Environmentalism vs. Democracy

In his article "All the Leaves are Brown," Steven F. Hayward takes environmentalists to task for their doomsday scenarios and failure to see that free enterprise and global capitalism have improved the lives of most of the people on the planet (Winter 2008/09). He wants us to believe that if our ancestors had followed the logic of radical green theorists (who are really reds), we would still be hunters and gatherers, scratching out a meager existence. Environmentalists are full of self-loathing and have formed a new politically-correct anti-human religion, based around the eco-apocolypse and the need to redeem ourselves by doing everything good, God-fearing defenders of free enterprise hate. Well, some of that may be true, but it is not true of us.

We are criticized by Hayward, citing one quotation, on the grounds that in our book, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, we make some favorable comments about China's authoritarian capacity to deal with environmental problems potentially better than liberal democracies can. The objection itself is far from clear, but we surmise that the core issue for a free enterprise mind is that we, like some other environmentalists, believe saving the planet is a value that overrides democracy and freedom.

The present state of the global economy, arguably the end result of free market capitalism, counts against the view that unrestrained market forces will always deliver the goods. It is the same unbridled freedom that has brought us to ecological collapse. Fortunately the 20th-century views expressed in Hayward's essay are now being superseded in the 21st century by those of a president who recognizes the connection and brings a green new deal as part of his reform agenda.

What in our opinion raises the most trouble for a libertarian position is how ultimate values are justified. Is Hayward really implying by his critique that freedom is more important than life itself? Is this a modern day version of "better dead than red?" If so it is absurd. No life, no freedom. Why should freedom be the ultimate value? Because it produces lots of money? Why should money then be the ultimate value? How do you stop the regress?

Actually, we agree with some aspects of the free-enterprise critique of environmentalism. Many environmentalists do have a religious mission and are motivated by leftist values rather than by science. Thus, the majority of environmentalists are silent on immigration issues because of political correctness and the desire to be ideologically pure. But some neoliberals favor big populations because this means more business, and are at one with the politically correct Left on this issue.

For libertarians it seems that the market and money are God. Their eschatology focuses upon those "satanic" forces that would compromise economic growth and technological development. Traditionally, Christianity recognized human limits because of original sin. Ecological considerations imply limits, so isn't this why free enterprisers are so hostile to environmentalism? They don't see limits because, as secular humanists, they see themselves as God.

We need to move on from the divisive 20th-century thinking expressed in this essay. Twenty-first century thinking and writing needs to include the words "positive," "cooperation," "inclusion," "discipline," and "vision," with new ideas as to how humanity can move forward.

David Shearman
Joseph Wayne Smith
University of Adelaide


One can only describe this so-called essay as a diatribe. Its commissioning would appear to stem from an empathy with those who challenge the increasing consensus of expert opinion about the significance of climate change. Consider the partial language its author uses in contrasting the reflections of "intelligent dissenters" with his citing "that the public isn't jumping on the band wagon despite a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and full-scale media hysteria" and "some cracks starting to appear in their [the Greens'] dreary and repetitive storly line" (my italics).

Mr. Hayward argues that pessimism has frequently featured in prognostications about the future; that all too often, that mood proved unjustified; and that therefore we should not be panicked into abandoning the pursuit of economic growth—a change of direction we would subsequently regret.

In his overview of nine books on the environment, he reveals a disturbing, wanton failure to understand the science on this and its implications. Recent analysis of the change in the planet's health has revealed inescapable evidence of an accelerating decline toward the demise of life on earth. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased since 1750 to a level not experienced on the planet for nearly a million years, and looks to be uncontrollable. It is now possible to sail to the North Pole in the summer. One wonders what would persuade Mr. Hayward to desist from treating the subject in his inexcusably dismissive and light-hearted manner.

Though including my book among those "discussed," he reveals that, at best, he has only read it cursorily. He makes just one indirect reference to it, taken from an exchange I had in a radio interview on its themes. In this, I warned that we are heading toward a situation in which we will have the choice either of government taking draconian steps to avert ecological disaster or of sticking firmly to the democratic diktat that such steps are only acceptable if the majority of the electorate agrees. It is the imminence of our being faced with this dilemma that prompted me to allude to the prospect of that horrendous choice as an inevitable outcome of our current failure to address the issue of climate change adequately.

