In the post-war period the crucial issue facing all Western political leaders was an expansionist Soviet Union armed with an ideology which appealed to a large proportion of the West's intellectual classes.
To be an avowed anti-communist at Melbourne University at that time was to put at risk promotion and collegial respect. The safe position for those who were not attracted to either Russia or communism was to adopt an anti-anti-communist disguise.
The Soviet Empire cracked when Russian troops failed to invade Poland after Lech Walesa, an electrician in the Gdansk shipyard, organized a trade union "Solidarity" and defied the Polish puppet regime in 1980. Nine years later the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union disintegrated.
The collapse of communism was a disaster for the Left. Although many people on the Left were anti-communists of a kind, they were still dependent on the Soviet Union serving as a beacon of hope for an imaginary socialist future.
To cut a long story short the Left found that environmentalism would serve as a new vehicle for their hopes of obtaining political power and using that power to transform mankind.
We have a labelling problem in this business of defining our opponents. I'll quote the passage in which Nisbet used the term 'permanent cadre'. He was writing in the American Spectator in 1983 about the Environmentalist movement.
As an historian, I am obliged by the record of the Western past to see Environmentalism - of the kind espoused by Commoners and Ehrlichs - as the third great wave of redemptive struggle in Western history; the first being Christianity, the second modern socialism.
The appeal of Environmentalism, in its more extreme manifestations at least, becomes irresistible to that permanent cadre of political and social radicals Western society has nurtured ever since the French Revolution. This cadre has never been primarily interested in the protection of nature, but if such a movement carries with it even the possibility of political and social revolution, it is well that the cadre join it; which, starting with the late 1960's, it did.
So the really big issue facing Western political leaders is how to deal with an ideology which at its core wants to shut down Western civilization – to de-industrialise the West – but which has a wide appeal not only to intellectual and media elites but also business elites.
The sharp edge of the environmentalist movement's demands is decarbonisation. Their narrative is as follows.
- Mankind's emissions of carbon dioxide (consequent to the burning of coal and oil) is increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and thereby increasing global temperatures.
- Unconstrained consumption of fossil fuels will lead to run-away temperature rise and an uninhabitable planet.
- Swingeing reductions in the use of fossil fuels are essential and since these must be global in scope, an international authority with power to oversee, and constrain, coal and oil consumption throughout the world is essential.
Now there are quite a few factual problems with this narrative but we have reached the stage where faith has left reality far behind. The facts don't matter anymore. We are dealing with religious imperatives which have replaced Christianity in the Western psyche.
A key test for the new Abbott government is how to respond to a religious threat to Australia's security and economic well-being.
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