Edward Abbey was an Eco-Fascist
Edward Abbey is revered as a godfather of the mid-twentieth century conservation movement. His book, Desert Solitaire, sits on nearly every environmentalist, conservationist or outdoor recreationist’s bookshelf. His quotes are as shorthand as John Muir’s and the two men share an enormous lionization in death that overlooks their less rapturous philosophies and prose.
Where Muir is usually never hit for his racist impressions of the Indigenous people that inhabited Yosemite Valley during his summers there, Abbey’s views on immigration in the American Southwest are a more visible bruise on his legacy. Following the shooting in El Paso, TX over the weekend, where white supremacist Patrick Crusius murdered twenty-two people at a Wal-Mart in response to what the shooter allegedly described in a four-page manifesto as a “Hispanic invasion of Texas”, Abbey’s work, views and place in the modern environmental movement demand sharper criticism and outright rejection.
A year before his death in 1989, Abbey published a collection of essays that included an op-ed for the New York Times that the paper ultimately rejected. In the essay titled, Immigration and Liberal Taboos, Abbey decries Mexican immigration in particular, precursing several of Donald Trump’s talking points on the issue: chain migration, underserved welfare, consideration of family separation, calls to station the military at the border, names El Paso as a crisis point. He goes on to list the ills America already faces, placing blame at the feet of a growing Mexican population in the US.
“After forty years of the most fantastic economic growth in the history of mankind, the United States remains burdened with mass unemployment, permanent poverty, an overloaded welfare system, violent crime, clogged courts, jam-packed prisons, commercial ("white-collar") crime, rotting cities and a poisoned environment, eroding farmlands and the disappearing family farm all of the usual forms of racial ethnic and sexual conflict (which immigration further intensifies), plus the ongoing destruction of what remains of our forests, fields, mountains, lakes, rivers, and seashores, accompanied by the extermination of whole specie's of plants and animals. To name but a few of our little nagging difficulties.”
“This being so, it occurs to some of us that perhaps evercontinuing industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion, and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people.”
This is vile bigotry and pure Trumpian ‘America First’ xenophobia: America is going down the tubes and it’s correlated to Mexicans coming to take what’s ours. Even white-collar crime can be laid at the immigrant’s feet.
Abbey’s worldview, in this essay as well as other interviews and writings, seems to come from a white-centeric environmental sympathy. Overpopulation arguments tend to split along a hazy line of environmentalism and eugenics.
In Crusius’s manifesto, the white supremicist and avowed eco-fascist sounds like a disciple of Trump. But his 8chan screed sounds practically written by Abbey himself.
“The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. …Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. … So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.”
As Natasha Lennard writes in her latest for the Intercept, eco-fascism, employing genocide on the most vulnerable in order to preserve finite resources for a chosen race, class or nationality, is not new. But in the face of a worsening climate crisis, the far right in North America, Latin America and Europe has amplified the ideology.
In 2019, we have an obligation to save the planet. We also have an obligation to do so with justice, equality and compassion. We are not faced with a rudimentary question of, “is climate breakdown real or not?”, or, “should we act or not?”. A plurality of young Republicans see climate as a priority issue and the right will continue to adopt fascist and cruel policies to address it.
On the left we see ambitious plans like the Green New Deal to avert climate catastrophe while creating a sustainable society with fair distribution and protection of resources. The Green New Deal embracing left is also the only group on the political spectrum who is willing to name the engine of global heating, capitalism, rightfully calling out its incompatibility with a healthy planet.
With such a contrast between how to stave off the greatest threat to mankind, barbarism and genocide vs. egalitarianism and justice, we must choose and define what kind of environmental movement we wish to take up. And so, we must reanalyze those who have inspired us from the start, when preservation and sustainability were flattened, obvious ambitions. As evidenced everywhere from the settling of the West to the Flint water crisis, environmental and conservation policy are not standalone issues devoid of immoral, classist and racist motivations.
In her piece Lennard writes,
“It is beholden on those of us fighting for climate justice to ensure that not an inch is given to those who would use environmental degradation as grounds for racist nationalism.”
Abbey knew this and, just before death, declared his allegiance publicly. It’s time we declare ours by rejecting Abbey and every eco-fascist to come.