Concern over environmental problems is prompting us to reexamine established thinking about society and politics. The challenge is to find a way for the public's concern for the environment to become more integral to social, economic, and political decision making. Two interpretations have dominated Western portrayals of the nature-politics relationship, what John Meyer calls the dualist and the derivative. The dualist account holds that politics—and human culture in general—is completely separate from nature. The derivative account views Western political thought as derived from conceptions of nature, whether Aristotelian teleology, the clocklike mechanism of early modern science, or Darwinian selection. Meyer examines the nature-politics relationship in the writings of two of its most pivotal theorists, Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, and of contemporary environmentalist thinkers. He concludes that we must overcome the limitations of both the dualist and the derivative interpretations if we are to understand the relationship between nature and politics.
Human thought and action, says Meyer, should be considered neither superior nor subservient to the nonhuman natural world, but interdependent with it. In the final chapter, he shows how struggles over toxic waste dumps in poor neighborhoods, land use in the American West, and rainforest protection in the Amazon illustrate this relationship and point toward an environmental politics that recognizes the experience of place as central.
About the Author
John M. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Politics and a Faculty Member in Environmental Studies and the Environment and Community Graduate Program at Humboldt State University. He is the author of Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought and the coeditor of The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice (both published by the MIT Press).
"Political Nature is an important contribution to the growing environmental theory literature. John Meyer presents strong and helpful arguments for why we should be skeptical about the possibility of deriving a political theory from a theory of nature. Insisting that environmental theorists take politics more seriously than they often do, he has added his powerful voice to a growing list of scholars and activists concerned to cultivate a democratic and non-dogmatic environmentalism. This book should play a significant role in encouraging environmentalist theory to develop in a manner consistent with the best of our democratic theory and practice."
—Robert Pepperman Taylor, Department of Political Science and Director, John Dewey Honors Program, University of Vermont, author of Our Limits Transgressed: Environmental Political Thought in America
"John Meyer deploys considerable theoretical and critical skills in this conceptually clear-headed, innovative examination of contemporary environmentalist thinking. Locating the roots of current environmentalist views in the history of Western political thought, Meyer turns to Hobbes and Aristotle in order to explore the conceptual conundrums, unexamined assumptions and oversimplifications that stalk (historical and contemporary) efforts to articulate meaningfully the relation between nature and politics. The result is an argument admirably schooled in environmental theory and the interpretation of historical texts and a project that carries powerful practical-normative implications for environmental action."
—Mary G. Dietz, Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
"By reconfiguring the relationship between nature and politics in traditional political theory, John M. Meyer has gone a long way toward liberating environmental ethics from the abstractions of meta-ethics and re-placing the study of ethics and environmental values in the context where it belongs—within the give and take of place-based politics of resource use."
—Bryan G. Norton, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
“This study gathers classical and contemporary sources into a sweeping examination of the role of politics and political theory in shaping conceptions of nature—and vice versa. Meyer achieves a balanced analysis of the strongest aspects of long-opposed philosophical approaches to the idea of nature.”
—Mark Sagoff, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland
CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book for 2002