Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Conscience of a Progressive
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Conscience of a Progressive

Ernest Partridge


When I began my teaching career in the mid-sixties, it rarely occurred to me that I would live to see the twilight of American democracy. The mid-sixties were the high tide of liberalism, as Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” rolled through Congress and as Barry Goldwater, the “conscience of conservatism” suffered a crushing defeat in the 1964 election. In the New York City area, where I lived and worked at the time, Ayn Rand and her disciples would appear from time to time on talk radio and TV (where I was an occasional participant), but they were generally regarded as voices at the fringe and as curiosities. Little did we suspect what was ahead.

Today, the once-vibrant, varied and free press has been largely assimilated into six mainstream media mega-corporations that are ill-disposed to publish or broadcast opinions that dissent significantly from conventional conservative dogma. The ballot has been “privatized,” as thirty percent of the votes are cast, and eighty percent of those votes compiled, on machines manufactured by, and with secret software written by, private corporations that are openly in support of the Republican Party. Thus many suspect (myself included) that the government of the United States may no longer be answerable and subject to recall by, the voters. In other words, that government may no longer “derive its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

If so, American democracy may be dead, or if not, then critically and perhaps terminally injured. What remains – for how long, we do not know – is a remnant of free expression in the remaining independent media and the internet. It is in this theater of operations that this philosopher, with no political power and meager financial resources, chooses to take a stand and resist, with the best resources at my disposal: my words and the talent and ideas acquired over four decades of teaching, research and writing.

My professional specialty is environmental ethics, and moral philosophy (ethics), with penumbral interests in political and social philosophy, and philosophical analysis. As a journeyman philosophy professor, I have also, of course, taught the usual array of introductory courses. Throughout those four decades, I have frequently published in scholarly journals and participated in scholarly conferences, and portions of that output will be adapted and incorporated into this book. Since I retired from teaching twelve years ago, my output of writing has expanded considerably. In addition to the usual conference and journal papers, I have published over two hundred essays on the internet, and these have been written a style that is accessible to a general audience. The internet essays, which appear on numerous progressive websites, originated first at my personal website, The Online Gadfly (www.igc.org/gadfly), which I launched in 1998, and then in The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org), established with Dr. Bernard Weiner in November 2002. Most of my internet writing has dealt with contemporary social, moral and political issues, prompted by my grave concern about unfolding threats to American democracy, the natural environment, and world peace. Some of this work is also incorporated into this book.

But the book is not an anthology, it is a focused and integrated work containing a considerable amount of newly composed material. It’s theme and objectives are simple and straightforward: a defense of political progressivism (i.e., “liberalism” in its traditional sense, uncorrupted by right-wing “spin”), and a critique of the radical right-wing and libertarian doctrines (falsely labelled as "conservative") that now dominate political discourse and policies. This theme and these objectives direct my research, and determine the selection and adaptation of my forty-year accumulation of lecture notes, research materials, books and files, conference papers, published papers, and internet publications.

A brief word about my philosophical and religious perspective may be in order, although they will both be elaborated in the course of the book. My political philosophy might be characterized as “contractarian,” owing in some degree, to the influence of John Rawls’s landmark book, A Theory of Justice, which was the subject of my doctoral dissertation, “Rawls and the Duty to Posterity” (University of Utah, 1976). My contractarian views preceded my reading of Rawls, though this outstanding book clarified and validated these views.

Religiously, I describe myself as a “secular Christian.” I reject traditional Christian theology, but endorse (with some critical reservations) the ethics of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus I am in polar opposition to the fundamentalist religious right which endorses a type of traditional Christian theology as it rejects the ethics of Jesus – the latter a contentious point, which I intend to defend in the course of the book.

From my perspective of secular, analytic philosophy, and historical scholarship, I do not accept The Holy Bible to be “the word of God.” The book, or more correctly the anthology, contains both great moral wisdom and moral atrocity, along with an abundance of mythology. The authors are largely unknown and no original texts are known to exist. The books of the Bible are believed by most scholars to have been written from between the sixth century BC and late in the first century AD.

I make this notation about my approach to The Bible as fair warning to the reader. In my youth I studied the Bible, first as a believer and then as a skeptic, and so I have a better than average acquaintance with it. In this book I will frequently be citing Chapter and Verse from the Bible (usually but not exclusively the King James Version), but never as an offer of evidence or proof. Usually, these citations will be directed to the religious right. In such cases, it matters not that I don’t believe that these are the inerrant words of God; what matters is that the “targets” of my criticism believe this. It is my conviction that much (but not all!) fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity, and in particular those factions enlisted in the radical right, are a betrayal of the ethics of Jesus, and that the New Testament clearly testifies to this betrayal. And I fully intend to point this out, with frequent citations from The Bible, as I challenge the religious right to come to terms, not with the arguments of this agnostic philosopher, but with what they believe to be the “inerrant” words of their Lord and Savior.

It's nasty work, but somebody’s got to do it!

For the rest, I will offer arguments based on evidence available to any educated reader, and to the ordinary experience and general fund of news familiar to most citizens. Progressivism/liberalism is, at its foundations, a reasonable, common-sense, political orientation, based upon a wealth of historical information and practical experience, much of it acquired through trial and error and eventual resolution. The same cannot be said for the dogmas of the radical right, which are promulgated through “spin,” distortion, fallacy, and constant repetition of vacuous slogans.

Or so I will argue in this book.


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .