Loving Nature, Fearing the State

Environmentalism and Antigovernment Politics before Reagan

Brian Allen Drake
Foreword by William Cronon

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  • Published: October 2013
  • Subject Listing: Environmental History, American History
  • Bibliographic information: 292 pp., notes, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

A "conservative environmental tradition" in America may sound like a contradiction in terms, but as Brian Allen Drake shows in Loving Nature, Fearing the State, right-leaning politicians and activists have shaped American environmental consciousness since the environmental movement's beginnings. In this wide-ranging history, Drake explores the tensions inherent in balancing an ideology dedicated to limiting the power of government with a commitment to protecting treasured landscapes and ecological health.

Drake argues that "antistatist" beliefs - an individualist ethos and a mistrust of government - have colored the American passion for wilderness but also complicated environmental protection efforts. While most of the successes of the environmental movement have been enacted through the federal government, conservative and libertarian critiques of big-government environmentalism have increasingly resisted the idea that strengthening state power is the only way to protect the environment.

Loving Nature, Fearing the State traces the influence of conservative environmental thought through the stories of important actors in postwar environmental movements. The book follows small-government pioneer Barry Goldwater as he tries to establish federally protected wilderness lands in the Arizona desert and shows how Goldwater's intellectual and ideological struggles with this effort provide a framework for understanding the dilemmas of an antistatist environmentalism. It links antigovernment activism with environmental public-health concerns by analyzing opposition to government fluoridation campaigns and investigates environmentalism from a libertarian economic perspective through the work of free-market environmentalists. Drake also sees in the work of Edward Abbey an argument that reverence for nature can form the basis for resistance to state power. Each chapter highlights debates and tensions that are important to understanding environmental history and the challenges that face environmental protection efforts today.

Brian Allen Drake is a lecturer at the University of Georgia.

"Loving Nature, Fearing the State fills a void: it shows that the relation between conservatism as a political ideology and the rise of modern environmentalism is much more complex than is usually acknowledged. The murky intersection of concern for the natural world and distrust for authority makes for an intriguing story, and the book is full of memorable anecdotes that spice up the narrative." - J. Brooks Flippen, author of Conservative Conservationist

"Is it possible to mesh a deep distrust of government intervention with an urgent concern for the future of the environment? Can one be a libertarian and an environmentalist simultaneously? Historian Brian Drake addresses these questions in his thoughtful examination of such divergent Americans as Senator Barry Goldwater and novelist Edward Abbey. Drake has provided us with an original perspective on this discordant tradition in modern American environmental thought." -John Sharpless, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"A wonderfully lucid and engaging writer, Drake has a story to tell that is much needed in these times of intense political polarization. Americans of all sorts, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, have been touched by the environmental movement to a degree that historians and other pundits have not appreciated. This wise, tolerant book should correct that misunderstanding and open new doors to understanding." -Donald Worster, University of Kansas

"Since 1980, it has sometimes seemed as if environmentalism and liberalism were synonymous, tempting Americans to forget the contributions of conservatives to environmentalist thought during earlier decades when the movement was first emerging. In this valuable book, Brian Allen Drake offers a salutary reminder of a time when both liberals and conservatives saw the environment as an arena in which their core political values could find favorable expression." - William Cronon

Introduction: Nature's Strange Bedfellows
1. Arizona Portraits: The Natural World of Barry Goldwater, Part I
2. Precious Bodily Fluids: Floridation, Environmentalism, and Antistatism
3. The Environmental Conscience of a Conservative: The Natural World of Barry Goldwater, Part II
4. Tending Nature with the Invisible Hand: The Free-Market Environmentalists
5. Like a Scarlet Thread: Into the Political Wilderness with Edward Abbey
Epilogue: The Fading Green Elephant: Or the Decline of Antistatist Environmentalism

Selected Bibliography