Roger Scruton representerer en form for konservatisme som burde appellere til nordmenn, eller skandinaver for den del: kjærlighet til landskap og forfedre, og det ufødte liv. Miljøvern, omsorg for naturen, ligger nærmest innbakt.

Scruton hyller tanken om forvaltning. De nålevende har bare jord og kultur til forvaltning, på vegne av de som gikk foran, og de som følger etter. Tanken om noe midlertidig, en forvaltning man skal stå til ansvar for, gir andre assosiasjoner enn begrepet «personlig eiendom».

Scruton definerer dagens forbrukerorienterte markedsliberalisme, som gjør forbrukeren til konge. Forbruker sender bare regningen videre.

The real cause of the environmental problems we face is not so much large private enterprises or the pursuit of profit or even capitalism as such. It is the habit we all have of externalizing our costs. Consider air travel. If somebody offers you cheap flights, you will take them rather than the more expensive flights offered by a company that puts some of its profits into rectifying the environmental damage caused by airplanes. This is human nature: we try to ignore the damage done by our unnecessary journeys by air if someone else bears the cost of them.

Similarly, suburbanization forces millions to go to work in cars everyday when they might have been walking. It requires vast acreages of the countryside to be covered with buildings and roads, destroying natural ecosystems. Yet it goes ahead because it is something that people want, and the cost can be easily externalized onto other generations or people in other parts of the world.

Then there is nondegradable packaging. Those who live in cities don’t see the effect of this because street-cleaners gather it up and push it into landfill sites. But in the countryside, where trash blows around unpursued, you see it in every yard—a plastic bottle or a piece of packaging—and you can foretell that since these bits of rubbish are immortal, one day the entire world will be covered with a layer of plastic, and there will be no life beneath it.

Normally, if someone tries to force another person to bear the cost of his own misdemeanors, that other person retaliates, either by filing a lawsuit or by throwing the rubbish back over the fence. This conflict immediately opens the way to political solutions. If two people are in conflict, and if they have been brought up in a democratic culture, they will recognize that the best way to solve their problem is through a sustainable compromise rather than a lawsuit or a shootout.

Scruton har ingen tro på at staten skal kunne ordne opp. Løsningene blir stående fast i byråkratiet. Heller ikke den venstreorienterte miljøbevegelsen har svaret: det blir for mye frelseslære og sosialt medlemskap og tro på store kollektive løsninger.

Scruton tror på lokale løsninger, både nasjonalt og ned til grendeplan. Det er her ideen som forvaltningsansvar trives best, der hvor folk lever og de naturlig relaterer til sine døde og etterkommere, levende som ufødte.

So what is to stop us from externalizing our costs onto future generations? Within our own families, we recoil from doing such a thing. I don’t want to dump the costs of my life on my son, even though I shall be dead when he feels them. Nor would I wish my grandchildren to pay the price of my selfishness.

It is here that I think we Anglophone conservatives can show our relevance. The common law of England developed, through the branch known as equity, a concept that has no real equivalent in Napoleonic or Roman legal systems: the concept of the trust. Trusteeship is a form of property in which the legal owner has only duties, and all rights are transferred to, and «held in trust for,» the beneficiary. Through the device of the trust, English and American law has been able to protect the interests of absent generations by compelling the current owners of property to set their own interests aside. The trustees of a bequest must respect the wishes of the testator and in so doing—by holding their own desires and present emergencies in abeyance— will serve the interests of future generations. This form of ownership, and the moral idea contained in it, ought to be regarded as defining the conservative approach. We don’t solve environmental problems by abandoning our attachment to private property or free enterprise, but we can make sure that these notions are shaped by the spirit of trusteeship.

In response to Rosseau’s doctrine of the Social Contract, Burke agreed that society is, indeed, a contract. But it is a contract between the living, the unborn, and the dead. We mistreat the unborn when we take away the legacy that they are entitled to inherit, and we mistreat the dead by regarding ourselves as the sole proprietors of the things that they have left to us. In ignoring and despising the dead, we traduce the unborn: such, for Burke, was the lesson of the French Revolution, and it is a lesson repeated in our times by the revolutionary movements of the 20th century.

In A Political Philosophy, I wrote,

When Burke invoked our feelings towards the dead, he was placing in the center of political order a universal emotion which, he believed, could safeguard the long-term interests of society. But this motive extends no further than our local and contingent attachments. Through institutions of membership and the ‘little platoons’ that shape our allegiances we can extend our social concern beyond our immediate family. Nevertheless, the sense of a shared inheritance does not extend to all mankind, and the respect for the dead – which is the respect for our dead, for those who have made sacrifices on our behalf – peters out at the social horizon where ‘we’ shades into ‘they.’

I went on to say why, therefore, we still have a problem:

Modern societies are societies of strangers. And one of the underlying conservative projects in our time has been to discover the kind of affection that combines such societies together across generations, without risking fragmentation along family, tribal, or mafia lines. Hence the importance, in conservative thinking, of the nation and the nation state.

Environmental protection, like charity, begins at home. Treaties like the Kyoto Protocol will have no effect if we have not already resolved to keep our house in order. Moreover, treaties entered into with dictatorships have a completely different meaning from treaties with democracies. There is no way in which the Chinese authorities are going to enforce an environmental treaty against themselves, and if they condone its enforcement against others, it will be because they see a competitive advantage. An environmental treaty with the Swedes, however, is quite a different matter. They will try to outdo us by showing how clean they are.

Under Mao’s leadership, China threw away all of its social capital—its culture, its philosophy, everything it knew—because Big Brother told it to. China has come a long way since the Cultural Revolution, but what guarantee have we, in a state without opposition and with only patchy caricatures of law, that it won’t do with its ecological capital what it did with its social capital? China has the most wonderful collection of mountains and rivers and forests, but there is little or no attempt to protect these things. Crazy dam projects, deforestation, uncontrolled pollution, and the relentless construction of coal-fired power stations all contribute to the destruction of the Chinese environment, while state-controlled agriculture propels the rapidly advancing desertification of the north. Nor are the towns protected. Old Shanghai is designated a «historic district» not to be destroyed, but street after street is demolished to make room for whatever gigantesque project has captured the whim of the politburo. In the face of decisions made at the top, the ordinary Chinese is powerless, and there is nothing to which appeal can be made that will shield him from reprisals should he protest. Not surprisingly, therefore, the attitude of trusteeship has gone. If one day it returns, it will not be the result of an international treaty but because the Chinese have regained their freedom and with it the respect for the dead and the unborn that is the natural byproduct of freedom.

What then is the conservative solution, if there is one? A revival of trusteeship is the only hope for the future, and this attitude is natural to human beings. They enter the world through no choice of their own, to be greeted, as a rule, by the love of parents and the security of home. The trustee is the one who recognizes that his home, and all that it means, are inherited things, things to be safeguarded and passed on. This attitude exercises itself at the local level in the voluntary associations and small institutions of civil society. It is the core component in that associational genius that Tocqueville discerned in the American people. It is the legacy of a political order that regards people, not rulers, as the source of authority and the fount of responsible decision-making.

Environmental movements on the Left seldom pause to consider the question of human motivation. It is so clear to them that something must be done that they leap to the conclusion that it must be done by state power and imposed by law. The problem with that approach is that it makes mistakes into permanent legacies and provides no incentive to ordinary citizens to do what they are told. Conservatives, on the whole, are more respectful of human nature and will recognize in the attitude of trusteeship a feeling to which we automatically tend, when given the freedom to exercise it.

The job of protecting the environment is one that citizens must undertake, and we will—just as soon as we see it to be ours. The problem is not the lack of state initiatives but the surfeit of them and the general attitude, enhanced by every treaty and every leftist publicity stunt, that state control, not individual freedom, will make us take our responsibilities seriously.


Roger Scruton is a philosopher and former editor of the Salisbury Review. This essay is adapted from an address to the Toqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy.

A Righter Shade of Green