Manifesto for the Earth
Mark Wegierski envisages the convergence of ecology and traditionalism
What would be the policy implications of a radical ecological stance? There would presumably have to be rationing of water, of “petrochem” (resulting in the near-elimination of ‘car-culture’) and of luxury foods. Ditto, drastic population-control measures, particularly in the Third World, where nearly all of the global population increase is occurring and where the environment is most under threat. There might also have to be almost zero-immigration policies across the planet.
Our current-day commodity-culture and consumer fetishism would likewise have to end. Farewell the “carnival culture” of late modernity; the Hollywood lifestyle and fashion-industry excesses, the glitzy music videos, sports industries in which stars are paid tens of millions of dollars a year, the thousand-dollar running shoes, and so forth. Belief-systems that would ensure the continuation of a virtually zero-growth, stationary-state economy, would have to become prevalent. These belief systems might well involve some forms of neo-traditionalism and neo-authoritarianism.
While one can respect those people who try to live ecologically, eating natural foods, promoting recycling etc. such individual efforts cannot lead to a planet-wide paradigm-shift. Other individuals, conversely, choose a consciously radical path of “direct action” — which tends to alienate the vast majority of the population. What is missing is a “middle ground”.
Ecologists must embrace 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 as is represented in the thought of figures like John Ruskin, William Morris, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Lasch, and Wendell Berry would be the most suitable partner for ecology.
The Left, historically, has become entangled in projects of utopian reconstruction that have led to social dislocation, and, in the extreme, to mass slaughter. 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.
In the United States, likewise, 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.
The ecological idealism which was possibly the best part of the Sixties has failed to find much practical instantiation today — America has become even more commercialized and paved-over in the interval. Big corporations are more powerful than ever.
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.
A moderate, humane neo-traditionalism is arguably the belief-system that can best assist the ecological evolution of humanity on this planet.
Neo-traditionalism can avoid 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”.
Traditionalist philosophy shares with ecology a critique of contemporary capitalism, and an embrace of healthy and thrifty living — rejecting the ad-driven, consumption culture of brand fetishism and profligate waste.
The commonalities and convergences of traditionalism and ecology have been pointed out by political theorist John Gray, formerly at Oxford, now at LSE, in his essay “An agenda for Green conservatism.” (in Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment, Routledge, 1993). John Gray has also written an indictment of globalization: False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism (Granta, 1998).
In the wake of the crisis of late modernity, can new coalitions work together for a better future? An alliance of ecology and neo-traditionalism would surely help shape a better future — a distinctly saner, calmer world of “less noise and more green.”
Editorial note: today (April 22nd) is “Earth Day”
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher