When last did you hear a conservative spokesman deplore yet another six-lane highway, yet another fast-food alley, yet another graceless subdivision, yet another Super Wal-Mart or Lowe’s that sucks the life out of small village businesses, yet one more onslaught against neighborhood and nature that is masked under the name of progress? Unless it is a bridge in Alaska from nowhere to nowhere, you will not hear the deepest red-dyed congressman denounce the progressive uglification of our natural inheritance, as though beauty is of no concern. Have you flown recently from Newport News to Boston at 25,000 feet on a clear day and gazed down upon the horror of American civilization? What man hath wrought! What we have done to this beautiful land? Dear God, forgive us! But when last did you hear a conservative oppose a new mall because it is ugly, an affront to the eye, accustoming thousands of human beings to dehumanizing blows against the aesthetic sense until it is benumbed? The good, the true, and the beautiful are inseparably joined. One cannot damage one without doing harm to the others.
This relates to something I’ve written about before, which is that when people love their communities they’re more likely to take part in shaping its environment. They’re more likely to be a part of the civic mediating institutions that influence the sort of things that Buckley writes about.
One of the reasons I think environmentalists get lost in abstractions is because it seems like they often forget that humanity is a part of the landscape. I’m not sure environmentalism per se matters without a recognition that the beauty of the natural world is worth conserving because people exist to admire and enjoy themselves as part of it.
This is why I think the cultivation of a person’s interest is the first-order concern of environmentalism, and that appeal is most effective when revealing the beauty of the wild world and the inexplicability of our place in it.