Merchants of Despair:
Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists
and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism
By Robert Zubrin
Encounter Books, 2012
318 pages, $16.95
To order: amazon.com
The unexamined life is not worth living, said Socrates. By the same token, the unexamined political position is not worth holding.
Robert Zubrin’s book examines the philosophy that underlies one side of the struggle to value human life and dignity. It is not a “Catholic” book. If the author holds any religious convictions, the reader is given no hint.
But it is a book that any Catholic who defends the value of the human person should not only read, but also underline and study. To defeat the enemy, you must know the enemy. Zubrin reveals the enemy and documents it in a little more than 300 readable pages.
Zubrin is a rocket scientist (literally!). And so his book is driven by data, not emotion. Thus, 52 of the 318 pages are footnotes, and another 12 are an index.
Consider the following political positions: Compel Catholic employers to provide abortifacients to their employees. Ban the provision of cheap, safe, replaceable energy. Make foreign aid contingent upon the receiving country’s implementation of population-control measures. Ban the use of insecticides which save millions of human lives. Restrict immigration.
What all these have in common is their roots in antihumanism — the belief that people are the problem. As the Club of Rome summarized it in 1974: “The World Has Cancer, and the Cancer Is Man.”
If people are the problem, what is the solution? The answer in more or less explicit terms is: fewer of them. And the suppressed premise is: fewer of the poor ones, the ignorant ones, the dark-skinned ones.
In some parts of the world, it is “fewer of the Christian ones.” Three generations ago, in one part of the world, it was “fewer of the Jewish ones.”
Where do attitudes like this come from? Where do such attitudes lead? Answering those questions is the substance of Zubrin’s book.
The first half examines the intellectual origins of antihumanism. The second half examines how the idea underlies current environmentalist policies and documents the compulsory worldwide population control that has been the foundation of U.S. foreign-aid policy since 1965.
In 1798, Thomas Malthus said resources were finite and that if poor people had too many babies mass starvation would be the result.
In 1859, Charles Darwin said that since it is the fittest who survive, compassion toward the unfortunate is not merely useless, but morally wrong, because compassion interferes with the course of nature.
The next step was to believe that it is the state’s duty to assist nature and advance the “superior stock.” By the late 19th century, the avant-garde in England thoroughly embraced eugenics — along with the avant-garde in the United States, who crafted miscegenation and immigration laws accordingly.
Zubrin documents how eugenics is linked to environmentalism. In 1913, the neo-pagan tract Man and Earth, which became the bible of the continental back-to-nature youth movement, “laid out in full the conservationist case against humanity, technological progress, industrial development and advanced agriculture that has played a central role in the environmental movement ever since.”
Today, declares Zubrin, “Humanity … stands at a crossroads, facing a choice between two very different visions of the future. On one side stands antihumanism, which, disregarding its repeated prior refutations, continues to postulate a world of limited supplies. ... On the other side stand those who believe in the power of unfettered creativity to invent unbounded resources, and so, rather than regret human freedom, insist upon it.”
The pro-life struggle is part of a bigger struggle for the future of humanity, and Zubrin’s book shows how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Connie Marshner writes from Arlington, Virginia.