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Read Scruton, Greta, then clear up your mess


SO, DO you think the Blessed Greta stayed behind to help with the clean-up? Me neither. Having instructed her Glastonbury acolytes (and the rest of us) on the protocols and obligations of diligent environmentalism, her supplicants responded by turning that small corner of Somerset into a rubbish tip of galactic proportions.

I don’t think your schtick cut through, Greta. You told the child to tidy his room: he responded by pouring his bottle of Coke all over the carpet. Maybe he was bored? One day maybe you’ll get there.

 It’s almost as if the environmental agenda is something you announce rather than practise; that it’s a blanket to attach yourself to as an excuse for ignoring the obligations of actually living it.

Sir Roger Scruton – had he been a festival attendee (not as unlikely as you might think) – would have helped out with the clearance of the mountain of plastic because he was a man of action, not merely of thought.

Here are two types of thinker: the Platonist, for whom the world of ideas is central, versus the Aristotelian, for whom metaphysics and practical action are intimately connected. Plato would have written the Ideal Car Manual whilst being unable to drive; Aristotle would have been tinkering with the engine.

Scruton was a Platonist when it came to the life of the mind, but an Aristotelian when it came to how to discharge the obligations which come with the conclusions which attend it. He was a person of action as much as of keyboard. You don’t set up an underground university at the height of the Cold War unless you are committed to certain acts of personal bravery.

In his 2012 book Green Philosophy, Scruton argues that the proper way to conceptualise the planet is not to think we own it, nor that we should be in thrall to it (that’s idolatry), but rather to think of our relationship to it being one of stewardship. It is a charge to keep, not a resource to be squandered: it is a version of unquantifiable capital.

We are, he argues, custodians of something bigger than us, and that involves acknowledgment of Edmund Burke’s idea that our obligations to others include not just the living but also the dead and the yet to be born. Which is, or should be, the founding principle of any conservative worldview. The ‘green agenda’ in its current iteration acts as an imposition of a timeless secular orthodoxy; one which has no sensitivity to history, nor any imagination about the future.

The obligation of stewardship requires a recognition of the importance of localism. We cannot steward the globe, but we can practise habits of care for our part of it: our home. This is where conservatism – properly described – and environmentalism coincide: in the idea of a love of place (Roger called this oikophilia). Love of place is a primary condition of attachment and that attachment is a necessary condition of love.

The globalist idea – that environmentalism should be a one-size-fits-all imposition of a global carbon-emission calculus ignores the subtleties of real life.

Which brings us to Scruton’s Aristotelian side. He didn’t just write this stuff, he lived it, having resigned his tenure as a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck to gamble as a writer and maintain a working farm in Wiltshire. The farm was also a factory of ideas . . . the Platonic and Aristotelian came together in the annual seminars and apple-picking days.

Scruton’s attachments were not merely in the abstract. He recognised that there are obligations of thought. The Greta Thunbergs of the world see only one side of that. When you go around the world, lecturing its residents on how they should feel, you are at the same time robbing yourself of the potential love of place that comes with staying home and reading a book.

Greta: read a book. Travel in your mind with Scruton’s ‘Green Philosophy’.

And then get back to us. Or don’t. But if you do: clear up after yourself.

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Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh is a writer.

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