The collapse of the natural world is driving social and political collapse, feeding popular support for authoritarian regimes. The future is fascist.
Trump. Bolsonaro. Le Pen. Salvini. Dehumanization. Nationalism. Supremacism. Oligarchy. Protesters imprisoned for protecting their own land. Resurgent German antisemitism. Mass shootings. Thuggish police. Legislators in hiding, protected by a right-wing militia. Dead journalists. Little kids in cages, wet with piss and snot. MAGA. What the heck is going on? It’s only history, rhyming if not repeating itself on a larger, more damaging scale than ever before. Once, honorable people rose up against these forces of wickedness and won, dying on beaches and in jungles to secure the existence of all people and a future for the world’s children. Now, that generation’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are flying flags best forgotten, and honorable people are once again called to fight, for if they lose, the future is fascist.
How did we get here? The answer, like history, is complex.
Long ago, our needs were simple. Food, water, shelter, warmth, companionship. Acquiring these resources was relatively simple, with lots of time left for leisure (and no, they didn’t all die at age 30). The world changed, though, and for reasons we can endlessly debate, many people started living a more sedentary, agricultural life. On one hand, it meant people could easily store food against hard times, and support classes of people who don’t produce food, such as priests, politicians and the military. On the other, a growing population consuming more resources eventually goes from using little natural capital (and producing tiny amounts of easily reclaimable waste) to using more than can be sustained (with so much waste that it overloads the Earth’s capacity to clean up after us). The result? A collapse of natural systems – and the human civilization that depends upon them.
That collapse is evident all around us, from biodiversity loss and climate chaos to soil erosion and oil depletion. However, the effects are also felt socially and politically. In times of plenty, it’s easier to tolerate people who are unlike us; remember, the civil rights movement gained ground during the peak decades of American prosperity. On the downhill side of the curve, with more human demands than resources available to satisfy them, systems start breaking down. The more optimistic among us are pinning their hopes on technological progress and programs like the Green New Deal, which depend on extracting yet more resources from a beleaguered planet. Others, perhaps more realistically if also more violently, steal from The Other: their rights, their stuff, and eventually, their existence. It’s because of them that the future is fascist, but from that perspective, it’s about protecting family and country.
Fascism is an oft-misused term in modern discourse, but at its heart, it’s about dehumanizing The Other so they can be blamed for the loss of a past “golden age.” In our case, it’s politically or emotionally difficult for many people to admit that the effects of ecosystem abuse not only exist, but are responsible for the apparent premature termination of the progress narrative which was supposed to lead from the caves directly to the stars. As the natural world crashes, so too do we. It’s much easier, though, to blame Jewish people, minorities, asylum seekers, the poor, the powerless, and especially political enemies. That’s the theme behind Rhyd Wildermuth’s powerful piece, The Future is Fascist. (Wildermuth uses the popular definition of term ‘fascist,’ meaning an authoritarian, strongman-based government, heavy on surveillance and vanishingly light on human rights.)
Much like Pandora’s box, Wildermuth’s work, and his followup post, Composting in the Ruins, reserve a grain of hope. The future is fascist, he says, but only if we continue on our present trajectory, riding industrial civilization to the bitter end. If we pull the emergency brake, if we remember that there were once other ways of living and imagine how they might exist again, we can jump out of the runaway train before it goes over the cliff.
To do so would take an unbelievable amount of work and sacrifice, something most people are unlikely to want to contemplate and for which there is no good marketing campaign. Our wants have grown since we embraced industrial consumerism, but our needs are still the same as ever. Those basic needs, according to a University of Leeds study released last year, could be met for every human, but it would require degrowth and dialing back everyone’s consumption, a deeply unpopular goal. So long as people demand fulfillment of wants and a high level of life satisfaction (and who doesn’t want that?), it will mean someone (or many someones), somewhere, pays for it by not getting what they need. The more people circle the wagons to maintain the privilege of overconsumption at all costs instead of facing the root problem, the likelier it is that we’re in for a fascist future.
Related: The Three Perspectives of the Battle