Hungarian Conservative

Reviewing Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy

The Solitary Tree by Caspar David Friedrich (1822)
WIkimedia Commons
Albeit wrongly associated with the political left most of the time, green philosophy is integral to conservatism too. The late, great Roger Scruton believes that environmental protection should be based on one's love for their local territory and community, and be dictated top-down through a globalist agenda.

Roger Scruton presents a compelling argument in his book titled Green Philosophy—conservative principles offer an effective approach to address the challenges of restoring and maintaining ecological equilibrium. The central tenet of his idea, aimed at shaping conservative environmental policies, revolves around the concept of Oikophilia, meaning ‘a love for home’.

The eco-activism of global organisations is typically detached from one particular territory, which is often the cause of major environmental atrocities done by big businesses. The global character of these organisations means alienation from particular communities, which, in turn, promotes unaccountability and the destruction of the very nature it ought to protect. The conservative ecological policies, however, should be rooted in the sense of national pride: 

‘Here is where environmentalists and conservatives can and should make common cause. That common cause is territory—the object of a love that has found its strongest political expression through the nation-state…Many environmentalists will acknowledge that local loyalties and local concerns must be given a proper place in our decision making, if we are to counter the adverse effects of the global economy…The attachment to territory and the desire to protect that territory from erosion and waste remain powerful motives that are presupposed in all demands for the sacrifice that issue from the mouths of politicians.’

However, an overarching government with absolute power to handle the crisis is not a solution, as it creates an unwieldy bureaucracy that fails to aptly react to the rapidly changing nature of ecological problems. At the same time, it also creates room for abuse by promoting accountability.

The unaccountability that is characteristic of highly bureaucratic states is defined as the ‘power problem’ of all central-planned socialist regimes. These regimes are responsible for a plethora of notorious ecological catastrophes in the 20th century, including the Chernobyl disaster. Besides, these bureaucracies also tend to dismiss innovation and creativity, in times when creativity and innovation are exactly what is needed to tackle the arising problems of possibly unprecedented scale. In other words,

governments all by themselves can barely be capable of solving environmental challenges.

Scruton’s desire to shift the scope from a globalist agenda to the local level is not an arbitrary decision based on just pure sentiment. Rather, it is a recognition of the limits of human psychology, and in that sense, it is much more reasonable to adjust the ecological programmes to fit the boundaries of the human condition:

‘As a conservative, however,

I bow to the evidence of history, which tells me that human beings are creatures of limited and local affections, the best of which is the territorial loyalty that leads them to live at peace with strangers,

to honour their dead and to make provision for those who will one day replace them in their earthly tenancy.’

That is exactly why the top-down, global approach to managing the crisis is a mistaken concept, argues Roger Scruton. Instead of sticking to the globalist narrative, the solution to ecological problems should be based on what human psychology can comprehend: local affections and attachments, as opposed to some abstract and global ideology. However, the latter, globalist narrative explains the apparent failure of the liberal and left approaches to solving environmental issues.

‘It seems to me that the dominance of international decision making by unaccountable bureaucracies, unaccountable NGOs, and multinational corporations accountable only to their shareholders (who may have no attachment to the environment that the corporations threaten) has made it more than ever necessary for us to follow the conservative path.

We need to retreat from the global back to the local, so as to address the problems that we can collectively identify as ours, with means that we can control, from motives that we all feel. The animal rights activist, by contrast, has no need to balance risks or work out the long-term cost of his activities. He is there to stop the killing, and the fact that the result is a mismanaged habitat, from which the game birds have fled, and in which the scavengers are taking over, is none of his concern.’

The programme that Sir Roger Scruton introduces—or rather, a sort of draft for beginning to think about environmental problems in a conservative way—demonstrates a couple of ideas that possible future policies should be based on. First and foremost,

the main principle of any conservative policy must be that anything that can be done locally must be taken out of the hands of the state and passed on to the locals.

Surely, some things can only be managed by the state, but nevertheless, whenever possible, local initiatives, volunteer groups and deregulatory measures have to be supported.

Scruton argues that the main source of the current environmental degradation is ‘externalisation’. While enterprises are keeping their profits, negative externalities are ‘externalised’, and others have to bear the negative impact of enterprises’ functioning. For example, the natural environment is harmed where a factory operates, while the shareholders of that factory (who benefit from its operation) live elsewhere where the environment is not polluted. To overcome this issue, imposing the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle is a must.

Research in the sphere of clean energy that does not emit greenhouse gas is also needed. Decentralising the production of energy, following the Danish example, can significantly reduce the damage to the environment. Another good way of ‘internalising the costs’ is to introduce taxes on carbon-emitting activities or products, regardless of their origin. The money collected from these taxes should, in turn, be used to stimulate research in clean energy. Fortunately, or not, the ageing population will probably have to work to avoid passing the burden on to the youth. In general, risk-aversive zero-tolerance regulations that only big companies can comply with should be abolished, which will make it possible for local food industries to thrive. Also, pricing roads can also contribute to the solution—it can reduce the reliance on transportation and make urban settlements smaller, further reducing emissions.

Larry Norman on Twitter: “Worth a ponder:(From Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy). / Twitter”

Worth a ponder:(From Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy).

Aside from devoting a significant part of the book to a conservative programme for tackling the ecological crisis, Scruton also touches on the principles of conservative politics in general:

‘Another way of putting the point is that, for the conservative, politics concerns the maintenance and repair of homeostatic systems—systems that correct themselves in response to destabilising change. Markets are homeostatic systems; so too are traditions, customs and the common law; so too are families, and the “civil associations” that make up the stuff of a free society.

Conservatives are interested in markets, and prefer market forces to government action wherever the two are rivals. But this is not because of some quasi-religious belief in the market as the ideal form of social order or the sole solution to social and political problems; still less is it because of some cult of homo economicus and the “rational self-interest” that supposedly governs him. It is rather because conservatives look to markets as self-correcting social systems, which can confront and overcome shocks from outside, and in normal cases adjust to the needs and motives of their members”.

Scruton also provides an overview of the main discourses, literature, and positions on the topic of ecological crisis, while he also acknowledges the limitations of his approach, writing ‘the major difficulty, from the environmental point of view, is that social equilibrium and ecological equilibrium are not the same idea, and not necessarily in harmony.’

Scruton’s book well illustrates the unexpected and counterintuitive phenomenon of a left-dominated discourse on ecological issues. His work provides compelling evidence that

the similarity between the terms ‘conservatism’ in the political sense and ‘conservation’ in the ecological discourse is more than mere coincidence.

The book serves as a powerful demonstration of the potential conservative ideas have to offer to solve environmental problems: ‘Conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal’.

Related articles:

Living in Scrutopia — A Conversation with Lady Sophie Scruton, Widow of Philosopher Sir Roger Scruton
A Romantic Tour in Hungarian Nature on Valentine’s Day
Albeit wrongly associated with the political left most of the time, green philosophy is integral to conservatism too. The late, great Roger Scruton believes that environmental protection should be based on one's love for their local territory and community, and be dictated top-down through a globalist agenda.