At the outset, I will admit that this review of Thomas McCaffrey’s seminal book on the history of and devastation wrought by environmentalism from its earliest days to the present, Radical by Nature: The Green Assault on Liberty, Property, and Prosperity, cannot begin to do it justice. As I underscored the importance of Lisa McGirr’s groundbreaking book, The War on Alcohol, about how Prohibition fostered the growth of the pervasive, all-encompassing State, I can only point with some humility to the heavy lifters of these two books and to the stellar and indefatigable efforts of their authors to bring their works to fruition and to the public eye.
Radical by Nature could easily be retitled, The War on Man. McCaffrey begins his history and exposé of the whole environmentalist movement, from olden times and brings it up to the present. With meticulous detail, a compelling narrative, and abundant documentation, he paints the anti-man, anti-civilization trends and motives behind the environmentalist movement in all its variegated forms.
From the Publisher, Stairway Press:
Environmentalism is a good idea that gets carried to a bad extreme on occasion by a few radicals. This is the standard critique of environmentalism—and it is false.
It echoes my own position on “radical Islam” (a fatal redundancy, to be sure). The press release goes on to say that environmentalism:
…is not a benign set of ideas promulgated by well-meaning idealists whose efforts are occasionally hijacked by extremists. It is a radical ideology that is moving inexorably toward its logical, entirely predictable conclusion.
McCaffrey writes on his Amazon page, and this cannot be overemphasized. We are not dealing with Girl Scouts or mentally “challenged” do-gooders:
Environmentalism is not about reducing pollution to manageable levels, as most Americans believe. It is about eradicating it completely, even if it means eradicating industrialism in the bargain, a process that is already well under way. It is not about conserving marginal amounts of energy by devising more efficient light bulbs and car engines. It is about eliminating our use of fossil fuels and replacing them with far smaller quantities of energy from wind and solar, even though this will cripple our economy. It is not about preserving a few tracts of scenic landscape here and there, as in our national parks and wildernesses. It is about channeling all new development into already existing urban centers and then preserving the vast majority of our land in its natural state. Expect the familiar call for mass transit to be accompanied one day soon by calls for mass housing. (See my article, “Global Urban Renewal”.)
Environmentalism does not aspire to make a few adjustments to a capitalist industrial system grounded in the rights of individuals. It aspires to abolish that system entirely and to replace it with one based on government command and control. We tried individual freedom, say the environmentalists, and it brought us to the brink of environmental destruction. Now freedom is a luxury we can no longer afford.
Environmentalism will vastly diminish our comfort, health, wealth, safety, and security from foreign enemies, and it will ultimately deliver us to tyranny….
That “predictable conclusion,” in short, is nothing less than the obliteration of individual rights and of private property, and the institutional regimen of enforced impoverishment of Americans and of people around the globe – in the name of climate “stability,” in the name of the new god, “Mother Earth.”
McCaffrey begins at the logical place to discuss environmentalism vs. natural rights, to establish his premises on which to later argue against environmentalism and for individual and property rights – with the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) and with the Founders. He devotes the very first chapter of Radical to the ideational innovations of John Locke.
Locke’s Second Treatise (1690) changed the course of political philosophy. The idea of natural rights was new in the history of mankind.
Locke started from the idea of a “state of nature.” If there were no government, if men lived in a state of nature relative to each other, there would still be right and wrong, things men ought and ought not to do. Locke referred to these moral principles collectively as the “law of nature.” The means that men have to discover this natural law is their faculty of reason. Locke said that the law of nature is reason. Or, as Jerome Huyler has suggested, the fundamental moral tenet implicit in Locke’s conception of natural law is “follow reason.” (p. 11)
And Reason, which is that Law [of nature], teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions. (pp. 11-12)
In a subsequent chapter, McCaffrey discusses the debt of political philosophy John Adams and Thomas Jefferson owed Locke. Adams wrote:
Adams was clear that liberty and property are inseparable. He wrote:
Res Populi, and the original meaning of the word republic … had more relation to property than liberty. It signified a government, in which the property of the public, or people, and every one of them, was secured and protected by law. This idea, indeed, implies liberty; because property cannot be secure unless the man be at liberty to acquire, use, or part with it, at his discretion, and unless he have his personal liberty of life and limb, motion and rest, for the purpose. It implies, moreover, that the property and liberty of all men, not merely of a majority, should be safe; for the people, or public, comprehends more than a majority, it comprehends all and every individual. (p. 35)
McCaffrey writes of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence:
Liberty, in turn, is inseparable from property; Adams was as aware of this as John Locke had been. The American Founders’ commitment to individual liberty is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It would be difficult to compose a more concise and eloquent summary of Locke’s political philosophy than this. All the more curious, then, is Jefferson’s substitution of “pursuit of Happiness” for “property” in the familiar trio of rights. (pp. 35-36)
McCaffrey devotes several pages to Jefferson’s curious but anomalous substitution of “the pursuit of happiness” for “property.” This is no light-weight discussion of important principles and historical precedents. The author maintains this level of intellectual acuity throughout the work. (Parenthetically, and historically, it may have been John Adams or Benjamin Franklin who made the substitution as they emended Jefferson’s document, with Jefferson’s agreement. The Princeton discussion here about the Declaration’s rough draft is one of several such studies.)
