Environmentalism as the new socialism

Reflecting on the government power grabs being recommended at the Copenhagen climate summit, Charles Krauthammer explains how the left has turned to environmentalism for its new ideology:

This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

The desire for economic justice, social equality, and the elimination of oppression are worthy aims. One could argue that free market economics and conservative politics meets these goals better than statist systems such as the different varieties of socialism. But I have been struck at how snobbish so many leftists are today (as in their classist reactions to Sarah Palin and the populist “tea parties”) as opposed to their old image of champions of the working man and the voice of the common people. (One can certainly criticize them, but I’m specifically thinking about the critiques that consist of little more than looking down their noses at the “rednecks”–making fun of their clothing, their accents, their culture.) Economic populism still exists among the left, but it seems overshadowed by this new article of faith, that the world faces an environmental apocalypse. There was a time when the left supported, say, West Virginia coal miners. Now, it seems eager to put them all out of work. The left is concerned about the environmental impact of various policies, but it seems indifferent to the economic impact on ordinary people of their environmental policies.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • Jonathan

    Welfare-check. Healthcare-check. Environment-check….So, what’s left on the Left’s to-do list that needs fixing *after* they solve the environment problems?

  • Jonathan

    Welfare-check. Healthcare-check. Environment-check….So, what’s left on the Left’s to-do list that needs fixing *after* they solve the environment problems?

  • Bruce Gee

    I shoulda bought that island…

  • Bruce Gee

    I shoulda bought that island…

  • Tickletext

    Whatever could be said about and against the various ideological manifestations of environmentalist thought, my question is: what constitutes a specifically Christian response to the metaphysical consolations of environmentalism?

    In other words, it seems clear to me that part of the appeal of environmentalism is its ontological consolation: it confers meaning to life. It offers insight into the age-old philosophical question of how we should live. It tries to give an ethical orientation to people wielding great technological power. In its apocalyptic mode, it gives meaning to time by structuring (future) history within a teleological frame. And, in its own way, it gives those exhausted by rampant consumerism a language for interpreting and critiquing the resulting social disorder and alienation.

    Thus, I think that if we reduce environmentalism to its strictly ideological, policy-driven aspects, we risk doing a real disservice to our neighbors. I am not too concerned with the ideologues. But I do see plenty of evidence that a number of my neighbors look to the green life as The Good Life, that is, a way of living wisely and meaningfully.

    If so, my vocational obligation, then, is at least twofold: to recognize and praise whatever God-imaging truth and beauty exists in the Good Green Life; and to be there for my neighbor when their particular ethical framework collapses of its own legalistic weight, as all graceless ethics tend to do sooner or later.

  • Tickletext

    Whatever could be said about and against the various ideological manifestations of environmentalist thought, my question is: what constitutes a specifically Christian response to the metaphysical consolations of environmentalism?

    In other words, it seems clear to me that part of the appeal of environmentalism is its ontological consolation: it confers meaning to life. It offers insight into the age-old philosophical question of how we should live. It tries to give an ethical orientation to people wielding great technological power. In its apocalyptic mode, it gives meaning to time by structuring (future) history within a teleological frame. And, in its own way, it gives those exhausted by rampant consumerism a language for interpreting and critiquing the resulting social disorder and alienation.

    Thus, I think that if we reduce environmentalism to its strictly ideological, policy-driven aspects, we risk doing a real disservice to our neighbors. I am not too concerned with the ideologues. But I do see plenty of evidence that a number of my neighbors look to the green life as The Good Life, that is, a way of living wisely and meaningfully.

    If so, my vocational obligation, then, is at least twofold: to recognize and praise whatever God-imaging truth and beauty exists in the Good Green Life; and to be there for my neighbor when their particular ethical framework collapses of its own legalistic weight, as all graceless ethics tend to do sooner or later.

  • Another Kerner

    This may mean that I need to retreat to my attic with my bible, my Book of Concord, and my gun again….but, like Bruce, I forgot to buy an island.

    Alas, the long arm of global,environmental governance is upon us, all in the name of keeping us safe and healthy.

    If only the “green” socio/political movement were really about conservation and the faithful stewardship of the planet over which God Almighty has given us dominion, but it is not.

    It appears to be primarily a masquerade designed to empower and enrich those heavily invested in securing more power.

    Alas,(again).

  • Another Kerner

    This may mean that I need to retreat to my attic with my bible, my Book of Concord, and my gun again….but, like Bruce, I forgot to buy an island.

    Alas, the long arm of global,environmental governance is upon us, all in the name of keeping us safe and healthy.

    If only the “green” socio/political movement were really about conservation and the faithful stewardship of the planet over which God Almighty has given us dominion, but it is not.

    It appears to be primarily a masquerade designed to empower and enrich those heavily invested in securing more power.

