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Wilderness and the wise province: Benton MacKaye's pragmatic vision

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Benton MacKaye's name is rarely evoked in the fields of environmental history and philosophy. The author of the Appalachian Trail in the early 1920s and a co-founder of the Wilderness Society with Aldo Leopold and Bob Marshall in the 1930s, MacKaye's unique contribution to American environmental thought is seldom recognized. This neglect is particularly egregious in the current debate over the intellectual foundations of the American wilderness idea, a discussion to which I believe MacKaye has much to contribute. Specifically, I believe that his pragmatic vision for wilderness conservation, a project supported through an appeal to the values of a reconstructed "indigenous" communal environment, owes much to the social philosophy of Josiah Royce, MacKaye's former teacher at Harvard. While the Appalachian Trail never delivered on MacKaye's goals of progressive reform and failed to unite the regional planning and conservation communities of the time, his vision remains highly relevant to our present-day deliberations about the relationship between wild nature and society at the dawn of the 21st century .

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 2001

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