Throughout the west, many are bewildered by the way in which so-called progressives support people and causes which are inimical to their own supposed ideals and beliefs. People observe with as much bafflement as revulsion the violence on campus directed at people with conservative or pro-Israel views in order to deprive them on freedom of speech; the refusal of feminists to condemn the oppression of women in the developing world; the further silence of those committed to gay rights or resistance to tyranny over the persecution of gay people or dissidents within the Muslim world. In Britain, they ask themselves how the Labour party can have allowed itself to become infested with antisemites. In America, they ask why the Democratic Party seems so eager to embrace America’s enemies while disdaining its own core values.
In 2010, in order to try to explain what I perceived as a systematic repudiation of reason in the west, I published my book The World Turned Upside Down: the Global Battle over God, Truth and Power. My central argument was that the Judeo-Christian principles which underpinned the west had been all but destroyed. Religion had been replaced by secular ideologies which sacrificed truth to power. This created in turn some extraordinary alliances.
With Islamism steadily encroaching upon a western culture which seems to be too paralysed to resist, you might find a chapter from my book about the red-black-green-Islamic axis particularly pertinent at this time. An edited version of the chapter follows below.
The red-black-green-Islamic axis
One reason why people find it so difficult to acknowledge the resurgence of antisemitism in the West is that hatred of Jews has been associated with the “far right.” But those who are deeply hostile to Israel are often also deeply hostile to the “far right,” which they believe stands for racism, obscurantism, irrationality and bigotry.
Those left-wingers and liberals who march against Israel and America, denounce the neocons, promote the green agenda and raise the standard of atheistic reason against religious superstition think of themselves as progressive and enlightened. Their Manichean approach means they define themselves in large measure by what they are not. Most people are resolutely un-ideological and recoil from extremist attitudes.
But for those activists within the intelligentsia whose voices are the most shrill, to be on the left, as we have already seen, is to inhabit the sphere of unassailable virtue. Everyone outside it belongs to the party of the damned, otherwise known as “the right”—which quickly shades into the “far right” with scarcely a breath drawn. And “the right” is invested with stupidity, ignorance, prejudice and authoritarianism, so that the left can think of itself as the opposite, waging a principled fight for reason, progress, tolerance and liberty. The left portrays itself historically as fighting heroically against tyranny and fascism.
Except it’s not as simple as that. Indeed, this division is itself ignorant and ahistorical. The fact is that, today as in the past, left and right have common roots and share many characteristics. The idea that one side represents reason and liberty and the other their antithesis is false. In many ways, both left and “far right” form an axis of unreason, anti-modernity and intolerance; and thus they share a number of characteristics with revolutionary Islamism. Indeed, the “reasoned” West has more in common with the “obscurantist” East than people care to recognize.
The Left and the Islamists
On its face, the love affair between sections of the left and the Islamists is a most unlikely pairing. Much of the left stands for militant secularism and the social agenda that follows: sexual libertinism and gay rights, as well as the bedrock issue of equality for women. Yet behind the banners of “Free Palestine” and “No Blood for Oil,” they have marched shoulder to shoulder with Islamists who believe in the subservience of women, stoning adulterers and executing homosexuals and apostates.
Some on the left have not only marched alongside the Islamists but also embraced them, literally. Thus the former mayor of London, the far-leftist Ken Livingstone, publicly embraced Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the legal authority of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has openly supported Islamist terrorism, voiced extreme prejudice against Jews and justified the execution of homosexuals under Islamic rule and domestic violence against women.
In May 2006, Noam Chomsky traveled to Beirut and there embraced Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, which repeatedly calls for the destruction of the United States. In 1983, Hezbollah murdered 241 American Marines in Lebanon along with numerous Israelis and Jews—activities which Chomsky described as “a justified deterrent against aggression.”
In Britain in 2003, a series of huge antiwar rallies was organized by the Stop the War Coalition, an alliance between the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the rallies, people screamed their support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The British “Respect” MP George Galloway, speaking at the University of Damascus in 2005, called for victory for the Iraqi terrorists over the coalition forces. To amplify his pan-Islamic credentials, he also told Syria to face its enemies with dignity, saying, “I believe, God willing, we will prevail and triumph, wa-salam aleikum.”
A few days before 9/11, radical Islamists were joined by NGOs and other Western leftists at a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, in an anti-Israel, anti-Jew hate-fest whose sole purpose was to demonize and delegitimize Israel under the banner of “human rights.” A similar alliance emerged in the United States as the internet-based progressive movement called MoveOn.org, whose ostensible aim of defeating the Republican Party stood proxy for its deeper animus against Zionism and American “imperialism.”
As David Horowitz has chronicled, the roots of the left’s alliance with Islamism lie in a logical progression of its core animus against America and the West. After communism imploded, those on the left did not conclude they had been mistaken—indeed, they could never think such a thing—but instead simply reshaped their belief system to perpetuate their revolutionary illusions by encompassing new nihilistic and anti-Western agendas, of which Islamism was one, alongside environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. From Harold Pinter to Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, the luminaries of progressive thinking stood alongside the enemies of liberty and said to the defenders of the West, “not in our name.”
The Neofascists and the Islamists
Leftists are not the only people whose alliance with Islamists is surprising. There is also a third party to this love affair. Among neofascists and white supremacists, many of whom express their loathing for Islam and Muslims on the grounds that they loathe anyone who is not white, there is nevertheless a significant number who make common cause with the Islamists against the Jews and America. It is the left-wing-dominated Western intelligentsia that has enabled this to happen, since its claim that American foreign policy has been hijacked by a Jewish or Zionist cabal putting the world in danger for its own evil ends comes straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion¬—the conspiracy theory whose grip on the imagination of neofascists and white supremacists is exceeded only by its grip on the Arab and Muslim world.
Thus the British National Party advised its members to read the Guardian for information about “the Zionist cabal around President Bush.” In 2003, websites of groups such as the National Front, Combat 18 and the White Nationalist Party reproduced articles by the left-wing journalist John Pilger and the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The story of the Office of Special Plans, a supposed secret unit inside the Pentagon that was said to have acted as a backdoor channel for Israel to manipulate American foreign policy through the neocons, appeared in the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Morning Star—the latter two pieces written by John Pilger. Yet it had first appeared in Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, a magazine devoted to antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Neofascist and white supremacist groups also reproduced antisemitic cartoons taken from Arab websites; they issued a call for White Nationalist Party members to phone the Malaysian embassy in London and express their support for Mahathir Mohamad after he claimed that “Jews rule the world”; they reproduced boycott lists from Islamist or anti-Zionist websites of “Jewish controlled companies, used to prop up Zionism around the world,” as one White Nationalist Party supporter put it; and they made frequent use of the logo of the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign, an Israeli flag in a red circle with a line through it.
These ultranationalist, racist and anti-Jewish groups saw in the Islamists something beyond their wildest dreams: a global force, armed and trained, committed to the destruction of both Jews and the Western political order. In a letter posted on its website, the head of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, August Kreis, offered his thanks to radical Islamic terrorists:
‘We as an organisation will also endeavor to aid all those who subvert, disrupt and are malignant in nature to our enemies. Therefore I offer my most sincere best wishes to those who wage holy Jihad against the infrastructure of the decadent, weak and Judaic-influenced societal infrastructure of the West. I send a message of thanks and well-wishes to the methods and works of groups on the Islamic front against the jew [sic] such as al Qaeda and Sheikh Usama Bin Ladin, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and to all Jihadis worldwide who fight for the glory of the Khilafah and the downfall of the anti-life and anti-freedom System prevalent on this earth today.
The National Alliance, America’s largest neo-Nazi organization, published an essay in 2002 by its founder, William Pierce, which claimed that the 9/11 attacks had “forced the whole subject of U.S. policy in the Middle East into the open: the subject of American interests versus Jewish interests, of Jewish media control and its influence on governmental policy.” Because Osama bin Laden broke the “taboo” about questioning Jewish interests, Pierce claimed, “[i]n the long run that may more than compensate for the 3,000 American lives that were lost.’
Leftists were therefore not merely in bed with Islamists—who, after all, they could tell themselves were victims of the West because they were the oppressed from the Third World—but with the very people it was supposedly their life’s work to fight: neofascists and white supremacists.
The Antiglobalization Protesters and the Islamists
There is yet a further “progressive” member of this unholy alliance: the environmental movement. Under the banner of antiglobalization—a synonym for anticapitalism—greens have joined with ultra-leftists, neofascists and anarchists in a philosophically incoherent “rainbow coalition” whose only common characteristic is their aim to destroy the established capitalist order. Protesters at the G20 meeting in London in March 2009, for example, smashed the windows of the Bank of England because they wanted to oust the bankers, abolish all borders, get rid of corrupt politicians and overhaul democracy, as well as promote the cause of “Palestine” and push for action against climate change.
The French-Jewish leader Roger Cukierman has identified an anti-Jewish “brown-green-red alliance” among ultranationalists, greens and communist fellow travelers. Racist and ultranationalist groups are antiglobalization in the interests of preserving racial and national purity. Matt Hale, leader of the U.S. white supremacist World Church of the Creator, praised the 1999 antiglobalization protests in Seattle for having “shut down talks of the Jew world order WTO and helped make a mockery of the Jewish occupational government around the world. Bravo.”
Islamists too are anti-globalization, although they mean something rather different again. In a lecture on “Our Islamic Rhetoric in the Globalisation Era,” Sheikh Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s eminence grise, described globalization as “spreading the culture of seduction, sex, pornography, and deviation, the culture of abortion according to the wishes of the pregnant woman, and the culture of peace that Israel wants. . . . Economic invasion is always followed by cultural invasion by the United States and the West. There is the culture of fast-food restaurants, like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and others. . . . All these globalisation efforts serve the interests of Israel and Zionism.”
The Projected Pathology of Utopia
These curious coalitions are frequently explained as merely opportunistic alliances, where certain groups make common cause with ideological opponents in pursuit of the shared aim of bringing down Western society. This explanation surely is only partly correct. What these various movements have in common goes much deeper: they are all utopian. Each in its own way wants to bring about the perfect society, to create a new man and a new world.
Each therefore thinks of itself as progressive; the supporters of each believe themselves to be warriors in the most noble of causes. The greens believe they will save the planet. The leftists believe they will create the brotherhood of man. The fascists believe they will purge mankind of corruption. And the Islamists believe they will create the Kingdom of God on earth.
What they all have in common, therefore, is a totalitarian mindset in pursuit of the creation of their alternative reality. These are all worldviews that can accommodate no deviation and must therefore be imposed by coercion. Because their end product is a state of perfection, nothing can be allowed to stand in its way. This is itself a projected pathology.
As Eric Hoffer suggested in The True Believer, the individual involved in a mass movement is in some way acutely alienated from his own society, an alienation to which he is completely blind. Projecting his own unacknowledged deficiencies onto his surroundings, he thinks instead there is something wrong with society and fantasizes about building a new world where he will finally fit. This belief that humanity can be shaped into a perfect form has been the cause of the most vicious tyrannies on the planet from the French Revolution onwards.
Common Roots of the “Progressive” Left and the Neofascists
The mindset of the totalitarian true believer creates networks between groups that might be thought to have little in common—anticapitalists and Islamists, greens and neofascists. It builds common ground between ostensible political opposites from the “far left” and the “far right,” which are thus revealed to have deep similarities.
Fascism was made possible by a way of thinking that swept across Europe at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the first outcome of which was communism. As Ze’ev Sternhell has written, fascism was not some aberration; it was in keeping with the avant-garde and revolutionary trends in the wider European culture.
Not only did it compete with Marxism for the allegiance of the masses, but its origins lay in a revision of Marxism. Whereas Marxism had opposed liberalism, which was in turn a revolt against clerical absolutism, fascism rejected both liberalism and Marxism to create a communal, anti-individualistic and antirationalist culture.
Fascism wanted to rectify what it saw as the disastrous consequences of modernization: the atomization of society and the alienation of the individual in a free market economy. Although it was eager to retain the benefits of technological progress, it rebelled against modernity insofar as modernity was associated with rationalism and the optimistic humanism of the eighteenth century. Fascism disdained both universalism and individualism, as well as human rights and equality.
The French Revolution held that society was made up of a collection of individuals. Fascism replaced this idea with a theory of the organic unity of the nation, which was perceived as an organism comparable to a sentient being. Absolute moral norms such as truth, justice and law existed only to serve the collective. Subconscious instinct, intuitive and irrational sentiment, emotion and enthusiasm were considered superior to rationality, which was said to deaden sensitivity.
Just like communism, pre-1914 fascism expressed disgust for “materialist” capitalism; and because fascism attacked the existing system and aimed to destroy bourgeois culture and to reform the world by transforming the individual, it had a fascination for a lot of idealistic young people. As Sternhell writes, “In addition to a political revolution, fascism sought to bring about a moral revolution, a profound transformation of the human spirit . . . a desire to create a new type of man.”
The association of fascism with antisemitism also found echoes in communism. Despite being born into a Jewish family, Marx—who was raised as a Lutheran—was a committed Jew-hater whose “new man” would be created through society’s renunciation of Judaism altogether. His letters contain dozens of derogatory references to Jews. His essay On the Jewish Question, published in 1844, uses a discussion about how the Jews could achieve political emancipation to launch a sustained and venomous attack on the Jews as being motivated only by money and self-interest:
“What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. . . . An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. . . . We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time. . . . Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man—and turns them into commodities. . . . The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange. . . . The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds itself.
Sir Isaiah Berlin observed, “The violently antisemitic tone . . . became more and more characteristic of Marx in his later years . . . and is one of the most neurotic and revolting aspects of his masterful but vulgar personality.”
The progression from communism to fascism in the creation of the new world was bridged by Nietzsche, the thinker whose impact on our modern age cannot be overestimated. Mussolini understood both the importance of communism and the significance of Nietzsche in showing how Marx’s belief that society had to be destroyed in order to build a new one could be put into practice. Indeed, Mussolini described socialism as “the greatest act of negation and destruction.” His own followers were “new barbarians,” he declared, and “like
all barbarians” they were “the harbingers of a new civilization.” Mussolini believed that while the proletariat would not bring about Marx’s socialist utopia, the revolt by a Nietzschean “superman” would destroy bourgeois institutions. Thus fascism was born.
