The Lie of the Land

Essays Published April 10, 2017 in The Guardian

Last June, I voted to leave the European Union. I wasn’t an anti-EU fanatic but I was, despite my advancing years, still something of a green idealist, at least on a good day. I had always believed that small was beautiful, that people should govern themselves and that power should be reclaimed and localised whenever possible. I didn’t think that throwing the people of Greece, Spain and Ireland to the wolves in order to keep bankers happy looked like the kind of right-on progressive justice that some of the EU’s supporters were claiming it represented.

So I voted to leave. I didn’t say anything about this before the vote and, despite being a writer, I didn’t write about it either. There was too much mudslinging on both sides already, and I didn’t want to throw any more or have any thrown at me. In any case, I didn’t have much to say.

The mudslinging, it turned out, was just a prelude to what would come next. The EU referendum, like the election of Donald Trump in America five months later, and the Scottish independence question, newly re-opened this week, tore the plaster off a pre-existing national wound which now began to bleed freely. All sorts of things bubbled up that had been suppressed for years, and everyone was suddenly taking sides. Some people, when I told them I’d voted to leave, looked at me as if I’d just owned up to a criminal record for child sex offences. Why would I do that? Was I a racist? A fascist? Did I hate foreigners? Did I hate Europe? I must hate something. Did I know how irresponsible I had just been? Had I changed my mind yet? I needed to go away and check my privilege.

The eruption of anger that followed the vote, on all sides, was surprising enough. But what was also surprising to me was the uniformity of opinion amongst people I had thought I shared a worldview with. Most people in the leftish, green-tinged world in which I had spent probably too much time over the years seemed to be lining up behind the EU. The public intellectuals, the Green Party, the big NGOs: all these people, from a tradition founded on localisation, degrowth, bioregionalism and a fierce critique of industrial capitalism, were on board with a multinational trading bloc backed by the world’s banks, corporations and heads of government. Something smelt fishy.


I was born in the early 1970s. At around the same time, two forces – two movements, if you like – were also born, which would shape the lives of my generation. One was neoliberalism. The other was environmentalism.

Neoliberalism was – and is – an economic project. It sought to replace stuttering statist economies with a new laissez-faire order by removing ‘barriers to trade’ wherever they might be found. These barriers might be protectionist tariffs or taxes; they might also be national laws, local customs or environmental regulations. The creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 was the culmination of a decades-long project, pushed by the economic and military might of the US and its allies, to globalise the neoliberal model and cement it in international law.

By the early 21st century it seemed that this globalisation process was both unstoppable and almost complete. Political parties from all traditions had surrendered to it, and the pundits and the economists were happily on board. In the process, the economic project had developed into a cultural one, promulgated by its beneficiary class, the urban, tech-savvy, cosmopolitan bourgeoisie. Often referred to as ‘globalism’, this worldview envisaged a borderless, one-world culture, in which trade tariffs and national boundaries were seen as equally damaging to the new hyper-capitalist conception of freedom. Traditions, distinctive cultures, national identities, religious strictures, social mores – all would dissolve away in the healing light of free trade and a Western liberal conception of social progress. Only bigots and Luddites could possibly oppose such a utopian future.

Being something of a Luddite myself, I wrote a book opposing it fifteen years ago. It tracked the great wave of anti-globalisation movements which washed over the world at the end of the twentieth century, from the summit blockades at Seattle, Prague and Genoa to the uprising of the Zapatistas in Mexico and the anti-privatisation riots in South Africa. What I found as I investigated these movements was that the most lasting of them were fuelled not by a general rage against ‘the system’, or by some ism or theory, but by a sense of place and belonging. Somewhere that people loved or felt attached to was being threatened by outside forces, whether they be trade treaties, buccaneering corporations or oppressive governments, and people were fighting to defend what they knew and what they were.

This sense of the uniqueness of places, and of the cultures that sprang from them, had been what pushed me towards green activism in the first place. From a young age I had an inchoate sense that much of the world’s colour, beauty and distinctiveness was being bulldozed away in the name of money and progress. Some old magic, some connection, was being snuffed out in the process. It must be twenty years since I read the autobiography of the late travel writer Norman Lewis, The World, The World, but the last sentence still stays with me. Wandering the hills of India, Lewis is ask by a puzzled local why he spends his life travelling instead of staying at home. What is he looking for? ‘I am looking for the people who have always been there’, replies Lewis, ‘and belong to the places where they live. The others I do not wish to see.’

