“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it.” – Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
The dissident right loves the forlorn and forsaken; the more hopeless the cause, the more they identify. Folks of the right have been so bereft of genuine heroes and fighters in this age that they will plumb the chest of the weird and wild figures of history, looking for anything and anyone to align themselves with. It’s a constant search for the real and the pure of spirit, always on the lookout for someone who has been fighting the good fight and uncompromised as they walk the walk. Most of the people who identify as a member of this restless motley crew are probably suburbanites and urbanites. I wouldn’t doubt it for a second. These contradictions always come up when the topic of Pentti Linkola comes up and the love that the nascent environmental right has for him.
Right-wing environmentalism is not a new phenomenon. It has been mired in constant conflict and pushback. Theodore Roosevelt helped popularize conservation and the idea of land as a national antiquity in the United States, and conservatives rarely speak of him now. J.R.R. Tolkien synthesized the pagan love of nature with his deeply Catholic perspective, only the latter of which he is remembered for. Adolf Hitler dreamed of the volkswagen and a highway system that would bring Germans closer to the land as part of his blood-and-soil ideology, and we know how that’s treated now. If you want to discredit an idea, point out that the Nazis once considered it and you won’t have to explain why it’s bad for people to appreciate the land that surrounds them without requiring corporations to more properly respect it for them.
Environmentalism these days has become a dirty word to the right who aren’t familiar with their own traditions. Even Zizek has said environmentalism is “deeply conservative”, seeing what they cannot. Some of it derived from skepticism toward industrial civilization’s cult of progress and some of it as wanting to celebrate the greatness of the nation. After coming out of the Great Depression however and with the rise of television as ideology, celebrating the spoils and triumph of capitalism mattered more to a people who had living memories of living with so little and the fear that communism might take it all away. The strong association that concern for the environment had with the burned-out hippie movement did little to endear the post-war right-wing to it; that it was coupled with the soft men of the 70s led to a machismo backlash of over-the-top consumption in the 80s and 90s exemplified by songs by Denis Leary’s “Asshole”. However, in Europe there was a stronger environmentalist current that could transcend left and right, and it was one that brought Pentti Linkola with it.
Linkola, for those uninitiated with the meme figures of the extremely online right, is a Finnish environmentalist who was born in Helsinki in 1932. The Finnish are already a people more deeply rooted into the wilderness of their natural surroundings, but thanks to his pedigree Pentti Linkola seemed destined for the biological and environmental sciences. His maternal grandfather was Hugo Suolahti, a Doctor of Philosophy and the Chancellor of the University of Helsinki (and briefly the chairman of the centre-right National Coalition Party), while his father Kaarlo Linkola was a botanist who wrote his dissertation on the culture of vegetation in Southern Karelia–a place that his son would also examine and write about in his Can Life Prevail? collection of writings. The place where Pentti Linkola would spend his childhood summers would be where he would later take up residence once he decided to withdraw from the modern world, a place he would reflect upon often in the way that it shaped his love of nature and the pain he felt from industrialization’s encroachments on it. Linkola would not follow in his family’s footsteps in academia, cutting his studies short and giving up a career in research to live most of his life as a fisherman though still managing to prove himself to be one of Finland’s best living ornithologists, his work on the Finnish peregrine written alongside the popular nature writer Teuvo Suominen and being frequently cited in academic works.
Linkola was coming up in a time when Finland was developing a robust set of environmentalist writers, Teuvo Suominen being one of them as his 1967 book Our Dying Noble Birds, would leave an impact on Finland not unlike the impact Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had on the United States and its pesticides. Finns in the 20th Century had been among the most environmentally-conscious people in the world, its Green League having developed originally out of some of the populist and Euroskeptic currents in the Finns and would go on to be the first Green party to join the national cabinet of any state in 1995. While the Green League has betrayed many of those founding principles at the behest of neoliberalism, it does not diminish the ecological impulses of the Finnish people, an undercurrent that has been present since some of them mobilized against the Neste oil company in the early 70’s. While for many Finns it seemed possible that they could find environmental solutions within the liberal frame, Linkola would remain the perennial illiberal thorn in their side.