Jumping far ahead to McCaffrey’s discussion of the assault on reason and reality by the Pragmatists and the Progressive, he writes:
In its early years, Progressivism drew heavily upon the philosophical movement called Pragmatism. Three Americans composed the core of the Pragmatic movement in philosophy, Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952). Among the services these men provided to progressivism was a redefinition of what constitutes truth. (p. 112)
And what did the Pragmatists seek to achieve? McCaffrey writes:
To men who could write “We hold these Truths to be self-evident,” the meaning of the word “truth” is clear; a statement is true if it corresponds with the facts of reality. This is the correspondence theory of truth, and it goes back to Aristotle. “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false; to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true.” This definition of truth is based on the assumptions that something exists, that man can know this something, and that truth is a correspondence between what a man knows and what this something in fact is. (pp. 112-113)
The Pragmatists, however, would disagree with a simple statement that “it is raining”:
“It is raining” would not mean that actual drops of water are actually falling from an actual sky. For the pragmatist, the “meaning” of a proposition is not some objective fact of reality but, rather, the subjective experiences that men come to associate with that proposition. (p. 113))
McCaffrey continues about the Pragmatist’s treatment of rain:
For the pragmatist, this means that if I were to go outside, I would see drops of water falling from the sky, feel drops of water hitting my skin, hear drops of water hitting the ground, taste water on my tongue, and undergo myriad other experiences that I would come to associate with the statement, “It is raining.” The sum total of these experiences would be the meaning of “It is raining” for the pragmatist. “It is raining” would not mean that actual drops of water are actually falling from an actual sky. For the pragmatist, the “meaning” of a proposition is not some objective fact of reality but, rather, the subjective experiences that men come to associate with that proposition. (pp. 113-114)
Depending on his “experiences,” a Pragmatist may decide this is an elephant, not a duck.
In another vein, a Pragmatist would itemize all his experiences about a duck and conclude he observed a duck: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” His abductive reasoning, likely adjudicated by the “probability theory,” however, would be invalid if even one of those observations or experiences was absent. In reality, the duck would actually exist, even without the Pragmatist’s observations. To a Pragmatist, if his “experiences” are in the least skewed, he might conclude he was seeing an elephant, and he would need to start all over again to reach a “probable” truth.
McCaffrey hits another stride by tracing of the evolution of the late 19th and early 20th century conservation movements to environmentalism. He discusses the intellectual underpinnings of conservation and the resulting fascination with “natural nature,”
Progressivism aimed to expand the power of government in the United States. In the later decades of the nineteenth century there appeared a number of individuals and groups who prefigured Progressivism in this respect, who aimed specifically to extend the power of government to manage the nation’s forests, waterways, wildlife, and even its scenic beauty. Around the turn of the century, these resource protection groups would coalesce into a larger movement that comprehended all their respective goals under the heading of “conservation.” And, because all of these groups aimed, to one extent or another, to expand government power, they were easily absorbed into the larger Progressive movement….(p. 202; Italics mine.)
The chief proponents of conservation were George Perkins Marsh, George Bird Grinnell, John Wesley Powell, and Gifford Pinchot. Each of these men, in private and in a government capacity, advocated the expansion of federal lands and the adoption of conservation policies. McCaffrey writes:
When Progressivism arrived on the scene, about 1890 or so on the local level, and Progressives began to hammer away at the constitutional protection of property rights, their efforts helped to clear the way for just the sort of government intervention on behalf of resource protection that the various resource guardians had been promoting for years. Although many of the resource-protection efforts predated the advent of Progressivism, after 1890 many of the more prominent advocates of conservation were themselves Progressives. It was no coincidence that the most prominent conservationist of them all, Theodore Roosevelt, ended his political career as an arch-Progressive. By the end of Roosevelt’s second term, conservation would come to be identified as an integral part of the broader Progressive movement. (pp. 240-241)
The principal aim of the early conservationists was to remove Federal forests from any kind of development or exploitation by private interests. It was, frankly, to remove these lands from economic realities and to bar any private individual interests from interfering with the designs of “nature’s” appointive and self-appointive guardians.
