The Disenchanted Earth: An Interview with Richard Seymour

Samuel McIlhagga

In The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism and Barbarism, Northern Irish writer, broadcaster, and blogger Richard Seymour sets out an argument for the cultivation of a planetary consciousness in which the entire human population would reshape its political, psychological, and poetical understanding of the earth, its ecosystems, and its meaning. The Disenchanted Earth consists of a series of essays addressing subjects such as nuclear energy, the polar sublime, climate change denialism, and the complex systems of biomass that make the stuff of the world—from fungi and insects to whales and humans. 

[Ed. note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]


Samuel McIlhagga: Your book tries to make the case for what you call “planetary consciousness.” Do climate change and its results promote universalistic politics or a particular politics in response? And if they promote both, which is more likely to win out?

Richard Seymour: Climate change, which obviously works here as a synecdoche for the whole ecological crisis, mass extinction, ocean acidification, the lot—is a planetary problem that affects all life. This is a story about all of us, and there is, therefore, a kind of universality. But there are two immediate qualifications. First, the effects are not evenly distributed among humans. I don’t just mean that the Global South will suffer the most from a crisis for which it has historically the least responsibility. Rich societies will also face privations and disruptions, but these will be loaded onto the backs of the working class.

The billionaire class, of which there are 2,668 in the world according to Forbes, holds a combined wealth of $12.7 trillion, which is 7.5% of the world’s GDP. They represent a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population. So their wealth has soared way beyond the rate of growth. And the main reason why that has happened is through a combination of new forms of rent-seeking, a monopoly under tech capital, soaring prices are driven by ecological crises, disruption of supply chains—making it harder to produce stuff—benefiting food and energy firms.

Given the ecological crisis is only going to get worse, we’re going to see more of this kind of thing. Wildfires and floods are making it harder to produce things like pasta across the world—which makes basic goods more expensive and of course, large companies can profit from that. The rich are hoarding a large amount of this wealth, while also investing it in proven growth industries like fossil fuels. Indeed, an HSBC banker was disciplined for saying that what happens after six years regarding fossil fuel emissions is totally irrelevant to the banks and their investments because their loan books cover only six years. The question is, why was he disciplined? Because he said the quiet part out loud. HSBC, like most other big banks, is a huge investor in fossil fuels. Because the disposition of global governments is to keep the fossil fuel industry running for the next several decades at least.

We know that workers, across the world, will suffer more ecological disruption, more shortages, more ill health, early death due to pollution, and more extreme weather chaos—while the rich build their Xanadu complexes. What we’re learning is that capitalist states are willing to provide certain ameliorations, within their means, and very limited ameliorations at that. For example, Rishi Sunak, the British Chancellor has just talked about imposing a windfall tax on energy firms to pay for a small bung to help the poor with higher fuel costs—that will mitigate the problem, but the prices are still going to continue to soar.

So lean times, difficult times, and permanent states of emergency are ahead for workers, the racially oppressed, and Indigenous people. And probably in this context, we’re gonna see the right lash back harder as they try to build a constituency morally mobilized for accepting quite a lot of death. In that context, universalism isn’t just a transcendent Enlightenment-era appeal to humanity. It is rather an oppositional project. It’s counter to the politics of fracturing, fragmenting, and hierarchizing life in order to protect the vast majority of humanity.

The other qualification, which is really important, is that this universality is not just human—it can’t be. This is because the lessons of mass extinction, the modern ethic of biodiversity, and the new scientific research about non-human animals are telling us that non-human animals are, of course, imaginative moral and cultural creatures with complex symbolic codes. Many animals use names, they have terms, they describe complex situations, they have funerals, and they have very developed emotional relationships. Humans have social and emotional relations with animals. But often the only way we can imagine a social relationship with an animal is through having a pet.

Additionally, there is a symbiotic-genetic origin point for human biological materials gained through our historical relations with animals, through our connections to them found in a vast and largely invisible microcosmos—which has recently become a cutting-edge political issue because of the rising risk of plagues.  This is happening because humans haven’t historically had close relations with the majority of wildlife. There is a microbial reservoir living within these wild areas made up of huge numbers of microbes that we haven’t adapted to. The expansion of capitalism’s frontiers into these wildlife territories brings humans into an extremely problematic social relationship with those non-human animals and exposes us to the risk of plague.