As a writer, whether of fiction or non-fiction, I have been looking for the same thing. That first book of mine, it turned out, was a journey in search of people who belong. It was a defence of a threatened fragility. A few years later, I wrote another, this time about globalisation’s impact on England, my home country. I’ve since written novels and essays and poems and they always seem, however hard I try to write about something else, to circle back around to that primal question: what does it mean to belong? To belong to a place, to a people, to nature, in a time in which belonging is everywhere under attack. Does it mean anything? Why should it matter?

All I know is that it matters to me. I know that a world without Lewis’s ‘people who have always been there’ would be a world diminished and broken. I also know that this is the world which globalisation is creating, and needs to create if it is to fulfil its dream of One Market Indivisible. That was why I joined, back in the day, what I wanted to believe was a movement which could derail it. For a while, it looked like it might. Then came 9/11, and a different kind of anti-globalisation movement – violent Islamism – began stalking the West. Governments cracked down on dissent and populations grew fearful. Everything suddenly seemed darker.

Still it seemed that nothing could stop the neoliberal train. It kept rolling, faster and faster until, in 2008, it hit a wall at full speed. Remarkably, it survived the crash. When the banks were bailed out and the corporations given another series of blank cheques, I gave up on the idea that much would ever change at all. The power of money seemed as stark as the stench of corruption. Perhaps neoliberalism was unstoppable after all. Perhaps, as Margaret Thatcher had once famously claimed, there was, indeed, no alternative.


On 24th June last year I woke up, made a cup of tea and turned on my computer, wondering by what margin the nation had voted to remain in the EU. On the BBC website, the headline seemed to take up the whole screen: BRITAIN VOTES TO LEAVE THE EUROPEAN UNION. Five months later, my morning seemed to repeat itself. I woke up again, made another cup of tea, wondered how many votes Clinton had won by, and then gaped at the margins of Trump’s victory. It was clear that the poles were shifting. Something big was going on.

On both occasions I can remember precisely how I felt. It was a feeling that had nothing to do with what might happen next, and it wasn’t really related to my opinions about any of the issues involved. The feeling was exhilaration. I suddenly realised that for the last decade I had believed, even though I had pretended not to believe, in the end of history. Now, the end of history was ending. Change was possible after all.

As I drank my tea, I began to realise something else: the anti-globalisation movement had not died. Its impulse had driven Brexit as it had driven Trump’s victory. It had driven Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, and those of Syriza in Greece and Bernie Sanders in the US. In their different ways and for different reasons, coalitions of people were again pushing back against the dehumanising world that the global economy was creating. Globalisation had been impoverishing the South for decades. Now it was impoverishing the West too, and the discontent had reached boiling point.

But change is a trickster and it makes no promises. Back in the day, those of us who fancied ourselves as radicals thought we were the shock troops in the battle against globalisation. As a young greenie, I would consume the words of Edward Abbey and Murray Bookchin, Vandana Shiva and E F Schumacher, James Lovelock and Dave Foreman. These were the people who were constructing the sane future, and I wanted to join them. Campaigning environmentalists, the ‘social justice’ movement, the lefties and the greens: we would be the heroes of the coming hour. Our rational solutions to climate change, our well argued deconstructions of neoliberalism, our piles of evidence about the negative impact of trade treaties, our righteous demands for justice – these would shake the world. When they learned the truth about the ongoing corporate stitch-up, the people would rise up in opposition.

They did rise up, in the end, but it wasn’t us they were listening to. The message had found a different messenger. ‘There’s a global power structure’, said Donald Trump, in his last TV spot before his election victory, ‘that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.’ They were words that could have been heard at any social forum, anti-globalisation gathering or left-green beanfeast from the last twenty years, as could the rousing final sentence: ‘The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you.’


In a penetrating essay in The American Interest last July, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt sought to place all this in context. He suggested that the old left-right political divide, which had been looking iffy for years, was being supplanted by a new binary: globalism versus nationalism. Nationalism, in the broadest sense of the term, was the default worldview of most people at most times, especially in more traditional places. It was a community-focused attitude, valuing stability, continuity and social cohesion, in which a nation, tribe or ethnic group was seen as a thing of value to be protected. Globalism, the ideology of the rising city bourgeoisie, was more individualistic. It valued diversity and change, prioritised rights over obligations, and saw the world as a whole, rather than particular parts of it, as the moral community to which we all belong.

The current explosion of nationalism in the West, Haidt said, was due to the globalists having overplayed their hand. Different attitudes to the issue of mass immigration – the spark that lit the fire on both sides of the Atlantic – demonstrated how this had happened. While globalists saw migration as a right, nationalists saw it as a privilege. To a globalist, border walls and immigration laws are tantamount to racism or human rights abuse. To a nationalist, they are evidence of a community asserting its values and choosing to whom to grant citizenship.

