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.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,