SM: Part of the problem I’m trying to parse here is that we’re dealing with essentially global systems that one can attempt to hedge against by cutting oneself off into arbitrarily smaller and smaller political communities. The climate system and ecological system are intrinsically linked across the globe; problems that are in the system, such as zoonotic diseases, affect you regardless of what nation you’re in, regardless of what economic, political or political-economic system you’ve set up. It doesn’t matter if you’re running state capitalism or you’re running socialism or you’re running neoliberalism—these problems that spawn out of the ecosystem are going to affect you.

But at the same time, there’s a response, and not necessarily a rational response, from elements on the left and right where there is a confusion of cause and effect: between global capitalism and globalism as a project tout court. Consequently, there is an emergent idea that if we close off into small communities, and we cast off supply chains, or onshore supply chains, things like zoonotic diseases are going to be mitigated. Therefore, the best thing to do is to have a kind of self-sufficient socialism within nation-states or smaller communities.

RS: I think the problem is, as you say, that whatever happens on one side of the planet affects things on the other side of the planet. Take, for example, a wildfire—a wildfire in Australia. We across the planet share an atmosphere. If there’s a wildfire in Australia, the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will affect the climate in parts of the Northwestern United States. The partly manufactured wildfires in Brazil (encouraged by anti-Indigenous corporations involved in agribusiness) would have contributed to, in a dispersed and dissipated way, the wildfires that then took place in parts of the United States leading to, if you remember, militias organizing against Antifa in the regions affected.

Even when we’re talking about ecoanarchism, people like Murray Bookchin would recognize that there has to be some sort of federation of political power and some sort of association across the planet. That’s just unavoidable. I’ve mentioned two qualifications to universality—this means that we can’t just pose a naive humanism of Enlightenment vintage; that’s just not going to work. But there is another utopian possibility. There is a growing body of literature on the idea of a modern “Zoopolis.” To what extent can we include all human beings and non-human animals in some sort of polity? There is, of course, a concept of human stewardship built into that because of the limitations that non-human animals have. But also, the Zoopolis tends to expand the concept of what a human is by undoing the hierarchies of life that were established in the colonial era and emphasizing our webs of mutual dependency and possible cooperation. What I’m suggesting politically is that we take a philosophical orientation from what Paul Gilroy calls planetary humanism. To me, that means some form of ecosocialism. But it’s a socialism no longer predicated on superabundance.

The problem is rooted in anarchist and Marxist thinking. The idea is that you build up such an abundance of goods that the muck of ages, the stuff that divides us, that makes us fight one another, and retreat into enclaves—that dissipates. No! Now we need to establish egalitarian relations as the primary strategic goal. This means that we should focus less on productive forces, although that’s very important, and more on social and productive relations.

SM: That is a really interesting point in terms of productive relations versus social relations. In terms of ecosocialism, where does it go? Where does it aim to go? Is it towards some kind of left accelerationism that seeks to hyper-charge technology to achieve better social relations? Or a more deaccelerated degrowth model? Or should we aim somewhere in between these two poles? Or do you reject this binary completely?

RS: I mean, accelerationism, in regards to what? There’s a certain version of accelerationism, which is a version of, “Let it bleed, sharpen the contradictions, bring on the struggle.” Well, I’m not up for that! I think that that is hubristic. But there are certain aspects of human development that do need to be accelerated. Obviously, technologies are going to be extremely important—there’s no possibility of 100% renewables—and therefore we’re going to need to find ways of technologically managing things like carbon withdrawal.

But the problem is that technologies are already, a priori, a social relationship. A tool is a social relationship. We must start by addressing the social relations that bring about the need for technology. In terms of degrowth, I think that’s obvious. There is no way in which the planet’s boundaries can sustain the indeterminate growth that we have experienced in terms of capitalism. By growth, I don’t mean GDP. I mean the growth of the use of energy and the growth of material throughput, the massive transportation, and processing of materials.

This raises another political problem, because there are large parts of the world that desperately need more energy and more materials. But if you were to simply stop growth in the so-called advanced capitalist societies and then say, “Let the other countries catch up,” that would expand emissions, according to a recent book by Gareth Dale, by six times. That’s untenable. We need to roll back drastically. Degrowth, on all sorts of fronts, is obviously necessary. The question is: does that have to result in eco-austerity? Some things would have to be rationed, but alternatively, there would be an abundance of other things—we can shift our focus to the things that make life pleasurable and change our conception of what hedonic pleasure would include. There’s a lot of work on this talking about the development of care economies.