    Alas,(again).

  • Kirk

    My question is: what reasonable alternative are conservatives offering? I here Republicans gripe about the green movement, but I’ve yet to hear a reasonable conservative response to environmental extremism. That’s a huge reason that I don’t count myself as a Republican (even though I do tend to vote for conservative candidates) because I don’t see the party offering a reasonable position on conservation. So, is there a Republican response to radical environmentalism, aside from “drill baby, drill”? And, don’t you think that it would be more worth while to be proactive about protecting the environment than to simply talk about how terrible “An Inconvenient Truth” is? Surely, you’ve got something better than simple deregulation.

  • Kirk

    My question is: what reasonable alternative are conservatives offering? I here Republicans gripe about the green movement, but I’ve yet to hear a reasonable conservative response to environmental extremism. That’s a huge reason that I don’t count myself as a Republican (even though I do tend to vote for conservative candidates) because I don’t see the party offering a reasonable position on conservation. So, is there a Republican response to radical environmentalism, aside from “drill baby, drill”? And, don’t you think that it would be more worth while to be proactive about protecting the environment than to simply talk about how terrible “An Inconvenient Truth” is? Surely, you’ve got something better than simple deregulation.

  • Kirk

    *hear

  • Kirk

    *hear

  • DonS

    “But I have been struck at how snobbish so many leftists are today (as in their classist reactions to Sarah Palin and the populist ‘tea parties’) as opposed to their old image of champions of the working man and the voice of the common people.”

    This is key. Back in the day, the Democratic party was populated by working class Americans. This is no longer the case. Wealthy whites currently run the party, centered in the Ivy League educational establishment on the East Coast, the wealthy investor class in New York, the entertainment culture on the west coast, and the radical environmentalists in the Northwest. Because they are elites, they gravitate toward snobbish elitism. Ridicule those who question you, rather than engaging in honest discourse. To maintain power, they cobble together various special interest groups — minorities, labor unions, educators (allegedly), environmentalists, and government hacks. The working class, on the other hand, are in the Republican party, or are declared independents, because they are disgusted that no one seems to represent their interests any more.

  • DonS

    “But I have been struck at how snobbish so many leftists are today (as in their classist reactions to Sarah Palin and the populist ‘tea parties’) as opposed to their old image of champions of the working man and the voice of the common people.”

    This is key. Back in the day, the Democratic party was populated by working class Americans. This is no longer the case. Wealthy whites currently run the party, centered in the Ivy League educational establishment on the East Coast, the wealthy investor class in New York, the entertainment culture on the west coast, and the radical environmentalists in the Northwest. Because they are elites, they gravitate toward snobbish elitism. Ridicule those who question you, rather than engaging in honest discourse. To maintain power, they cobble together various special interest groups — minorities, labor unions, educators (allegedly), environmentalists, and government hacks. The working class, on the other hand, are in the Republican party, or are declared independents, because they are disgusted that no one seems to represent their interests any more.

  • DonS

    Kirk @ 6: Conservatives have plenty of responses to the radical environmental movement. Apparently you don’t think any of them are reasonable. Something tells me that your view of a “reasonable” response is something closely akin to what the environmental movement itself wants — scarce and expensive energy, a sharply reduced standard of living (except for the elites), and a reduced human population.

  • DonS

    Kirk @ 6: Conservatives have plenty of responses to the radical environmental movement. Apparently you don’t think any of them are reasonable. Something tells me that your view of a “reasonable” response is something closely akin to what the environmental movement itself wants — scarce and expensive energy, a sharply reduced standard of living (except for the elites), and a reduced human population.

  • Joe

    Krik – as a conservative, who sees my obligation as being a good steward of the earth and not a worshiper of the earth, let me offer these alternatives for energy: 1. use more of our domestic supply of natural gas and oil (including shale oil). We don’t’ touch much of these reserves and we can extract them safely and burn them pretty darn cleanly. 2. embrace (instead of bash) clean coal technology. It’s real and we have so much coal that we can dramatically reduce our consumption of oil by using it. 3. Nuclear power is our friend. Issue reactor permits already. Check out France (look a conservative saying look to France) for how to do this without killing everyone. 4. Let the market dictate which alternative energy sources make sense (i.e. stop subsidizing corn based ethanol). And, for conservation of wilderness/animals: 1. recognize that we can manage and should our forests via logging– this would reduce the number of wild fires and provide a source of timber. 2. allow a real cost benefit analysis to occur when “saving” and animal will require actions that will have a huge impact on humans – maybe the right answer is to not save the snail darter – but lets actually look at the pros and cons.