Since fascism and communism were joined at the hip, as it were, in seeking to create utopia, both gathered a significant following among the Western avant-garde of the early twentieth century, who thought of themselves as progressive thinkers.
Evolution Fed into Both Progressive and Fascist Thinking
In the nineteenth century, the progressive intelligentsia had bestowed the “enlightened” label on a body of thought that was to feed directly into communism and later into the obscenity of the Nazi killing machine. Indeed, after reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, Marx called it “the book that contains the foundation in natural history for our view.” The thinking that led Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution contributed not only to Marxism but also to fascism, by way of “social Darwinism” and its offshoot in eugenics, which were the orthodoxy among progressive thinkers.
The roots of social Darwinism and eugenics lay in the ideas of the eighteenth-century economist Thomas Malthus, who had argued that the world’s human population would increase faster than the food supply unless checked by restraints such as war, famine or disease. As a result, he thought, most people should die without reproducing. Darwin admitted that his own ideas were an extension of Malthusian thought to the natural world; in turn, intellectuals developed the thinking of both Darwin and Malthus into social Darwinism.
Applying the theory of evolution to the organization of human society, social Darwinism represented progress as a kind of ladder on which humanity could climb towards perfection. This meant that the “unfit,” or lesser breeds of humanity, had to be discarded on the way up. Thus eugenics, the “science of selective breeding,” came into being. In Victorian and Edwardian Britain, the main targets of eugenic thinking were the poor, whom the intelligentsia regarded as overbreeding throwbacks to an earlier stage of evolution.
There was a fear that those higher up the evolutionary ladder would be overwhelmed by lesser forms of human life. The concept of the inherent value of every individual life was therefore seen as a sentimental block to the progress of humanity. In 1880 a German zoologist, Robby Kossman, declared that the “less well-endowed individual” should be destroyed for humanity to reach a higher state of perfection.
Eugenics was therefore seen as a vital tool of social progress. Early socialists were imbued with eugenic thinking. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Havelock Ellis, Eden and Cedar Paul, Harold Laski, Graham Wallas, Joseph Needham, C. P. Snow and Maynard Keynes were all eugenicists, as were the editors of the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian.
It would not be until the full horror of Nazism became apparent, with its extermination programs against mental defectives and the Jews, that both eugenics and fascism finally became discredited. Before then, however, fascism did not just appeal to convinced Nazis but gained a large following among intellectuals in the humanities from a variety of political positions. As Jonah Goldberg documents, in the 1920s the fascist ideas that had surfaced in Mussolini’s Italy were very popular on the American left, where they even influenced elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. In Britain, although Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was always very small and marginalized, early in the century a group of intellectuals around Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence and W. B. Yeats had flirted vogueishly with the repudiation of modernity and with fascist ideas.
Following World War II, fascism was consigned beyond the pale of respectable thinking. And yet certain elements of both fascist and social Darwinist thinking have deep resonances with today’s Western culture. The denigration of reason, the horror of stoicism and the promotion of mass emotion course through all levels of society and lie behind the irrational and hysterical cults surrounding both Princess Diana and Barack Obama. “Atomization” and “alienation” are contemporary obsessions. A modern form of eugenics is being practiced in the abortion of defective fetuses at the beginning of life and the withdrawal of food and fluids from the elderly and very infirm at the other end.
The Continuum of Fascism and Environmentalism
Perhaps the most striking continuation of fascist ideas under the guise of left-wing progressive thinking lies in the modern environmental movement, with its desire to call a halt to dehumanizing modernity and return to an organic harmony with the natural world.
Veneration of nature and the corresponding belief that civilization corrupts man’s innate capacity for happiness and freedom go back to the eighteenth-century and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—who bridged the Enlightenment and the counter-Enlightenment, the world of reason and the world of emotion, movements of the left and the right. His idealizing of a primitive state of nature, along with a theory of human evolution through survival of the fittest that predated Darwin by a hundred years, became a galvanizing force in the nineteenth century among those who were sounding a retreat from modernity and reason, into the darkness of obscurantism and prejudice. And one of the principal routes they took was through the natural world.
In the mid nineteenth century, Darwinism was sowing the seeds of environmentalism, and in doing so it also fed into fascism. The critical figure in making this crossover was Ernst Haeckel, the most famous German Darwinist of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Haeckel believed that the theory of evolution would transform human life by dethroning man from the pinnacle of Creation. He and his followers saw Darwinism as far more than just a biological theory; it was the central ingredient of a new worldview that would challenge Christianity. His Darwinist views led him and his followers to espouse scientific racism, the belief that racial competition was a necessary part of the struggle for existence and—even though he opposed militarism—that the extermination of “inferior” races was a step toward progress.
