Yosemite and the invention of wilderness

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Tue Sep 2 06:06:45 MDT 2003

I always liked the Indian quip that parks were the white man's
reservation for trees.

We should see the efforts of these Victorian peoples as more than the
mere invention and romanticizing of "Nature."  Implicit in all this was
the idea that something--some things of supreme importance--had to be
placed above the exigencies of the market economy...that the market
economy was not an unmixed blessing.  Put another way, radical
criticisms of capitalism were always essential to the process.

The phalanx of the Fourierists sought to integrate the features of
modern industrial life with nature.  The idea certainly inspired
Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York's Central Park (among
much else).

As we've been discussing the "Second American Revolution" in another
venue, it's worth noting the role of the Lincoln administration in
preserving Yosemite and the brilliance of one of his appointees, George
Perkins Marsh.  Marsh's _Man and Nature_, 1864 was reissued ten years
later under the more descriptive title of _The Earth as Modified by
Human Action_.  Marsh minced no words about the tension between the
private pursuit of profit and a common environment and left no room for
doubt as to his scorn for the former.

For the post-Civil War era, radical critics of capitalism like William
Cam raised similar issues, recalling the displacement of species and
environments from Illinois among the devastating effects of capitalism
in rural America.  In addition to being a downstate third-party "kicker"
for decades, Cam was a follower of Henry George, whose "single tax" idea
asserted that society, rather than the individual, ultimately owned
land.  A California follower of George, John Muir carried this much

The subject is certainly worthy of more serious exploration.

Mark L.

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