SM: There’s a book by Martin Hagglund, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (2019), that suggests that, basically, to build a socialism for the 21st century, there needs to be a transvaluation of all values: a reassessment of where value is placed in terms of human relations and human production. That value needs to be placed in some kind of collective care, in free time, in productivity that fills the necessary requirements of life, that doesn’t require profit beyond that—a value defined by finitude. 

RS: I’m always in favor of a communist appropriation of Nietzsche! And I’m in favor of a transvaluation of values. How that would work would need some more concretization. One of the problems with capitalism, when we think about what accounts for its longevity, is that its values dominate us so completely—especially because of its destruction of counterpowers. When we talk about its values, we shouldn’t assume that there’s any kind of philosophy there. The values of capitalism are its image world.

If you think about the image world of advertising, it’s an interesting world because it offers a life that you know, already, is impossible for you. Advertising of capitalist value includes within it, usually, some kind of ironic fold, some kind of self-criticism, whereby you can enjoy the commodity, enjoy the prospect of this life, this experience—which is entirely ghostly, entirely spectral—without taking it too seriously.

This is one of the great things about capitalist ideology: its ability to achieve this ironic distance from its core values. Maybe the subversive thing would be to try and work out and state, in bold terms, what capital’s values actually amount to—what they actually are. This honesty about real values would amount to a religion of endless accumulation. It would be a kind of cult. Therefore, the question is, how do we opt out of the cult? How do we build up the kinds of power that would be capable of resisting?

SM: Would it not be that, increasingly, more and more people are finding it easier to opt out of the values of the cult? And could this be because of the breakage of the essential compact of mid-20th to late 20th-century capitalism that the next generation would do better and have more material abundance and more education than their parents? That was the central compact of the New Deal and social democracy and welfarism. And that’s been demolished. It’s hard to buy into a promise of abundance because it doesn’t seem probable. The grief of letting go of that vision of the world, of that vision of political economy, seems to be lessened now, because it’s easier to write certain possibilities off. Once that compact is broken, is it easier to turn towards something that isn’t about abundance?

RS: I think that makes perfect sense. There is manifestly a broad lack of faith in the ability of the state to deliver on very much at all. We experienced this in the United Kingdom with the Corbyn project, where, by 2019, it had reached its limits. Partly to do with Brexit, partly to do with problems of the leadership. People, when you spoke to them, thought the stuff in the manifesto was nice. But the idea that all of it could be delivered in one government—a large number of people didn’t believe that.

The problem here is complex because, generationally speaking, it should be young people who are most skeptical about state capacity. But actually, young people (although their spontaneous ideology seems to be social liberalism rather than welfare liberalism) are more likely to take a risk on the possibility of a government actually doing something for them and reviving some form of moderate democracy. This is complicated because the collapse of faith in traditional narratives can be good, it can be productive, and it can open up new ways of doing things. But in practice, it seems to be the political right that has benefited most, because this collapse is partly predicated on the collapse of popular organizations of power: the collapse of unions, political parties, popular publications, cooperation, etc.

SM: So it’s a double-edged sword? The result of this breaking of the social compact is that people are more willing to believe that there is a route out of visions of hyper-abundance, post-scarcity, and capitalism. But the mechanisms for doing it have also been destroyed in the process?

RS: I mean, that’s a contingent historical fact. One of the things that we’ve learned recently is that the situation is also extremely volatile. We’ve seen developments from Europe to South America—for example, the social explosion in Chile—which didn’t come out of the prior existence of what would be called a “thick” civic society. The result was exactly what I was talking about earlier—what we would need to deal with the climate crisis: town-hall meetings, city hall meetings, popular assemblies, every week. That’s not going to solve everything. But, the volatility of the system means that, if there is hope, it lies in the unknown.

SM: Another question I have relates to the idea of “socialism or barbarism” expressed by Rosa Luxemburg in the Junius Pamphlet (1915), which you’ve adapted for the subtitle of your book. Your work presents the barbaric end of future possibilities: an unreformed, GOP-style climate-change denialism and an emergent ecofascism, or national-conservative ecoconsciousness. Which do you think is worse?