Despite living on his own for most of his life as a humble self-sustaining fisherman in accordance with his ecological principles, Linkola has had numerous television documentaries and appearances devoted to him and his work. In 1983 he won the Eino Leino Prize, an award usually given out to poets, for his non-fiction writing. He has been an object of fear, derision, and fascination in Finland and those intrigued by cultural outsiders. His current international popularity has been a result of his embrace by ecological factions of the far-right and those who call themselves “ecofascists” (a controversial term in its own right due to its origin as a pejorative, popularization by a mass shooter, and its ill-defined concerns and conservationism) which has been ironic given that his 1979 work From the Diary of a Dissident was dedicated to Baader and Meinohof of the communist terroristic Red Army Faction, just two years after their group had peaked with the violence of the German Autumn. Linkola’s most well-known work in English, Can Life Prevail, even includes an admiration for Pete Singer, a figure you will never find a single right-winger admiring.
Reading Can Life Prevail after seeing the memes can lead one to scratching their heads as to why Pentti Linkola has developed a cult following in the online world of the right. One could understand why an outsider figure like Ted Kaczynski who also had a singular focus on what he believed in and a willingness to accept heterodox viewpoints would develop a following. He combined the mystique that murderers have in true crime obsessed decadent cultures with the clarity and immediacy of his anti-technological writings, but Linkola is more perplexing with how his work drips in deep ecological misanthropy. Deep ecology, for the uninitiated, is an approach to environmentalism that holds no sentimentalism or special regard toward human beings or any other life form as it would put ecological stability and sustainability for the entire system above any one species’ desire to be fruitful and multiply. In short, favoritism disrupts the whole ecological system. Over the course of Can Life Prevail, Linkola discusses the necessity of destroying cats because of the damage their population numbers do to wildlife, agrees that mankind is the cancer of the earth, bemoans war as a waste if it doesn’t target women and children due to their role in restoring excess humanity’s numbers, and proposes dismantling the last one hundred years of industrial and technological progress if life really has any hope to prevail. The most famous of Linkola’s quotes sums up his philosophy by positing that those who hate life will try and fill a single lifeboat with as many drowning bodies as possible while those who respect life will safeguard what can reasonably live by severing the hands of those who cling to the side.
So why does Linkola fascinate some on the right despite these things he’s written and said? The answer is quite simple. Some love him because he’s unwavering in his principles and has zero liberal sentiments toward the suffering of the rest of the world, but the reality is that outside of fearmongering journalists and sanctimonious green neoliberals his ghoulishness is seen as the abstract thought experiments of a sensitive and wounded soul who has so much love for nature that he would do anything to protect it if he could. Both of these extremes are seen in Can Life Prevail as he also goes on to describe the strength of the women on the Russian side of Karelia, the sadness of chickens in captivity, and the necessity of protecting the beautiful and dark forests of Finland. Linkola writes as the type of man right-wingers most admire–the principled man of ethos who is perpetually fighting for the lost cause with all his soul and being. By any other measure Linkola would be seen as an angry old crank, and certainly his detractors are happy to portray him as such, but through the urgency of his gentle idealism, even if he lashes out with extreme solutions, he’s found an eager audience in a world that has been saturated by insincerity and consumptive irony.
In many respects, Linkola the man serves more as an inspiration to the right than his writings. A Finnish-language blog post that was recently translated gets to the heart of why there is such a strong affinity for Linkola. The author of the original post cites a recently released biography of Linkola, as yet untranslated into English, that introduces the man like this:
“He comes from a family of learning and his good upbringing shows in his behavior and demeanor, but at the same time he is an everyman, earning a living through fishing. His speech and writings are harsh and grim, but seldom do you get to read anything as tender and touching as what he has written. He is a romantic at heart, but his engine is hatred. His opinions are hard, but he doesn’t want to discuss them in person, choosing to write because he doesn’t want to hurt another. He likes people but has chosen solitude. He has a tough shell, but he cries easily. He doesn’t shy away from divulging his deepest feelings, his brokenness.”
Linkola’s own writings bear this out, with his memoir-as-short-film Cry, Beloved being full of the hopeless melancholy of a man who sees that the beauty of nature is in life’s desire to overcome, even though you are fighting against an industrial tsunami. Even though the end remains the same. Even though life will kill you, but the struggle is too important to avoid gnashing your teeth, kicking your legs, and clawing for every little inch that would allow you to just simply be heard and understood. This would be a painful exercise for anyone who is a dissident, but it becomes more resonant for those who have to compete with the manufactured truths of a hypernormalized regime. The burden becomes a thousand personal wounds that is usually too much for any one man who needs to be heard, a reality that Linkola meditates on at the end of the short film, stating:
“Unpleasantness is surely in store. Every single one of my writings and interviews has brought with it difficulties in my personal life, both when I was understood correctly and when I wasn’t. But this too loses all significance when my personal life loses its significance. And yet, beneath everything, until my last breath I cling stupidly and desperately to a smoldering, fragile hope that my writings could make the world an ever so slightly softer place.”
