For a long time, Marxists have blamed the private ownership of the means of production for impoverishing the masses. The gentrification of the Western proletariat then led the critics of capitalism to update their catastrophic scenario. They turned to rhetoric about the Third World and how the wealth of the countries of the North was fueled by the poverty of the countries of the South. But then this narrative collapsed as globalization made even the Third World better off than before.
So Marxists now turn to political ecology and anti-growth movements to provide the enemies of liberal societies with a new strategy: to claim that market economies corrupt human societies and their environment. Thinkers like André Gorz and Pierre Fournier lead the way in deploring the material abundance that capitalism now delivers. This, we are told, is obtained at the expense of a new victim: the environment.
However, there is still a difficulty to be solved. How to define this environment that everyone should want to protect?
What Is the Environment?
Traditionally, Western thought conceives of the environment as a set of natural elements that can be domesticated by man for his benefit. A philosopher like John Stuart Mill writes, for example, that even the most advanced industrial techniques cannot be judged against nature.
All incorporate the laws of physics, biology, or chemistry in the service of human needs. Yet Man is just as natural as the living beings with whom he competes. We cannot base a morality on nature without being banal.
Man, who for thousands of years has used pesticides to eradicate species hostile to his food security, acts as naturally as plants that produce toxic substances against their predators.
The technician who eradicates a wetland to control malaria-bearing mosquitoes acts as normally as the beaver who modifies its ecosystem by building dams so as not to be the victim of other wild animals.
The same is true for the farmer who converts a forest into a field of genetically modified crops in the name of food security; the Promethean who thinks of geo-engineering to administer the earth’s climate in the interests of the human race; or the entrepreneur who buys and privatizes a nature reserve by making it profitable to protect the species he loves.
But to support these initiatives, it is still necessary to adhere to the premise of the primacy of Man over other living species. However, this notion is attacked by the disciples of “deep ecology.” They have integrated the need to destroy the moral pillar of Western civilization that is anthropocentrism in order to dismantle industrial capitalism.
An ally of these ecologists, philosopher Catherine Larrère writes “sticking to the anthropocentric paradigm of defending the environment is, in the end, to settle on cost-benefit calculations so complex that one can always find some other solution less favorable to the protection of the environment.”
Such an admission suggests ecological discourse is less concerned with safeguarding a desirable environment for mankind than with combating its human elements. This is true even when it is justified on a utilitarian level — that is to say for the well-being of mankind. The ultimate solution to thwarting modern societies is therefore to forfeit the human utility of its status as a value standard.
This is where “biocentric” or “ecocentric” schools come in, which give intrinsic value to animals, plants, and primary ecosystems. Their rhetoric is bold, denying Man’s legitimacy to exploit an immanent nature logically destroys private property and all its corollaries: the free disposal of unduly appropriate things, technology, trade or industry.
However, the intellectual Left that is rushing into this breach does not avoid a contradiction. The same ideological movement likes to eradicate all traces of biology to explain our relationship to the family, the nation or the economy. “Everything is social construction,” we are told.
But now let’s extract the construction of this eminently social domain that is the relationship of homo sapiens with its environment. Many ecologists, like Christian Lévêque, point out, for instance, that the most appreciated “natural” environments — such as the countryside — are very often the result of human intervention.
Biologists who see a correlation between the means allocated to protecting a species and its beauty are the first to witness the role of cultural and subjective perceptions in defining an ideal nature. The same is true for the French who are arguing about the opportunity to reintroduce the wolf in certain regions or for Australians who want to exterminate millions of stray cats that harm a certain idea of local wildlife.
In addition to the ecologists’ refusal to consider the environment as a social construct, there is the story of a deified and harmonious primitive nature that echoes the Rousseauian myth of the Noble Savage. His apostles neglect the brutality of the law of nature and the struggle for existence that it implies.
For anthropophobic ecology, Man is the only species deprived of the right to participate in this struggle. Humanity’s demotion is all the more perfidious because it relies on the corruption of Judeo-Christian culture which, alongside Greek philosophy, has long placed humanity at the top of the hierarchy of species.