RS: I mean, the interesting thing is that while denial and affirmation seem to be opposed, they’re often part of the same logic for the far right. In the same way, Holocaust denial is secretly, covertly, an affirmation—expressing affiliation with the genocidal product project of the Third Reich. Climate denial expresses an affiliation with the suicidal project of petro-modernity. You find that under pressure, climate-denialism either becomes an overt, “Bring it on, let’s party”-style nihilism, or it becomes a narcissistic fantasy of cosmic unity between people and environment. This unity can only be achieved through a war on mutant and out-of-place biological forms through mass deportations and mass murder.

You see this in the latest lone-wolf manifesto from the Buffalo shooter, which has a very strained, adolescent evocation of Hellenic myths and history, its mawkishness about “our people,” its obsessive recapitulation of anti-Black and antisemitic memes, its exhortations to violence. Ecofascism, of this kind, has no planetary consciousness whatsoever.  Ecofascism is capable of acknowledging some of the science; it controls historic uses of scientific thought, such as Malthusianism and Social Darwinism, both of which had a profound impact on interwar fascism. It also appropriates certain scientific terms—for example, Jonathan Marks’s concept of “human biodiversity,” which was an anti-racist idea. This has been inverted into a far-right concept implying a division between categorized people: “Keep them over there, and keep us over here.”

The point is that ecofascism remains profoundly averse to the ethical consequences of thinking in a planetary way. It remains attached to a 19th-century discourse on the inequality of beings, and to 20th-century models of centralized sovereign violence, none of which have anything to do with solving the climate problem. Therefore, whether it is fascist denialism “Jair Bolsonaro-style” or ecofascism, the corollary and consequence are always that “our people” have to be protected, that the rich man’s Xanadu has to be ensconced within a nested hierarchy of national Xanadus, in which being of the right nationality or race entitles one to some degree of security.

Both trends will accelerate the climate crisis, will result in extreme social violence, and will eventually find a way to displace the crisis. Ecofascism displaces the crisis by treating it as a problematic mixing of biological forms. Climate denialism displaces the crisis, as we saw in Oregon, where the wildfires were blamed on communist plots and Chinese money. Either way, it’s about displacing the crisis and turning it into a way of disciplining and engaging in extreme violence against large sectors of humanity.

SM: Outside of dominant Western models, how do we deal with or respond to China’s state-capitalist developmental response to the climate?

RS: I think this really matters. There is a real question of what is driving Chinese policy. There is a recent book on China’s ecological disaster, China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse by Richard Smith, which is rooted in a tradition of arguing that China is an example of a new form of class society called “bureaucratic collectivism,” in which essentially there is no competition between bureaucratic entities, where their incentives are not disciplined by the profit motive, or by overhead costs. Therefore, you get even more irrational duplication of investments, more irrational persistence with ecologically destructive projects.

This is tied to a status project of development. The People’s Republic of China has always sought to protect itself from being taken over by other states, from being dominated. It wants to be globally dominant if it can be. Obviously, it’s currently trying to stake out a role as a regional hegemon. The development of its energetic substratum—its infrastructure—is crucial to that project. China is investing heavily in coal-fired power plants, not because it’s particularly wicked or evil, but because that is the best way to compete in an incentivized global system. This is seen as the quickest way to industrialize, the quickest way to build up material affluence, and therefore, to build up the resources with which to become a military superpower.

The incentives built into the global system, of which China is a part, drive one in that direction, particularly if one is, in the Marxist idiom, “far back in the imperialist chain.” Other perverse incentives are worth mentioning. Kim Stanley Robinson made the case recently that Third World countries or Global South countries would have every right, if other countries aren’t solving the climate crisis, to resort to solar radiation management. The incentive would be, for a country like India, which is contributing a fair amount to the crisis, to pump the atmosphere with sulfate particles to protect itself from the extreme heat that its population is going to suffer. Well, okay! I can see that. This is going to make the planetary situation worse. The perverse incentives built into a system of competitive nation-states and competing national capitalist units are such that there’s a dynamo effect, driving the accumulation of more carbon emissions.

SM: Is there a problem with socialist models or anti-establishment models being rebuilt back into the capitalist system or being neutralized? FDR’s New Deal and Attlee’s nationalization program—these things were slowly unpicked by the New Right and neoliberalism through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s, and the assets from these projects were sold off. If we achieve a Green New Deal, how do we protect a state-run energy transition from short-term electoral cycles and unpicking by countervailing forces?

RS: That’s an interesting question. On the one hand, one could worry that a Green New Deal might be appropriated and transformed into technocratic capitalist management based on Pentagon-style securitization. Climate security is a growing area. That’s a real danger because it means the militarization of climate problems.