Psychologically, Haidt suggested, what happened in 2016 was that many nationalist-inclined voters in the West felt that their community was now under existential threat – not only from huge waves of migration, but from ongoing Islamist attacks and the globalist elite’s dismissive attitude to their concerns about both. In response, they began to look around for strong leaders to protect them. The rest is history, still in the making.

This is the power of the new populists. The likes of Stephen Bannon and Marine Le Pen understand the destructive energy of global capitalism as well as the left does, but they also understand what the left refuses to see: that the heart of the West’s current wound is cultural rather than economic. What is driving the current turmoil is threats to identity, culture and meaning. Waves of migration, multicultural policies, eroding borders, shifting national and ethnic identities, ongoing globalist attacks on ‘dead white men’ and Western culture: all that is solid is melting into air.

Who can promise the return of that solidity? Not the left, which long ago hitched its wagon to the globalist horse, enthusing about breaking down everything from gender identities to national borders and painting any dissent as prejudice or hatred. Instead, a new nationalism has risen to the occasion. As ever, those who can harness people’s deep, old attachment to place and identity – to a belonging and a meaning that goes beyond money or argument – will win the day. This might be as iron a law as any human history can provide.


It didn’t take Donald Trump’s cabinet of millionaires long, having got themselves comfortable in the White House, to start dismantling the nation’s environmental protections. A month in, the Trump administration has greenlighted two controversial oil pipelines and removed environmental oversight on others, cancelled Obama’s Climate Action Plan, removed regulations protecting clean water and appointed a former head of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State. Anti-green campaigner Myron Ebell, who believes that environmentalism is ‘the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world’ was asked to head Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, which he wants to abolish, and which has just seen its budget slashed by 25%.

Trump himself is notorious for his cavalier attitude to anything furry or leafy which gets in the way of his gaudy developments. The natural world has always been an inconvenient barrier to economic growth, which is why we are faced with a global ecological crisis. But Trump’s anti-environmentalism, while it serves the interests of corporations, speaks the language of the people. In his telling, protecting the natural world from destruction is another example of the globalist elite sticking it to ordinary folk.

The notion that environmentalists are a privileged elite telling the hard-pressed that they can’t have decent lives has been a staple of corporate propaganda for decades. Look at these horrible elitists, runs the line, trying to abolish your hard-earned holiday flights and double the price of your car journey. Who are they to tell you that you can’t give your kids plastic toys at Christmas, or eat air-freighted avocados? Have you seen the size of Al Gore’s house? Hypocrites!

Like all effective propaganda lines, this one works because there is some truth in it. The environmental movement which emerged in the West more than forty years ago, with the founding of organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and the birth of Green parties across Europe, had its roots in the conservation world. While its outlook was planetary – no true ecological movement can be anything else – its actions were often local or national. ‘Think globally, act locally’, perhaps the movement’s most effective early slogan, looks in retrospect like a beautiful combination of the best of the globalist and the nationalist impulses.

These days though, as the Brexit vote demonstrated, green politics is one of the markers of the globalist class. With their grand ecological Marshall Plans and their talk of sustainability and carbon, environmentalists today often seem distant from everyday concerns. Green spokespeople and activists rarely come from the classes of people who have been hit hardest by globalisation. The greens have shifted firmly into the camp of the globalist left. Now, as the blowback gathers steam, they find themselves on the wrong side of the divide.

All this can look like bad news from a certain perspective, but maybe it isn’t. While environmentalism has changed the world in the last four decades, in recent years it has been spinning its wheels. Increasingly unrealistic demands for action on climate change, pie-in-the-sky manifestoes calling for global roll-outs of this or that eco-mega-plan, the promotion of enormous windfarms or solar arrays which do more damage to wild nature than they prevent, all backed with a ‘forty months to save the world’ narrative that’s been going on for forty years: something had to give.

Some of the new populists may hope that they can sound the death knell of the green movement, but perhaps they can instead teach it a necessary lesson. What Jonathan Haidt calls ‘nationalism’ is really a new name for a much older impulse: that need to belong. Specifically, the need to belong to a place, in which you can feel at home. The fact that this impulse can be exploited by demagogues doesn’t mean that the impulse is wrong. Stalin built gulags on the back of a notional quest for equality, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to make things fair.

The anti-globalist attack on the greens is a wake-up call. It points to the fact that green ideas have too often become a virtue signal for the carbon-heavy bourgeoisie, drinking their fairtrade organic coffee as they wait for their transatlantic flight. Green globalism has become part of the growth machine; a comfortable notion for comfortable people who don’t really want much to change.

