Some Postmodern and Conservative Reflections About Nature and Our White Christmas
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
1. So this was the first significantly white Christmas in Georgia during my 31 years here. If I were a libertarian "conservative," I would add: some global warming! But we postmodern conservatives would never say that. We are skeptical both about Al Gore's inconvenient truth and all that and about those who are knee-jerkish skeptical about all such Greenish claims. It snows around here once in a great while, and Christmas is bound to take a hit a couple of times each century.
2. We postmodern conservatives are prudent environmentalists. That is, we're anthropocentric environmentalists. We view nature from the point of view of what's best for the flourishing of human life.
3. No doubt nature would cheer if our species were to disappear. We're the species capable of trashing the planet to satisfy our superfluous or unncessary desires. That's one of the big differences, of course, between us and the dolphins. It's not one that does us proud.
4. But we add that there aren't any dolphin presidents, princes, poets, priests, philosophers, physicists, or plumbers either. Maybe it's worth it that nature take a hit from a species able to display such diverse forms of great individuality.
5. Members of our species--some of course way more than others--are ticked off at the nature that's indifferent to the existence of particular individuals or persons. More than ever, particular people these days are saying nature is out to kill me, and I aim to do something about it. Self-obsessed people living a very long time (far beyond the time required to do their whole duty to their species) and having fewer and fewer children couldn't possibly be good for nature.
6. Or maybe they are! Today's individuals, more than ever, have trouble thinking beyond their own beings or of themselves as part of a whole greater than themselves. They think they know they aren't really just or even mainly part of nature, after all. According to Solzhenitsyn, sophisticated particular people these days tend to believe that when they are extinguished (by nature), being itself is extinguished. So maybe our individualism or personalism is, from the big-picture view, a form of human or species extinctionism.
7. There are popularizing physicists, such as Carl Sagan and very recently Stephen Hawking, who tell us to make our sacred cause--now that God is dead and all that--the perpetuation of the species. They warn us that our species may only have a comparatively short time left on this planet--maybe only hundreds of thousands of years or even less. So we better get moving diversifying our existence throughout the whole cosmos. But who cares about the future of the species? Certainly not nature! And not a personal God. A Christian, I think, would doubt that we should regard indefinite species perpetuation as particularly important. Each of us, the truth is, exists for a moment between two abysses (as Pascal and Tocqueville write), and there's nothing we can really do about that (without God's gracious help, at least).
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