A Greener Shade of Right

Who says conservatives can’t be conservationists?

| March / April 2003

Several years ago, at a conference for conservative college students, historian John Lukacs argued that Greens were the natural allies of the right. At the climax of his talk, he surveyed the young audience and magisterially proclaimed: “You cannot be conservative and be on the side of the concrete pourers and the cement mixers.” The students flocked around Lukacs after his talk.

You might not know it from the exhibit tables at most conservative gatherings, stacked as they are with explicitly anti-environmental flyers, articles, and books, but America’s conservative movement was once intimately linked with conservation. The influential conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote warmly about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was published in 1962 and frequently held forth on the dangers of pesticides, the protection of endangered species, and the preservation of farmland. In fact, a near-apocalyptic tone suffused the environmental writing of many conservatives during the first decades after World War II. So, how did we get from there to where we are now, with environmentalists firmly established as the favorite whipping boys of conservative intellectuals, pundits, and politicians?