Animism, Pantheism, and Primitivism
In a famous article entitled “The Historical Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” American historian Lynn White accuses certain types of Christianity of having committed the original ecological sin.
The mission that God entrusts to Adam and his descendants to dominate animal and plant species would have liberated the Western hubris toward nature. This speech ended up contaminating the minds of those who for a long time presented themselves as the guardians of the temple of Western humanism.
In his second encyclical, Laudato si’, Pope Francis, wishing to invalidate ecological critics against an “excessively anthropocentric” Christianity, multiplies the animist and pantheistic innuendoes that traditionalists would readily attribute to heresy.
According to this ideology, God is no longer exclusively the Being who transcends the world. God, instead permeates an immanent natural world. We understand in these conditions that “any crime against nature is a sin against God,” as the pontiff claims.
But, it remains to be seen what a “crime” against “nature” is. Should we repress all loggers and rat exterminators as some proto-terrorists who persecute and butcher in the name eradicating human chauvinism? That some conservatives claim to be part of this “integral ecology” — that carries within it the seeds of the destruction of the Western idea — illustrates the extent of the intellectual victory of ecologists.
This animism explains the psychosis surrounding the sixth mass extinction. The lack of rigour in this discourse has not failed to be raised by scientists who point out the imperfection of our knowledge of the biosphere, the number of species on earth, their typology, and their evolution.
Even if the account of the extinction of millions of wild species would be perfectly correct, its anthropophobic nature is identified by the refusal of its propagators to integrate these evolutions into a cost-benefit calculation.
The Splendor and Misery of the Anthropocene
One of the few audible voices to temper the damning sentence of conservationist movements is that of Dr. Chris D. Thomas, a specialist in evolutionary biology at York University. In a book published in 2017, Thomas promotes a more optimistic view of our anthropocene era.
Tempering the story that depicts Man as gravedigger of nature, Thomas first recalls humanity’s historical role in the growth of biodiversity through the global trade in animal and plant varieties. Then, digging up an argument well known to scientists, the British academic invites us not to forget that extinction, far from signifying the end of the world, opens up new evolutionary perspectives that it would be vain to equate to a degradation of the biosphere.
This is why he recommends that the state of the biosphere be totally subordinated to the dynamics of the anthropocene and not the other way around. All that would be left for mankind to do would be to abandon species that are insufficiently valued, unlikely to be domesticated and unable to adapt to the changes in the environment dictated by its prosperity.
Can this rational discourse triumph over animism that is on the verge of considering the law of the jungle superior to the civil code? Or do we have to reconsider a certain conception of the sacred to relegate human existence?
Until an intrepid mind answers this question, the anthropophobic intellectual climate persists in feeding odious words and totalitarian measures against humanity. Like the neo-Malthusians who consider the planet overpopulated, the advocates of the ecologist movement multiply comparisons equating humanity with a virus foreign to nature that deserves to be fought. It is therefore not surprising that some people are starting to take them at their word.
Thus French politician Antoine Buéno can publish without any nuance — with a leading publisher — an essay that calls for the introduction of a permit to procreate. As for the environmental organization WWF, it arms and finances militias that commit criminal acts against populations expropriated from their lands for the benefit of nature reserves in Africa.
Political ecology is therefore no longer just the new avatar of totalitarian collectivism. It is the logical stage of an anti-capitalist bitterness that, not content with having failed to transform this vile selfish human nature in the last century, now dreams of seeing it wither away.
The Mises Institute exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian school of economics, and individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. These great thinkers developed praxeology, a deductive science of human action based on premises known with certainty to be true, and this is what we teach and advocate. Our scholarly work is founded in Misesian praxeology, and in self-conscious opposition to the mathematical modeling and hypothesis-testing that has created so much confusion in neoclassical economics. Visit https://mises.org
This post has been republished with permission from a publicly-available RSS feed found on Mises. The views expressed by the original author(s) do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Libertarian Hub, its owners or administrators. Any images included in the original article belong to and are the sole responsibility of the original author/website. The Libertarian Hub makes no claims of ownership of any imported photos/images and shall not be held liable for any unintended copyright infringement. Submit a DCMA takedown request.