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Environmentalism: The Newest Religion

By Editorial Staff
Published January 1, 1989

- by Patrick J. Buchanan

“Environmentalism is now well on its way to becoming the third great wave of the redemptive struggle in Western history, the first being Christianity, the second modern socialism … the dream of a perfect physical environment has all the revolutionary potential that lay both in the Christian vision of mankind redeemed by Christ and in the Socialist, chiefly Marxian, prophecy of mankind free from social injustice.”

If one would seek evidence for this insight of Prof. Robert Nisbet (Prejudices, 1982) – that environmentalism has become an ideological and religious movement – look around.

As Communist parties have atrophied in Europe, Green parties have sprouted. In Sweden, animal rights legislation now guarantees that cattle are given grazing rights, that pigs have separate feeders and bedding (no more unseemly communal slopping at the trough), that chickens are let out of their cages and given the run of the yard.

In New York, 2,000 militants marched up Fifth Avenue on “Fur Free Friday” recently to protest the raising and killing of minks, foxes and sables for women’s coats; sympathy demonstrations were held in 50 states. Hunters of duck and deer are finding themselves accompanied into the fields by animal lovers with bull horns to frighten off the prey.

The new movement of social protest also has its own Carrie Nations and H. Rap Browns, who torch furrier shops in California, and plant pipe bombs outside Connecticut companies that use dogs in medical research.

When men cease believing in God, C.S. Lewis wrote, they do not then believe in nothing, they believe in anything. Just as the ideal of a Marxist Utopia, where man would no longer exploit man, captured the hearts and commanded the devotion of 19th century men who had ceased to believe in Paradise, so the environmental movement has, in the late 20th century, taken on the trappings of a new religion.

“A person is not religious solely when he worships a divinity,” wrote Gustave Le Bon in The Crowd, “but when he puts all the resources of his mind, the complete submission of his will, and the whole-souled ardor of his fanaticism at the service of a cause or an individual who becomes the goal and guide of his thoughts and actions.”

As today’s environmental movement is, in part, the legacy of progressive Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, where did we jump the track?
Prof. Nisbet contends there was always a divide between the “conservationists” of Theodore Roosevelt’s time, dedicated capitalists who wanted to conserve the forest for man’s use, for recreation and lumber, and the “preservationists,” who wanted to protect the forest from man’s spoliation. But modern preservationists have gone beyond their forebears.

With the ’60s as point of departure, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as sacred text, environmentalism “without losing its eliteness of temper,” writes Nisbet, became “a mass Socialist movement of, not fools, but sun worshippers, macrobiotics, forest druids, and nature freaks generally committed by course, if not yet fully shared intent, to the destruction of capitalism.”

Capitalism, then is the unacknowledged enemy of the new environmentalism. Yet, because the “destruction of capitalism” is not seen as the militants’ goal, the movement has enlisted fellow travelers by the millions, from Americans concerned about nuclear power and the ozone, to Humane Society supporters appalled by TV footage of the clubbing of baby seals on the Canadian ice.

Needed is a divorce, a parting of the ways between traditional conservationists – those who believe that animals, as God’s creatures over whom He gave man dominion, ought to be treated as such, that historic battlefields like Bull Run, hollowed by the blood of patriots, ought not to be turned into shopping malls, that people who put medical waste in sewers and pollute ocean beaches ought to be horse-whipped – and zealots whose beliefs are rooted not in Judeo-Christian concepts, but, as Nisbet notes, in the “man-abasing, nature-worshipping, pantheistic monism of the East.”

Like all heresies, environmental extremism, with its hostility to technology and progress, is not something new under the sun. In the time of St. Francis, his more radical followers, elevating his rule to the level of Gospel revelation applicable to all, wound up before the Inquisitor of Toulouse, en route to the heretics’ pyre.

Needed to answer this new ideology is a little common sense. Is it not better for 246 million turkeys to be born, live and be slaughtered each year to feed Americans, than to have the militant vegetarians take over, and have no turkeys hatched at all? Is it wrong that of the 100 million cats and dogs in the U.S.A., one million each year are used in the kind of medical research that gave us cures for rabies and polio? Why is it worse for a duck or deer to die from a hunter’s bullet, than of starvation, cold or old age? It is nature – not men subduing it – that is red in tooth and claw.

Not only farmers and furriers, medical researchers and hunters, but all of us have a stake in a conservationist ethic that keeps the “man-abasing” nature-worshippers in the political wilderness, while seeing to it that environmental outrages like Boston Harbor are tended to.


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