Can Life Prevail? A Radical Approach to the Environmental Crisis
Trans. Eetu Rautio and Olli S.
London: Arktos, 2009
Years ago, “deep ecologist” Andrew McLaughlin (a follower of Arne Naess) produced an essay titled “For a Radical Ecocentrism.” It’s an explicitly political piece, arguing for how the principles of deep ecology are compatible with left wing progressivism. (The essay even includes one section titled “What Deep Ecology Offers Social Progressives.”) McLaughlin and others like him are, of course, fervent egalitarians and advocates of “direct democracy.” And McLaughlin agonizes for pages on end about the problem of awakening “the people” to the ecological crisis they face and getting them to “organize” and do something.
The elephant in the corner of McLaughlin’s geodesic dome is, of course, the problem of whether the ecological crisis really can be solved democratically (he and others like him are quite willing to see capitalism sacrificed in order to save the earth — and rightly so — but for them democracy is the holy of holies). At one point in his essay McLaughlin compares ecologists to the abolitionists who ended slavery in America. He is honest enough to admit, however, that the abolitionists ultimately only triumphed through the use of force.
Enter Pentti Linkola, the controversial Finnish thinker who has the obvious solution to McLaughlin’s conundrum: the environmental crisis cannot be solved democratically, because human nature always plays democracy for a fool. The vast majority of people think only of their narrow, short-term self-interest, of their personal comfort, security, and satisfaction. And they vote accordingly. Saving the planet from the depredations of modern, consumerist culture will require self-sacrifice and austerity. But the majority will never go for that. In order to save the planet, we must therefore bid farewell to democracy.
I find it almost inconceivable that, despite all contrary evidence, an intelligent individual might still have faith in man and the majority, and keep banging his head against the wall. Why won’t such a person admit that the survival of man – when nature can take no more – is possible only when the discipline, prohibition, enforcement and oppression meted out by another clear-sighted human prevents him from indulging in his destructive impulses and committing suicide? How can such a person justify democracy? (p. 139)
And here is an even stronger statement:
Stupidity reaches a climax among those people who argue – without having learnt a thing from history or being able to read a single sign of our times – that man knows what is good for him: “the people know.” From this absurd assumption derives a suicidal form of government, parliamentary democracy, born among the tyrants of mankind, the West. Alas it looks like the bubble of democracy will never burst: as we struggle to enter the new millennium, we can abandon all hope. (p. 159)
And I cannot resist quoting a third, magnificent passage:
Democracy is the most miserable of all known societal systems, the building block of doom. Under such a system of government unmanageable freedom of production and consumption and the passions of the people are not only tolerated, but cherished as the highest values. The most serious environmental disasters occur in democracies. Any kind of dictatorship is superior to democracy, for a system where the individual is always bound one way or another leads to utter destruction more slowly. When individual freedom reigns, humanity is both the killer and the victim. (p. 174)
Americans remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that the European Right has always been “environmentalist” (a position they associate exclusively with leftism). “Eco-Fascists” have been around for a very long time. It is one of Linkola’s great virtues to show unequivocally that the approach of the Left, with its emphasis upon democracy, egalitarianism, and multiculturalism, is completely incapable of addressing our present ecological perils. The trouble with leftists like McLaughlin, of course, is that they love their fantasy vision of the future more than they actually want to save the planet. Or, perhaps more to the point, it may be that they hate those who would be displaced and disenfranchised by that fantasy future more than they love the earth. (Yet another case of leftists proving they are simply those who are incapable of loving their own.)
For many years Linkola (born in 1932) was known only within Finland, his work (except for a few short essays) untranslated. Now Integral Tradition Publishing (publishers of several works by Julius Evola) have brought out a volume of Linkola’s writings in English, under the title Can Life Prevail? A Radical Approach to the Environmental Crisis. (This is a translation of a collection published in Finnish and titled Voisiko Elämä Voittaa.) It brings together a number of relatively short essays by Linkola on a variety of topics, divided into sections such as “Finland,” “Forests,” and “Animals.” The key subdivision of the book, and the one containing Linkola’s most controversial statements, is the fourth one, “The World and Us.” My review will deal almost exclusively with the material in that section.
