Crunchy Con Environmentalism

Yesterday, I quoted “A Crunchy-Con Manifesto” from the book Crunchy Cons, by Rod Dreher. I won’t say too much about most of the book: the chapters on consumerism, food, education, and so forth. I do want to spend a bit of time taking a closer look at the chapter on the environment.

Dreher starts with his experiences with his father on hunting trips in Louisiana. His father’s group of hunting buddies were avid conservationists: they had deep respect for the animals they were hunting, as well as the land those animals lived in. At times, they were joined by big-city politicians and attorneys who did not share those values. I can picture the type: shooting stop signs, poaching, leaving half the carcass on a hill side. These big-city guys would likely be political conservatives, but they could have been liberals as well.

As a writer for the conservative magazine National Review, Dreher had common stereotypes of environmentalists: tree huggers, anti-human nature worshipers, PETA extremists. In the course of his work, however, he ran into conservative environmentalists, a phrase that might seem like an oxymoron to some. These included Matthew Scully, a vegetarian animal-rights advocate who was also a speechwriter for President George W. Bush; and Jim DiPeso, an officer of Republicans for Environmental Protection. These opened his eyes to see that there is nothing conservative about things like over consumption, animal abuse, or ecological degradation.

Here are a few quotes from the chapter:

“Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship, ” Matthew [Scully] wrote. “We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.”

This is true about the environment as well. Technology and wealth have given mankind dominion over nature unparalleled in human history. Everything in the tradition of conservatism—especially in traditional religious thought—warns against misusing that authority. Yet the conservative movement has become so infatuated with the free market and human potential that we lose sight of what Matthew described as our conservative belief “in man as a fundamentally moral and not merely economic actor, a creature accountable to reason and conscience and not driven by whim or appetite.” If we lose our ability to see nature with moral vision, we become less human, and more like beasts.


I’ve found that one of the quickest ways to start a fight with most people in our tribe is to say that factory farming is problematic from a conservative point of view. They get real hot about how if we didn’t have these things, where would we get cheap chicken?


“In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.” — Pope John Paul II, Centesimus annus


“I call myself a conservative in a way, because I’m interested in conserving things that need to be conserved. But I hesitate to call myself a conservative publicly, because I don’t think there are too many in the conservative movement today who care about conserving much of anything except money.” — Wendell Berry.

My current political thought: I am rather wary of the Tea Party movement, as I view it as part of the anti-environmental wing of the Republican Party.

Grace and Peace

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