ABOUT THIS BOOK
An Artforum Best Book of the Year
A Legal Theory Bookworm Book of the Year
Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is planetary engineering without design. These facts of the Anthropocene are scientific, but its shape and meaning are questions for politics—a politics that does not yet exist. After Nature develops a politics for this post-natural world.
“After Nature argues that we will deserve the future only because it will be the one we made. We will live, or die, by our mistakes.”
—Christine Smallwood, Harper’s
“Dazzling…Purdy hopes that climate change might spur yet another change in how we think about the natural world, but he insists that such a shift will be inescapably political… For a relatively slim volume, this book distills an incredible amount of scholarship—about Americans’ changing attitudes toward the natural world, and about how those attitudes might change in the future.”
—Ross Andersen, The Atlantic
Dazzling… [Purdy’s] book is, among other things, a panoramic tour of what he calls the ‘American environmental imagination.’ …Purdy hopes that climate change might spur yet another change in how we think about the natural world, but he insists that such a shift will be inescapably political… For a relatively slim volume, this book distills an incredible amount of scholarship—about Americans’ changing attitudes toward the natural world, and about how those attitudes might change in the future.
-- Ross Andersen The Atlantic
For Purdy, one of the key challenges of the Anthropocene is to use the law in ways that adopt the best rather than the worst of each vision of nature: to integrate concern for human work and meaning into an ecological framework; to set standards for action on climate change; to make transparent the sources of our food and our treatment of animals…Purdy thinks we need to learn the core political lesson of his story—which at its heart is not about the politics of nature, but about democracy. This is a history in which democracy is constantly evaded, decision-making is removed from collective politics by appeals to ‘natural systems,’ and anti-politics creeps back in.
-- Katrina Forrester The Nation
Jedediah Purdy has written a big book, taking up a set of profound environmental questions and offering sweeping answers… The strengths of After Nature are significant and make this a must-read book for all who are struggling with how to reinvigorate environmental protection in the face of political breakdown in America and troubling global trends, including the emerging risk of climate change… The journey he maps is illuminating. In fact, perhaps the greatest strength of After Nature is its intellectual history of American environmentalism… With this book, Purdy shows himself to be a deep thinker on the nature of Nature… Purdy offers a provocative ecological vision and ethical argument that deserves to be reckoned with. He has established himself among the top tier of environmental philosophers of our day.
-- Daniel C. Esty Los Angeles Review of Books
After Nature argues that we will deserve the future only because it will be the one we made. We will live, or die, by our mistakes.
-- Christine Smallwood Harper’s
After Nature takes the reader on a smart and eloquent tour of the history of conservation movements, the rise of the study of ecology (and its flourishing in the wake of the Vietnam War) and the gradual expansion of environmental law, but Purdy is at his most insightful and persuasive when writing about the first of his ‘major realms,’ economy—and the subtle ways money has been shaping nature for centuries to suit its own needs… In the previous year, there’ve been many studies of the deeper meaning of the Anthropocene and the future of humanity, studies ranging from the impenetrable to the inconsolable. After Nature is by a wide margin the best of these books; in its passion, intelligence, and persistent thread of hope, it may very well be the Silent Spring of the 21st century.
-- Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly
Offers a powerful reckoning with our bewildering present… Its great value lies in its sophisticated, lucid study of the evolving American environmental imagination. Purdy…brings impressive intellectual and literary chops to bear on a history of American attitudes toward nature, and how those attitudes have manifested in tangible modifications of the air, land, and water… The book aims to show how our shared philosophical premises inform our laws, our behavior, and ultimately our world.
-- Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow Los Angeles Review of Books
[Purdy] argues that our democracy is too beholden to the influence of money, that the processes we use to produce energy and food should be made more transparent to the public, and that technological solutions are unreliable and will not bring about the greater change of consciousness that is necessary to solve our most pressing problems. He urges an ethic of self-restraint and a new worldview in which human beings are no longer ‘the figure at its center.’
-- Nathaniel Rich New York Review of Books
A profound vision of post-humanistic ethics.
-- Kirkus Reviews
It’s good to have as powerful a mind as Professor Purdy’s taking on these questions so central to our modern life. Every page has insights that will help people struggling to understand how we got here and where we’re headed.
-- Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
Deeply considered and finely laid out… To begin reading it is to open and decipher a compressed and encrypted file on a history of ideas about what nature means at the heart of the Anthropocene. Purdy draws on law, letters, philosophy, science, social science, politics, and aesthetics; from Locke, Rousseau, and Burke, through Jefferson, all the way to the recent past of the ecological age’s beginnings, the urgent catastrophe of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and our contemporary moment, after ‘crisis had become the normal state of affairs,’ closing with ideas about nature and the posthuman from Rosi Braidotti, among others. Somewhere in between, Purdy manages to give a history of private property—how ‘each version of nature has its economy.’ If the ominous political near past and the planet’s environmental emergency feel present on every page, so, too, does a sense of the role we each have in shaping the future.
-- Liz Larner Artforum
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Nature as Politics and Anti-Politics
Four Versions of Anti-Politics
Order and Disorder in Early New England
Two Paths toward Democracy
Chapter 2. God’s Avid Gardeners
Locke and the Commoners’ Terrain
Savages and Slaves: A New Unequal Terrain
Trader Imagination versus Settler Imagination
A Road Not Taken
Chapter 3. Nature as Teacher
A Pause for Flowers: Philip Freneau
Learning from the Land: John Quincy Adams
Training the Eye: The Hudson River School
Chapter 4. Natural Utopias
A Choice of Inheritances
Arguing over Concord: Transcendentalism and Its Uses
Making the Sierra Club’s Nature
A Romantic Cultural Politics
The Sierra Club and Public-Lands Politics
How Nature’s Utopia Became Less Radical
A Walden for the Anthropocene
Chapter 5. A Conservationist Empire
Progressive Management and the Idea of Conservation
The Roots of Conservation
Social and Moral Reform
The Conservation of Civic Virtue
The Humanism of Socialized Consumption
Conservation, Eugenics, and Racism
Chapter 6. A Wilderness Passage into Ecology
Ecology’s Darker Origins
Opening a New Door
Ecology: From New Dawn to Chronic Crisis
Intergenerational Legal Interpretation in the Ecological Age
Chapter 7. Environmental Law in the Anthropocene
From Wilderness to Cultivation: Food, Agriculture, and the Value of Work
Animals and the Ethics of Encounters across Species
Climate Change: From Failure to New Standards of Success
The Breakdown of Familiar Ideas
Respect for Failure
Chapter 8. What Kind of Democracy?
Democracy and Post-Humanism
Exclusion and Misanthropy