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An amnesiatic book review

I finished Eric T. Freyfogle's Agrarianism and the Good Society: Land, Culture, Conflict, and Hope some time ago and I remember being very impressed with it. This is the trouble with writing reviews some time after the reading--cranial folds don't always release their wards too easily. I remember the crux of the book was how can we steward land in a way that is wise balancing both public and private needs in addition to considering the needs of the land (and supported ecosystems as well) itself. Interestingly, he looks not only at the example of an ecologist (Aldo Leopold), but also literature--Cold Mountain and the fiction of Wendell Berry to help make his case. I remember being impressed that Freyfogle didn't just diagnose the problem but had suggestions as well. Not policies, per se, but principles to apply to policies.
Since this is such a crappy review I'll just throw some quotes out that I had highlighted.
Something for "Environmentalists" to consider:
. . . defenders of natural areas would do better relying on community-based rhetoric. Ecological degradation afflicts us collectively, not as individuals: that is the core message. It degrades integrated communities of life (17).

On the place of religion and philosophy with regard to land use:
Good land use would avoid taking risks with nature that we cannot afford to lose, and it would recognize our vast ignorance about nature by interjecting elements of caution in our decision-making processes. Although good land use would certainly draw upon science, we cannot reasonably expect science alone to tell us to live. Science is a body of knowledge about nature and a tool for gaining more knowledge. It falls far short, though, of including all the elements we need to decide how we ought to live on land. To make such judgments, we need to bring in a variety of nonscience considerations. Integration is required, and it is tough work (19).

On the Public-Private divide: "The public has a legitimate interest in how all lands are used. No land use takes place in isolation"(97).
We find ourselves today, I think, burdened with several lousy ideas that we would do well to alter or discard.
The most pressing of these lousy ideas is that private property includes the right to use the land any way an owner wants, without regard for public implications. This is not an accurate statement of law or history, nor is it remotely good public policy.
A second lousy idea in need of change is that the only way to promote healthy lands is to keep them in public hands. Neither is this true, however understandable the idea was when it arose about a century ago.
A third lousy idea is that we can sensibly define the property rights a landowner possesses without taking nature into account (98).

A worthwhile addition to the conversation on conservation in a capitalist and rights-oriented society. If only I could remember more of this book.


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