  • Joe

    Krik – as a conservative, who sees my obligation as being a good steward of the earth and not a worshiper of the earth, let me offer these alternatives for energy: 1. use more of our domestic supply of natural gas and oil (including shale oil). We don’t’ touch much of these reserves and we can extract them safely and burn them pretty darn cleanly. 2. embrace (instead of bash) clean coal technology. It’s real and we have so much coal that we can dramatically reduce our consumption of oil by using it. 3. Nuclear power is our friend. Issue reactor permits already. Check out France (look a conservative saying look to France) for how to do this without killing everyone. 4. Let the market dictate which alternative energy sources make sense (i.e. stop subsidizing corn based ethanol). And, for conservation of wilderness/animals: 1. recognize that we can manage and should our forests via logging– this would reduce the number of wild fires and provide a source of timber. 2. allow a real cost benefit analysis to occur when “saving” and animal will require actions that will have a huge impact on humans – maybe the right answer is to not save the snail darter – but lets actually look at the pros and cons.

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    Do you mean complete deregulation, because, I’m sorry, but that’s not reasonable. Unless, of course, you love birth defects and burning rivers.

    I’m talking about reasonable responses like actually fighting for nuclear power as a viable alternative energy. Something like that. I know this is an old critique, but all I see from conservatives is opposition to liberals, not proactive thinking.

  • Kirk

    @Don,

    Do you mean complete deregulation, because, I’m sorry, but that’s not reasonable. Unless, of course, you love birth defects and burning rivers.

    I’m talking about reasonable responses like actually fighting for nuclear power as a viable alternative energy. Something like that. I know this is an old critique, but all I see from conservatives is opposition to liberals, not proactive thinking.

  • DonS

    Kirk: What Joe said @ 10. No serious conservative is talking about complete deregulation — that’s a straw man promulgated by the left to strike fear in the hearts of voters not paying attention. True conservatives are conservationists. We have a finite amount of resources and it is in our best interests to use them wisely. But, at the same time, God gave us those resources to use, not to leave in the ground. The earth is not an end to itself. It will be destroyed at the end of time. It is a gift God gave to us to support our livelihood.

    Careful and clean production of energy using our own resources is much more environmentally friendly than what we are doing now, which is to severely restrict our own production and import our energy from third world countries. Of course, those third world countries do not have nearly the environmental protections in place that we do, so this policy actually substantially harms our environment. That is the silliness and short-sightedness of current environmentalist thinking.

  • DonS

    Kirk: What Joe said @ 10. No serious conservative is talking about complete deregulation — that’s a straw man promulgated by the left to strike fear in the hearts of voters not paying attention. True conservatives are conservationists. We have a finite amount of resources and it is in our best interests to use them wisely. But, at the same time, God gave us those resources to use, not to leave in the ground. The earth is not an end to itself. It will be destroyed at the end of time. It is a gift God gave to us to support our livelihood.

    Careful and clean production of energy using our own resources is much more environmentally friendly than what we are doing now, which is to severely restrict our own production and import our energy from third world countries. Of course, those third world countries do not have nearly the environmental protections in place that we do, so this policy actually substantially harms our environment. That is the silliness and short-sightedness of current environmentalist thinking.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    This discussion is so much less about environmentalism than it is about political demagoguery. I could reply to the points made by Krauthammer, Veith, and Don, but I really don’t see a reason to. The most I can muster is this anti-comment.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    This discussion is so much less about environmentalism than it is about political demagoguery. I could reply to the points made by Krauthammer, Veith, and Don, but I really don’t see a reason to. The most I can muster is this anti-comment.

  • DonS

    Actually, tODD, your anti-comment is right on the money. Of course, whichever side of the issue you are on, you can’t help but acknowledge that the whole environmental movement is about political demagoguery. So, it is naturally the focal point of our discussion.

  • DonS

    Actually, tODD, your anti-comment is right on the money. Of course, whichever side of the issue you are on, you can’t help but acknowledge that the whole environmental movement is about political demagoguery. So, it is naturally the focal point of our discussion.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    No, Don (@14), demagoguery is not the “focal point” of your discussion, it is largely the content of it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    No, Don (@14), demagoguery is not the “focal point” of your discussion, it is largely the content of it.

  • DonS

    Well, fine, tODD. But, that’s semantics. We are discussing the environmental movement, and the environmental movement is all about political demagoguerie.

  • DonS

    Well, fine, tODD. But, that’s semantics. We are discussing the environmental movement, and the environmental movement is all about political demagoguerie.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@16), apparently I am not making myself clear. I am accusing you, among others, of engaging in political demagoguery. That you seem to continually read this as pointing the blame — as you so often do — only at the “environmental movement” is itself what I’m referring to.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@16), apparently I am not making myself clear. I am accusing you, among others, of engaging in political demagoguery. That you seem to continually read this as pointing the blame — as you so often do — only at the “environmental movement” is itself what I’m referring to.

