Introduction: Philosophies, Politics, and Policies

  • William R. Nester


American attitudes toward the use of natural resources, and the policies which flow from those attitudes, have changed markedly over time.1 For most of American history, those who shaped natural resource policies were inspired by the Biblical injuncture to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion … over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”2 A secular version of that attitude emerged with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776, and ever since has been developed by a succession of economic theorists.3 Virtually all early Americans were “cornucopians” who saw the earth’s resources as endless, and there to be exploited by humanity for its material needs. Cornucopians idealize conceptions of private property, free enterprise, and a government with powers confined to protecting Americans from internal and foreign violence.


Public Land American History Free Enterprise Natural Resource Policy Secular Version 
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  1. 1.
    For the classic study on this theme, which has strongly influenced the following discussion, see Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 3rd edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    God and His scribes, The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1952), Genesis 1:26, p. 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For contemporary neoclassical economists, see: Jagdish Bhagwati, Lectures: International Trade (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983);Google Scholar
  4. Jagdish Bhagwati, Protectionism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988);Google Scholar
  5. Jagdish Bhagwati and Hugh Patrick (eds), Aggressive Unilateralism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990);Google Scholar
  6. Jagdish Bhagwati, The World Trading System at Risk (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 4.
    See such classic environmental works as: Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993);Google Scholar
  8. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (New York: Bell Tower, 1991).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Lester R. Brown and Sandra L. Postel, “Thresholds of Change,” The Futurist, 21 (September/October 1987), p. 11.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Gifford Pinchot, The Fight for Conservation (Garden City, NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1910), p. 42.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (New York: Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1947), p. 322.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Walter Rosenbaum, Energy Politics and Public Policy (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1987), p. 205.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Edward R. Tufte, Political Control of the Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 142.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    Bernard Shanks, This Land Is Your Land (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1984), pp. 286–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© William R. Nester 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • William R. Nester
    • 1
  1. 1.St John’s UniversityNew YorkUSA

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