What would happen if environmentalism remade itself – or was remade by the times? If its proponents worked to understand, and respect, the impulses that are leading so many to rebel against the globalist vision? What might a benevolent green nationalism sound like? You want to protect and nurture your homeland – well then, you’ll want to nurture its forests and its streams too. You’ll want to protect its badgers and its mountain lions. What could be more patriotic? This is not the kind of nationalism of which Donald Trump would approve, but that’s the point. Why should those who want to protect a besieged natural world allow billionaire property developers to represent them as the elitists? Why not fight back, on what they think is their territory?

It has been done before. The nation which gave us Donald Trump also gave us Teddy Roosevelt, another Republican populist president, but one who believed that America’s identity was tied up with protecting, not despoiling, its wild places. Roosevelt created one of the greatest systems of protected areas and national parks in the world, using his presidency to save 230 million acres of land. ‘We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received,’ he wrote, ‘and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.’ Protecting nature, believed Roosevelt, was a patriotic act.

If I had to offer up just one thing I have learned from my years of environmental campaigning, it would be this: any attempt to protect nature from the worst human depradation has to speak to people where they are. It has to make us all feel that the natural world, the non-human realm, is not an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community which we should nurture; a part of our birthright. In other words, we need to tie our ecological identity in with our cultural identity.

In the age of drones and robots, this notion might sound airy or even ridiculous, but it has been the default way of seeing for indigenous cultures throughout history. In the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline – recently greenlighted by Trump – where the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters continue to resist the construction of an oil pipeline across Native American land – we perhaps see some indication of what this fusing of human and non-human belonging could look like today; a proud defence of territory and culture, in the name of nature, rooted in love.

I think now that globalism is the rootless ideology of the fossil fuel age, and it will fade with it. But the angry nationalisms which currently challenge it offer us no better answers about how to live well with a natural world which we have made into an enemy. Our oldest identity is one that stills holds us in its grip, whether we know it or not. Like the fox in the garden or the bird in the tree, we are all animals in a place. If we have a future, cultural or ecological – and they are the same thing, in the end – it will begin with a quality of attention and a defence of loved things. All else is for the birds, and the foxes too.


  • GaryA

    Superlative Essay that articulates a few harsh realities which should be occupying everyone from the eco-left but sadly it isn’t…
    Like Paul I’m a jaded leftish eco- minded individual, rooted in the North East of England, like Paul I voted Brexit – I’m from working class background, council sink estate and all. I voted Brexit for two reasons; a two fingered salute to the political establishment and in the ridiculous hope that in the ensuing chaos the UK left might awaken from its identity politics-obsessed stupor and get on with fighting one enemy-the Tories rather than two enemies; the Tories and the EU.
    Fat chance. Far from analysing the causes (Left globalist corporate whoring, capture and working class betrayal) many focused on the symptoms assigning it to ‘whitelash’ and xenophobia. The depth of the Green party analysis can be summed up in the co-leader election (or was it coronation?) of Johnathon Bartley, an ex-tory advisor, public school educated middle class media journalist turned ‘wadical’ wow that’s really going to expand their voting base. Unbelievable.
    It should be obvious by now that until the neoliberal left establishment abandon their cultural globalism and obsession with pro-immigration, appeasement of radical Islam, and contempt for democracy they are doomed. Which leave the Brexit Tories in control; who we can guarantee will fullfill none of the hopes of Brexit voters they will continue and even intensify the economic sweat shop globalism and open migration agendas of big business-just as Trumps administration are doing.
    Socialist Left and neoliberal Right are hopelessly imploding with Globalism their shared unholy ideology.
    There are signs of opportunity for a mutualist co-operative national localist based shift away from cultural and economic globalism but this shift wont be voluntary, it will be enforced by external events……in economic Crash 2 we place our flimsy hopes.
    The last few paragraphs plea for an ‘ecological identity in with our cultural identity’ Here is where I see a major problem; something Charles Eisenstein identifies as separation, separation from community, separation from the natural world separation from our inherited commonwealth which has been taken away and commodified. Because so many people in live in cities isolated from nature and daily contact with nature, because so many people move around and holiday abroad that connection with locality and permanence is absent. I have a work colleague who is off for 16 days to see the ‘natural wonders of China’ but has little knowledge or interest in the smaller natural wonders on the regional doorstep, they are looking for the sacred and magical in the clouds but don’t notice sacred natures dandilions sprouting through the broken concrete at their feet. Something Paul memorably described as Citizens of Nowhere in Real England. I’d have thought culture is nurtured by people rooted in places for a considerable length of time, yes cultures magically fuse and cross- fertilise when the people migrate (20TH century USA a prime example) but do cultures originate in locality? And in a permanently migratory world will not culture be permanently globally homogenised and new cultures arrested?
    So I’m afraid don’t hold out much hope for any kind of grassroots ecological insurrection even less for any political solutions; enforced changes by dire or even unpredicted external events are our only hope.

