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 entertained.
Fascism is characterised by (inter alia):
· dictatorial power,
· an authoritarian regimentation of society,
· a one-party totalitarian state,
· nationalistic ideals embodied in the Leader (cf. Führer)
· belief in a superior, master race,
· suppression (often by violent means) of any, and all, opposition,
· State control of the media and judiciary,
· dominance of the military and security infrastructure,
· promotion 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:
· life processes, interactions, and adaptations,
· flows of resources and energy through ecosystems,
· how ecosystems emerge, develop, and thrive (or not),
· connections, 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,
“The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe.” 2
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 sanitising fascism.
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 notions.
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.