Inconvenient Truths About American Environmentalism

|

Jackson Lears has a long review essay at The New Republic discussing several new books on the history of American environmentalism. It's a mostly flattering overview, though Lears does spend some time on the ugly views of Progressive Era reformer and conservationist Madison Grant:

Grant was also a fervent Anglo-Saxon supremacist who popularized the scientific racism of his time in 1916 in The Passing of the Great Race—a compendium of conventional wisdom that sought to sound the alarm over swarming immigrants, rallying its WASP readers to greater fecundity. The book was widely praised (except in The New Republic, where the anthropologist Franz Boas pointed out the flimsiness of the category "race" and observed that Grant's maps were "entirely fanciful in their details"). [Theodore] Roosevelt sent Grant an admiring letter about the book, and F. Scott Fitzgerald put Grant's ideas in the mouth of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Buchanan was just the sort of truculent, privileged airhead who would have been eager to display his intellect by citing middlebrow race science. The Passing of the Great Race captured the racial hysteria that bubbled barely beneath the surface of American popular culture in the 1910s and 1920s. And it made Madison Grant more famous for his race theory than for his conservation efforts….

In spotlighting the connection between wildlife management and eugenics, [historian Jonathan Peter] Spiro has put his finger on something important. The obsession with improving breeding stock linked Grant with Hitler on the right and with other more respectable eugenicists on the left, including Margaret Sanger (who promoted birth control) and Theodore Roosevelt (who hated it). Sanger wanted "to breed a race of human thoroughbreds," while Roosevelt warned Anglo-Saxons against "race suicide." Eugenics sanctified the marriage of racism and modernity. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the leaders of the American Eugenics Society dressed in white and paraded their obsessions with purity, organizing Fitter Families competitions, counterposing Nordics against the menace of Jews and other immigrants, not to mention the even greater menace of Negroes. When Grant argued that the health of the body politic required restricting the flow of foreigners to our shores, Roosevelt agreed. "The national gizzard cannot masticate more," he wrote. Grant's eugenic vision was ruling-class conventional wisdom, consistent with managing immigrants as well as managing wildlife.

Read the rest here. I discuss some of the other ugly ideas held by leading Progressives here and here.

NEXT: A McCain Comeback?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Eugenics sanctified the marriage of racism and modernity. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the leaders of the American Eugenics Society dressed in white and paraded their obsessions with purity, organizing Fitter Families competitions, counterposing Nordics against the menace of Jews and other immigrants, not to mention the even greater menace of Negroes.

    So, really, nothing’s changed on the left except the targets.

    Margret Sanger = Garrison Kiellor?

  2. I should get my money back cuz we didn’t talk at all about Grant or Eugenics in the coursework for my PhD in FAW. And do I have to be a Nazi if I believe in natural selection? What if I were a vegetarian too, am I double-Nazi?

    or maybe, ‘Inconvenient Truths about early 20th century Progressives you’ve never heard of’ isn’t as catchy…

  3. I can’t even post from Firefox. You might want to fix that, Reason web teeam.

  4. Epi–I’ll suggest pilot error. I’m posting from FF, with NoScript on it even.

  5. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Dick Hoste R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

    Aw, now y’all have summoned Him.

    1. 😀 Perfect.

  6. I, too, am within Firefox. Posting is not my issue with this newfangled technology; reading is.

  7. Dude, I don’t make pilot errors, I’m a fucking developer. I tried a bunch of stuff, and it all dumped me right to Reason’s home page (not H&R). I then went and did the exact same thing in IE and it instantly worked.

    They have a Firefox issue. Not sure what it is, but I have my own website to make work properly.

    1. You not only made a pilot error you’re making a jackass of yourself. I am posting from FF. And I’m a software engineer too.. but yeah if you can’t make FF work you definitely should concentrate on your sites;)

      1. Ditto and ditto. The site works fine on FF here.

  8. Dude, I don’t make pilot errors, I’m a fucking developer.

    You owe me a new monitor. This one has spit-take all over it.

    Don’t know what to say…if mortals such as ProL and I can use FF….

  9. I’m glad I amused you, but you know what I mean. Putting in a comment and hitting “submit” and then being redirected to the reason–not H&R–home page is not “pilot error”.

    And, for the record, my most recent wide-scale app deployment had zero fatal bugs or even UI-visible bugs. So I am greater than you mere mortals.

    Wow, I’m testy today. Maybe I should eat something.

    1. Could you please give us a little information so we can see what might be the problem? Platform and specific browser version?

  10. Episiarch,

    Are you current in version? Is your operating system standard? Are you sure your problems aren’t psychological?

    Knowing Firefox, I bet you have an add-on that’s effing you up, unless you’ve tried safe mode already.

  11. What ProL said. Probably some add-on you wrote for FF effing it up. [ducks]

  12. I don’t have the time to debug Reason’s website for them. I have almost no add-ons, my version is current, and the problem behavior has to be reason’s problem because of the strange redirect. Client side issues wouldn’t do that.

  13. Episiarch,

    Hey, what do you think of threaded comments, anyway? I hate them. I didn’t know that until this transition occurred. I prefer the more orderly yet strangely surreal nature of the straight sequential hierarchy.

    1. Statist!

  14. I do not like the threaded comments, because it means that I can’t just refresh a thread and know that all new posts are below. I have little enough time now to read H&R, and they just made it more difficult.