    • Matthias

      Dear Mr. Kingsnorth,

      many years ago, still being an active environmentalist for Friends of the Earth Germany in Berlin, I read your article about the “quality of giving-up” (I think it was published on the Global Oneness website). It must have been around 2009/10, where more and more “transformative” and deep-ecology ideas where coming up in the German environmentalist bubble, the first Transition Towns Initiatives emerged and the idea of successful global-climate-negotiations seemed more and more absurd for me and some campaigning colleagues.

      I was in a deep crisis myself in that time. I had private trouble and more and more figured out that fighting against coal-plants (which I did quite succesfully and with conviction by that time) suddenly didn’t feel like the right thing to do anymore. So I gave up. I don’t know if it was your article that inspired me, but it certainly was published at the right time. I went for a vision quest into the old woods of Eastern Germany, started a traditional gardeners apprenticeship a year later and found the old doors to the world of devas and mysticism.

      And now, 10 years later, I am being called back to the “marketplace”. Not to become an activist again, but rather to interweave the scent of flowers, mountains and rivers with the cry of the earth. And surprise: the “Lie of he land” was the next article that popped-up. It puts in words something that I couldn’t express myself: We as mankind don’t have any control of what will happen. Well… at least we shouldn’t believe that we will do any change by engaging on a global level.

      The only field where I somehow feel I have an influence is much smaller than I thought: it’s my garden. And maybe some of the surrounding landscapes where I take my walks. I would even go a step further: It’s not me engaging for nature anymore. It’s my garden and the landscapes talking to me. They tell me which plant to plant, which part of the forest is out of balance or which corners of my surroundings want to be explored. So that’s what I can do. Probably for others it’s a different call. Greta Thunberg is probably exactly doing the right thing sailing through the rough ocean and talking about climate change.

      And I guess that is all that needs to be done. To listen. And to obey.

  • Denise Kennedy


    I am so incredibly moved by this piece. Your insight is inspirational and has, for the first time, given me hope. I too voted for Brexit, for the reasons you outline, and tied in to my belief that when we have to finally confront degrowth, we will be better able to manage it from outside the EU, rather than from within it.

    I too have experienced utter bigotry from my pro-EU, middle class friends and colleagues. One said (after 15 years of friendship), that she had never known I was a racist. I wasn’t able to articulate my position as beautifully as you have: such crisp and focused writing should be plastered across every traditional and digital media outlet. By contrast, a dear friend whose poor education left her with cleaning as her most viable work, an Irish woman who reverted to Islam 35 years ago, understood it perfectly. She even used similar words to yours: “we’re all needing somewhere to belong, but it’s got to be still recognisable to us”.

    I am circulating this piece instead to all the people who reacted to my vote, to say: “this is what was in my head and heart; not the fascist crap you projected onto me”.

    Thank you so much.

    And I shall definitely be listening in to “Start the Week” on Monday 1 May. Your book introduced me to Wendell Berry’s wisdom: looking forward to putting voices to both of you, and all your wise words too.

    Kind regards


  • Matt Dubuque

    “Like the fox in the garden or the bird in the tree, we are all animals in a place. ”

    I agree. Place helps shape who we are. The finch songs which surround me on a summer afternoon reverberate in my dreams later that evening. The smells of the redwood trees place me in the present, but also to the time of my youth, driving forested mountain road with the windows rolled down. The sights of paired tiger swallowtail butterflies soaring upwind together in an ecstasy of concourse describe how I see the hair of a beautiful woman later that day in the sunlight, only here the dance is a dream.

  • Peter Stroud

    I don’t see a lot of evidence that, “those who can harness people’s deep, old attachment to place and identity – to a belonging and a meaning that goes beyond money or argument – will win the day”. I have trouble seeing that this is what was/is going on.

    I do not see many people making the choices that confirm and strengthen local attachements and local identity (I wish I could). It’s not as if people rush to support local businesses as the chain stores and multinationals move in, to cite just one example. How many use Farmers Markets? Why do a clear majority (not me) support political parties promoting neoliberal economic policies? How real, for most, is this attachment to place and identity, at least at a local level?

    It seemed patently obvious well before the vote that what was being offered by Brexit was NOT some retreat from globalisation but actually the very opposite. There is to be a renewed and expanded licence for big business and a bonfire of regulations, especially those that protect local concerns and local identity. From afar (writing this in Australia) it seems a vote for Brexit was simply not a strategic option for advancing the antiglobalisation agenda.

