THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 767, April 20, 2014
Anarchists are persons who believe with
all their hearts that governments are
enemies of their own people.
William Tucker's Progress & Privilege: America in the Age of Environmentalism
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
With Earth Day approaching and the standoff between the rancher and the Feds over the endangered Desert Tortoise and other disturbing trends in the news I was planning to write another lengthy exegesis on ecofascism and the evils of Big Government. Unfortunately my work schedule on the heel of vacation left little time and energy for writing so I decided to settle for a long overdue book review instead. Actually one that I have long revered as a source of eye opening information on the environmental movement—which up until my college days I had assumed to be right on most things—aside from maybe a little overboard on a few issues.
William Tucker's Progress & Privilege: America in the Age of Environmentalism came into my hands by way of a sociology course I took at the University of Pittsburgh circa 1984 taught by the renegade professor I had long wondered might be a closet Larouchite but more and more I have begun to think he might have been a closet Libertarian given something he said about red baiting—which I know the followers of Lyndon Larouche tend to engage in a good bit—and like a stopped clock they have been right on occasion when it comes to understanding the value of technological progress to the prosperity and military security of a nation. Which was what the course taught by this cynical professor and the book by Tucker seemed to be all about.
The premise of Progress & Privilege is that the environmental movement which took America and much of the western world by storm in the 1970s and its earlier incarnation—the conservation movement of the so called "Progressive Era" that was in essence the popularization of aristocratic attitudes. It seemed strange to me given that I had long assumed that the environmental movement was all about good things like cleaning up pollution and saving endangered species from extinction. Which in my youthful naivety was presumed to be a decent, unselfish altruistic cause. But I was soon to learn a different perspective that would refresh my outlook on life and in the long run become a source of liberation.
Tucker begins with the idea that environmentalists while pointing out some of the problems associated with technological progress -—have often become guilty of overblowing them and also causing undue burdens on the economic well being of many people. Especially those who are poor and wanting to rise. He also asserts that the more affluent quickly learned to exploit the movement to safeguard their class interests against those crowding in from below. The notion that it is an aristocratic mindset derives from the fact that most people who have become established in the "environment" seem to take a smug satisfaction as evidence begins to accumulate that there is not room for too many more.
The book starts off detailing the angst of the white collar middle class which began moving out to the suburbs in the wonder years of the 1950s & 60s to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy being a little closer to Nature. Until developers start looking to put in another subdivision on the adjoining green space and an environmentalist is born! Tucker also presents a detailed history of the environmental movement going way back before the first Earth Day in 1972 to the early days of the Conservation movement and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. There are two clashing schools of thought in environmentalism—conservationists and preservationists. The former which Tucker favors are rooted more in the wise use of natural resources for the sake of maintaining a sustained yield for future generations with emphasis on national parks and the management of wildlife and other aspects of outdoor recreation for the public. The latter that is oriented toward the preservation of the natural world in a pristine state for its own sake and wilderness as a source of spiritual renewal was the brainchild of John Muir—founder of the Sierra Club—that we know today as the deep ecology movement. Which was actually quite moderate back when the book first published—in comparison to now a days where whack job professors from Berkley and other practitioners of biocentric ecofascism fantasize about purging the landscape of human influence and have managed to occupy the bureaucracies of many federal and state agencies and now have a sympathetic government in Washington that is more than happy to advance their agenda. As the news breaks this very week of the current administration's decision to extend the review process and delay approval of the Keystone Pipeline indefinitely.
There are several key chapters in Progress & Privilege that have made the book for me—a very useful educational tool for understanding environmentalism and also how special interests drive the political process. One gives a very detailed breakdown of class struggle and the five major social classes in America and how they align on various issues. The poor, the blue collar working class, the corporate elite, upper middle class and old money. There is a tendency for people to form political alliances with those in the class on the opposite side of the one immediately above or below them. Mainly because of the phenomenon noted in an old Arab proverb: the enemy of my enemy is my friend! People tend to feel more threatened by those in the class directly above or below them in the social hierarchy.
Of particular interest in the book is the middle class which often champions various progressive causes. In the days of the Civil Rights marches they allied with blacks and other poor folk near the bottom of the social ladder. In the Age of Environmentalism—they flipped in the opposite direction in reaction to champion the interests of old money who also are at odds with the corporate elite that are the up and coming new rich. The alignment between the middle class and poor blacks was at odds with the interests of the blue collar working class that felt threatened by competition from below in addition to job destroying environmental rules being pushed by the middle class—which spawned an interesting reaction on the part of the "Archie Bunkers" who aligned strongly with the corporate elites in the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s; which Tucker describes as "the poor defending the rights of the rich". The Reagan Democrats along with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the western states—like the TEA Party movement of today -—were part of a backlash against the excesses of environmentalism and other progressive schemes that threaten the livelihoods of those who work in mining or basic industry or work the land.
It is interesting to note that much has changed since this work and its companion—Progress & Pollution (which I have yet to read) were published. Complaints of many Black leaders that environmentalists are "bloody self-righteous Malthusian elitists" who had gotten enough for themselves and were willing to sacrifice the "Black underclass" and "slum proletariat" for the sake of the ecology (as middle class liberals turned to fawning over cheetahs and other endangered wildlife after the Black Panthers became radioactive) now have turned to charges of "environmental racism" and schemes to use environmental policies as vehicles for wealth redistribution and reparations for slavery. You can soak the affluent with necessarily skyrocketing energy costs and give energy assistance and other subsidies to the poor and favored groups. And labor unions—the other left wing constituency with an understandably long history of antagonism with environmentalists that was also noted in the book seem to have been bought off as well as they are now championing causes like climate change and opposition to fracking and are astonishingly silent on the Keystone Pipeline which would yield thousands of union jobs. I guess after progressives figured out that paying farmers not to grow food worked out so well when it came to buying votes—they could pay union workers not to work and bribe the remainder of the underclass that might still aspire for excellence and economic improvement to give up. If only we could pay bureaucrats not to make rules!
Another key theme is in the chapter titled "Bureaucracy The Conservatism of the Intelligencia" which deals with the tendency of environmentalists to bind society with excessive rules and regulations. The middle class in particular with its emphasis on higher education and acquisition of academic credentials usually leans progressive for reasons of job security and the creation of governmental agencies that multiply their opportunities to build and advance professional careers. At the expense of the rest of us I must add. A thing that is becoming more and more painfully obvious as the government workforce continues to expand and its legacy costs and tyrannical regulatory powers multiply.
As for the book—I really wish I had more time to detail the many issues it covers including endangered species and genetic engineering but I am rather short on time for writing this week. If you are interested in environmental issues and can find the book in a library or order from a bookseller I highly recommend it as an opportunity to expand your knowledge and understanding.
As it did mine!
Happy Mud Day.
Or like the paleoconservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan once said—We used to celebrate Easter. Now we worship dirt!
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