  • DonS

    tODD, I fully understand what you are saying. It was just such an incredibly one-sided thing to say, given the nature of the environmental movement and its politicized efforts to regulate the entire world’s economy on the basis of alleged environmental urgency, that I was giving you an opportunity to at least re-state your views in a more reasonable manner.

  • DonS

    tODD, I fully understand what you are saying. It was just such an incredibly one-sided thing to say, given the nature of the environmental movement and its politicized efforts to regulate the entire world’s economy on the basis of alleged environmental urgency, that I was giving you an opportunity to at least re-state your views in a more reasonable manner.

  • DonS

    To clarify, tODD, it is the environmental movement who wants to intrude into our lives with chokingly expensive and restrictive regulations, on the sole basis of their assertion of an earth-threatening emergency. All we are doing is saying “butt out of our lives”. And WE’RE the political demagogues???

  • DonS

    To clarify, tODD, it is the environmental movement who wants to intrude into our lives with chokingly expensive and restrictive regulations, on the sole basis of their assertion of an earth-threatening emergency. All we are doing is saying “butt out of our lives”. And WE’RE the political demagogues???

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@18,19), you continue to prove my point.

    I probably shouldn’t have even bothered saying anything in the first place.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@18,19), you continue to prove my point.

    I probably shouldn’t have even bothered saying anything in the first place.

  • DonS

    I agree, tODD. If your purpose was simply to insert a drive-by ad hominem attack without substantively engaging in the discussion, you shouldn’t have bothered.

  • DonS

    I agree, tODD. If your purpose was simply to insert a drive-by ad hominem attack without substantively engaging in the discussion, you shouldn’t have bothered.

  • Eric G

    “Green is the new Red” I predict that we’re going to hear that phrase a lot more in the near future, especially in the Senate finally takes up the cap and trade legislation or needs to ratify a Copenhagen treaty.

  • Eric G

    “Green is the new Red” I predict that we’re going to hear that phrase a lot more in the near future, especially in the Senate finally takes up the cap and trade legislation or needs to ratify a Copenhagen treaty.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’m with tODD in expecting some interaction with the metaphysical claims of radical environmentalism and deep ecology, etc. Tickletext had a wonderful insight into such things, but since then we’ve descended into competing political platforms. On the other hand, tODD, it is characteristic of modernity that ideologies (themselves a uniquely modern phenomenon)–like radical environmentalism–always make political claims. The fact that environmentalists, who may be making religious claims–which is what we should be talking about here–also make political claims for population controls, climate regulation regimes, and general manipulation of the human order is by no means an irrelevant or invalid idea, nor is it coincidental. After all, as Carl Schmitt reminds us, all political concepts are decayed theological concepts. It’s also a red herring to be prodding conservatives to provide “platforms” in response, as “platforms” and “systems” are fundamentally un-conservative. Conservative responses to environmental crises should be prudential, not programmatic.

    But yes, let’s consider first the metaphysical assumptions at the root of the environmental movement/religion.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’m with tODD in expecting some interaction with the metaphysical claims of radical environmentalism and deep ecology, etc. Tickletext had a wonderful insight into such things, but since then we’ve descended into competing political platforms. On the other hand, tODD, it is characteristic of modernity that ideologies (themselves a uniquely modern phenomenon)–like radical environmentalism–always make political claims. The fact that environmentalists, who may be making religious claims–which is what we should be talking about here–also make political claims for population controls, climate regulation regimes, and general manipulation of the human order is by no means an irrelevant or invalid idea, nor is it coincidental. After all, as Carl Schmitt reminds us, all political concepts are decayed theological concepts. It’s also a red herring to be prodding conservatives to provide “platforms” in response, as “platforms” and “systems” are fundamentally un-conservative. Conservative responses to environmental crises should be prudential, not programmatic.

    But yes, let’s consider first the metaphysical assumptions at the root of the environmental movement/religion.

  • DonS

    But, Cincinnatus, we have been trying to engage the environmental movement on the metaphysical assumptions they are making. They are not interested in having that discussion. Their insistence that the “science is settled” and “we must act immediately to prevent planetary doom”, and that skeptics are “deniers”, merely trying to delay necessary reform are the very reason that the matter has devolved into a political tussle.

    Which, of course, is what made tODD’s comment so ridiculous.

  • DonS

    But, Cincinnatus, we have been trying to engage the environmental movement on the metaphysical assumptions they are making. They are not interested in having that discussion. Their insistence that the “science is settled” and “we must act immediately to prevent planetary doom”, and that skeptics are “deniers”, merely trying to delay necessary reform are the very reason that the matter has devolved into a political tussle.

    Which, of course, is what made tODD’s comment so ridiculous.


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