    I suspect that most Brexit voters, and equally many Remain voters, now place National identity above any local identity. The genius of the powerful in promoting Brexit, well, this Brexit anyway, has been to deceive so many that they have anything at all to deliver apart from an Exit.

    • I think it depends on what you mean by ‘a retreat from globalisation’, Peter. Brexit voters wanted to reclaim sovereignty, control their own borders again, get a better hand on economic and political issues at the national level. That in itself is a retreat from globalisation; it’s repatriating powers to the nation. It’s not a rejection of neolib capitalism per se, but it does give the British people more options to control it down the line if they elect a government that wants to try and do so. As for ‘the powerful promoting Brexit’ – actually, most of ‘the powerful’, including most world leaders, corporate leaders, financiers and cultural elites, supported the Remain cause. Brexit, like it or loathe it, was very much an insurgency from outside.

  • patrick goff

    Brilliant essay and analysis. Missing is pride – the pride in place, the pride in location: trampled on by academics and the urban bourgeoisie.

  • CT

    Thank you, Paul. A really interesting and considered article. Also, chimes completely with my own views. (That sounds a little conceited, but I’ll go with it.)

  • GaryA

    Meanwhile in our forthcoming election who on earth are nature loving lexit voters going to vote for?
    We can’t stomach the Tories, they remain Globalist corporatists to the core whatever their brexit propagandising says. A party of Gargoyles and spivs.
    Labour? so many of Corbyns social policies are commendable but the party is addicted to globalism and immigration, plus its collective brain is ‘pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics’ to borrow a phrase from John Pilger.
    Lib dems? Opportunist fantasists obsessed with overturning brexit, neither liberal or democratic.
    The Greens? Lib-Labour with windmills, nothing more, nothing less.
    UkIp? Come on!- a joke of a party, big business stooges in disguise.
    Sigh…where is the none-of-the-above option?
    Apologies for relapse into Journalistic (hawk, spit) banality….

  • Alan Bateman

    Great article. As a Lexiteer I’m fed up of being branded as unthinking and stupid, often by people who never seemed to have any political views before the referendum.
    Increasingly all I want from politics is compassion whether for people or animals, but we seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

  • David Zetland

    I am sympathetic to your concerns, but — as an economist — I recommend that you keep the baby while trying to toss that bathwater, for two reasons. First, trade is often the MOST beneficial for poorer workers/consumers, as it makes it easier to get better pay/lower prices, respectively. Second, the “baptists and bootleggers” analogy of regulatory capture is based on “do gooders” pushing an agenda (local trade, say) that benefits the “bad exploiters” (local, exploitative producers), who quietly cheer from the sidelines, as well as placing a few bribes to encourage politicians. It was Adam Smith who wrote (1776): “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

  • Nigel Smith


    It must be something like a “paradox”, believing in a global movement that asks individuals to “mind” their locality. But, paradoxes work and I think that someone intelligent suggested that “Love” is the dialogue or tension that exists in the difference.

    As you say cultural identity is our ecological identity. Anything else is an abstraction and separates the subject from the object…….(like money and advocados?).

    As a toothless farmer with significant sideburns once said “….we dont live on the land lad, we are the land.” It could be that the Farm/Land/Nation/Federal Jurisdiction is best administered at a level by the people who understand where the chalk stops and the greensand begins, just in case this is true. Unless of course we believe fundamentally in science (or scientific fundamentalism) and put our future in the hands of those who believe in its primacy and the grants allocated to it…

    Great essay even if the Fourth Estate (The Guardian in this instance) will take it that you added their cultural credentials by writing for them without having to face the ecological questions represented in their editorial choices, for now anyway.


  • Colin Turfus

    An eloquently argued plea for a politics based more on the common sense and identity of ordinary people and less on ideology and posturing. I rarely find much written about environmentalism that attracts me but this pice really struck a chord for me.

  • simon wakefield

    Supremely well-crafted words and academic musings will not alter one jot the fact of man’s detachment from the natural world. Unless and until we are prepared to become less sophisticated in every aspect of our lives and feel the soil between our fingers, we will witness continued environmental decline.

  • simon wakefield

    Paul, I wanted to catch ‘Start The Week’ on Monday and managed to listen to Wendel Berry for 5 minutes before going for a (pre-arranged walk) in the Lancashire wilds. I resolved to catch-up with the programme later and have just listened to it in full today: excellent, balanced and considered commentary (and chairmanship) from all contributors and I was left wondering what it is about the human condition that has caused us to become ‘naturally’ detached from our world and what it is that would tempt us back. Perhaps we are simply necessarily evolving, as with all things, with a beginning, middle and end.