Indeed, I think that illustration of the genuineness of his democratic principles can be deduced from the fact that he calls me to task for "openly" advocating rationing. Are your readers to assume that he does not subscribe to the democratic proposition that everyone has an equal right to the planet's finite capacity to absorb further greenhouse gas emissions if the climate is not to be gravely destabilized—or does he think it is not finite?

The near—dismissal of concerns about the pursuit of individualism and its replacement with "soft despotism" implies the questionable belief that people have an inalienable right to do what suits them best with little regard to the wider consequences for society at large and, most disturbingly, for the generations following ours. It is all too obvious that the primary role of politicians is to intervene when the exercise of that right diminishes fundamental freedoms. The problem is that this role is not being properly fulfilled. This is most apparent with regard to climate change. It is very clear our survival depends on carbon-intensive lifestyles having no future. This must be seen as a shared responsibility.

Dr. Mayer Hillman
Policy Studies Institute
United Kingdom


Steven F. Hayward replies:

David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith are quarrelling with an argument I did not make and a viewpoint I do not have (where in my essay did I declare for libertarianism?) while disavowing none of my central criticism that they are indifferent to democracy and individual liberty—and indeed are inclined to authoritarianism when they prove unable to persuade the public to support their proposed strictures. Some leading environmentalists openly admit this. Paul Ehrlich, to his credit, has long endorsed "coercion" without qualification or euphemism, and has proposed national and international institutions of immense economic power that would be intentionally isolated from popular political control. Yet he is seldom if ever disavowed by environmentalists. Old-fashioned liberals are justified in their suspicion of anyone who can admire, even in passing, China's authoritarianism.

Environmentalists usually argue against what they call "false choices" (i.e., that economic growth and environmental protection are incompatible), yet Shearman and Smith insist upon a categorical tradeoff between liberty and life itself, which false choice ironically reinforces my point. Fine: I'm willing to accept that but would, along with most Americans, insist on Patrick Henry's ringing reply.

This becomes important when placed against the backdrop of what can only be called environmentalist monomania on the subject of climate change. Though my essay was concerned with neither the science nor the policy of climate change, Mayer Hillman can't help recycling, like a medieval cleric, the procrustean argument from authority about so-called climate denial and retreat: the "consensus" of science. Along the way he lets fly this howler: "It is now possible to sail to the North Pole in the summer." No, it isn't; not even close. There's this stuff called scientific data on the question: ask the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Illinois.Who's ignoring science now?

I mention this particular point because it raises a larger issue. Even if one accepts the "consensus" of bureaucratic science (i.e., the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]), science says "what is," not what to do about it or how to do it.All three correspondents presume that drastic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions are the only course to deal with climate change. One doesn't need to be a climate skeptic to question this, as my discussion of Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger in the essay suggests. (The silence of all three correspondents here about Nordhaus and Shellenberger is telling, by the way.) The modest first steps to near-term GHG reductions are already faltering; Shearman and Smith's reference to Barack Obama bringing "a green new deal as part of his reform agenda" will surely prove to be one of the more embarrassing sentences they've written by the time this year is out—cap and trade won't even come to a vote in Congress. Meanwhile, a few mainstream climate scientists in the IPCC (Tom Wigley in particular comes to mind) are arguing that we need to investigate alternatives to emissions reductions such as "geoengineering" (manipulating the solar radiation balance through various means that would change the earth's reflectivity of sunlight). Yet most of the leading climate campaigners oppose basic research into the question. When NASA proposed holding a two-day workshop on geoengineering a few years ago, it generated shouting matches in the hallways at NASA headquarters. This is not science—this is ideology at work.

Winston Churchill once remarked that a fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject, and the fanaticism of the extreme climate campaigners such as Shearman, Smith, and Hillman is reason enough for liberal-minded people to be wary of accepting either their scientific representations or their solutions. They miss my essay's main point and that of much of my other work on this subject: only an environmentalism that is compatible with human liberty and democratic institutions will prove sustainable (to use the favorite green term) over time.

* * *

Civil Rights and the Constitution

In "Civil Rights and the Conservative Soul" (Winter 2008/09), responding to William Voegeli's "Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement" (Summer 2008), Hadley Arkes writes that "the constitutional ground for the Civil Rights Acts is still a puzzle in our law"—meaning that the Commerce Clause "is immanently implausible as the ground for…penetrating past traditional barriers to strike at racial discrimination in private settings." Plainly, Arkes argues that the 1964 Civil Rights Act has no visible means of constitutional support.

