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Chapter Ten. The Quality of Theodore Roosevelt's Environmentalism

Ethan Fishman

Subject History » Environmental History
Study of History » History and Theory

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

People Roosevelt, Theodore

Key-Topics ecology, federalism, natural resources

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331400.2011.00012.x


Scholars generally agree that Theodore Roosevelt's environmental policies were among the most valuable contributions of his presidency. From 1901 to 1909, TR did more to protect the natural environment of the United States than all the chief executives who preceded him combined ( Cutright 1956 , 179). What scholars cannot agree upon is the quality of TR's environmentalism. Some argue that he was a preservationist. Others consider him to be a conservationist. In his encyclopedic The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America , historian Douglas Brinkley dismisses this debate as pointless. The attempt to come up with a term to describe TR's environmental policies serves no useful purpose, Brinkley concludes, because, in his opinion, TR “was too many-sided and paradoxical to be pigeonholed” ( Brinkley 2009 , 897). While I concur with Brinkley that TR's policies combined elements of many types of environmentalism, including the preservationist and conservationist varieties, I believe a distinct term does exist that can account for TR's multifaceted approach. That term is prudence, as it was understood by such traditional Western thinkers as Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Edmund Burke. Unfortunately, Brinkley's neglect of prudence extends to American culture as a whole. This ancient term seems to have outlived its relevance for contemporary political discourse. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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