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Review: Bliese, The Greening of Conservative America

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{ Now playing: Breakfast w/ Amy, Love Gift
Recent movies: Reptilian*; Return of Mothra I & II**;
Recent books: Judges; I Timothy; Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles; John R. E. Bliese, The Greening of Conservative America; Shusaku Endo, Silence; Norton selections from Spenser, The Faerie Queene; excerpts from The Mystical Poetry of Rumi (trans. Arberry); Brust, The Lord of Castle Black;

The Greening of Conservative America is a book I wish I'd had in hand 10, 12 years ago; the conservatives I came of age with were all men of honor and conscience, but had never seen anything of this type, and it unfortunately showed. Certainly, I was influenced by their attitudes, as well as the knowledge that proper enforcement of law is worth quintuple the value of any new regulation. An ounce of remediation is worth a pound of legislation, one could say. This is all true, but not really the stuff of policy analysis. Policy analysis is the name of the game in Bliese's Greening of Conservative America, happily. In 11 chapters, all deliciously endnoted (note to publishers: footnotes are still better), John Bliese covers three things very well: what is conservatism (properly understood), why conservatives ought to be concerned with environmental issues, and how conservative principles can lead to better environmental policy.

Bliese's discussions about the meaning of "conservative" in the American context are extremely valuable, and would themselves make interesting reading. The discussions are primarily in the Introduction, chapter one ("Misconceptions About Environmentalism and Conservatism"), and especially chapter three, "Nine Conservative Principles". The misconceptions addressed in the first chapter, while directed toward fellow conservatives, equally dispel myths about connections between environmental concerns and other political positions. The nine principles identified in Greening of Conservative America, however, are a great achievement; they explain succinctly why conservatism is a compelling political philosophy which emobodies the best American traditions. Bliese's arguments through the rest of his book flow clearly and explicitly from these nine principles. His criticism of fellow conservatives, or those posing as such, is often harsh, but rooted in his principles.

The principles of conservatism, once defined, are used to show how making policy to protect and conserve the environment, is both right and prudent. Along with criticism of the conservative record, Bliese keeps up a rolling assault on "command and control" bureaucratic policies fostered by liberal policymakers for environmentalist goals. Bliese's second chapter is devoted entirely to a debunking of what the simply calls The "Evironment Versus the Economy" Myth, which motivates many right-wingers. In chapters on pollution, public lands, species extinction, and sustainability, conservative concerns are connected to the problems in each field. Especially brutal is his assault on the self-induced disasters of special-interest pandering with public lands.

Each problem is well-defined, current solutions are examined for their virtues and shortcomings, and Bliese gives examples of policies which either have successfully or probably could improve protection of the environment consistently with conservative principles. By documenting all of his examples, Bliese can credibly extrapolate from both working and non-workable solutions to policy changes which accomplish both conservative and environmentalist goals.

One interesting aspect of the book is its final chapter, which is devoted solely to the popular idea of "Free Market Environmentalism". While in theory, it sounds like a thoroughly conservative idea, Bliese is extremely critical, arguing that except as a cover for abandonment of the environment, it is destined to fail. Because Bliese has defined his own conservative values very carefully, he can criticize the "Free Market Environmentalist" position for its excesses in elevating economic hyper-libertarianism over other values. The critique is both necessary and helpful, since many of the policies Bliese proposes are market-oriented, and he forestalls criticism by libertarians of being merely half-hearted.

In conclusion, I would unreservedly recommend The Greening of Conservative America to anyone remotely interested in environmentalism, conservation, conservatism, public policy, or even politics in any way. It is a book which every voter should read, and hopefully send to the local Congressional representatives!

John R. E. Bliese, The Greening of Conservative America. Westview Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8133-3802-6

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