FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment

Green politics is associated with the left these days, but that doesn’t rule out an eco-friendly turn at the opposite end of the spectrum.

After all, nationalist worries over finite resources and talk of ‘threats to tradition’ have been echoed throughout the history of the green movement.

So, is a far right environmentalism possible? And if so, given climate change is hugely disruptive for any form of traditional nationalist idyll, how long before far right groups join the likes of Greenpeace on the frontlines?

Modern forms of green activism emerged in the 1960s in a context of threats like acid rain or increasing pesticide use which transcended national boundaries. The EU in the early 1970s also began to grapple with environmental problems that could no longer be effectively managed by individual states.

This form of green activism thus showed that the nation state had failed to protect citizens against environmental problems. As such, it drew upon an older tradition that in the 1800s reacted against the perceived attacks on humanity and nature by capitalist interests by calling for a return to the land.

This could give early environmentalism a left-wing flavour, as in the Winter Hill trespass of 1896 when thousands of people in Bolton reclaimed an ancient right of way through private land. But the disruption that modernisation brings also produced a range of responses that could be termed ‘green nationalism’.

The far right feels threatened

The far right respond to threats they perceive to custom, culture, identity and locales posed by cosmopolitan elites. They usually have settler value systems that express pessimism and victimhood, emphasise threats rather than opportunities and see conspiracies as explanations for the degradation of their personal and group life-chances and local environment.

This leads to a green nationalism of defensive parochialism in which degradation of local features are opposed because they negatively affect customs – such as tending allotments, or the retention of the village green – threaten the familiar locale, and represent the effects of distrusted outsiders.

How this plays out in practice seems to depend upon which outsiders they distrust. In the US there are Tea Party environmentalists who have been mobilised, for instance, by the impact of polluting energy companies.

However, a tradition of blaming government not business, along with diversionary nationalist propaganda (‘Drill here! Drill now!’) funded by wealthy oil barons, has meant these same activists are often vehement opponents of better environmental regulation.

In contrast, far right groups in Britain seem simply to ignore the environmental threats posed by extreme energy extraction such as fracking.

Nationalism needs landscape

The landscape is a key element in national identity throughout the world. A defence of that landscape against perceived threats can so become an environmentalism focused on preserving the distinctive characteristics of a nation’s land, from the rolling green fields of England to the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland.

This has often been accompanied by other ways of reasserting identity. Myths of a pagan past in harmony with nature have been a feature of green nationalism, from its beginnings through to the Anastasia ecovillages in contemporary Russia where, unlike their equivalent hippy communes found in the West, sustainable living is combined with a ‘reactionary eco-nationalism‘.

Such myths give identity and meaning to some groups attracted to the far right, such as the skinhead movement that emerged in Britain in the 1960s, while also providing imagined alternatives to the drudgery associated with modern capitalism or the compromises of democracy.

‘They come here, use our finite resources …’

The other aspect of the green movement that is appropriated by the far right is the concern about the depletion of key resources by unchecked usage. At its most cynical, this can be a far right equivalent of business ‘greenwashing’. However, it also reflects a tendency to see economics and society as a zero-sum game in which every gain for others is a loss for the victimised groups they see themselves as.

Concerns about finite resources therefore align with anxieties about immigration. Far right groups and their media supporters are swift to exploit fears of threats to the local animals allegedly posed by immigrants. Such baseless hostility is then compounded by the widespread and equally erroneous view that England’s green and pleasant land has already largely disappeared under concrete.

Green causes are not usually the main motivating factor for those attracted to the far right. This does not mean, however, that their espousal is mere greenwashing.

The far right tends to think of green issues differently from their left-wing counterparts. Their approach focuses on the local, not the global, and reflects the centrality of landscape to national identities. Their defensive parochialism means that these threats are usually seen in cultural terms through the appropriation of victimhood, hence the tendency to focus upon immigration as opposed to the emphases of left-wing environmentalists.

Green issues tend to be seen by the far right through the distinct lenses of cultural identity and the land. That does not necessarily prevent, however, the emergence of a green nationalism.

Peter Paul Catterall is Professor of History and Policy, University of Westminster.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

More articles by:

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail