The Landscape of Reform
Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America
280 pp., 6 x 9 in, 5 illus.
- Published: January 23, 2009
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 24, 2006
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A study of the pragmatic roots of American environmentalism—as seen in the work of Liberty Hyde Bailey, Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, and Aldo Leopold—and how it can inform a new, civic-minded environmentalism today.
InThe Landscape of Reform Ben Minteer offers a fresh and provocative reading of the intellectual foundations of American environmentalism, focusing on the work and legacy of four important conservation and planning thinkers in the first half of the twentieth century: Liberty Hyde Bailey, a forgotten figure in the Progressive conservation movement; urban and regional planning theorist Lewis Mumford; Benton MacKaye, the forester and conservationist who proposed the Appalachian Trail in the 1920s; and Aldo Leopold, author of the environmentalist classic A Sand County Almanac. Minteer argues that these writers blazed a significant "third way" in environmental ethics and practice, a more pragmatic approach that offers a counterpoint to the anthropocentrism-versus-ecocentrism—use-versus-preservation—narrative that has long dominated discussions of the development of American environmental thought.
Minteer shows that the environmentalism of Bailey, Mumford, MacKaye, and Leopold was also part of a larger moral and political program, one that included efforts to revitalize democratic citizenship, conserve regional culture and community identity, and reclaim a broader understanding of the public interest that went beyond economics and materialism. Their environmental thought was an attempt to critique and at the same time reform American society and political culture. Minteer explores the work of these four environmental reformers and considers two present-day manifestations of an environmental third way: Natural Systems Agriculture, an alternative to chemical and energy-intensive industrial agriculture; and New Urbanism, an attempt to combat the negative effects of suburban sprawl. By rediscovering the pragmatic roots of American environmentalism, writes Minteer, we can help bring about a new, civic-minded environmentalism today.
By elaborating the new kind of regional politics of the land, civic life, and the environment represented by Bailey, Mumford, MacKaye, and Leopold—four key figures in early 20th-century environmentalist thought and advocacy—Ben Minteer provides a map for us to consider the new kind of civic-based environmentalism of the 21st century, with its emphasis on the health of the land and the people who inhabit it.
Robert Gottlieb, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy, Occidental College, author of Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the Environmental Movement
In revelatory scholarship, Minteer recovers the civic pragmatist tradition by distinguishing the voices of those like Liberty Hyde Bailey, Josiah Royce, Lewis Mumford, and Benton MacKaye who, along with better known figures such as Dewey and Leopold, brought about an American renaissance in environmental philosophy. This magnificent accomplishment in intellectual history establishes the foundations of American environmental thought in the crucial context of its wider social and political goals.
Mark Sagoff, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland
Minteer has successfully excavated several thinkers who deserve greater consideration by environmentalists. He has also added his well-informed voice to the growing chorus urging what he calls a 'third way.'
Perspectives on Politics
The Landscape of Reform contests two seemingly unassailable premises of American environmentalism: the anthropocentrism/ecocentrism distinction and the fierce moralism of its chosen origin story. Proposing instead that environmental politics could learn from the notions of politics and community inherent in the American pragmatism articulated by Dewey and others, Minteer makes the case that another sort of American environmental politics is possible, and in fact has deep roots in our political culture.
William Chaloupka, Chair and Professor of Political Science, Colorado State University