Political Nature

Political Nature

Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought

By John M. Meyer





Concern over environmental problems is prompting us to reexamine established thinking about society and politics. The challenge is to find a way for the public's concern for the environment to become more integral to social, economic, and political decision making. Two interpretations have dominated Western portrayals of the nature-politics relationship, what John Meyer calls the dualist and the derivative. The dualist account holds that politics—and human culture in general—is completely separate from nature. The derivative account views Western political thought as derived from conceptions of nature, whether Aristotelian teleology, the clocklike mechanism of early modern science, or Darwinian selection. Meyer examines the nature-politics relationship in the writings of two of its most pivotal theorists, Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, and of contemporary environmentalist thinkers. He concludes that we must overcome the limitations of both the dualist and the derivative interpretations if we are to understand the relationship between nature and politics.

Human thought and action, says Meyer, should be considered neither superior nor subservient to the nonhuman natural world, but interdependent with it. In the final chapter, he shows how struggles over toxic waste dumps in poor neighborhoods, land use in the American West, and rainforest protection in the Amazon illustrate this relationship and point toward an environmental politics that recognizes the experience of place as central.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262133906 226 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262632249 226 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • This study gathers classical and contemporary sources into a sweeping examination of the role of politics and political theory in shaping conceptions of nature—and vice versa. Meyer achieves a balanced analysis of the strongest aspects of long-opposed philosophical approaches to the idea of nature.

    Mark Sagoff

    Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland

  • Political Nature is a significant contribution to the field. Not enough has been made elsewhere of the major traditions in political theory in the context of contemporary environmental politics, and this book goes a long way toward addressing that problem.

    Andrew Dobson

    Professor of Politics, Keele University, UK

  • Both provocative and judicious, Meyer's book makes a most welcome and valuable contribution to current debates about environmentalist political theory and practice.

    Terence Ball

    Arizona State University, author of Reappraising Political Theory

  • Political Nature is an important contribution to the growing environmental theory literature. John Meyer presents strong and helpful arguments for why we should be skeptical about the possibility of deriving a political theory from a theory of nature. Insisting that environmental theorists take politics more seriously than they often do, he has added his powerful voice to a growing list of scholars and activists concerned to cultivate a democratic and non-dogmatic environmentalism. This book should play a significant role in encouraging environmentalist theory to develop in a manner consistent with the best of our democratic theory and practice.

    Robert Pepperman Taylor

    Department of Political Science and Director, John Dewey Honors Program, University of Vermont, author of Our Limits Transgressed: Environmental Political Thought in America

  • John Meyer deploys considerable theoretical and critical skills in this conceptually clear-headed, innovative examination of contemporary environmentalist thinking. Locating the roots of current environmentalist views in the history of Western political thought, Meyer turns to Hobbes and Aristotle in order to explore the conceptual conundrums, unexamined assumptions and oversimplifications that stalk (historical and contemporary) efforts to articulate meaningfully the relation between nature and politics. The result is an argument admirably schooled in environmental theory and the interpretation of historical texts and a project that carries powerful practical-normative implications for environmental action.

    Mary G. Dietz

    Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  • By reconfiguring the relationship between nature and politics in traditional political theory, John M. Meyer has gone a long way toward liberating environmental ethics from the abstractions of meta-ethics and re-placing the study of ethics and environmental values in the context where it belongs—within the give and take of place-based politics of resource use.

    Bryan G. Norton

    School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology


  • CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book for 2002