Haeckel also believed that mind and matter were united everywhere, and he ascribed psychic characteristics to single-celled organisms and even to inanimate matter. As the authoritative historian of the ecological movement Anna Bramwell relates, it was Haeckel who in 1867 coined the term “ecology” to denote a scientific discipline focusing on the web that links organisms with their environment. With his disciples Willibald Hentschel, Wilhelm Bölsche and Bruno Wille, Haeckel deeply influenced subsequent generations of environmentalists by binding the study of the natural world into a reactionary political framework.
The twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Klages was firmly in the Haeckel mould. In 1913, he wrote an essay titled “Man and Earth” for a gathering of the Wandervögel or Free German Youth, the prewar movement that rejected materialism for excursions in more basic outdoor living. According to Peter Staudenmaier, “Man and Earth” anticipated just about all of the themes of the contemporary ecology movement. It decried the accelerating extinction of species, disturbance of global ecosystemic balance, deforestation, destruction of aboriginal peoples and of wild habitats, urban sprawl, and the increasing alienation of people from nature. In emphatic terms it disparaged Christianity, capitalism, economic utilitarianism, hyperconsumption and the ideology of “progress.” It even condemned the environmental destructiveness of rampant tourism and the slaughter of whales, and displayed a clear recognition of the planet as an ecological totality.
A political reactionary and virulent antisemite, Klages was described as a “Völkish fanatic” and an “intellectual pacemaker for the Third Reich” who “paved the way for fascist philosophy in many important respects.” Denouncing rational thought itself, he believed that the intellect was parasitical on life and that progress merely represented the gradual domination of intellect over life itself.
During the interwar period, most ecological thinkers subscribed to this way of thinking. There was a particularly close association between ecologists and German nationalists, among whom a number subsequently became Nazis. Their thinking was that nature was the life force from which Germany had been cut off, ever since the days of the Roman Empire, by the alien Christian-Judaic civilization, the source of all the anti-life manifestations of urbanism.
Such ecological fixations were further developed in German Nazism. According to Ernst Lehmann, a leading Nazi biologist, “separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations.” The Nazis thus fixated on organic food, personal health and animal welfare. Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and an aggressive promoter of “natural healing”; Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies; Hitler wanted to turn the entire nation vegetarian as a response to the unhealthiness promoted by capitalism.
There was top-level Nazi support for ecological ideas at both ministerial and administrative levels. Alwin Seifert, for example, was a motorway architect who specialized in “embedding motorways organically into the landscape.” Following Rudolf Steiner, he argued against land reclamation and drainage; said that “classical scientific farming” was a nineteenth-century practice unsuited to the new era and that artificial fertilizers, fodder and insecticides were poisonous; and called for an agricultural revolution towards “a more peasant-like, natural, simple” method of farming “independent of capital.” Himmler established experimental organic farms including one at Dachau that grew herbs for SS medicines; a complete list of homeopathic doctors in Germany was compiled for him; and antivivisection laws were passed on his insistence. As Anna Bramwell observes, “SS training included a respect for animal life of near Buddhist proportions.”
They did not show such respect, of course, for the human race. Neither does the ecological movement, for which, echoing Malthus, the planet’s biggest problem is the people living on it. Even though our contemporary era has been forged in a determination that fascism must never rise again, certain völkish ideas that were central to fascism—about the organic harmony of the earth, the elevation of animal “rights” and the denigration of humans as enemies of nature—are today presented as the acme of progressive thinking.
This astounding repackaging was accomplished during the 1970s. While Western politicians were committed to growth and consumer society was taking off, the dread of overpopulation also grew. It is probably no coincidence that the fear of global immiseration coincided with the end of empire and the West’s loss of control over the developing world. Reports by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos presented to the UN World Conference on Human Environment in 1972 preached imminent doom as a result of rising technological capacity and argued that man had to replace family or national loyalties with allegiance to the planet. The Club of Rome, which was founded also in 1972, prophesied imminent global catastrophe unless resource use was curbed, a view that the oil shock of 1973 served to validate and embed in Western consciousness.
If ecology was to take off, however, it had to shed altogether its unhappy links with fascism, racial extermination and ultranationalism. It took a number of different opportunities to do so. During the 1960s in both Europe and North America it identified itself with radical left-wing causes, latching onto “alternative” politics such as feminism and, in Britain, Celtic nationalism. In the 1970s, the “small is beautiful” idea of the anti-Nazi émigré Fritz Schumacher took hold.
In 1971, Schumacher became president of the Soil Association in Britain, which was critical in both promoting deeply antirational ecological ideas and laundering them as fashionably progressive. Rudolf Steiner was the arch-proponent of “biodynamic” agriculture, which eschewed artificial fertilizers and promoted self-sufficient farms as preserving the spirit of the soil. When the Soil Association was created in 1946, it embodied this “organic farming” ideal.
