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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: July 2010

1 - Conservatism


Environmentalism has recently tended to recruit from people on the left, offering ecological rectitude as part of a comprehensive call for ‘social justice’. However, concern for the environment is shared by people of quite the opposite temperament, for whom constitutions and procedures are more important than social goals, and who regard the egalitarian project with scepticism. The appropriation of the environmental movement by the left is in fact a relatively new phenomenon. In Britain, the movement has its roots in the nineteenth-century reaction to the industrial revolution, in which Tories and radicals played an equal part; and the early opposition to industrial farming joins guild socialists like H. J. Massingham, Tories like Lady Eve Balfour, and eccentric radicals like Rolf Gardiner, who borrowed ideas from left and right and who has even been identified (by Patrick Wright) as a kind of fascist. Moreover, contemporary environmentalists are aware of the ecological damage done by revolutionary socialism – as in the forced collectivisation, frenzied industrialisation and gargantuan plans to shift populations, rivers and whole landscapes that we have witnessed in the Soviet Union and China. Left-wing thinkers will not regard those abuses as the inevitable result of their ideas. Nevertheless, they will recognise that more work is needed if the normal conscience is to be persuaded that socialism contains the answer to the growing ecological problem.

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