try to invade every single social justice issue being raised to give themselves publicity. Richard Smyth has given examples of where nature books contain seemingly innocuous language but authored by fascists and this is also prevalent on social media where the far right often use positive nature terminology in their account names, profiles and tweets. Classic FM repeatedly plays Jerusalem which is considered nationalistic / patriotic and a cathedral was criticised for banning it by the right wing Daily Telegraph newspaper. It’s not just the UK either but this is a useful reminder that we need to be careful about what we share and allow in environmental appreciation and campaigns.
1. Smyth (2019) Nature Writing’s fascist roots, The New Statesman – UK Edition, available at https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2019/04/eco-facism-nature-writing-nazi-far-right-nostalgia-england