But Steiner was the also the founder of a movement called anthroposophy, which was based on the development of a nonsensory or so-called supersensory consciousness. It held that early stages of human evolution possessed an intuitive perception of reality, including the power of clairvoyance, which had been lost under the increasing reliance on intellect. It promoted the belief that the human being passed between stages of existence, incarnating into an earthly body, living on earth, leaving the body behind and entering into the spiritual domain before returning to be born again into a new life on earth.
These essentially pagan and irrational ideas were, as we shall see later, intrinsic to ecological thinking. But they were also to surface in a remarkable new alliance between neo-Nazi doctrines and radical left-wing, anticapitalist and New Age ideas. Towards the end of the 1960s, finding itself criticized for espousing reactionary views, the Soil Association turned sharply leftwards and developed an egalitarian socioeconomic perspective instead. It published articles admiring Mao’s communes in China and suggested that plots of land a few acres in size should be distributed similarly among the British population.
In Germany, the green movement that emerged from the student protests of 1968 bitterly attacked the “biodynamic” organic farmers for their perceived authoritarianism and social Darwinist beliefs. Thus German Greens of the 1970s, with a considerable communist element, had less to do with ecology than with participatory democracy, egalitarianism and women’s rights.
Among radicals in America, there was a split after 1968 between those favoring organized terrorism and alternative groups. Young radicals in the latter camp, galvanized by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1966), claimed that multinational capitalism was responsible for pollution. Environmental concerns offered up a radicalism for the middle classes. The anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin wrote of a utopian future in communes when scarcity would disappear and man would return to living close to the land. American feminists in particular took up ecology, drawing upon its foundational belief in a primitive matriarchal paradise to support their attacks on patriarchal oppression.
The result of all this ferment was that the green movement became not just radical but radically incoherent. It became the umbrella for a range of alternative, anti-Western causes and lifestyles. But its constant factor was a strongly primitive, pagan and irrational element. As Anna Bramwell caustically comments, “The new paganism, often based on Atlantean theories of a lost golden age and theories of cultural diffusion via a vanished super race, is open to all and especially attractive to the semi-educated, semi-rational product of today’s de-naturing educational process, stripped of religion, reason, tradition and even history.”
Despite a veneer of fashionable progressivism, the fact is that environmentalism’s fundamental opposition to modernity propels it straight into the arms of neofascism. For just like their precursors in the twenties and thirties, today’s ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups chime with many of the ideas that also march under the green banner.
In France, Italy and Belgium, the Nouvelle Droite combined Hellenic paganism with support for the dissolution of national boundaries; it was anticapitalist and anti-American, adopting sociobiological arguments to stress the uniqueness of each race and culture within national boundaries and to oppose colonization and empire. In Germany, the radical-right journal Mut was pacifist and ecological. Such groups met the left on the common ground of New Age paganism, expressed in particular through the religions and cultures of the East.
From the 1970s onwards, neofascist extremists began to repackage the old ideology of Aryan racism, elitism and force in new cultic guises involving esotericism and Eastern religions. Some groups mixed racism with Nordic pagan religions, celebrating magical signs of ancestral heritage and mystical blood loyalty. In the United States, Britain, Germany and Scandinavia, racial pagan groups today ponder runes, magic and the sinister mythology of the Norse gods Wotan, Loki and Fenriswolf. Like the Nazis, these groups resort to the pagan world to express their antipathy to any extraneous organisms that disturb their idea of racial or national purity. As Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke writes, “The racial interpretation of these esoteric ideas, cosmology and prophecies betrays these groups’ overwhelming anxiety about the future of white identity in multiracial societies.”
In the United States, Nazi satanic cults from the 1970s onwards linked anti-Christian paganism to transgressive praise of Hitler. As in Europe and Australia also, “dark side” lodges promoted the worship of force backed by anti-Christian, elitist and social Darwinist doctrines.
The New Age Repackaged Fascist Paganism as Progressive
The London-based New Age magazine Rainbow Ark, which has a range of far-right supporters and links, has printed excerpts from David Icke’s conspiracy theories about the “Global Elite,” and has helped organize his lectures and meetings. It has also speculated that many old Nazis have been reincarnated as modern Israelis as a way of “karmically balancing former hatreds.” The Australian New Age magazine Nexus offers a mix of “prophecies, UFOs, Big Brother, the unexplained, suppressed technology, hidden history and more.”
Its topics range from macrobiotic cooking, aromatherapy and water fluoridation to CIA mind-control experiments, pharmaceutical drug rackets and American militias. According to Goodrick-Clarke, Nexus editor Duncan Roads visited Muammar Qadaffi in 1989 and is a close friend of Robert Pash, the Libya promoter and convert to Islam who has tried to forge links between extreme right and left in Australia. In the late 1970s, Pash was the Australian contact for the U.S.-based Aryan Nations and distributed Ku Klux Klan material.
To people accustomed to thinking of New Agers as vegetarian, pacifist tree-huggers, such connections may come as something of a surprise. But as we have seen, nature-worship, paganism and organic mysticism were closely associated with Nazism and antisemitism through prewar German völkish thinking.
