Seven Principles of Stewardship
- Religion and tradition matter. We begin “in the beginning,” affirming that our duty of stewardship is grounded in Genesis and the Western tradition that followed. We agree with what Russell Kirk deemed the first canon of conservatism: “Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom are religious and moral problems.” We are not anti-science or anti-reason, far from it, but we affirm that science cannot answer every question that is important to the living of a full life, and we believe fashionable sorts of “reason” that quickly jettison tradition are themselves most unreasonable. The Judeo-Christian scriptures tell us that all animals are not equal, but humanity’s greater status is not a license to wantonly exploit the creation. Instead, men and women are called to wise stewardship grounded in the mercy that has been shown to them from above.
- Life and liberty matter. Though imperfect men, our nation’s gifted founders were correct to stand their theory of government on securing the bedrock rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Government has a fundamental role in protecting the lives of citizens from conception through natural death. Unfortunately, the federal government has in too many ways abdicated this basic responsibility while at the same time overly interjecting itself into the legitimate liberties of those pursuing a sustainable happiness. We stand against these troubling trends.
- The constitutional process matters. Even laudable goals should only be pursued through the proper means. The founders’ fight for liberty resulted in a Constitution that is itself a resource to be stewarded. The Constitution created a federal government that has enumerated powers with the balance reserved to the states and the people. The best governmental means adhere to this division and the concept of subsidiarity, placing public policy decisions primarily into the hands of elected officials at the most local level possible. Even so, solving environmental problems that transcend state boundaries often requires federal action, but such statutes should be enacted and implemented in ways that respect the Constitution’s separation of powers.
- Markets matter. Free markets are extraordinarily effective tools for distributing goods and services, and governments should encourage their smooth operation, not attempt to replace them with centralized planning. Markets work best when transparency is present, but, unfortunately, abuses of animals and the environment often purposely occur out of sight—whether that be in the bowels of a factory farm that bears little resemblance to the bucolic image projected on a label or behind a facade viewscape that masks a wasteland where mountains have been blown to bits for a few tons of coal. Bringing such realities to light and fostering the internalization of externalities like pollution help markets to function more efficiently over the long term. The goal of any regulatory intervention, however, should be to oil the gears or prevent overheating, not to rebuild the engine of commerce.
- Virtue matters. To work well, our governmental and economic systems must be bounded by moral parameters and strong customs that reflects those virtues. The best measure of a society’s worth is often seen in what it decides is not for sale or up to a vote. Though perhaps difficult to quantify, this moral capital is nevertheless essential for the continuation of a thriving community and it demands perpetual care. As Benjamin Franklin declared, expressing sentiments echoed by numerous other founders, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
- Nature and beauty matter. The long term security of any human society is dependent on healthy and sustainable ecosystems and the agricultural processes operating within them. Just as much as other basic frameworks such as morality, family, economy and government, these tangible natural assets are key pillars worthy of active conservation. In addition to the practical foundations for life, nature also provides much that elevates our existence. From the tranquility of a stream to the living grandeur of an African elephant, the natural world captivates our senses and inspires the imagination to soar.
- The future matters. Good stewardship rests on truly absorbing the notion that we do not permanently own anything. Even our most private property will one day be in the hands of others. We temporarily manage what we have received from a Master who intends his bounty to benefit all his creatures and remain usable by later generations. Such a mandate does not require strict preservation—simply burying our talents—but it does demand wisdom over waste.
All of these principles must be properly balanced in order to support the base of a flourishing society. No one by itself is sufficient. Liberty unchecked by virtue becomes license. Dogmatically preserving options for the future can atrophy to a dangerous paralysis in the present. Putting a market price on everything can short change intrinsic values; putting a market price on nothing can lead to chaos. Navigating through these friction points requires the patient art of discernment, and while we may at times still stumble, at ESA we will endeavor to keep all these principles before our eyes throughout the journey.