There is one claim for which Linkola is particularly notorious, and that is his insistence that the planet cannot be saved without a drastic reduction in the world’s population:
It is worth stressing once more that the chief cause for the impending collapse of the world – the cause sufficient in and by itself – is the enormous growth of the human population: the human flood. A secondary cause that is accelerating the process of devastation is the increasing burden that each new member of the population brings upon nature. (p. 127)
How can we reduce the world’s population? Linkola advocates limiting the number of children couples can have, as well as cutting off all aid to Third World countries, including an end to all African aid. This is so that, quite simply, nature might take its course and thin out the human herd. He has also been known to muse wistfully about the beneficial effects of natural disasters, and deliberate nuclear and biological attacks on major cities.
However, Linkola’s message is not limited to insisting that the population must be reduced. In the same volume, he states that it is patently absurd to think that the earth could continue to bear its human population without “a dramatic change such as the abandonment of the whole [of the modern] Western culture and way of life” (pp. 128–29). The “deep ecologists” like Naess and McLaughlin also advocate a radical critique – indeed, abandonment – of modern Western culture, but they do not go far enough. Linkola calls upon us to face the fact that modernity is unsustainable, including our modern social and political ideals and institutions.
Though Linkola never says anything (so far as I know) about race, he does oppose the immigration of Third-Worlders into the Western, industrialized nations. He does so for a very simple reason: letting more people into the modern, industrialized nations means that the mechanisms of modern industry will have to expand to accommodate them. And he is keenly aware that the immigrant birthrate vastly exceeds that of the native, Western populations: “There is no use counting the immigrants at the border: one should wait a while and look in their nurseries” (p. 130).
Further, Linkola argues that the egalitarianism that prevails in Western, democratic societies is also incompatible with ecological responsibility, primarily because it leads to overpopulation. It is on this point that Linkola makes some of his strongest, and most controversial statements. For example: “On a global scale, the main problem is not the inflation of human life, but its ever-increasing, mindless over-valuation. Emphasis on the inalienable right to life of fetuses, premature infants and the brain-dead has become a kind of collective mental disease” (p. 137). He goes on to lament the fact that capital punishment has been eliminated in most Western countries, as even the most heinous criminals are deemed to have a “right to life.” Amusingly, he rails against Finland’s (and other countries’) herculean and hugely expensive attempts to rescue “every mad fisherman who has ventured into a storm with a boat made of bark, thus salvaging another unique and irreplaceable individual from the embrace of the waves. The mind boggles” (p. 137).
Part of what motivates comments such as these is Linkola’s general misanthropy: a quality he shares with the left-wing deep ecologists. These latter are always heaping scorn upon “anthropocentrism” and insisting that human beings are simply one species within the vast web of life, no more to be valued than any other. Of course, such an attitude is symptomatic of the perverse mindset of the left: it is absurd to suggest that we should value our own species no more than we value any other.
Further, it is entirely possible to affirm the “organicism” of deep ecology, its claim that we are part of a vast, interdependent ecosystem, and to act to preserve that ecosystem precisely because we are part of it. The biological egalitarianism of the deep ecologists should be completely unsurprising to us. The deep ecologists are almost entirely deracinated white Westerners, who believe it is wrong to value their race ahead of any other. Their opposition to “anthropocentrism” simply extends this suicidal ethno-masochism to the species itself, and claims we have no right to value our own species over any other.
There is certainly a strain of this sort of thinking in Linkola, but it seems, again, to be motivated more by misanthropy than by egalitarianism. (And what intelligent, aware person isn’t a misanthrope in this world?) Furthermore, though Linkola does decry the tendency to regard all human life as sacred, he also seems ready to make distinctions between humans and to argue that some lives are more valuable than others. At one point he says “How can anyone be so crazy as to think that all human life has the same value and all humans the same morality, regardless of numbers?” (p. 139).
Perhaps Linkola’s most famous statement about the dangers of over-valuing life is his “lifeboat analogy”:
What to do when a ship carrying a hundred passengers has suddenly capsized, and only one lifeboat is available for ten people on the water? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to pull more people onto it, thus drowning everyone. Those who love and respect life will instead grab an axe and sever the hands clinging to the gunwales. (pp. 135–36)
Christianity (and the Left) would teach us to haul more people on board – but as Nietzsche taught us, Christianity (and the Left) hates life.
Linkola does not confine himself, however, to the issues of over-population, and how democracy and equality exacerbate it. He offers a broad-based critique of all aspects of modern culture, especially its assumptions about freedom and happiness. “Never before in history have the distinguishing values of a culture been things as concretely destructive for life and the quality of life as democracy, individual freedom and human right – not to mention money” (p. 154).
