There Goes The Nationhood
Andrei Navrozov on all those Mediterranean Arcadias bulldozed in the name of progress — and why we can expect to see more of the same happening in these parts too
IN GREECE, MEGALOPOLI is a byword for environmental blight. What puts apocalyptic spin on this news is that Megalopoli is in Arcadia literally, not by way of a Classical scholar’s nostalgic longing for a lost paradise. The largest province in the Peloponnese, modern Arcadia has been devastated by the effluvium from the Megalopoli power plant into the Alfeios river.
The ancients believed that the Alfeios ran under the sea and came to the surface in Sicily, where it sprang from the ground as the famous Arethusa, the modern Fonte Aretusa, near Syracuse. This completes the apocalyptic trope, as visitors to the province of Syracuse soon learn that it too, like its cousin Arcadia, has been polluted by a power plant. Over here, the byword for environmental blight is Augusta.
Whether technological or industrial in origin, rooted in politicians’ opportunism or in developers’ greed, few places in the ancient cradle of Western civilisation have escaped such disfigurement and devastation. It is complacency to think of the Mediterranean basin as simply a leading tourist destination, murmuring under our breath that thank goodness there are still some unspoilt bits left. The folly of it is the European counterpart of the innocence with which the American visitor to Windsor remarked that the castle is nice, though it’s too bad they’ve had to build it so close to the airport.
Rather it behoves us to ask, if the divine landscape of Greece and Italy has been so wrecked by opportunism and greed, what of our own landscape? What of Britain, Germany, Russia? Historically, what had happened in the Mediterranean in all things — in science, in art, in war — happened in due course in the world at large. What reason is there to suppose that this time the gods will show us special mercy?
A hypocrite’s retort to the environmentalist’s wail, such as one now upon my lips, is that the Mediterranean is no Disneyland and must keep up with progress. ‘Real people live here,’ runs the argument beloved of corrupt Italian, Spanish and Greek politicos, ‘not shepherds and shepherdesses from central casting. The landscape is for them, not they for the landscape, and whether it’s fossil fuels or wind turbines they need for modern living, let’s have it. So long as it isn’t nuclear power, of course.’
The dastardly thing about that argument is that it sounds socialist to socialists and Thatcherite to socialites. One plays well in the couloirs of perennially socialist European politics, while the other goes down a treat in the corridors of coalition power.
In fact, in Britain the tradition of bulldozing landscape — social as well as of trout streams — ascends to the epoch of Thatcher’s successors, when much of the responsibility had passed on to the great reformer’s ideological epigones.
‘How do we balance preserving the Arcadia of the English countryside with the challenges of more housing, better transport and climate control?’ asked Spear’s editor-in-chief William Cash in a debate at the Woodstock Literary Festival in September. ‘With the Localism bill approaching, and 60 years of planning policy being ripped up in favour of the bulldozers being called in to develop across green land, the planning and wind energy debates look set to become two of the most controversial issues of the coalition government.’
Less close to home and for this reason, perhaps, even more striking is the mounting bewilderment of the visitor to Sicily who must pass through a veritable forest of wind turbines to arrive at the ancient Greek temples of Selinunte. Nor is bewilderment spared to the average resident of a city like Palermo, such as myself, who must drive through miles of putrid Bauhaus concrete that goes by the name of social housing before he can glimpse the Moorish domes of the capital.
The politics of doctrine is bad politics, whether or not the doctrine in question is philosophically sound. The spectre haunting the coalition will not be exorcised from the body politic by more cheap housing, more wind turbines, more supermarkets and flyovers. On the contrary, such absurd and vicious disfigurement of our physical and social landscape is nothing but socialism by capitalist means, well known to the ideologues of Soviet politburos under the name ‘state capitalism’. Whenever an ideologically driven government begins to collude with vast economic powers to bring about social change, let the citizen beware.
When Alpheus, son of Oceanus, fell in love with Arethusa, spying on her as she bathed, the nymph spurned the youth’s advances and became the spring that for ever bears her name. So our civilisation, if it is to survive, must spurn the advances of ideology.
Andrei Navrozov is a Spear’s columnist