In reading Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything – a friendly-looking tome with a sky-blue cover – I couldn’t help but recall what Whittaker Chambers’ remark, in reviewing Ayn Rand’s classic that, “(f)rom almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “to the gas chambers — go!”” This is a book that will seduce many people with its tales of various indigenous people standing up against further development and its surface-level commitment to humanitarian aims, but it is also the work of profound evil. This is a totalitarian book that aims to advance totalitarian aims in the guise of combating a supposed emergency. As Klein herself admits, she herself truly began to engage with these issues only when she realized that the aims of environmental radicalism provided a rationale for the adoption of ultra-left positions more generally. In writing this book, Klein has done the world a profound service in a surely-unintended fashion: she has set out in crystal-clear fashion the slightly-hidden agenda that lies behind most so-called “environmental” initiatives: the destruction of capitalism and Western Civilization.
If you think my last sentence was hyperbolic, you should read the book yourself. In it Klein advocates a program that would see a radical redistribution of wealth, not only from the “1% to the 99% within the advanced industrial nations, but on a global basis. She approvingly quotes one academic as, “envision(ing) that “hours of paid work and income could converge worldwide at substantially lower levels than is seen in the developed countries of today.””
When I read that sentence, I was temporarily floored. It is clear enough to myself that the aim of a notable portion of the present-day left is to take what you, I, and our families have and give it away in the name of “social justice”, but it’s rare to see it admittedly so openly. How many in the West would ever willingly accept having our standard of living “coverage” with that of Liberia?
She tries to put as kind a spin on this as possible, writing that, “(w)e will need to return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s” in order to attempt to pull back the shock a little bit. But, I ask you, how many among us would sincerely and willingly see our standard of living rolled back by four or five decades? She does her best to disguise the sort of pain that she’s proposing to inflict upon the majority of Canadians, Americans, and other citizens in advanced nations, as well as the fact that it is more or less it is impossible that such measures would ever be adopted on a voluntary basis. Here and there, however, the mask slips, which was when she writes that, “if these sorts of demand-side emissions reductions are to take place on anything like the scale required, they cannot be left to the lifestyle decisions of earnest urbanites.”
Ah, there it is! These decisions, Klein and her ilk believe, as so important that they cannot be left to the people. Nowhere in her book, beyond in laying out a vapid and shiny vision of a mass-movement of various native peoples and local townspeople resisting oil development, does she ever get too explicit about how the practical politics of this change should be managed, but it doesn’t take too much of a leap to infer that it would be impossible for her anti-capitalist revolutionary movement to operate in accord with basic constitutional liberties and the rule of law. What she proposes, in essence, is for a revolutionary mob to come along and take by force the property of others in the name of the Earth. What she proposes is for a massive increase in the powers of the state over the affairs of the people – one that could not be possibly gained by democratic consent in the timeframe that she suggests (before the end of his decade). When Klein invokes the increase in transit usage and home production of food that occurred during the Second World War as an example, she shows a little more of her hand: those measures were only possible within a context of near-absolute government control of society during a total war.
It is a cliche to invoke Martin Niemöller in a political debate, yet it is irresistible here. Her first targets – the oil companies and select billionaires – may have some aspects about them that are unappealing, but this is really about everyone. This is a vision for a Khemr Rouge-like Year Zero society that will harm practically everyone if even a small fraction of it is allowed to come to pass.
“It is a matter of the well-off 20 percent in a population taking the largest cuts,” Klein writes, but soon enough she adds that, “(t)his does not mean the middle class is off the hook. To fund the kind of social programs that will make a just transition possible, taxes will have to raise for everyone but the poor.” Later she add that this, “is precisely why, when climate change diners claim that global warming is a plot to redistribute wealth, it’s not (only) because they are paranoid. It’s also because they are paying attention.”
Yet, strangely, Klein fails to ever truly engage with the sort of tenacious resistance that such measures would face not only among the oil barons and the other villains of her work, but among ordinary people who do not wish to see the work of generations and their own lives destroyed or stolen and “redistributed” to others. If you would like to see your lifestyle “converge” with that of Nepal, you are more than free to make such a thing happen immediately. If you wish to require that my standard of living be reduced until it is roughly the same as the global average, than you are going to not only need votes but also guns and armies. This is the single greatest flaw of this book: Klein unveils a totalitarian and world-transforming vision and acknowledges that there are ideologues whose ideas differ from hers that she is willing to accord at least intellectual respect to, but she never engages with the reality that there are millions of people – ordinary citizens – in the Western world who would die on the battlefield before they would ever consent to live in her nightmarish version of the future.
Going through this book I thought of a moment in another work that I’d be willing to bet that Klein is familiar with (since it came out of the febrile imagination of the far-left of the British Labour Party during the 1980s). The late 1980s mini-series A Very British Coup is horribly dated now (it was based upon an even-older novel). It imagines the election of a crypto-communist British Prime Minister (who, among other things, funds his wild spending by taking out a large loan from the Soviet Union) and the resistance to him by the United States and the British establishment. In the climactic showdown between the Prime Minister and the sinister head of MI5, the intelligence chief tells the Prime Minister that his ideals represent a threat to everything that he and his fathers have fought for over the centuries, yea onto the Middle Ages. The Prime Minister closes his reply by telling the head of MI5, “don’t forget: I have ancestors too.”
Klein’s mistake here is assuming that she and her allies have a monopoly on virtue. She assumes that they are the “good guys” in this scenario, much as the old-line Marxists of earlier days held a position that took the virtue of “the workers” as an established fact rather than the debatable and mixed proposition that it was. She forgets, in other words, that I have ancestors too and that those of us who believe in individual liberty and the heritage of the English-speaking peoples have things that we believe in every bit as passionately and that we are certain are just as right as the things that she and her followers believe in. By failing to account for this, her extremism ensures that, at best, those who share her beliefs will remain eternally consigned to the fringes of society and, at worst, if they are ever to gain a mass following and the opportunity to implement her ideals that she will not be ushering in paradise, but instead bring on bloody and brutal civil wars that will resemble, more than anything else, the terrible strife that nearly destroyed the Balkans two decades ago.