  • Richard

    I heard you on Andrew Marr’s programme so read some of your work, for which I thank you. But in this essay I think the way you lump together neoliberalism and globalisation is mistaken.

    In my view neoliberalism is not an economic project, it is a religious or at least mystical one. It is worship of the free market. This became clear in Milton Friedman’s TV series. He portrayed the market as something too powerful even for governments to resist, yet at the same time it had to be protected from government interference or it would not work. This is not an all powerful god, it is an idol, made by humans, which humans then choose to worship. It survived the 2008 crash because leaders had chosen to believe in it.

    I don’t see globalisation as an ideology, it became popular in the western world simply because it gave access to cheap goods. When you say it had been impoverishing the South for decades, you are oversimplifying – it also allowed some poor countries to develop, by exporting. The damage to the South was done by neoliberals in organisations such as the World Bank. Globalisation only became unpopular here when it led to loss of jobs, partly because of loss of manufacturing, and partly when we imported workers as well as goods. But neoliberals are using it as an excuse for their own failures.

    The EU is globalist but not necessarily neoliberal. Neoliberals have a strong influence, but not as strong as in Britain. Over here they have sold off most of our utilities and much of our public services. So it seems to me that it will be multinationals, mainly foreign, who will call the tune in Britain after Brexit, unlike the EU which is better able to stand up to them. And of course EU environmental directives have done a lot of good, cleaning up and protecting our natural world. How long will that last after Brexit?

    Yes we need ecology to be part of our culture, but don’t write off the NGOs. The Jubilee 2000 campaign, for example, showed how by working together they can get results that individuals could not.

  • Paula Banfield

    Thank you again Paul for this inspiring and well considered article,the second I have read after hearing you on Start the Week. I wish I had the skills to write an equally informative and measured response

    And thank you as well to all the people who have already commented above. I have loved reading your views too. I’m not involved with social media and so this is the first time I have been made aware of the existence of wonderful people out there who appear to understand the world as I do.
    I too despair of where to cast my vote now that I am disillusioned with the Green Party, Lib Dems and Labour.

  • graphite

    A really excellent piece. Please rest assured that while the vast majority of the so-called Left hitched their wagons to global neo-liberalism long ago, a small fraction of us remains staunchly nationalist and localist.


  • Roshi

    Hi Paul
    thank you for the article.
    My Concern after Brexit is similar to the writer Richard above “So it seems to me that it will be multinationals, mainly foreign, who will call the tune in Britain after Brexit,”
    Can you please comment on how you think that our pro multinational, Hedge fund off shore account loving, corrupt government will fair without any restrictions to human rights and regulations after Brexit.
    I really like your work, but you totally ignore who is in power in this country (I am presuming May will win the next election). To me, the deregulations in this country that the government has continued to enforce have less interest in the longivity of this country than the EU policies. Living in Social housing in London I can see how much of the land they have sold off to private investment. I also realise they have no interest in regulating the issues of pay conditions (every building site, of which there are many round here are full of overseas builders who are accepting the appalling work conditions which I do not believe will change after Brexit – austerity measures will just force British people to accept those conditions usually reserved for migrant workers)
    Please I would really like your thoughts on this to better understand your thoughts.
    Your justified concerns and opinions seem to me to be in a bubble that does not acknowledge who us actually governing this country and how corrupt they really are.

    • This is how national sovereignty works: if you don’t like your government, you vote for a better one. In a democracy, you have to persuade others to do the same. That new government can then change the game, if it wants to and can.

      The alternative is to hand over your sovereignty to Germany and hope they govern well on your behalf. How’s that going for the Greeks? Or the 50% of Spanish and Portugese youths unemployed due to the Euro? Or the Irish, saddled by the equally corrupt EU with a century of bank debt? You seem to be arguing that we need the EU to protect us against our own government. That’s a great danger.

    • Ever been to India?

      All big states are in the pay of corporate power. My first book was about that, fifteen years ago. It goes for the EU too. Why do you think the CAP destroys the land and the CFP destroys the seas? Who benefits from the impoverishment of the Greeks and the Irish? I sense you are telling yourself a story you want to hear. There’s no-one to save you. But that’s just my view.

  • Roshi

    Gosh Are you waiting until after the election to allow my responses to be seen? They are really important points and why many people in this country do not want Brexit. It just would have been good to have your take on the corruption of the country that we do not have control over either. It is a dilemma for many people.

