These days, conservatism and environmentalism go together like the Fighting Tigers and the Crimson Tide. But does it have to be that way?
By no means, says Roger Scruton. Britain’s leading conservative public intellectual contends that the right has unwisely ceded the environmental issue to the left. The connection between conservatism and conservation, he says, is more than a semantic one.
True conservatism, in Scruton’s traditionalist view, prizes the stewardship of human and natural resources and their renewal for future generations — and this makes conservatism and environmentalism “natural bedfellows.” As Scruton sees it, too many conservatives have unthinkingly concluded that any laws or customs restraining the market for the common good must therefore be a left-wing plot — a misconception that the left has exploited.
“Left-liberal activists have appropriated the environmental question and adapted it to their ‘victim’ culture,” Scruton says. “The earth is the victim of greed and exploitation: to save it we must destroy capitalism, profit, the nation-state,’ etcetera. Not surprisingly, conservatives recognize that this is a way of making them into the victims.”
But the simplistic partisanship of liberal environmentalists does not let conservatives off the hook. Though conservatism rightly defends the free market, Scruton says, mindless pro-market ideology is not much better than socialist sloganeering. Both approaches fail to take into account real people and the places they call home.
In his recent book “How To Think Seriously About The Planet,” Scruton steps away from environmentalism’s rigid politics and considers the challenges environmentalism poses more philosophically.
What if the root of our environmental problems is not just big government and big multinational corporations, but bigness itself?, he asks.
Conceiving of the environment and its enemies as vast abstractions makes it harder to think about what ordinary people can and should do to care for the places in which we actually live.
What’s the answer?
It starts with cultivating what Scruton calls oikophilia — a Greek word meaning “love of home.”
A Scrutonian revision of the popular globalist bumper sticker would read: “Think locally, act locally.”
“Nobody seems to have identified a motive more likely to serve the environmentalist cause than shared love for our home,” he writes.
Ken Bickford, a New Orleans property developer and an organizer of the British philosopher’s Bayou State lecture tour, says Scruton’s emphasis on localism and love of place as the key to conservation should have particular appeal in Louisiana.
“When I was a child, we spent a lot of time on the Tangipahoa River and in Lake Pontchartrain. Then we couldn’t because of dangerous levels of fecal bacteria,” Bickford says. “But then we cleaned it up so that now our children can have the childhood we had. That success happened because local people cared.”