John Gray

Arming the Little Platoons

Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet


Atlantic Books 457pp £22 order from our bookshop

‘What leads people to spoil their environment, and what leads them to protect it?’ According to Roger Scruton, this is ‘the real question, that of human motivation’, that environmentalists have failed to address. The answer, he believes, is that people act to protect the environment to the extent that they can think of it as their home. Thinkers of the left – including many environmentalists – have either not properly acknowledged or actively disparaged the human need to settle in a particular place. Partly for that reason, they have tended to belittle the idea that caring for the environment is best done by what Edmund Burke called ‘the little platoons’. Instead, mainstream environmentalists have looked to mass movements and governments to curb corporate power and ultimately create a new economic system. The results of this sort of environmentalism have been at best mixed. For example, Greenpeace’s attack on Shell’s plan to dispose of the Brent Spar oil facility at sea can only be described as foolish and counterproductive; while abolishing capitalism altogether – as was done in the Soviet Union and Mao’s China – led to the worst ecological disasters of the twentieth century. Against this type of activism, Scruton argues that Greens can only succeed in protecting the planet if they embrace the insights of conservative philosophy and focus on building local institutions.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,