Twilight of the Floating Idol: On Anthony Galluzzo’s “Against the Vortex”: a review of Against the Vortex: “Zardoz” and Degrowth Utopias in the Seventies and Today by Anthony Galluzzo ( Jordan S. Carroll, December 8, 2023, LA Review of Books)

As Galluzzo persuasively argues, Zardoz allegorizes the Malthusian panics of the late 1960s and ’70s. Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb suggested that looming environmental catastrophe demanded the intervention of experts who could figure out ways to force people in poorer nations to adopt stringent birth control measures. The Immortals in Zardoz embody this vision of ecological balance achieved through totalitarian technocratic intervention. Indeed, Galluzzo observes that the Immortals live in what turns out to be a grounded interplanetary vessel, a literalization of Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth. The Immortals’ sustainable world is an enclosed system in which everything is monitored and controlled by an advanced computer.

This “hippie modernist” utopia depends on the violent exclusion and exploitation of the rest of the human population. Here Galluzzo draws a connection to the ecofascism of Garrett Hardin, who argued that well-provisioned First World nations should ride out the coming ecological collapse by hardening their borders against refugees, allowing the rest of the planet to die. This is precisely what the Immortals have done. For their part, the Brutals represent what Ehrlich would term a “death rate solution” to the issue of excess birth rates. The Immortals have invented a false religion to convince the Brutals to do their bidding: one of them pilots a giant floating head called Zardoz that booms, “The gun is good! The penis is evil!” before showering the Brutals with small arms to exterminate the planet’s surplus population.

Wealth never peaks.