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
17.2 (Spring 2017)
The Polis vs. Progress
Ecology: A Long and Difficult Path Ahead
On the 47th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and despite superficial political conflicts, Mark Wegierski examines various possible convergences of ecology and traditionalism.
Many persons today do not realize the radical implications of a truly ecological stance. It should be considered what the directions of a truly ecological society might be. It may seem difficult to understand, but there are definitely convergences between genuine ecology and genuine traditionalism.
First of all, there will probably have to be some definite, though hopefully not excessively onerous, forms of rationing. There will have to be the rationing, for example, of water-consumption; of “petrochem” consumption (resulting in the near-elimination of ‘car-culture’); of luxury food consumption, and so forth.
Secondly, there will probably have to be fairly drastic population-control measures, particularly in the Third World, where (it must be openly said) nearly all of the global population increase is today occurring, and in which the environment today is under most severe threat. There might also have to be almost zero-immigration policies across the entire planet.
Thirdly, there would have to be the drastic reduction of our current-day commodity-culture and consumer fetishism. This would mean the curtailment of Hollywood lifestyle and fashion-industry excesses, of glitzy music videos, expensive advertising, sports industries (where athletic stars are paid tens of millions of dollars a year), $500 running shoes, and so forth. That whole “carnival culture” of late modernity would have to be curtailed.
Fourthly, there would have to be the establishment of belief-systems that would ensure the continuation of a virtually zero-growth, stationary-state economy, without massive social chaos resulting. These belief systems might well involve some forms of neo-traditionalism and neo-authoritarianism.
A belief and commitment to ecology might, indeed, entail far more than most persons currently interested in ecology might realize.
While one can appreciate the gentle activism practiced by persons who try to live ecologically, eating natural foods, promoting recycling, and so forth, it is hard to see how such individual efforts can lead to a massive, planet-wide paradigm-shift on behalf of ecological understanding. On the other hand, some individuals choose a consciously radical path of “direct action”—which tends to alienate the vast majority of the population. What seems to be missing is a “middle ground” of major impact on the social and political arena.
Ecologists must obviously look for belief-systems that can lend some “muscle” to their outlook. Given its philosophy of inherent limits on human behavior and on the exercise of power, some form of neo-traditionalism (such as that represented in the thought of figures like John Ruskin, William Morris, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Lasch, and Wendell Berry) would probably be the “safest” partner for ecology.
The Left has often gotten entangled in projects of utopian reconstruction that have led to massive social dislocation, and, in the extreme, to mass slaughter. In the United States, it could be argued that the advance of the “counter-cultural” lifestyle agenda and the massive extension of administrative and educational bureaucracies, in the wake of the Sixties, have contributed to increasing social disorder and the valorization of disruptive antinomian attitudes.
At the same time, the ecological idealism which was possibly the best part of the Sixties, has failed to find much practical instantiation today—America has become more commercialized and paved-over in the interval, and big corporations are more powerful than ever.
It also does not speak well for some parts of the Left that the death-toll associated with nominally Communist regimes (not to mention the surreal ecological blight in many parts of the former Eastern Bloc) has been estimated at over a hundred million persons.
On the other hand, that part of the spectrum that is usually considered as extreme Right, has also been—most notoriously in the case of Nazi Germany—openly murderous and genocidal.
It could be argued that a moderate, humane neo-traditionalism appears as the belief-system that can best assist the ecological evolution of humanity on this planet.
Neo-traditionalism can at the same time reduce the quasi-totalitarian impulse of untrammeled utopianism which characterizes some ecological thinking, while offering a strong, concrete, practical, and “authoritative” substance to ecological endeavor. Neo-traditionalism—operating through such powerful bonding forces as nation, religion, family, and local community—can offer a profoundly social context to ecological theory that will stabilize and ground it in “the real world,” and will make it more possible to be practically effected in the future.
Traditionalist philosophy shares with ecology a profound disgust with the late modern world, a critique of current-day capitalism, and an embrace of healthy and thrifty living—rejecting the current-day, ad-driven, consumption culture of brand fetishism and profligate waste.
The commonalities and convergences of traditionalism and ecology have been pointed out by, among others, British political theorist John Gray (formerly at Oxford, now at LSE) in his brilliant essay “An agenda for Green conservatism.” (in Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment (Routledge, 1993)). John Gray has also written, among other works, a sharp indictment of globalization: False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism (Granta, 1998).
In the wake of the crisis of late modernity, there must arise new coalitions, existing beyond the confines of conventional current-day political categories, that can hopefully work together towards a better future for all humanity. An alliance of ecology and neo-traditionalism might become one such tendency for shaping a better future — a distinctly saner, calmer world of “less noise and more green”.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian freelance journalist, based in Toronto, who has frequently and faithfully contributed to these pages over the past decade.