It’s a danger in terms of framing the whole problem as “statist versus the market.” I think that’s the problem here. One of the reasons why nationalized entities could be sold off and public services could be marketized or turned into QUANGOs is that they never really had any democratic ownership or control. Nationalized industries were run, in the postwar world,  by civil servants who were trained in India as tyrannical governors. They were top-down, and they were run like capitalist corporations.

Obviously, if we are serious about a Green New Deal, that can’t be the case. There have to be forms of community control built into the project. Once you achieve that, things are very hard to reverse. The NHS is a top-down organization, but because it was, at its inception, structured around a socialist principle (which became wildly popular), it’s taken longer to dismantle it. You can build up resilient forms of social power.

To me, the critical thing, the crucial thing, is democratic mobilization. We can’t rely on our feeble, powerless, endangered democratic systems to take care of things for us. The representative systems that exist are increasingly fragile and exclusive. There are large numbers of people who are just not represented. We need forms of popular power predicated on disruptive capacity. Trade unions are one type of power, and there are historical civil society organizations. But we will have to be inventive—we don’t know what kind of future organizations there will be.

SM:  Your book makes an argument against nuclear power. Obviously, there are people on the left like George Monbiot who are pro-nuclear, in a qualified way, advocating for some kind of state-run semi-socialist nuclear technology that would provide a useful bridge while we develop larger capacities in renewables. What’s your argument against that? How do you respond to the developing rhetoric against our reliance on natural gas from places like Russia, and to claims that nuclear power is the key to developing energy sovereignty that’s not dependent on global capital and supply chains?

RM: It’s very interesting that, for instance, Macron talks about nuclear energy in terms of energy sovereignty. It’s very clear that, in a geopolitical context, we’re seeing a shift towards energy nationalism, of which the United Kingdom’s recent expansion of its nuclear investments is an example. I would say it’s a question of the choices that we make now. The infrastructures that we build now will last for decades. If we commit to nuclear energy, we’re committing scarce resources to a solution that may not actually be much of a solution. In one of the essays that you’re citing, I mention the research questioning the low-carbon claims of nuclear. I point out the huge problems of nuclear waste, I point to the long-range difficulties of securing nuclear material, and to the fact that globally, nuclear energy has been in decline, partly because of how inordinately expensive it is. I also point out the relationship between civil nuclear energy programs and the military-industrial complex.

In contrast, the main problem with renewables is that they require really urgent investment to scale infrastructure up to make it a more efficient choice. The infrastructures just don’t exist for it yet. That’s the urgent thing to do. With that said, what is interesting about nuclear energy is that the world and its resources actually do consist of superabundant energy, far more than humans could ever need or use. The problem has always been how to efficiently access it and harness it.

Nuclear energy seems, in principle, would be a way of accessing enormous amounts of energy contained in the atoms around us. The trouble has been that nuclear fission comes with all sorts of problems — we don’t know what to do with the toxic waste. Nuclear energy, in the form of nuclear fusion, has recently produced some excitement. But obviously, that’s not an established technology. It would take decades for it to be scaled up.

For now, the best bridge is renewable energy combined with the managed decline of fossil fuels. I fear that the way in which nuclear energy will enter into these discussions will be as a kind of pseudo-solution that allows us to maintain the myth of plenty, of superabundance, so that none of the other problems of ecological collapse need to be fixed because we’ve solved the problem of carbon emissions. Although, we don’t know exactly how low carbon nuclear is in terms of its lifecycle. The best medium to long-term solution seems to be the expansion of solar power. There may be ways of building concentrated solar power stations in the very sunny parts of the world, but that’s going to pose a lot of political challenges in terms of how that infrastructure is organized.

SM: How would you propose that we deal with the downstream problems of renewables in terms of the requirements for batteries with efficient storage capacity? How do the resource politics of cobalt and lithium mining, and the surge in commodity finances, come into play? How does the Pink Tide in Latin America and the temptation to build strong welfare states from the surplus of resources extraction relate to the politics of renewables?

RS: It’s manifestly apparent that rare metals are subjected to extremely exploitative practices at the moment, that they’re subject to geopolitical tensions, and the growing reliance on them could result in new forms of imperialist plunder and new forms of extractivism that would be damaging to communities. All that is true. But that’s also been true with prior forms of energy.

