WHP Logo

The White Horse Press

Environmental Values

Contents of Volume 21

Other volumes of EV

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


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.


Agrarianism, virtue, environment, Jefferson, wilderness

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

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

Download full text (PDF format) from IngentaConnect. Access is free if your institution subscribes to Environmental Values.

Subscriptions and back numbers of Environmental Values.

Other papers in this volume

The Old Vicarage, Winwick
Cambridgeshire, PE28 5PN, UK
Tel: +44 1832 293222