Voegeli's reply to Arkes deflects his criticism by taking the word "puzzle" literally. Thus undaunted, Voegeli insists on the substance of his argument, namely that modern conservatives had better get on board the idea that the government can do pretty much what it thinks necessary to right great wrongs, with the caveat that some way should be found to limit "the reach of federal power." What way, one might ask? A Constitution? He tells us that objecting to casting it aside for a noble purpose was ignoble.

Indeed the heart of his argument is that conservatives in the 1950s and '60s—preeminently William F. Buckley, Jr.—hid racist sentiments behind constitutional arguments. We cannot know whether Voegeli would have pulled the race card on a Buckley famously able to defend himself. (In any case, it was in bad taste for the CRB to shove the race card into Buckely's fresh grave.) More importantly, Voegeli's deflection of Arkes's subtlety leaves the central issue insufficiently clear.

In 1964, both Buckley and Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds. While I cannot vouch for their sincerity, I vouch for my own at that time, and now. In the early '60s no one took seriously the proposition that the Constitution empowered the federal government to outlaw racial discrimination by private parties. But many were swept along by the argument that stretching the Commerce Clause to empower the government to do just that would be only a little thing, and for such a good cause! I was impressed, on the contrary, by the contrast between law and arbitrary power, and had read enough history to recall that tyranny often begins with beneficences. Lincoln said that whoever has the power to turn slaves into free men has the power to turn free men into slaves. It seemed to me, then, that constitutional virginity differed little from the other kind. Give it up once, even for a good cause, and it is gone. The next cause is sure to seem even more compelling, until self-indulgent habit overwhelms the very notion of restraint. Forty-five years later, this seems even truer.

In the Civil Rights Act, Congress and the president found—and the public accepted—that the power to regulate who must provide services to whom exists in the Commerce Clause or at least in some indefinable emanation thereof. It should have surprised no one that ambitious people would rush to conjure up out of the Constitution and laws powers unwritten and previously unimagined. In 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun conjured an unlimited right to abortion out of an emanation of the penumbra of the 4th Amendment. He might just as easily have found it elsewhere. If anyone were to ask by what power the Obama Administration proposes to require health care providers, regardless of personal or religious objections, to take part in the delivery of abortion, latter-day legal alchemy would concoct it easily enough by commingling the rights that emanate from the 4th Amendment's penumbra, which we imagine mandates abortion, and the Commerce Clause's penumbra, which we imagine prohibits persons who offer public services from "discriminating." But no one even bothers any longer to gin up transparent excuses for doing what they want. If Mr. Voegeli had asked by what legal right the U.S. government takes over the auto industry, hires and fires its executives, nationalizes banks, requires the use of certain fuels and penalizes the use of others, declares carbon dioxide a pollutant, and considers taxing the methane exhausted by bovine (and why not human?) digestive systems, he surely would be "puzzled." I am not puzzled, and doubt that Arkes is.

Angelo M. Codevilla
Plymouth, CA


William Voegeli replies:

Angelo Codevilla hints gently that he does not share my concerns and conclusions about conservatism's record on civil rights issues. For CRB readers who are not CRB archivists, let me summarize the thesis of a long article: the conservative position on civil rights during the decade after National Review was founded in 1955 derived from the conservative project to re-establish limited government. This overarching goal, conservatives argued, could not be reconciled with any federal measures proposed at the time to end or circumscribe racial discrimination.

The spectrum of conservative opinion about race relations ranged from the belief that Jim Crow was deeply distressing and odious, to the position that it was the least problematic response to America's racial tensions. Some conservatives staked out one consistent spot on this spectrum, while others availed themselves of most of the existing bandwidth. Whether they considered Jim Crow profoundly or trivially bad, however, almost all conservatives from those years opposed federal civil rights legislation as a cure worse than the disease. All William Buckley could say in 1961 to blacks who wondered how and when their second-class citizenship would end was that "some problems are insoluble."

Buckley's position in 1961 is, essentially, Codevilla's in 2009. The latter calls ending racial discrimination a "noble cause," but says that the federal government's disdain for the constitutional impediments to advancing that cause is directly responsible for every subsequent domestic policy outrage. For my failure to join him in applauding the civil rights position Buckley and Barry Goldwater took 50 years ago, Codevilla accuses me of giving aid and comfort to the enemies—some wicked, some stupid—of limited government.