    They should have an option to allow threaded comments for those who like it, or the ability to just turn them off and have all comments listed chronologically.

    And where is the damn preview button?!?

    1. Fool! There was never a preview button. But yeah, the threaded comments suck ass. I move we boycott them, and only comment by replying at the end.

  15. So, really, nothing’s changed on the left except the targets.

    That hasn’t changed, either. The way they describe their targets and their plans for them has.

    They really did seem to forget to hate the Jews for a while, and that was nice, but then they came up with a couple new names for them, so it’s back on.

    Good days ahead.

    reply to this

  16. Episiarch,

    That would work for me. If they can’t/won’t do that, then I may have to turn to terror tactics. Like guerrilla trolling, blink tags, etc.

  17. ProL–Shhhhh! The squirrel will hear you! It has operatives *everywhere.*

  18. The obsession with improving breeding stock linked Grant with Hitler on the right and with other more respectable eugenicists on the left, including Margaret Sanger

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

    First of all, how can anyone in their right mind can anyone think the leader of the National Socialist party was on the right? This was thoroughly covered in the 30’s and 40’s when it was happening, by everyone from Hayek to the fascists themselves.
    Secondly, how is wanting to deplete the ranks of the colored races by aborting their babies (Sanger’s stated goal) more respectable?

    Intellectual dishonesty or disconnect?

  19. Yes, the poor excommunicated preview button needs to reinstated. What did it do to deserve such punishment?

    I would support either a return to the old format, or an option to put all new messages in chronological order.

    On topic, I’m looking forward to the Bene Gesserit, and their genetically superior get.

  20. Secondly, how is wanting to deplete the ranks of the colored races by aborting their babies (Sanger’s stated goal) more respectable?

    Because Sanger’s organization got some respectability after she died.

    And I, unlike Xeones, am putting action behind my boycott of the threaded comments and commenting at the bottom. Threaded comments suck! Fight the Man!

  21. Previews will be restored for those willing to pay for Premium Hit & Run.

  22. Gimme a break, T. I came up with the boycott idea while already typing in the “reply to this” box, and i am far too lazy a man to, like, press a different button.

  23. Previews will be restored for those willing to pay for Premium Hit & Run.

    [monocle falls into martini glass with a ‘clink’]

    1. Hear! Hear! Old boy!

  24. i am far too lazy a man to, like, press a different button

    And so Xeones, completely inadvertently, explains the fate of the preview button.

  25. The next version of XTroll will include a comment reordering function if the Squirrel (blessed be his name) thinks it unwise to include it in the server.

  26. This sort of racist garbabge has pretty much disappeared except among fringe neo-Nazis and Libertarian heros like Ron Paul.

  27. Edward,

    Is that Morris the Cat, Raheem Morris, Philip Morris, or Greg Morris?

  28. Oh, I forgot to add Morris Day.

  29. Is that Morris the Cat, Raheem Morris, Philip Morris, or Greg Morris?

    Morris Day! He modeled his whole fucking life around Morris Day. He’s a smooth pimp who loves the pussy.

  30. First of all, how can anyone in their right mind can anyone think the leader of the National Socialist party was on the right?

    The NSDAP representatives sat on the right in the Reichstag. Did anyone (especially including the NSDAP) object then?

    1. Of all the efforts to make Nazis “right-wingers” I’ve ever seen, this one takes the cake for the lamest.

  31. The NSDAP representatives sat on the right in the Reichstag. Did anyone (especially including the NSDAP) object then?

    Because the seating arrangements of defunct legislatures mean so much as a indicator in contemporary politics.

    Wait, did I say ‘much’? I meant ‘little’.

  32. Downgrading the value of environmentalism would not help anybody.

  33. Epi,

    That exact behavior happened to me for a couple of hours or so yesterday, then it was normal again.

    It’s the ever-wonderful intermittent problem.

  34. Everything is still working fine for me, except that the most recent posts don’t always seem to appear at the bottom. Odd.

  35. Damon W. Root,

    Does the author go into how national parks here in the U.S. and worldwide often screwed over land owners, particularly non-white land owners. That is, for example, a major theme in the development of South Africa’s system of national parks.

  36. KAAAAAAAAHHHHNNNN!!!

  37. I’m not quite sure what the point of this article is.

    Seems to me like there are a lot of people in history on pretty much all sides of a debate that might have some other views that we don’t consider to be good anymore.

    But when we try and focus on those views, instead of the ones up for debate (environmentalism I would assume here) then that’s a logical fallacy isn’t it? Don’t they even have a facny term for it

    Ad hominem, or some such shit?

  38. Oh, and FYI, a primary source of my libertarians comes from what I have learned about government screwing things up when it came to its environmental efforts. You cannot understand government efforts with regard to water policy in the West without shaking your fist in absolute outrage.

  39. I still can’t understand why the feminist left worships at the altar of Margaret Sanger.

  40. I still can’t understand why the feminist left worships at the altar of Margaret Sanger.

    Because they don’t like minorities and the feeble-minded either?

  41. If you look at a lot of the scholarship regarding the poor today, you will often notice that eugenics is alive and well today, just stripped of its racial component to make it more politically correct.

  42. Because they don’t like minorities and the feeble-minded either?

    The latter would imply some serious self-loathing.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.