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Environmental Values

The Half-Cultivated Citizen: Thoreau at the Nexus of Republicanism and Environmentalism

Peter F. Cannavò

Environmental Values 21 (2012): 101-124. doi: 10.3197/096327112X13303670567170

ABSTRACT

Henry David Thoreau, though often characterised as individualist or apolitical, is in fact an important link between Jeffersonian agrarian republicanism and environmentalism. Like the Jeffersonians, Thoreau espouses a political economy of citizenship, criticises modern capitalism, and celebrates simplicity and personal independence. However, Thoreau rejects the Jeffersonians' focus on conquest of the wilderness and economic industriousness, both of which were meant to promote virtue. Thoreau advocates preservation of wild nature as essential for cultivating virtue and regards nature as a community deserving respect and protection. He criticises an emphasis on economic industriousness as promoting overwork, environmental destruction and greed. Thoreau emerges as a complex figure whose legacy points in two contrasting directions: toward a more ecologically responsible or sustainable republicanism embracing preservation of a spectrum of landscapes from wilderness to agrarian, and also toward a problematic, depoliticising separation between human beings and nature.


KEYWORDS

Agrarianism, virtue, environment, Jefferson, wilderness

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Green Economy, Red Herring. Clive L. Spash


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