The problem with real conservatives: there
aren't enough of them.
by Carl Pope
When House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (Ohio) cosponsored the bill by Democratic
Representative Elizabeth Furse (Ore.) to repeal the "logging without laws" salvage timber rider, he was
the first member of the House Republican leadership to break with the timber industry. His action was that
of a consistent conservative--an endangered species in today's Congress.
American conservatism is composed of two main currents, the libertarian and the traditionalist. "Logging
without laws" and the many other current vehicles for environmental destruction violate the tenets of both.
Kasich takes a libertarian approach, advocating a totally free market and opposing government handouts
to anyone--including the big timber companies that receive virtually unlimited government subsidies
through the salvage rider (see Field Truths). For similar
reasons, the libertarian Cato Institute opposes continued subsidies to ranchers grazing their herds on
Another libertarian ideal is for all social transactions to be voluntary. It would follow that people should
not be compelled to accept the pollution of their air or their water supply without their consent. Rigorously
applied, libertarian principles would yield restrictions on pollution more stringent than those embodied in
any current federal and state pollution laws (although they would be enforced through individual lawsuits,
rather than by the bigger stick of government regulation).
Traditionalists represent the other wing of American conservatism. They honor an intellectual heritage
that goes back to the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, and share many concerns with the religious
community. They care about the values of our civilization, among which economic wealth is only one of
many. Another important value is "piety," a concept most fully developed by Richard Weaver, the founder
of modern American conservatism. The spirit of piety, Weaver argued in 1964, requires that humans
discipline their will through respect for nature, other people, and the past.
"[M]an has a duty of veneration towards nature and the natural," Weaver wrote. "Nature is not something
to be fought, conquered and changed according to human whims . . . man is not the lord of creation . . .
but a part of creation, with limitations, who ought to observe a decent humility in the face of the
Another key American conservative thinker was Russell Kirk, who inspired Barry Goldwater, among
others. In 1953 Kirk denounced American attitudes toward the natural world in words considerably more
radical than those used by the Sierra Club at that time. "The modern spectacle of vanished forests and
eroded lands, wasted petroleum and ruthless mining," he wrote, "is evidence of what an age without
veneration does to itself and its successors."
Kirk remained steadfast throughout his life. In 1989 he wrote, "In America we live beyond our means by
consuming the portion of posterity, insatiably devouring minerals and forests and the very soil, lowering
the water table to gratify the appetites of the present tenants of the country."
But if some conservative thinkers have stayed faithful to their heritage, many avowedly conservative
politicians have abandoned libertarian and traditionalist principles. The agenda of the anti-environmental
leadership in Congress and the state legislatures--logging without laws, mining and grazing at public
expense, denying citizens the right to sue polluters, allowing corporations to hide information about what
they spew into the air and water, and granting bureaucrats and politicians godlike powers over the
continued existence of other species--is an affront not only to the environment but to three centuries of
Opposition to this decidedly impious agenda comes more from the religious community--both traditional
and evangelical--than from the burgeoning numbers of right-wing think tanks. The ideals adopted by the
latter are corporate, not conservative. The reason is simple. According to Edward Luttwak of the rightist
Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Any conservative who wishes to conserve will not be
funded." When the National Taxpayers Union joined the Sierra Club and other conservationists in
releasing the Green Scissors report on wasteful, anti-environmental federal subsidies, for example, its
corporate contributors threatened to cut it off for selling out to the greens.
Selling out is the problem, but not in the way these nervous corporados fear. Rather, the only connection
the so-called conservatives in Congress have with a real free market is that they have sold out to the