For instance, one of the things we know about coal mining, if you read Timothy Mitchell’s book “Carbon Democracy,” is that the process of assembling large-scale workforces to extract this energy can actually result in new kinds of democratic subjectivities. I want to be cautious about this, because what we’re learning about planetary mining at the moment is that it’s becoming more and more roboticized. Robots can work 24/7 in the dark. There is a whole planetary apparatus of mining, which is run with AI, robots, and a small human team. That’s increasingly what mining is becoming.

But that is the case right now with lithium extraction. There are precarious workforces in mining that are extremely exploited and subjected to extreme toxic environmental dangers. But that brings us to another aspect of environmentalism. Historically, environmentalism included a strong working-class movement saying, “Don’t poison us, don’t expose us to these environmental dangers.”  For example, the Italian Communist Party developed an ecological wing fairly early on. So this is something we have the tools to respond to. It’s not an intrinsic problem with using renewables.

SM: Historically, left-wing governments in Latin American countries with extractive economies, MAS and Evo Morales in Bolivia, PT and Lula in Brazil, and now Pedro Castillo and Free Peru, have had a compact with agribusiness, mining companies, and big state infrastructure projects. There was a recognition that this can be used to create a surplus to amp up the economy, bring people out of poverty, and achieve electoral success. Is there a compromise with anti-extraction politics here?

RS: No—the left is going to have to be transformed. You mentioned a transvaluation of values. The strategy of a national developmental state (using the techniques of state-directed capitalism combined with welfare and certain limited forms of popular democracy) to modernize a country relies on the tenability of capitalism as a set of social relations. The left is going to have to become much more antagonistic to the very project of growth.

The relationship between the Indigenous left and the governmental left could become something more like an ecology, where their mutual dependency is acknowledged. I think that that’s going to require a radical change in the consciousness of that part of the left. I think that’s beginning to happen. I’m saying we need to rebuild and reconstitute counter-power, broad social power, so that, in Polanyian terms, ruptures could be effected within the state.

SM: The title of your book involves the word “disenchantment.” Some people are familiar with that word from Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)—the idea of the end of animism, the end of things being embedded with spirits, the slow decline of this into organized, monotheistic religion, and then the slow perishing of the spirit into the Enlightenment. How do you negotiate the desire for a re-enchantment of the world around you, both psychologically and politically, without falling into a kind of romantic nationalism or veneration of a problematic proposed genetic attachment to the immediate world around you?  How does one imagine humanistic enchantment?

RS: You never really get a disenchantment. The title is somewhat ironized. Whenever you think you’ve disenchanted the world and reduced it to a set of technical measurements, you’ve monetized it, you’ve put an economic value on it, some forms of enchantment will always slip through the cracks. If you haven’t thought through rigorously what your mode of enchantment is, it will take a non-rigorous mythopoetic form.

The regrowth of millenarian religion is a form of enchantment. QAnon is a form of enchantment, ecofascism is a form of enchantment. Then there are these liberal-bourgeois hobbies. A version of rewilding is one. But I’m wary of writing off any of these middle-class projects simply as the hobbies of the privileged. I don’t think that’s what is really going on here. I think that there is a counter-capitalist desire implicated in this. It can take nationalistic forms, such as Paul Kingsnorth’s “green nationalism.”

I think Monbiot is a more serious radical. And, you know, I don’t agree with him on everything. His interest is in freeing us from the values of relentless accumulation, which devalue life and devalue our experiences of life. Monbiot’s emphasis is often on the taxing demands of human civilization in the capitalist form. When he talks about “wilding,” he’s also talking about wilding us. It’s about giving us a way to relinquish some of the demands of relentless work and relentless purchasing. But the kind of enchantment that I want to foster and encourage is one that is transcendent.

Transcendentalism, historically, has come from a different tradition intellectually and philosophically than I come from. I’m a Marxist. Marxism has a very sarcastic relationship to enchantment.  But as Gramsci said, it’s a “positive sarcasm.” In other words, it’s an attempt at recuperative sarcasm, an attempt to rescue what is valid in those desires. Marxism doesn’t completely discard prophetic religious desire or enchantment, but it attempts to reconstitute it as a viable materialist praxis. The transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau, were influenced by Kant, by the Romantic poets, and they were working in a radical democratic spirit. It’s about developing the personality. And therefore, the natural world is not something that is just for the use of industry. The natural world has a sacred value in itself.♦




Samuel McIlhagga is a freelance journalist, book reviewer, and writer based in the U.K. 

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