Goodrick-Clarke explains how New Age turned from a left-liberal movement to a fascist style of paganism:
‘As long as the idealized groups were perceived as marginal, foreign or oppressed, such New Age sentiment was generally left-wing or liberal. However, once the models were sought closer to home in the pre-rational, mythical past of western culture, völkisch ideas could make a fashionable return. In the New Age movement, numerous groups and workshops are now devoted to reviving the lore of the ancient Celts and Teutons. Books on ogham, runes, prophecy and pagan gods proliferate. Shamanism, magic and superstition are in. Nostalgia for a lost golden age and apocalyptic hopes of its revival recall the ideological foreground of earlier demands for fascist renewal.’
The Debt of Islamism to Both Communism and Fascism
The apocalyptic revivalism of neofascism corresponds precisely to the agenda of radical Islamism. We noted earlier how Islamism, as a form of revolutionary utopianism, marches alongside the left. But as a revolt against liberalism and modernity, it is closely allied with both communism and fascism. That is because, just like these two secular Western movements which also led to fanaticism, terror and mass murder, Islamism repudiates modernity and reason in the interests of creating a perfect world. And so—ironically, considering it believes itself to be a hermetically sealed thought system owing its influence only to God—Islamism has drawn heavily upon and formed alliances with communism and fascism, both representing a heretical world it despises and aims to destroy.
The common interest with communism was first made evident when the Muslims of the Russian Empire were conscripted into the Red Army. In 1920, the Second Congress of the Communist International summoned the “enslaved popular masses of Persia, Armenia and Turkey,” as well as Mesopotamia, Syria, Arabia and elsewhere, to gather in Baku, Azerbaijan. During the first session, the president of the International, Grigory Zinoviev, called in his speech five times for “holy war” against the British and the French “colonialists” and “the rich in general—Russian, German, Jewish, French.” Thus the “Bolshevik jihad” was launched against the common enemy, the “materialist West,” in the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere that the Russians faced the forces of imperialism.
The Muslims found much in common with communism. Not only did they have a common enemy, but they shared a utopian vision for transforming the world by negating all distinctions between peoples. As Hanafi Muzaffar, a prominent Volga Tatar intellectual, put it, “Muslim people will ally themselves to Communism. Like Communism, Islam rejects narrow nationalism. Islam is international and recognises only the brotherhood and the unity of all nations under the unity of Islam.”
Ali Shariati, a prominent ideologue of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, was an Islamo-Marxist who drew heavily upon the anticolonial radical Franz Fanon and his conception of creating a “new man.” Shariati borrowed Fanon’s description of “the wretched of the earth” and translated it into Persian by reviving the Qur’anic term mostazafin, or “the disinherited.” Under Shariati’s influence, Iranian radicals became Marxists and read Che Guevara, Regis Debray and the Brazilian urban guerrilla theorist Carlos Marighela. Others studied revolutionary activity in Russia, China, Cuba and Algeria and interpreted Qur’anic verses according to the theory of class struggle.
Also under Shariati’s influence, Ayatollah Khomeini introduced into radical Islamic thought the pivotal Marxist concept of a world divided into oppressors and oppressed. As the Iranian Islamic Revolution developed, it established a totalitarian apparatus including a morals police, a ministry of intelligence, and Islamic societies acting as watchdogs for Islamic conformity. By 1980, Khomeini had established a communist-style Islamic “cultural revolution” to purge all traces of Western influence from high schools and universities.
As Laurent Murawiec has noted, there was also an eerie similarity between the Marxist-Leninist and Islamic outlooks in their Orwellian inversion of aggression and self-defense. For communism, aggression was specific to class society while the Soviet Union was by definition peaceful. Likewise, Islamic thinkers held that Islam represented peace on earth and so anything un-Islamic must trouble the peace by its very existence. As a corollary, since neither the Soviet Union nor the Islamic world could be guilty of aggression, any terror committed by either was by definition self-defense, while self-defense by the outside world was aggression.
In seeking to harness modern revolutionary insights to the jihad, the Islamists made equal use of fascism as a doctrine of bloody nihilism. Muhammad Navvab Safavi’s manifesto foreshadowing the Iranian Revolution, writes Laurent Murawiec, resembled fascist and Nazi propaganda: a mixture of romantic-reactionary yearning for an idealized past, violent rejections of anything modern or Western, panic about female sexuality, statist and redistributionist economic and social views, along with radical demands for clerical executive power.
Like Nazism, Islam promotes a subordination of the individual to the collective, celebration of the leadership principle, hostility to liberal democracy and to capitalism, male supremacy, sexual repression and glorification of death in the war with unbelievers. It was therefore not surprising that Arab nationalism in Palestine, Syria and Iraq during the 1930s modeled itself on Italian and German fascism. In prewar Palestine, the Arab mob was inflamed by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to commit massacres of Palestinian Jews. When Hitler came to power, Haj Amin avidly courted the Nazis.
