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The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse

Pascal Bruckner

ascal Bruckner is the sort of public intellectual who does not exist in this country. An academic philosopher who concerns himself with the most central questions of political life; a novelist whose work has been made into a film (Bitter Moon); and married to an extraordinarily beautiful woman many years his junior. Yes, he could only be French.

Fortunately, his latest work has been translated into English, as The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse, though its rhetorical grand gestures and declamatory force lose a little in that process; or rather, can at times sound more portentous than rigorous — the perennial complaint of the British about the French ­intellectual.

Bruckner’s latest theme — the way the ecology movement has, in his view, supplanted both Christianity and Marxism as the most fashionable ideology of those who wish to change the world — is well suited to his visionary style. Bruckner sees the greens as something akin to the Jesuits who educated him: obsessed with the idea of salvation through penance and asceticism. Yet as he points out, Christian warnings about the prospect of the “end of the world” envisaged a form of higher existence when that eventually happened: a transformative post-physical experience.

By contrast, the prophets of the green movement have a sterile faith in the earth itself, absolutely distinct from the existence of mankind, which is even seen as a blight. As Bruckner notes, this is not just anti-human but also absurd, since the planet has no moral content in itself and in any case is in no danger of being made redundant by man: it pre-existed us by billions of years and doubtless will be orbiting the sun for aeons after the human species has been succeeded by other life-forms, or none at all.

Although Bruckner is a man of the left who made enemies of the Marxists by denouncing their ideology’s malign influence in academia (a big deal in France), he finds profoundly depressing the progressives’ embrace of dark-green ecologism. For all its enslavement of humans when in political power, Marxism is profoundly optimistic about the capacity of man to transcend the bonds of nature and to use science to ­harness those resources to improve the lot of all — completely antithetical to the grim population-­controller Thomas Malthus, the Englishman whose (erroneous) forecasts of man’s extinction by starvation through overbreeding still captivate the present generation of greens. As Karl Marx aptly put it, Malthus was guilty of “a libel against the human race”.

Bruckner is rightly appalled by the fact that many modern “progressives” disdain how the peoples of the Third World are attaining the access to cheap electricity and, therefore, wealth that has long been the ­preserve of the developed world: “Our lofty intellectuals who today hold their noses when confronted by emergent countries are behaving towards Indians, Chinese and Brazilians the way Marie-Antoinette behaved with regard to the starving during the French Revolution.” And as he notes, all revolutions are caused by people having too little, not because they have too much.

Thus the green movement is exposed as a purely middle- class phenomenon. It is the revolt by those who have everything, against the undoubtedly unaesthetic excesses of mass consumerism, and a warning to the emerging masses that they should not want what modern industrial processes have provided to generations of Americans and Europeans. It is, in the most practical sense, reactionary — which is why a man of the left such as Bruckner has appeared to cast his lot with the much-denounced “climate deniers” normally associated with the right.

The narrowly middle-class nature of ecologism is also seen in its fixation with so-called organic food — as if that produced with the aid of man-made fertilisers could be “inorganic” and therefore in some way poisonous. So, as described in one of the author’s many satirical passages, the 1970s film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was meant to be parodic but its absurd theme is now mainstream green alarmism: “There is no sanctuary. We are surrounded. Watermelons, squash, potatoes and cherries can turn into monsters.”

Put like that, one wonders how long this quivering, fearful philosophy can remain of any influence at all. Still, Bruckner has performed a public service by stripping bare its moral and intellectual vacuity.

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