One problem with Codevilla's argument is that I repudiated Buckley's 1961 position four years after Buckley repudiated it, when he said, "I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary." Buckley's retraction is as unambiguous as it is slight. Codevilla faults me, and the CRB, for challenging Buckley's contemporaneous assessment of the civil rights movement only after he was dead. Actually, he had been challenged on it long before, mostly by liberals and memorably by Michael Kinsley in an e-mail exchange reprinted in Slate, an exchange I mentioned in my article. Neither the CRB nor I thought that conservatives should cede this discussion, and this part of Buckley's legacy, to liberals.

Codevilla's carpet-bombing rhetoric obscures the one aspect of his argument that is carefully drawn. He confines himself to disputing the federal government's constitutional authority to "outlaw racial discrimination by private parties." Few conservatives were so scrupulous 50 years ago, when it counted. The argument most frequently employed at the time was that the federal government had no legitimate role to play in outlawing racial discrimination by private or publicentities. Consequently, they maintained, there was nothing to be done about dual school systems; ordinances mandating segregated beaches, pools, drinking fountains, restrooms, and buses; or the systematic denial of the franchise to blacks throughout the South. These depredations would end when their perpetrators wanted them to end, and not before.

The conservative constitutionalists of half-a-century ago used special reading glasses that rendered the 14th and 15th Amendments invisible. Those who present themselves as defenders of the Constitution are most credible when defending all of it, not just those portions they find useful. The two amendments are germane because, as Randy Barnett argued in the CRB's Fall 2008 correspondence section, they justify "federal enforcement of civil rights, while denying a plenary power in the federal government to do whatever it pleases."

My own preference would be to follow the distinction Codevilla suggests: get the federal government out of the business of regulating contractual agreements between individuals, but uphold its power to defend citizens from discriminatory actions by state and local governments. If constitutional scholars such as Arkes and Barnett have a different approach to repudiating both racial discrimination and unlimited government, I would study it very carefully. Where to draw the line between the constitutional enforcement by the federal government of the rights guaranteed by the 14th and 15th Amendments, and the unconstitutional exercise of federal power that Barnett rejects and Codevilla derides, is a challenge. (Perhaps even a puzzle.) But the arguments about where to draw that line do not justify concluding that the guarantee of equal protection and voting rights is such a slippery slope that two of the Constitution's amendments should be ignored lest the entirety be wrecked.

* * *

Bureaucrats' University

Carnes Lord accurately describes ("…And We're Here to Help You," Winter 2008/09) many of the reasons why in American government today, "civil servants are neither"—to borrow Churchill's quip. But there is something circular in Lord's endorsement of a government-run service academy for bureaucrats, a civilian counterpart to West Point. It's sadly true, as he says, that having lost its grip on such fundamentals as citizenship and patriotism, "the private educational sector in the United States is no longer capable of preparing students adequately for public service." So why should we expect that a new national university, drawing from the same brackish intellectual well, could do any better?

Looking into the well-organized movement for a U.S. Public Service Academy, any conservative would be chilled at the assumptions its promoters hold and the company they keep. Hillary Clinton was a prime sponsor of their legislation while in the Senate.Democratic governors Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Bill Richardson of New Mexico were headlined as endorsers in their latest newsletter.I can't share Professor Lord's hope that "Obama…may move out smartly on this…idea."His administration could only make mischief with it, guided as they are by the belief that whatever government does is intrinsically good, and usually superior to what's done outside government.

Unless and until America's decadent elites, rightly skewered by Lord, rediscover a constitutional ethos that respects liberty and limited government, the USPSA concept is a nonstarter. Trying to advance that rediscovery through tax-funded shortcuts will only make matters worse. Transnational progressives scornful of the American Founding are already in oversupply.

John Andrews
Colorado Christian University
Lakewood, CO


Carnes Lord replies:

I take John Andrews's point concerning the likelihood that a U.S. Public Service Academy would not be all that conservatives would want it to be. Indeed, that likelihood is probably greater now than when I wrote my review, given the nascent Obama Administration's leftward lurch and the new Democratic Congress's lack of interest in bipartisan solutions. So perhaps the political moment for this experiment hasn't yet arrived, if it ever will. I would simply note that the USPSA "movement" as such includes a considerable number of respectable citizens. It is not clear to me that it would be sensible for conservatives or Republicans to write off this idea given the avenues that will be open to them to influence its direction should it become a reality in the future.