By the time Roosevelt left office in 1909, there would be 149 forest reserves covering 193,000,000 acres. By then, the federal government would no longer be just a temporary owner whose primary purpose was to transfer federal lands to private citizens; it would be a permanent owner and manager of a vast forest empire, and Pinchot would be instrumental in effecting the transformation. Pinchot once said that government needed to be run more like a business. This would have made little sense to the men of 1789 with their idea of limited government, but for a government determined to manage a nation’s natural resources, it did made a certain sense, and in his management of the National Forests Pinchot showed how to do it. (pp. 245-246)
With Theodore Roosevelt’s leaving office in 1908, centrally organized conservation began to wane, although the idea of conservation, and a great many of the government initiatives and private organizations would prove lasting. The conservation movement continued to influence events right up until the 1950s and 60s, when it would be subsumed by a new movement called environmentalism. (p. 249)
Part III of Radical is devoted almost entirely to the growth and establishment of environmentalism as an official government policy. McCaffrey delves in detail into the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Wars on Energy and the Auto, the various Wars on virtually every product of an industrial civilization (e.g., nuclear energy, oil, shale production), all of which, to oblige our “guardians” of the environment, must come under stringent control, regulation, or even appropriation – i.e., seizure – by the government, not so much anymore, for the “public good,” but for the environment qua environment, shorn of any human interest or value. Any one of the subjects discussed by the author would deserve a book-length treatment.
The Environmentalists’ imaginary capitalist nightmare and bogeyman; a city of darkened skies and perpetual rain. A still from Blade Runner (1982). But, this is exactly the kind of world the Progressives, Environmentalists,and other Globalist Planners wish to force men into: a society in which men are pressed together in undifferentiated masses with no privacy, no freedom, and no prospect of escape from the city or from each other.
Personally, the most salutary demonstration of the “environmental” mind set for me was news of the fate of the Galileo spacecraft that was launched in 1989 and was deliberately obliterated in September 2003.
I remember emailing NASA, when it was decided to destroy the Galileo orbiter, which had been circling Jupiter between 1995 and 2003, by sending it to be vaporized in Jupiter’s atmosphere. I asked why the spacecraft could not just be left to orbit the planet indefinitely, as a token of man’s achievement, as evidence its existence. I could not believe the explanations I had read in the newspapers.
Someone at NASA replied to my query, writing that Galileo, which had run out of maneuvering fuel, might crash into Io or another Jovian moon, and contaminate it with terrestrial microbes. This was after being in space for fourteen years and continuously subjected to life-killing cosmic rays and radiation from Jupiter. The explanation defied reason. Yes, the NASA respondent replied to me with some indignation: Galileo might despoil the pristine lifelessness of Io or another moon with man-made microbes!
And that was a bad thing, remote as the likelihood of contamination was on any of the moons? Microbe-carrying meteors, comets, and asteroids, regularly crash into all the solar bodies, including Earth, our own moon, Mars, Titan and other bodies. That is somehow permissible. But risk a man-made object ruin one of those bodies?
Out of the question! Man may not leave his mark anywhere. He must be erased out of existence, as though he had never been there.
On Earth, as well as on the toxic, sulfur-coated moon Io or on the frozen, cosmic ray bathed plains of Ganymede.
Radical by Nature is a veritable treasure trove of information on the deleterious consequences of man-hating environmentalism. When people celebrate “Earth Day,” it is not man’s place on Earth that they are marking. The “extremists” among them are hoping for man’s extinction.
For your own edification, to bolster your own certitude that you are right in the knowledge that environmentalists are as mortal your enemies as are Islamic jihadists, I urge readers to read Thomas McCaffrey’s indictment of environmentalists and environmentalism.
Radical by Nature: The Green Assault on Liberty, Property, and Prosperity, by Thomas J. McCaffrey. Las Vegas, NV: Stairway Press, 2016. 580 pp.