But how can Linkola oppose the idea of human rights? He states that all rights claims essentially express one thing: “ME, ME, ME.” In the West, the rhetoric of rights is essentially a way of securing self-interest, as is democracy itself. The West’s conception of freedom really means “freedom to consume, to exploit, to tread upon others. . . . Words like responsibility, duty, humility, self-sacrifice, nurturing and care are always spat upon [today], if they still happen to be mentioned” (p. 155).
It is no surprise that the country for which Linkola has the least sympathy is the United States. He writes that “the United States is the most colossally aggressive empire in history,” reminding us of the terror and devastation it spreads across the world in the name of “democracy.” “The U.S. is the most wretchedly villainous state of all times. Anyone aware of global issues can easily imagine how vast the hatred for the United States – a corrupted, swollen, paralyzing, and suffocating political entity – must be across the Third World – and among the thinking minority of the West too” (p. 164).
Why so wretchedly villainous? Why more villainous than, for example, the U.S.S.R.? Because the United States, for all its rhetoric, does not act in the name of any noble ideals, but entirely in the name of Mammon. It is for the security of commerce and the corporation that it bombs, invades, exploits, and tortures all over the globe. Linkola goes on speak glowingly of the hijackers on 9/11:
The servants of Allah sacrificed their own lives and the lives of a few disciples of the Dollar. The aim of the servants of market economy is to murder the whole of Creation and mankind as soon as they can. The deep ecologist and protector of life, the guardian of the continuity of life, would certainly choose Allah when things get tough. Given the situation, the towers of the World Trade Center were the best target among all the buildings of the world, both symbolically and concretely. It was a magnificent, splendid choice. (p. 166)
It is apparent that Linkola’s instincts are those of a true Right Winger, yet it is hard to peg him as a Traditionalist of the sort Integral Traditions generally publishes. And he would probably reject the claim that he is on the Right, seeing serious flaws in both sides of the political spectrum. He states at one point “For all their mistakes, even such recently-buried ideologies as fascism and socialism, both of which emphasized communal values and contained restrictive norms, were on a higher ethical level” (p. 155). It seems clear, however, that Linkola’s sympathies lie squarely with fascism. Though, again, there is nothing I have read in Linkola that is racialist or nationalist, he clearly opposes the internationalism of the Left, and any sort of global, homogenizing force. He thinks that small is better, and that life must be based in small, local, largely self-sufficient communities.
In the last major section of text, in fact, Linkola describes the sort of society we must build if we are to save ourselves. He advocates a mandatory limit of one child per woman; elimination of the use of fossil fuels; elimination of most use of electricity; a return to traditional agriculture; a drastic reduction in foreign trade; and an end to air traffic. In passages reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence’s Fantasia of the Unconscious, Linkola discusses how he would reform the educational system, which would impart practical skills, and basic knowledge of reading, science, and philosophy.
It seems that Linkola would leave a bare-bones market economy in place, but he would extirpate most forms of competition. Books would be published, but only good books (no trash). There would be tougher punishments for criminals. Drug use would be stamped out, even the use of tobacco. And, perhaps most mouth-watering of all, there would be an end to “information technology.” (Relax: in Linkola’s world this website would no longer be needed.)
What would be left, then, would be: an endless spectrum of arts and hobbies (singing, music, dancing, painting, sculpture, books, games, plays, riddles, shows . . . ); numerous museums; the study of history, local customs and dialects, genealogy, the countless pursuits related to biology; handicrafts and gardens; clear waters, virgin forests, marshlands and fells; seasons, trees, flowers, homes, private life . . . – in other words: a genuine life. (p. 205)
None of this will be the result of popular choice, of the “will of the people.” Instead, it will be imposed upon us by wise leaders. (I, for one, would be delighted to live under the thumb of Pentti Linkola.)
Linkola tells us that “there is only one considerable problem in the world: the impoverishment of life on Earth – the diminishment of life’s richness and diversity” (p. 168; please note: by “diversity” he means the diversity of species).
To this we might add the following qualification: the survival of life on earth is one of the two most important problems we face, the other being the survival of our race. After all, for whom are we to save this earth, anyway? These two aims, saving the planet and saving the race, go hand in hand. The measures necessary to accomplish one will accomplish the other. It is democracy, capitalism, egalitarianism, and “human rights” that have weakened both our race and the ecosystem. To save both, these forces of decadence and dissolution must be ruthlessly crushed.
Can Life Prevail? is a book filled with challenging and provocative ideas. One of its great virtues is that it demonstrates thoroughly and conclusively how the Left’s advocacy of ecology is incompatible with its fetishes of democracy and equality. Integral Traditions is to be commended for at long last making the ideas of Linkola available to the English-speaking world.
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