The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.3 (Summer 2011)
the polis vs. progress
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Notes Towards the Definition of a Conservative Green Philosophy
Many Americans and Canadians today are rightly concerned with environmental issues. The locus of resistance to many negative current-day trends is likely to be found in ecology. Ironically, however, it could be argued that the Western managerial welfare-state so beloved by the Left is possibly the main consumer of the planet. The managerial welfare-state is indeed very anti-ecological.
There exists today, in most Western societies, something that could be called the commodity-consumption/welfare-state. Despite the attempts of some boosters of the welfare-state to distinguish between the “bad” materialism of corporate consumerism and the presumably “good” materialism of redistributive welfare-policies, the differences between both materialistic outlooks (when defined as such) are minimal. Once the desirability of wealth — as the wellspring for redistribution — becomes an accepted value, one must of course ask how much real wealth massive government bureaucracies have ever produced. In similar fashion, one could also ask pointed questions about the precise ratio between the costs of administration and the amount of money delivered to the actual needy person.
A further irony of inefficiency appears in the typical lifestyle of the welfare-state administrators and propagandists, which by no means reflects disciplined consumption. On the contrary, genuine sacrifice on behalf of ecological concerns turns out to be comparatively rare. Many of the ruling elite’s ostensibly pro-ecological policies are designed so as to shift the maximum of costs onto other people and to increase exponentially the permissible levels of government intrusion. One of the most obvious inducements to the conservation of such resources as electricity is to charge market prices for them, yet this is usually considered as leading to impermissible inequity.
Also, since boosters of the welfare-state typically absolve the individual of any responsibility for his or her actions, they thereby lessen the appeal they can make on behalf of individual conservation efforts. For example, why should citizens limit their water-consumption, if they are receiving water for free (or almost free) and know that, even if they limit themselves, irresponsible others will use much more?
It could also be pointed out that the rather abstract allegiances of many sincere ecologists to “the planet” might not always represent the most effective behavioral inducement to the general public. Some people tend to care most for their own nation, local community, and family. So the ecological appeal would in many cases be better framed in terms of preserving the ecology of this country and this countryside. Indeed, the persistent antagonism of “enlightened” centralized bureaucracies towards local and traditional habits and loyalties seems more likely to work against achieving cooperation in the conservationist cause. Winning average citizens to sacrifices in their own consumption must prove a severe challenge when the nation’s resources are perceived as invariably siphoned off by ever-increasing immigration and ever-increasing populations abroad.
It could be argued that the commodity-consumption/welfare-state as it exists in most of the West today rapidly consumes the long-accumulated, once carefully-shepherded wealth of any given state or society like a ravenous, raging fire, in the end leaving only a burnt-out husk. The GNP of a typical Western nation is expected to rise at least 3% a year, yet it seems that this is never enough. Extrapolating the possible ecological consequences of a compounding GNP increase (which is largely coterminous with ever-increasing consumption and resource-use patterns) over a period of a few hundred years is frightening. The maintenance of what are (by any world-historical measure) the comparatively very high living standards of a Western welfare-state can probably only occur with the intensifying despoliation of the natural environment, or else with net negative population growth.
In a different sort of irony, the hypertrophy of immense wealth actually results in the tendency towards the atrophy of authentic social standards and much of authentic social existence. The commodity-consumption/welfare-state, in other words, often undermines the “village” atmosphere of closely-knit neighbors that it claims to promote. Even as ever-greater wealth is generated, society loses many of its earlier good habits that would allow it to utilize and carefully conserve that wealth towards ensuring a long-term, sustainable existence. Indeed, waste at most levels of society occurs under such a system, extending (as we see in our time) from the grotesque lifestyles of many entertainment and sports celebrities to the very comfortable lives of the managerial corporate and administrative elites, and even to the careless resource-use habits of some welfare-recipients. It could be argued that older, lower-middle-class and working-class people live the most abstemious, self-sacrificing, “conservationist” types of existence. The latte-drinking “bourgeois bohemians” (described by David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise), who claim to be “progressive” and environmentally-sensitive, usually have far more conspicuous consumption habits than the lower-middle-class and working-class people whom they often disdain as unimaginative and hopelessly retrograde.
It is clear that Western managerial welfare-societies are the very opposite of premodern “stable-state” (or “steady-state”) societies. Had the resources offered by the consumptionist welfare-state over the last forty-five years been carefully husbanded or shepherded, they could have possibly lasted for centuries — relative to previously available material standards of living for most of human history and humankind. Indeed, the Western-derived, socially-liberal, multiculturalist, consumptionist welfare-state might be only a very brief episode in human history, its ironies and contradictions imminently signaling some kind of massive dissolution into chaos, or, possibly, some sort of new re-integration.
It should be realized that ecological and environmentalist thinking may have elements that are very deeply traditionalist. The progressive orientation might therefore be supposed to be at odds with such thinking on key points, and should by no means be identified with it uncritically.
Mark Wegierski, a regular contributor to this quarterly, especially on subjects involving politics and technology, is a freelance journalist based in Toronto.