Pentti Linkola, Can Life Prevail?, 2011, Arktos Media, 204pp. trans. Eetu Rautio, hardback, £28, ISBN 1907166637, reviewed by Ed Dutton
Every Finnish academic seems to have heard of Pentti Linkola (b. 1932), but he’s almost unknown outside the country’s borders. Linkola is a hugely controversial and original figure, an idol of some of the wackier splinter groups on the extreme right. To his opponents, he is an ‘eco-fascist’ who advocates eugenics. Even to those sympathetic to him, his ‘deep ecology’ is too extreme, even for members of the Green movement. But he has undoubtedly made a profound intellectual mark, winning the coveted Eino Leino literary prize. Indeed, he has recently been prominent in the Finnish news, with his biography winning the prestigious Finlandia Prize in November 2017.
Those who are interested in philosophy have usually heard of two Finnish thinkers: the University of London’s Edvard Westermarck (1862–1939) and Cambridge University’s Georg von Wright (1916 – 2003). But what they might not know is that Georg von Wright was in awe of Linkola, telling him that he could not face thinking about the kind of issue that Linkola spends his life writing about – humanity causing an ecological catastrophe and its own destruction – and admired Linkola’s ability to do so. ‘I hold you in high regard as a thinker,’ wrote von Wright.
Linkola lives in accordance with his philosophy. He works as a fisherman and lives in a cabin in the woods near Lake Vanajavesi, in southern Finland. He farms a small acreage and has done conservation work in Northern Ostrobothnia.
A single book of Linkola’s has been translated into English, Can Life Prevail?. This is also his most recent book. A collection of his newspaper articles written between 1993 and 2002, it provides a readable overview of his philosophy and is written in a witty, relaxed style. All economic progress should be stopped, argues Linkola, and humanity should return to living in harmony with the environment by practising hunter-gathering and small-scale farming. Democracy, he proclaims, should be abolished because humans are too greedy and too stupid to know what is good for them. The human population should be kept to a minimum, with the state giving out ‘birth licences’ only to the highly intelligent. Transport should be by bike. Manufacturing should be state owned and minimal, and ‘Education will concentrate on practical skills. All competition is rooted out. Technological research is reduced to the extreme minimum. But every child will learn how to clean a fish in a way that only the big shiny bones are left over.’ Only such a manifesto, claims Linkola, will stop the complete destruction of the world and renew flourishing of biodiversity – a good in itself.
Reading this book, you detect Linkola’s almost religious fervour for ‘nature’ combined with what seems like a loathing of all human beings. ‘One could walk for miles and miles … without finding a single human trace … It is in these places that I first learned the meaning of the word “rapture”: what it is like to be seized by an other-worldly force, to purposefully lose oneself in the woods … Oh! The mighty, wild lands of Ranua and Pudasjärvi!’, he avers.
But this reverence for nature is in stark contrast with what Linkola would do to (individual) humans. ‘Forms of boastful consumption must be violently crushed, the natality of the species violently controlled, and the number of those already born violently reduced – by any means possible,’ he writes. This includes poisoning, or even nuking, entire cities. Insisting that he loves humanity (which, however, he calls ‘the cancer of the earth’), he claims that this is the only way to save some of it. Democracy, Linkola argues, is always inferior to dictatorship because most humans are just ‘hapless’ sheep.
At certain points, Linkola advocates arguments which some environmentalists might agree with. For example, he suggests that mechanization leads to large numbers being idle and proposes that it be slowed down so that everyone can have a job. His examination of the fishing and forestry industries and the reduction in Finnish biodiversity is informative. He criticizes those who insist on using locally sourced food, arguing that if they were consistent they would simply grow all their own food. Linkola notes the problems caused by overpopulation and suggests compassionate ways to reduce it.
But, in much of his writing, in contrast to von Wright, Linkola seems determined to provoke and to be as ‘controversial’ as possible. He is a polemicist rather than a logician and declines to read most non-Finnish thinkers. It was ‘dangerous’, in his view, to have somebody as ‘fat’ as Martti Ahtisaari as Finnish president: ‘who has completely allowed his will-power and discipline to slacken in one area of life.’ He is proud that he cannot read English, the spread of which, for him, parallels the spread of consumerism and Finland’s adoption of a materialistic, ‘Western’ culture. He regards violence as a way of protecting freedom, giving the example of the Winter War.
Putting aside his advocacy of mass-murder to reduce the population, Linkola excels himself in his essay on 9/11, entitled ‘Bullseye.’ He describes this event as ‘little more than a brawl’ compared to Hiroshima, implying that it only evoked the reaction it did because the dead were American. Linkola asserts that we don’t know the exact number who died because ‘we never even got to know who they voted for as president in the last election’ (meaning the disputed election in 2000) but it was surely ‘only a few thousand.’ He concludes that it was good for the world that they died, as World Trade Center employees were ‘the priests and priestesses of the supreme God of the Age: the Dollar.’ And those who died on the flights were ‘a wealthy, busy, environmentally-damaging and world-devouring portion of mankind.’ He characterises the high jackers as courageous heroes whose ‘magnificent’ act slowed-down economic growth, helped to reduce the population and was a triumph for anti-materialism.
Philosophers will find much to criticize in Pentti Linkola. Reading Can Life Prevail?, one can see why he has gained such a reputation.
Dr Edward Dutton is the author of How to Judge People by What They Look Like (2018). He has published widely in psychology, in journals such as Intelligence and Personality and Individual Differences