  • Roshi

    No need to get so aggressive Paul. Not all of us can afford to buy a small holding and live ethically growing everything we need (as much as we would want to). I understand you have a policy of accusing everyone of not wanting to take responsibility of their own situation but puting the blame on central government etc- I seem to recall Thatcher having the same stance (ie telling people they are responsible for their own lives). I believe some academics call it the individualisation of society…
    To ignore who has the power, in my view, is very dangerous for some of us that do not have the means to live self sufficiently. I am not asking anyone to save me either but I am looking at all the ways to hold this government (who is fast selling off all the land) to account. I am also trying to understand the situation better without aggression and name calling. Hence asking you the questions that a lot of people around me are also asking.
    Thank you. I have got a clear understanding in how you explain things. I will not dare question again

    • Sorry to hear your response, and I’m not sure what your imaginary account of my personal life has to do with this. I have no intention of being aggressive, but I’d like to be less partial. There is too much partiality and fire and I don’t want any part in it. We disagree, and that’s fine.

      My point about India, by the way, was that it was an example of extreme corruption, which makes it hyperbole to talk about the UK in that way. More broadly, I can’t agree that using a superstate with minority public support to overrule an elected national government can be anything other than a coup, however much you may dislike the government. I’m not sure what gives anyone the right to call for that. And of course – my other point – all elected power works in the end for the interests of corporations, because that’s the role of states these days. The EU serves the same masters.

      But honestly, I’ve no interest in a political argument.

  • Roshi

    ps if you get a chance – go watch the amazing film – Machines. Might make you reconsider India being a good example

  • Lulu

    “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people could receive” Didn’t Roosevelt displace millions of indigenous Americans to create his National Parks? Those acres were never ‘his’ to do anything with. Just saying.

    • By the time Roosevelt wa president, the USA was well-established. He had the choice to protect the open lands or let them disappear into private hands. As for the ‘millions of indigenous Americans’ displaced – do you have a source for that? There were certainly some displacements – not something to be cheered, certainly – but ‘millions’?

  • Nicolas Salazar Sutil

    The land is not fixed. It is imperceptibly moving under the feet. It is not a place to lie on. Land is not a fixed locus against which to attach and root a cultural, personal or political sense of me-ness. A land is also an affordance for movement and change, without any settled mes lying on it, only becomings. Unlike you, Paul, I do not have a fixed sense of me. I change all the time. This argument for Brexit is grounded on a sedentary relationship to land and language, which smacks of ownership or entitlement. That is not ecological at all, in my opinion. I disagree that the Brexit vote made sense on green grounds. I have lived in London for some twenty odd years, quite simply because I have been able to move freely from here. From London, I have tried to become as nomadic as any modern-day person can, given the myriad invisible borders and state structures one has to cross these days to be able to move. I grew up on a mountain far from here, speaking another language. That mountain may now lie in the past, but it lives on as memory, which I carry around, and certainly not as a claim to ownership. The most ecological premise (or should I say promise?), is to allow freedom of movement, the drifts, of peoples as of birds and lice, (not to mention winds and waters) except that freedom in this sense should be extricated from a neoliberal dogma (freedom to move goods and labourers to generate money). How do you allow movement and not neoliberalism? Transhumants and nomads have the most eco-conscious understanding of land, in my opinion, perhaps because their promise is to accept the land’s flow and to be part of it. The remain vote is, of course, not a vote for nomadism. Remain is more about the opening of borders to allow markets, international law and political structures to move in. My little philosophy of nomadism is as irrelevant to the Remain vote and the grand picture of Brexit, as green politics is to the Leave vote. And yet, what irks me is that despite living twenty years here and paying taxes and all that jazz, I did not have a right to vote Remain, because apparently this land is not for me to lie on.

  • Nick Campion

    Whatever you say, you voted for people who support unregulated free trade (not exactly supporting the left-behind poor of de-industrialised Britain – have you read Daniel Hannan?) and got the last-minute vote out partly by the dog-whistle racism of the Breaking Point poster.

    • I didn’t vote for anyone. You are confusing a decision about whether or not to be a member of the EU with approval of some of those who promoted that option. I voted the same way as Nigel Farage, but for very different reasons. If you voted to remain, you voted the same way as Tony Blair, David Cameron and the head of the CBI, but I wouldn’t accuse you of agreeing with them on all other points.

      The fact is that a lot of people voted to leave the EU – and indeed to remain in it – for a number of very different reasons. A vote to leave the EU is a vote to allow the UK to decide its own destiny. There is no reason that would amount to ‘unregulated free trade’ – which is preumsbaly why Jeremy Corbyn, hardly a supporter of the latter, is a leaver too.

      I think it’s a good time to work on mutual respect and listening, for all of us.

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