The Great Green Earth

Two years ago, during a segment on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart highlighted some apparent hypocrisy surrounding Pope Francis, on the occasion of the release of his encyclica, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.” Stewart observed that so-called American conservatives, who all too often appear to self-consciously display a public Christian piety, seemed unconcerned with Francis’ enhanced focus on climate and the environment. The attack was nearly rote and formulaic on Stewart’s part. Perhaps the most memorable line in the entire segment, however, came close to the end, when Stewart remarked that climate change might get more support among conservatives if it were framed as, in his words, “preserving traditional sea levels.” It is a fine example of wit—and like all such witticisms, it lands because contained within it is a core of truth.

Environmental issues are not typically at the forefront of reactionary thought. This is, perhaps, only natural, given the justified focus of reactionary thinkers upon the actions and behaviors of men. Reaction is cultural, philosophical, artistic in its bent; what time it has for the natural sciences and their subjects is usually focused on what harm they have done, what strayings from tradition they have allowed. Men are the focus of the Right, because men cannot help but be the focus.  Men are the fulcrum upon which the created order pivots.

But issues of the environment cannot be ignored. It’s dangerous to cede any area of thought to those obsessed with progress and forward motion; it is not fitting that one voice, or set of voices, should have a matter of debate entirely to themselves. The recent hurricanes and flooding in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean have brought discussions of environment and climate back to the forefront. A few things should be said on the subject from a more conservative perspective.

The word ‘conservative’ is an excellent place to start, as that word’s root, the word ‘conserve,’ is also the root of that potent word, ‘conservation.’ A cursory glance at the history of reaction reveals a not-inconsiderable focus on the natural world, on the world in which men live and what their attitude towards that world should be. Consider the great reactionary J.R.R. Tolkien; his masterwork “The Lord of the Rings” depicts a reverence for the natural world, from the carefully tended gardens of the hobbits of the Shire to the mighty guardians of the great forests, the Ents of the deep woods. For Tolkien it is a grave sin, an evil thing, to needlessly destroy and ruin the natural world. We must remember that the Ents are roused, not merely by the destruction of their trees, but by the wantonness of it, the cutting and burning for no good reason.

What would man be without the Earth upon which he lives? We are beings created of the dirt and the dust, with the breath of the wind in our lungs. So much of our culture, our history, our traditions are made and forged and kept in reaction to the slow motion of nature, from the Thanksgiving and other harvest festivals of autumn to the bright flowers and merry dancing of May Day in the spring. So much of that which makes men men is shaped in their response and reaction to the environment. When Perceval stops and contemplates the drops of blood in the snow, meditating on them and the way they conjure memories of his great love Blanchefleur, it is the whiteness and the chill of that French winter that acts as a lens, arresting the reader, focusing his attention upon the meditation in which the great knight is immersed.

A love of the natural world is inherently reactionary; that it is regarded as progressive, instead, is one of the great sleights of hand engineered by Modern thought. It is so often in the name of progress that men pave over wetlands and dump garbage in the oceans. Progress, and an insatiable need for economic growth, drive so often the degradation and corruption of the created order, whether on the small scale of cutting down a tree or the large scale of polluting the atmosphere. Indeed, it was in the name of economic growth that the city of Houston allowed its outlying wetlands and grasslands to be turned into suburban sprawl, thereby robbing it of one of the crucial defenses it once possessed against flooding.

We shouldn’t forget that what damage has been done to the environment in the Modern age has its origins in the very bedrock of Modernity. It was the great original Modernists—Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza—who shifted the West’s view of the natural world, moving it from a seamless created order in which man participated to a base collection of material resources which man ought to exploit for his own benefit. It was their mechanistic thinking—their minds of metal and wheels—that paved the way for the industrialization that, while it has done several very good things, has caused great harm to the living world, as well.

The descendants of these thinkers have a similar idea in mind; they merely employ it with different intent. Not only do progressive, radical environmentalists deserve not to have the issue all to themselves; they might perhaps be said not to deserve a voice at all, given the nihilistic ends to which their discussions ultimately turn. Radical environmentalists view man as divorced from nature, just as their radical predecessors once did. Where the early Moderns saw this as license to dominate nature, however, the current Moderns take it as license to exterminate ourselves.