* * *

Health Care Rights

In his essay, "Is Health Care a Right?" Andrew Busch overstates his case by claiming that "[t]here is no evidence that [the founders] considered health care necessary for realizing natural rights," and that with the "rare example" of guaranteed legal counsel, the founders' natural-rights understanding did not suggest any entitlement to any "positive government-funded service" (Winter 2008/09).

There is significant evidence, starting with Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, that in the founders' view the government's duty of protection included not only the securing of person and property against interpersonal harms but also the provision of the necessities of life to the truly poor.

Still, as Busch suggests, the governmental health care and other positive rights that contemporary liberals have in mind are much more extensive than the austere maintenance that the founders believed was the duty of state or local, and not the federal, government.

David R. Upham
University of Dallas
Irving, TX


Andrew E. Busch replies:

Professor Upham is quite right to draw attention to the fact that, at the time of the founding, Americans had a vigorous locally—based system of provision for the poor depending on a combination of private and public measures. In his Notes, Jefferson described in some detail Virginia's system, which depended on an assessment levied on "tytheable persons" by the vestrymen of each parish, to pay for opening private homes to those unable to provide for themselves, and, in extreme cases, for public workhouses. Needless to say, this system was far removed both in spirit and practice from modern-day advocates' preference for the "right" to welfare. For his part, Jefferson touts this system for its practical effectiveness and moral good, but is noticeably reluctant to suggest the poor had a natural right to it. Instead, he refers to aid as a matter of charity.

As Upham makes clear, we agree that the American Founders did not believe in government provision of health care and welfare as natural rights, or as a federal responsibility, in the same way these are conceived by modern liberals.

* * *

The Founders' Politics

I read with interest and pleasure James Hankins's review of my book Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory under the English Republic, and I am grateful that he took time to wrestle with that work ("Republic of Devils," Winter 2008/09). In most respects, he does a fine job of situating my argument, and he rightly highlights the areas where I break with the scholarly consensus—regarding, for example, Machiavelli's attitude concerning Roman religion, Lucretius' atheism, the covert infidelity of the Averroists, and the import of Averroism and Epicureanism for Machiavelli and early modernity more generally.

Hankins is also right to see my book in part as an attempt to chart the origins of what Jonathan Israel has dubbed the Radical Enlightenment. There is, however, one point where he errs. I do not regard the American Founders as Machiavellians—although I do think that the species of republican theorizing that began with Machiavelli and that was developed by Marchamont Nedham, Thomas Hobbes, James Harrington, and others thereafter had a profound impact on their thinking.

Let me clarify what I mean in saying this. I am not, strictly speaking, a political theorist. The focus of my work has always been political practice. If the account in my new book is correct, philosophers in the early modern period made a concerted attempt to shunt aside the Christian religion and make philosophy central to political life. In doing so, they articulated a critique of both ancient theory and ancient practice and instituted a new way of thinking about republican politics, and I would argue (as I believe Leo Strauss would) that one cannot fully understand modern practice if one does not attend to modern theory.

This new way of thinking influenced the American Founders, but ancient theory and practice retained a certain hold on their thinking, too. The doctrine of the separation of powers as it is defended in The Federalist is an attempt to find a middle path between the spirit embodied in ancient republican practice and the critique of that practice embodied in modern political theory. Put simply, although there is a sharp break between ancient and modern republican theory, the break between ancient and modern republican practice is not and cannot be as sharp. The reason for this is that, insofar as modern republican statesmanship constitutes an attempt at establishing and sustaining self-government, it is unavoidably political in precisely the sense that ancient republican statesmanship was.

This can be put in another way. Machiavelli's rejection of classical republicanism was, at its heart, antipolitical. It reduced to a mere struggle for power what had always been understood as an ongoing contest arising from principled disputes concerning what Aristotle called the advantageous, the just, and the good. The political science underpinning the statesmanship of the American Founders made considerable concessions to modern political theory, but it deliberately left space (albeit circumscribed space) for what the ancient Greeks understood as politics—i.e, for public deliberation concerning the advantageous, the just, and the good. For Americans, the legacy left by the English republican experiment was exceedingly complex.

Paul A. Rahe
Hillsdale College
Hillsdale, MI


Correction: In Barry Latzer's essay, "The Great Black Hope," in our Winter 2008/09 issue, the data presented in Table B is for "White Males, 14-24" and "Black Males, 14-24."