Examining the "right-wing Green" critique of current-day America (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
Based on a draft of a presentation for the 2013 Conference of the Polish Association for American Studies (PAAS) (Eating America: Crisis, Sustenance, Sustainability) (Wroclaw, Poland: University of Wroclaw, Department of English Studies), October 23-October 25, 2013. The paper was accepted for publication in The Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 8 (2014), but additional work on the paper, necessary for publication there, was not completed because of unforeseen personal circumstances.
The right-wing Greens are deeply critical of various aspects of current-day American society. They are critical of both corporate consumerism, and of redistributive welfare policies. Both the commodity-consumption mode of life, and the so-called managerial welfare-state, are perceived as very anti-ecological. The right-wing Greens ask pointed questions about the bureaucracy, such as the ratio between the costs of administration, and the amount of money delivered to the actual needy person – and about how much real wealth have massive government bureaucracies ever produced.
The right-wing Greens point out that the ecological idealism which was possibly the best part of the 1960s movements, has failed to find much practical instantiation today -- America has become more commercialized and paved-over in the interval, and big corporations are more powerful than ever.
Although not usually religious, they criticize materialism when exercised at the expense of a holistic approach to the human being living in nature. They argue that, despite the attempts of some boosters of the welfare-state to distinguish between the "bad" materialism of corporate consumerism, and the presumably "good" materialism of redistributive welfare-policies, the differences between what could in both cases be seen as materialistic outlooks are minimal. Welfare-state proponents often claim to eschew a concern with economic values, in favor of "social" issues, but in many cases, their programs and policies amount to little else than getting themselves and their various client-groups "a bigger share of the pie". It is argued that a genuine sacrifice in the welfare-state administrators' and propagandists' consumption-lifestyle, on behalf of something like the ecological future of the planet, is comparatively rare. One of the most obvious inducements to conservation of such resources as electricity is to charge market prices for them, yet this is usually considered as leading to impermissible inequity.
The right-wing Greens see some pitfalls among common environmentalist arguments, as possibly leading toward a power-grab by so-called big government, in the creation of vast adjudicating agencies. Some of them suggest that strictly emphasizing property rights could be a salutary corrective for environmental abuses. One of their most frequent arguments is about "the tragedy of the commons" – the title of a famous 1968 article by biologist Garrett Hardin. It is argued that land or other resources held as "commons" tend to be mercilessly exploited, which leads to increasing environmental degradation. For example, why should anyone limit their water-consumption, if they are receiving it for free (or almost free), and know that even if they limit themselves, irresponsible others will use as much as they wish?
Indeed, the frequent absolving of individual responsibility today is seen as not conducive to serious conservation efforts.
They also argue, citing a long line of earlier American conservation efforts – represented by figures as illustrious as President Theodore Roosevelt -- that arguments for conservation should be focused on the preservation of a national ecological heritage, not necessarily on an abstract "planet". Indeed, it might be markedly more difficult to make arguments for sacrifices in one's own consumption, if one's national resources will invariably be drawn upon by ever-increasing immigration, and ever-increasing populations abroad. For example, the Kyoto Accord would probably have had almost unanimous support in Western countries in its first year, if it had extended, for example, to China and India or, indeed, to the entire world.
To be continued.
(An earlier version of this essay has appeared at Quarterly Review (UK) (April 22, 2015).)
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.