In place of this, a recognition must be reasserted that man is not divorced from nature. The pope very much endorses this viewpoint in his encyclical; though not all of Francis’ moves during his tenure might be considered reactionary, “Laudato Si” is most certainly a work of reaction. It is a document that posits man atop the created, material order—but not apart from it. Man is the highest corporeal entity in the great Chain of Being, but he can only stand firmly if the chain’s lower rungs exist as a foundation. Man exists in mastery over creation, and yet he himself is part of that creation, to a degree he cannot escape.

And, indeed, this view, this “integrated ecology,” as the pope names it, is the only view that will indeed preserve and uphold the garden of our world. The ideology that has endangered the natural order cannot abruptly pivot and preserve it; the Modern perspective on man, the Earth, and the universe cannot protect nature when it has been the original cause of nature’s devastation. It is the old, and a return to the old, that alone may see creation kept well, kept safe.

The pope’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, was also intensely focused on the environment. For Benedict, focus on climate change and environmental degradation serves a moral, philosophical, and theological purpose. It forces Modern man to confront the fact that he is not, after all, divorced from the created order, and he cannot do with it as he pleases without consequence. There are hard, fast things in nature, things which Modernity cannot will out of existence, for all its sophistry. Benedict saw in this recognition an avenue to illuminate for Modern man other things he cannot ignore, other things that have been true, are true now, and will be true in the future: moral truths, philosophical truths, truths about the very nature of reality and the human person.

Let us, then, approach care for the environment from a position of reaction. Let us preserve our traditional sea levels, as well as those forests, fields, mountains, and valleys which have so transcendentally left their mark upon our culture and our history. Let that created order which stands as a pillar of our tradition be tended, cultivated, and preserved for all ages to come. Let it be cold and snowy in winter; let it be mild and flowery in spring. Let the summers be hot and the autumns be crisp, as they have been since time immemorial. Let man forget his feverish dream of being a god, and let him recover his true duty as a steward.

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  1. Preserve traditional sea levels? A longer-term view will show that there is no such thing. The seas have fluctuated by hundreds of meters over the Earth’s history, and will continue to do so. At the Last Glacial Maximum around 18,000 BC, they were 130 meters lower. They were over 200 meters higher during the Cretaceous period.

    1. Exactly. If climate change is caused by natural forces, what if anything would be ethical to do to try to stop it?

  2. Global warming is a scam created by watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Like cultural Marxism, it is simply another attempt to raise the socialist “future” from the dead.

  3. I do not want this comment thread to turn into a thread about climate change.

  4. Sea levels rise and fall, climate is not constant, and the pagan mumbo jumbo globalist modernism the probable antipope Bergoglio preaches is a material heresy. There are some good parts to Laudano Si, namely the quotes from Guardini. Saint JP2’s and Pope Benedict XVI’s brand of “environmentalism” is very different from Bergoglio’s. For one thing, it is Catholic.

    I am a Catholic and a farmer. It is obvious to me that modernist man is incapable of Biblical stewardship of the earth. A proper return to strong traditional families, strong communities, and Christian and classical virtues is a prerequisite for stewardship of the earth, which will then be accomplished best by the practice of widespread landownership and subsidiarity.

    And if you didn’t want comments about climate change, you ought not to have written a post about it!

  5. I agree with the substance of the essay; much of the conservative disdain for the environment is ginned up in defense against the progressives who wish to use it as a weapon. I’m fond of an analogy I saw on Jr. Ganymede:

    “If a guy kept punching you, and every time he punched you he hollered, ‘Remember the Alamo!’, you might come to hate the Alamo.”

    JG likened the word “Equality” to the Alamo, and I agree, but I think it applies just as well to the environment.

    Generally I think Reaction is on the right track in focusing restoration efforts on Man first, but we shouldn’t think ourselves enemies of the environment. Backpacking, for instance, might be a profitable endeavor for many.

  6. Although your overall point was very good, making it about global warming was probably a poor choice. I’ll disregard whether or not it’s “real” and simply note that there are far more drastic threats to nature, which liberals (both the conservative and progressive versions) tend to ignore or even encourage. See the situation in the Amazon, where vast amounts of forest are being burned in order to plant sugarcane and soy for ethanol. A few degrees of warmer temperature may slightly damage environmental health, but habitat destruction, for example the growth of suburbs, is the environmental equivalent of a thermonuclear missile. I guess if those suburb’s current residents hadn’t been chased out of the cities for fear of their lives, we wouldn’t have this particular problem.

