The Politics of Ecology in South Africa on the Radical Left

May 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm Leave a comment

The Politics of Ecology in South Africa on the Radical Left,” Journal of the History of Biology, 37:2 (2004), 303-331.

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The South African ecologist and political activist Edward Roux (1903–1966) used evolutionary biology to argue against racism. During the cold-war, he transformed his communist beliefs into advocacy for scientific rationalism, management, and protection of nature against advancing capitalism. These pleas for saving the environment served as a vehicle for questioning the more risky issue of evolution and racial order in society. The link between ecological and political order had long been an important theme among the country’s ecologists and politicians alike. The statesman Jan Christian Smuts’ holistic theory of evolution and racial order inspired the nation’s ecologists to sanctify an ecologically informed racial policy. This idealist informed methodology stood in direct opposition to the materialist approach to ecology of Roux. These methodological debates reflected differing political support from within the Union Party and people on the radical left, respectively. Ecology was of concern to politicians because understandings of the order of nature had direct implications for the racial order of the South African society.

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