When Environmentalists Go Bad : The Racist Implications of Anti-Industrial Philosophy


SMITH Jeffrey Alan

Year of publication 2023
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description This presentation will explore the relationship between a particular school of environmentalism and the social construction of racist thinking. There are prominent Anglo-American environmentalists who were, or might once have been, associated with the political left, but who seem to have moved sharply “rightward.” Notable examples are two British activists, Russell Brand and Paul Kingsnorth, along with Kingsnorth’s associates on his “Dark Mountain” project. Their motivation seems to be despair over industrial civilization and an increasing certainty that it stands to destroy the planet. In the most extreme (and quite possibly psychotic) case, Theodore Kaczynski, the American “Unabomber,” became a hermit and fugitive attempting to carry out serial murders in pursuit of an anti-industrial vision he propounded in a lengthy manifesto. Kingsnorth has not turned to violence, but his own co-authored manifesto calls for a great project of “Uncivilizing,” or in effect de-populating and re-wilding the earth while dispossessing human civilization altogether. Ideas like these align with racism inasmuch as they hyper-privilege “nature” at the expense of human polities. As Hannah Arendt, Ivan Hannaford and others have written, racism involves treating people as biological rather than political beings – assigning their status to nature or “mere givenness,” as Arendt put it. Only within political communities can people become citizens with rights. Intentionally or not, therefore, the “former environmentalist right” lends philosophical aid and comfort to racist and alt-right causes. This has disturbing implications for a future in which environmental disruptions might well create more refugees and “stateless persons” of the kind that Arendt saw as leading to totalitarianism and the Holocaust.
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