Landing up eventually in Berlin after securing a commitment by Mussolini and Hitler to work for the “elimination of the Jewish national home in Palestine,” the mufti became active in the Nazi war effort: rallying Muslims everywhere to rise up against the Allies, dispatching Bosnian Muslims to fight under German command, urging the foreign minister of Hungary to prevent Jews from coming to Palestine and send them to Poland instead—with the result that hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to the extermination camps.
During the war, the Muslim Brotherhood distributed Mein Kampf in Arabic throughout Palestine, along with German money and weapons to help the Arab revolt against Jewish immigration from Nazi-occupied Europe. Husseini also supported the Nazis via short-wave Arabic broadcasts from Germany to the Arab world. And yet at the very same time, when the mufti was already receiving substantial support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the Communist Party of Palestine taught him communist agitprop and Marxist-Leninist concepts of imperialism and colonialism that were previously unknown.
As Matthias Küntzel has pointed out, there was an even more striking correspondence between fascism and Islamism. The idea of using suicide pilots to destroy the skyscrapers of Manhattan originated in Nazi Germany. Nazis planned to fly explosive-crammed light aircraft lacking landing gear into Manhattan skyscrapers. Hitler, according to Albert Speer, was in a “delirium” of rapture at the thought of New York going down in towers of flame. “He described the skyscrapers turning into huge burning torches and falling hither and thither, and the reflection of the disintegrating city in the dark sky.” Hitler wanted to kill Jews to liberate mankind. He deemed America a “Jewish state”; and New York—or more precisely Wall Street, as a Weimar Republic bestseller put it—was, “so to speak, the Military Headquarters of Judas. From there his threads radiate across the entire world.”
In Syria and Iraq, Ba’athism was a synthesis forged in the 1930s and 1940s of fascism and a romantic nostalgia for an “organic” community of Arabs. The Ba’athist ideologue Sati’ Husri was a keen student of German Romantic thinkers such as Fichte and Herder—who provided the philosophical antecedents of fascism—and their notion of an organic völkisch nation rooted in blood and soil. His ideas of pulling the Arab world together in a huge organic community bound by military discipline and heroic individual sacrifice was directly inspired by pan-German theories that held sway in fascist circles in Vienna and Berlin in the 1930s.
In Iraq, Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian and founder of the Ba’ath Party, was to refashion Arab society around the cultivation of hatred and violence and annihilation of all opposition. Ernst Jünger, who fought in World War I and celebrated military heroism and the pleasure gained from the closeness of death, also had great influence on the Muslim world. His book Über der Linie was translated in the 1960s by Al-e Ahmed, a prominent Iranian intellectual, who coined the term “Westoxification” for the pernicious influence of Western ideas.
As cannot be emphasized too strongly, the reason for these otherwise bewildering alliances between groups that appear to be mortal enemies ideologically—left-wingers and fascists, Islamists and greens—is that they all harbor a utopian vision of perfecting the world. The prominent Islamist Abul ala Maududi, for example, stressed the comprehensive scope of his ideology when he wrote, “Islam is not the name of a mere ‘religion,’ nor is Muslim the title of a ‘nation.’ The truth is that Islam is a revolutionary ideology which seeks to alter the social order of the entire world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals.”
Why the Most High-Minded Turn into Bigoted Totalitarians
The unsettling fact is that it is possible for bad deeds to be done for the highest of ideals. Those wanting to bring about the perfect society see no higher ideal than that. Ever since the French Revolution, all such impossible agendas have led straight to persecution, tyranny and totalitarianism—to the French Terror, to the gulags, to Auschwitz and to the use of children as human bombs; yet the true believers in each case believed they acted from the highest of motives.
The Islamists committing mass murder in New York’s Twin Towers or a Jerusalem cafe really do believe they are fighting for justice and to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. The communists and the fascists really did think they were ending, respectively, the oppression and the corruption of man. The environmentalists really do think they are saving the planet from extinction. The radical left really do think they will erase prejudice from the human heart and suffering from the world. And those who want Israel no longer to exist as a Jewish state really do believe that as a result they will turn suicide bomb belts into cucumber frames, and that they are moving in the way that history intended.
That is why those who promulgate hatred of the Jews are generally to be found among the high-minded, since they are devoted to the most lofty and admirable of ideals. That is why lies about global warming or irrationality about the defense of the West against Islamism are associated with the intelligentsia. That is why those with the most highly developed faculty of reason so often end up promoting the most diabolical of agendas.
But there is yet another factor linking these various ideologies of Islamism, environmentalism, Darwinism, anticapitalism and anti-Zionism. In their very different ways and in very different contexts, they are all attempts to address a spiritual emptiness in the human condition—and that gives them a further common characteristic that moves them on from the sphere of reason altogether, into the province of belief.