Aldo Leopold's political thought : particularizing American environmental dialogue.


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In this dissertation, I examine the writings of the twentieth-century conservationist Aldo Leopold as examples of American environmental political thought. I argue that studying Leopold’s work can help Americans with differing perspectives on why and how to protect the environment debate productively by focusing on particular aspects of the human-nature relationship. Leopold articulates a strong case for each of America’s four great environmental traditions: Biocentrism, which advocates protecting nature for its own sake; Progressivism, which sees conservation as a means toward increasing social justice and equity; Republicanism, which views a healthy human-nature relationship as essential to the flourishing of self-governing communities; and Romanticism, which sees in nature a pathway to individual spiritual fulfillment. In doing so, however, Leopold shows that environmental dialogue can only solve important problems if citizens share a common understanding of “the land” as an ecological whole composed of soils, waterways, plants, and animals – including human beings. This vision particularizes environmental thought, resisting a tendency toward abstract thinking about “the environment” while retaining a holistic perspective. Citizens with different motivations for protecting and preserving nature can understand one another if they possess this notion of land, rooted in scientific observation while retaining a notion of human flourishing. Leopold identifies multiple paths through which individuals can reach this understanding. Ethical reflection can help humans see their unique position within the land community as a grant of moral responsibility to preserve it. Ecological science, conducted by both professional public servants and private amateurs, provides a tangible picture of the natural world and inclines its practitioners to act on it. National history and elements of American society such as hunting, farming, and family life show citizens how to use the land well, and how understanding it can enrich their communities. Learning how to read land as a text, and how to wonder at its complexity, introduces an element of the transcendent to political life without devolving into abstract mysticism. All these paths operate within a prudential liberal republican framework, one within which Americans can understand and build a healthy relationship with their natural surroundings.



American political thought. Environmental political thought. Public administration. Conservation. Republicanism. Deliberative democracy.