Revisiting Robert Nisbet on Environmentalism

Prejudices copySince I’m in a mood to beat down on environmentalists today, I decided to dust off the late Robert Nisbet’s charming 1982 book, Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary. The book was a direct emulation of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, and the entry on environmentalism is not to be missed.

Samples include:

It is entirely possible that when the history of the 20th century is finally written, the single most important social movement of the period will be judged to be environmentalism. . .

Its present objective is little less than the transformation of government, economy, and society in the interest if what can only be properly called the liberation of nature from human exploitation. Environmentalist is now well on its way to becoming the third great wave of redemptive struggle in Western history, the first being Christianity, the second modern socialism.

One might well argue that environmentalism as it manifests itself in practice does not represent a decisive break with or successor to socialism, but why quibble. Actually Nisbet does later make this point:

In less than a century, however, environmentalism has become, without losing its eliteness of temper, a mass socialist movement of, not fools, but sun worshippers, macrobiotics, forest druids, and nature freaks generally, committed by course if not yet fully by shared intent to the destruction of capitalism.

And about energy specifically:

Almost overnight such anticipated or proposed new sources were focused on just one: solar energy. One of the most ancient of human religions, sun worship, was of a sudden restored to glory and power.

Nisbet’s treatment holds up pretty well after more than 30 years.