    Another issue: currently jobs which leech off the environment are high-status, while jobs which tend it are low-status. Urban “consultants” and “managers” sneer at farmers and lumberjacks as rural hicks, and make about 8 times as much money per hour worked, despite their “work” mostly consisting of creating cute powerpoints about “effective communication” and “diversity,” then taking turns presenting said powerpoints to each other in person by flying back and forth across the country in jet planes. The massive modern complex of fake work, in addition to its other myriad drawbacks, consumes vast amounts of natural resources for no tangible material gain.

    In any case I’ll note that the most important environmental protection laws, for example NEPA, were Nixon’s. This recency suggests that if the cult of liberalism is ever stopped, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for the right to reclaim its reverence of nature.

    1. Parasitism has always been high-status. Please review: soldier vs. farmer, aristocrat vs. peasant, employer vs. employee, government vs. subject, capital vs. labor, bourgeoisie vs. proletariat, etc. and so forth. There would be no society without power relationships, to be sure, but it is quite a mistake to think that, in disparaging the present manifestation of this invariable human phenomenon in general, you are doing anything but moaning about the intolerable exploitation you are experiencing at the hands of your betters.

      “Workers of the world, unite!”

      Or something.

  7. I agree with the substance of your article, that nature is part of man and should be seen as a thoroughly rightist position. However I take issue with your opinions on Laudato Si. While it may value the environment, it does so in an entirely wrong manner that belongs nowhere in true Catholic theology. It reeks of Pantheism, Secularism, and a general disregard for the true traditions of the Church and instead bows down to NGOs and their ilk.

  8. Things to avoid:

    Watching “The Daily Show”
    Admitting you watch “The Daily Show”
    Making exclusive definitions of what “reaction” is: stick to examples
    Pretending you know what others are thinking
    Confusing “reactionary thought” with “reactionary writing” and see above, don’t presume to define “reaction”
    Using cadences meant for spoken word in a communication meant to be read silently (“Let us, then,…”)
    Boring cliche adverbs
    Inferring causal a causal relationship and direction of causality from a single historical datapoint
    Talking about history when you are unfamiliar with the chain of events

    Is this too harsh? I could go on but will stop here as I have other things to do. The writer of this piece is not terrible, but he desperately requires a competent editor.

    1. Dismal Farmer,
      I made a similar comment about the need for editing over at Thermidor. Carlo gave me a really good response, and it kinda set me straight. I hope he won’t mind me re-posting it, but I think it’s something we need to keep in mind when commenting. I imagine his reply would hold true for Social Matter:

      “You do realize this is labeled as “blog” right?

      In regards to other pieces, O.K., sure, fair enough. But unless we get enough money to hire a copy editor this probably won’t change anytime soon tbh. The expectation of polished perfection, when we have a budget of about zero is a little over the top don’t you think? I decide what does and doesn’t get published on Thermidor, but I’m not a grammarian and never have pretended to be one. In my experience, unless the typos are really egregious, most people don’t really care too much.

      Thank you for the good faith criticism though, it’s always welcome


      DF, the piece I commented on had a lot of grammatical mistakes, way more than this piece. In fact, I didn’t catch any grammatical errors in this one.

  9. Well, overpopulation is a tremendous ecological problem, so it is absolutely essential to set in motion a comprehensive plan to reduce the world population to a fully sustainable 500 million souls.

    …Oh wait.

  10. We need not worry. Some cataclysm or other will undo the industrial revolution, so humans can reorganize our power structures according to small-scale husbandry patterns and other environmentally sustainable hierarchies.

    Of course, if this doesn’t happen worldwide, then whichever country decides to live this way will be enslaved, brutalized, and ultimately eradicated.

    Our hate runs deep.

  11. Environmentalism is one of those causes the Left has quietly tiptoed away from. I have written several blog posts about this. In sum, Diversity is at odds with environmental stewardship, hence the former environmentalists’ stampede to amorphous, non-corporeal “climate change.”

    “Environmentalism” is already equated with “racism.”

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