Were Linkola just an edgy ecofascist as some insist him to be–including those on the nationalist right who only know about his lifeboat ethics and take that at surface-level–he wouldn’t have the fascination that transcends the political compass. Were Linkola only a misanthropic deep ecologist on the level of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, he wouldn’t be dismissed as a crank by utopian liberals and leftists who retreat to hatred for humanity when minor politics and elections don’t go their way. It is because there is a hidden heart to the things he says, because he’s actually fought all his life for what he believes in instead of grifting off of popular sentiment or escaping to impossible idealism that he troubles and fascinates people who learn of him.
It’s important to understand that Linkola is not an impossible idealist himself. He proposes solutions that he knows will never be taken seriously because there is no will to do so, but he does not set up for himself an environmentalist ideology that is impossible to reconcile to facts. Ideology often does not survive first contact with reality and this becomes evident in the way ideologues and humanists react to Linkola’s lifeboat ethics, the ethics that are sometimes cited as proof of the terroristic violence of “ecofascism”. Linkola’s famously referenced quote goes as such:
“What to do when a ship carrying a hundred passengers has suddenly capsized, and only one lifeboat is available for ten people in the water? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to pull more people onto it, thus drowning everyone. Those who love and respect life will instead grab an axe and sever the hands clinging to the gunwales.”
This metaphor was first presented by Linkola in his 1989 book An Introduction to the Thought of the 1990s. This metaphor of Linkola’s is probably the most well-known and quoted thing he’s ever written, something he would be surprised by as when others have mentioned it to him he has referred to it as a “momentary state of mind”, an idle thought of his that wasn’t meant to be a “public lecture” or the lynchpin of some complete and closed system of epistemological morality. It is enough though that Linkola has the courage of his own conscience that even rhetorical questions like that could shake some of the most well-regarded minds of the 20th century. The analytic philosopher and ethicist Georg Henrik von Wright, the successor to no less than Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Cambridge chair, was taken aback by the idea that Linkola put out there that he even wrote to him on it. Linkola recounts in Can Life Prevail:
“As you may know, I hold you in high regard as a thinker. At least in this country, you are the most lucid and profound among truthful prophets. As to what practical conclusions to draw from realising the truth, this is a different matter. Perhaps I too would strike at the hands that are clinging to the boat, but hardly for the love of life: rather, out of fear, in an attempt to save my own skin. Perhaps it would be a better solution for all of us to drown, a final proof of the human species’ inability to survive.”
For the amount that Linkola is said to be ghoulish and a crank, the reaction of Von Wright is one that’s exceedingly common among the educated liberal and is treated as a perfectly reasonable reaction to have. Anyone who has had extended conversations with these kinds of people know how much their ostensibly bleeding-hearts don’t drip with blood but with malice, contempt, and hatred for humanity when it doesn’t live up to their ideological expectations. Anyone who has spoken to these people know how venomous they become about exterminating humanity when the world has no interest in their media-born “scientific humanism”. Linkola may not have any special affection for humanity, he may be fine with extreme solutions to stabilize the ecological world as he sees it, but as a man of the wild he still sees man as a living creature with a place in the natural world instead of an empty vessel to be despised for failing to live up to the idealism of the foolishly privileged. Linkola has humanity because he is not a humanist. As he reflects on this in his response to Von Wright:
“The above letter proves how difficult it is for a great humanist to let go of the overemphasis on the value of human life. I think I can sense some fear between the lines, something I have previously encountered when discussing the issue of overpopulation. I call it the fear of breaking loose and of disgrace. People fear that if any actions are taken to limit the world population, the situation will spiral out of control and human life will somehow lose its value forever. It is also thought that after similar actions mankind will forever lose its sense of self worth by sullying its ethical value, and will be unable to restore any norms and conventions.”
This is the real reason that Linkola has his admirers on the right.
This is also why they fear the rise of the environmental and illiberal right.
