The term eco-fascism has been used as a smear
against those who wish to speak of population growth within the debates about
the state of the world. The term suggests
that those who propose a curb on population growth are eco-fascists.
However, the term is: unhelpful, oxymoronic, and
essentially obfuscating. Here is why.
The word fascism conjures up images of
concentration camps, Nazi rallies, Hitler, Mussolini, and the holocaust. For many, fascism is a blight on world
history, and a social/political/economic ideology that should never again be
Fascism is characterised by (inter alia):
authoritarian regimentation of society,
one-party totalitarian state,
ideals embodied in the Leader (cf. Führer)
in a superior, master race,
(often by violent means) of any, and all, opposition,
control of the media and judiciary,
of the military and security infrastructure,
of (toxic) masculinity, and rigid gender roles.
The word itself is derived from Latin. Fasces is a bundle of rods. One of the symbols of fascism is a bundle of
rods enclosing an axe with the blade emerging (the fascio littorio.) Benito Mussolini adopted this symbol and
founded the movement Fascio d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (Fasces of
Revolutionary Action) in 1915. This
later (1917) morphed into the (Italian) National Fascist Party. An early admirer of Mussolini and the fascist
movement was Adolf Hitler. The rest (as
they say) is history.
Fascism has a fairy distinct (recent) history and a reasonably
defined set of characteristics.
Ecology on the other hand has a lengthy history, defined
by complex inter-connections, and sometimes contentious ideas. The Greek philosophers (especially
Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Herodotus) were articulating ecological (and
environmental) ideas two and a half thousand years ago.
The word ecology itself was first coined in 1866
by Ernst Haeckel, a German zoologist and naturalist.1 As a branch of biology, ecology has come to
mean the study of:
processes, interactions, and adaptations,
of resources and energy through ecosystems,
ecosystems emerge, develop, and thrive (or not),
partnerships, patterns, in life and ecosystems.
Although identical with, ecology has become associated
with environmentalism. The environmental
movement could be summarised (perhaps crudely) as a movement of human
stewardship, recognising humanity as a participant, and partner, in ecosystems
and the planetary whole. The
environmental movement rejects the notion that nature, and ecosystems, are the
enemy of humans (and vice versa.)
Thomas Berry (one of the foremost ecological,
environmental, and spiritual, thinkers) puts it well when he says,
human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the
Ecology then is: non-hierarchical, bio-diverse,
recognises uniqueness, co-operative (notwithstanding the existence of food
chains), co-evolutionary, and emergent.
The American science fiction writer, Philip K Dick, warned,
in a 1978 speech, that “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is
the manipulation of words.”
An Australian reviewer, takes this warning a step
further and claims that, “Everyone who hopes for better, needs to use terms
precisely, especially political language.” 3
With these two cautions in mind, it is the contention
of this writer that the term eco-fascist is one of those words that manipulates
and is used imprecisely (often by those who seek a better world.)
It is manipulative because it ascribes the possibility
of someone with fascist views to simultaneously be an environmentalist. It manipulates in the opposite direction
also. If the two sets of characteristics
described above, for Fascism and Ecology, are laid side-by-side, then it is noticeably
clear that they are mutually incompatible.
We know that Hitler was a vegetarian and had a love of
animals, especially dogs. This is
sometimes used to suggest that it is possible to be both an ecologist and a
fascist – in short, an eco-fascist.
However, Hitler was not motivated to invade Poland because of his vegetarianism. Nor did he command the extermination of Jews,
and others, because of his love for the canine species.
Hitler was not an eco-fascist. Hitler was a fascist.
Similarly, if someone in contemporary society claims
that the problems of the world are caused by overpopulation, and
that the solution is to cull people, then that person is not an ecologist
(environmentalist), that person is enunciating a characteristic of fascism.
By describing such a person as an eco-fascist diminishes
their extremism, and allows them to contend that “oh, but I was just doing
it for the planet.”
No, the term eco-fascist is oxymoronic,
unhelpful, and obfuscating. There is no
A fascist by any other name is still a fascist.
1. It should be acknowledged that Haeckel was also an
eugenicist and a proponent of scientific (biologic) racism. This, of course, muddies the water somewhat,
as these two patterns of thought underpin some of the characteristics of
fascism. However, it should also be
noted that ecology as it developed, shrugged off both these pseudo-scientific
2. Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our way into the
future, Harmony, New York, 1999.
3. Thornton McCamish,
reviewing the book Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen, in The
Monthly, Issue # 170, September 2020, Victoria, Australia.