Prefigurative Politics of Authoritarian Unsustainability: Far-Right Environmental and Climate Politics in Civil Society beyond Denial
In light of an increasingly serious socio-ecological crisis, a comprehensive societal transformation seems to be indispensable. In environmental social science, especially experiments in civil society – in contrast to mere advocacy – are associated with high transformative capacities. Due to their hands-on character and embeddedness in everyday practices of provision, the experimental and prefigurative lifestyle politics of urban gardens, sharing platforms, sustainable housing projects, etc. are recognized as promising pioneers of change. They are expected to contest neoliberal imaginaries, provide innovative everyday practices of provision and resonate with the everyday needs of the people (Seyfang/Smith 2007, Meyer 2015, Schlosberg, 2019, Asara 2021). However, the tide of the far right and the growing literature on organized networks of climate change denial (Dunlap, 2013, Plehwe, 2014, Farrell, 2016) demonstrates authoritarian defenses of unsustainability in civil society and the inadequacy of the portrayal of unsustainable outcomes of civil society engagement as merely ‘unintended effects’ (Frantzeskaki et al. 2016) in environmental social sciences. Additionally, prefigurative politics are hardly restricted to the portfolio of progressive (environmental) movements. Contesting the status quo and anticipating an imagined better future, prefigurative politics also play a crucial role for the mobilization and the formation of subjectivities in far-right parts of civil society (Forchtner/Tominc, 2017, Göpffarth, 2021). Prefigurative politics in the far right further gain in importance against the backdrop that the far right is increasingly blurring the boundaries of parties, think tanks and social movements (Caiani et al. 2012, Castelli Gattinara/Pirro 2019), adopting narratives of liberation, democratization and David against Goliath formerly associated with emancipatory struggles (Bar-On 2014, Blühdorn/Butzlaff 2019, Mondon/Winter 2020, Blühdorn 2021, Lütjen 2021) and mingle with protesters against Corona measures, for which alternative, esoteric lifestyles play a crucial role (Nachtwey et al. 2020, Callison/Slobodian 2021).
In light of these dynamics in civil society, my paper seeks to revisit the transformative capacities of experimental and prefigurative politics in civil society by first identify their portrayals in environmental social science. In the following sections, I analyze the role of prefigurative politics for the far right and its tensions with the conceptualization of far right environmental and climate politics as forms of denial. Finally, I will critically discuss the consequences of far-right prefigurative politics for portrayals of the transformative capacities of civil society in environmental social science in light of the current historical juncture of repoliticization in which perceptions of liberation, democracy and activism fundamentally change.