A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
Footpaths through Forest History

This book is in many ways an extension of the work of others. Here I will discuss briefly where my analysis parallels and where it diverges from some of the more prominent scholars on this subject who have influenced my thinking. This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive review of the relevant literature. (See list of references for full citations of books cited below.)

Donald Worster ( Rivers of Empire, 1985; Dust Bowl, 1979; Nature's Economy, 1977) has greatly influenced my thinking about science, economic systems and ideologies, and the moral dimensions of the relationship between humans and nature. The advanced industrial-capitalist state, argues Worster, is "Janus-faced," simultaneously bearing the visages of the private corporation and public government. Both work hand-in-hand to convert nature into capital in pursuit of the accumulation of wealth and social control. Under this mode of social organization, an elite of primary beneficiaries controls wealth, expertise, and political authority, and dominates a relatively dependent population. Individual liberty is increasingly circumscribed -- traded off for a modicum of material comfort and security. In both Dust Bowl and Rivers of Empire, Worster further argues that this mode of production and social organization is unsustainable. Beyond his critique of political economy, his special contribution as an environmental historian has been to elucidate the ways in which the capitalist economy ignores "nature's economy" to its ultimate peril.

Worster's view that industrial capitalism is ultimately destructive of its own support systems is entirely, unequivocally applicable to the history of

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