This issue is up for the right to take and claim to be theirs. By right, it should be theirs. They’ve been led astray however by giant elevating lines on charts and the hucksters that have convinced them of both its moral imperative and that it’s the only frontier that is real and matters. The right has been gaslighted into believing that to care about nature and the environment is a leftist phenomenon. The irony is that even where the issue has been full of leftists, these people always trend towards being heterodox in their thinking and beliefs because to engage with nature is to engage with reality, something the ideological are conditioned to flee from like the plague. The ecological issue is begging to be claimed by the right, and yet it has no one willing to do it who aren’t already playing by the rules of the elites and their janissaries who fly around the world and agree that the only hope to stop the climate change boondoggle is infinity migration, eating bugs, and whatever new scheme they concoct to make themselves richer and normal people poorer and miserable.
This digs into the heart of Linkola’s appeal. While the man has admirers across every iteration of the political spectrum except for neoliberals and their intersectional stooges, he found appeal on the far-right the way many strange idols have found themselves on those altars: he told the truth when no one else would and he wouldn’t be cowed by maudlin and manipulative appeals to tears. He has refused to retreat to platitudes and stood his ground when shown images of suffering POC meant to push his country toward open borders. He has spoken favorably of any authoritarian regime, whether it was the National Socialists or the Soviets, that would make preservation of nature paramount since liberalism was antithetical to it. Linkola has said many things over his long years that even his admirers can and will find disagreements with, but he has never fallen for liberalism’s oversocialized and moral preenings that seek to take every dissenter and bend their will backwards until they break. He has remained unrepentant, and there is so much to admire in that. He is the last man of the deep wild, the last truly free man. There is so much within that for the right to admire, whether or not he’s just some old kook in the woods.
There isn’t likely to be another man like Linkola. The frontier has been boarded up. Technological society welds people deeper into its iron bosom every day. Dick Proenneke is dead, and Edward Abbey too. D.H. Lawrence is mostly remembered as a misogynist pornographer despite writing beautifully about nature. Children of the earth like Christopher McCandless wandered off to die for no damn good reason. Ted Kaczynski took revenge on industrial society with rapidly expanding packages and waits to die in a little box, editing his papers and increasingly pessimistic that the technocapital system will ever be opposed. Only Linkola remains to watch the earth get swallowed whole.
There’s a false assumption that there is no use to the wild if you aren’t actively living out there in a loin cloth and digging into the dirt to munch on grubs. It’s enough that it’s simply there to call out to a man. Man needs to know it’s there to sharpen themselves just as they needed the wolves to fear and fight. The saddest mountain is the one that’s been reduced to a hill. It’s only in captivity that the female mantis cannibalizes her mate. Have men in captivity benefitted from being resigned to a plastic cage?
Because American conservatism, now being exported to conquered Europe, conceits itself so much on this dream of endless growth and eternal youth, it betrays that it must die. Out of fear of the natural world it has fled from the reality that all things must die and in a manchild’s tantrum refuses to plant seeds for new trees to grow. It has no sense for the tension between nature and industrial capitalism that D.H. Lawrence intimately understood in his writings and the necessity to say YES to both life and death as he did in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine:
“Because I know the tree will ultimately die, shall I therefore refrain from planting a seed? Bah, it would be conceited cowardice on my part. I love the little sprout, and the weak little seedling. I love the thin sapling, and the first fruit, and the falling of the first fruit. I love the great tree in its splendour. And I am glad that at last, at the very last, the great tree will go hollow, and fall on its side with a crash, and the little ants will run through it, and it will disappear like a ghost back into the humus.
It is the cycle of all things created, thank God. Because, given courage, it saves even eternity from staleness.”
The young will take their lessons from grouchy misanthropes like Pentti Linkola because the new ways denied its nature and betrayed their duties. He fought for the lands of his tender childhood like no man has in the 20th century, regardless of any ideology or what it might take to defend it in perpetuity, or at least as long as any living thing can last in a world that seems like it’s constantly in pain. He had to go there because no one else would, because the left’s solutions were tepid, useless, and enthralled to liberalism while the acceptable right had no solutions at all. The left grows because it spreads like a virus that consumes everything, but the right dies because it never really fought for life. It never really fought for life except in the abstract principle. When conservatism finally dies its ignoble and pathetic death a right that actually loves nature, loves the necessity of dying, and loves what life needs to prevail must be born. Linkola cries because he cries alone.
Your land and all of its creatures are a gift to be cherished, to be a steward toward. The land will shape the people who toil within it if they love and fear it in equal awe. The patriotic songs that resonate most are the ones that speak of the beauty of the land. How could any man who does not worship money and power want to sell it? How could any man who loves life want to sell it to the lowest bidder?
You may not like the old hermit, but listen. You may need to hear it.