Unjust times: The intellectual and political foundations of climate necro-nihilism and ritualized cruelty

Andrew R. Hom, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Can we realize more just transitions without stemming the rising tide of extreme forms of unjustice? As the historical record ably shows (Anievas, Manchanda, and Shilliam 2014; Mills 2020), progress depends on the delimitation of naked and often white power as much as the responsible exercise of legitimate authority. While most of our collective proposal pursues creative temporal tools for more just transitions, it is equally important to grasp the shadowy historical context for our progressive pursuits. Specifically, we need to better understand those that embrace unjust transitions and call it ‘justice’ using temporal frames – e.g. normative claims about a new period of unfettered capitalist consumerism, an imagined past of ‘traditional values’, the virtues of renewed nationalism, or the intentional rupture of an open ‘civil war’ fought along racial, cultural, or religious lines.

Such research resonates with the three themes of sustainable transitions, justice, and temporality. Right wing extremists encourage environmental necro-nihilism – the gleeful flouting of eco-friendly and sustainable policies or practices. They costume ritualized cruelty, which ‘pwns the libs’ or causes pain and suffering to minorities and other outgroups, to ‘protect’ the ‘rights’ of ‘endangered species’ like white, masculine, and Christian-nationalist individuals. They do so in expressly temporal frames, including denying climate change is occurring at all; asserting it is ‘already too late’ to avert environmental collapse; claiming that only strong demagogues can meet the historical moment through unapologetic action; or promising a return to national greatness. These frames did not emerge from nowhere. My preliminary research suggests that such arguments have a complex lineage hiding in plain sight in existentialist writings on freedom, democracy, and emancipation (Hom n.d.). As those same sources often inspire the attempt to think the times of just transitions more progressively (e.g. Green 2021), it becomes only more important that we explore how deliberately unjust projects emerged from a discourse of existential freedom.

Excavating the temporal and existentialist origins of climate necro-nihilism and ritually “justified” cruelty can help us combat the current crises of democracy and climate change. To that end, in addition to contacts in Scottish Parliament and the UK Defence Science and Technology Lab (which includes a extremism and counterterrorism cluster), I expect that project partners will evolve through the Global Convening Programme workshops. In political science and international relations (PS/IR), this project will a) extend my novel theory of time and temporality to a contemporary political case (e.g. Hom and Steele 2016; Hom 2020); and b) foment a vital but hitherto absent conversation about the legacy of Heidegger and existentialism in PS/IR. Both fields draw widely from the Heideggerian and existentialist traditions without grappling with the legacy of Heidegger’s Nazism or with the implications of existentialism’s more violent and malevolent potentialities. This will encourage PS/IR to become more aware of the politics of its intellectual foundations while helping us think through how to effectively counter contemporary ideologues who draw more or less openly – and more or less cynically - on Heidegger and existentialism to foment increasingly extreme times.

References Cited

Anievas, Alexander, Nivi Manchanda, and Robbie Shilliam, eds. 2014. Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line. London: Routledge.

Green, Jessica F. 2021. “The Existential Politics of Climate Change.” Boston Review. January 21, 2021. http://bostonreview.net/forum/how-fix-climate/jessica-f-green-existential-politics-climate-change.

Hom, Andrew R. 2020. International Relations and the Problem of Time. Oxford University Press.

———. n.d. “Heidegger’s Herirtage: The Temporal Politics of Authenticity, Then and Now.” Review of International Studies conditional accept, under revision.

Hom, Andrew R., and Brent J. Steele. 2016. “Child’s Play: Temporal Discourse, Counterpower, and Environmental Politics.” In Time and Violence in IR: (De)Fatalizing the Present, Forging Radical Alternatives, edited by Anna M. Agathangelou and Kyle Killian, 189–204. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mills, Charles W. 2020. “The Chronopolitics of Racial Time.” Time & Society 29 (2): 297–317. https://doi.org/10.1177/0961463X20903650.

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