Briefly Noted: Letters & Reviews (Vol. 1, No. 9)

Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks by Michael Soule and John Terborgh (eds.)

Essential to understanding the rewilding conservation strategy as it was originally conceived by Dave Foreman and other Earth First!ers who broke off to form The Wildlands Project. Unfortunately, much of the book is bogged down by bad writing. Habits that plague academia and science articles–excessively using the passive voice, using too much jargon, coining too many words–plague this book as well. But its importance cannot be underestimated: if you wish to understand rewilding, especially in the context of non-human nature, you must read this book.

One aspect of the book not explored is the radical political potential of the program it espouses. The science explored in each article hopes to, as the subtitle suggests, lay the foundations for reserve networks that connect wildernesses and other wildlands through a series of corridors and linkages. Such a system is in direct confrontation with industrial development, especially roads; and the system envisioned by The Wildlands Network itself agitates the place of cities in the North American landscape. Of course, moderate conservation strategies cannot pursue these aspects of the program, not should they, most of the time. They should carry on with strategies that are working just fine for them, like opening up lines of communication with landowners and farmers and government agencies, like utilizing the indispensible tools that are The Wilderness Act and The Endangered Species Act.

But radicals have a place in this program. Someone could (and one might even say “ought”) to take on the most confrontational parts of the program. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has recently popularized the tactic of halting traffic on roads and interstates. If radical conservationists utilized a similar tactic to protest roads that conflict with The Rewilding Program, they would, with proper conditions, send a profoundly powerful message–and with a tactic that is arguably better-suited to that kind of thing anyway. And of course, the media frenzy that would ensue would spread awareness of the program, and the far-reaching demands coming out of the action would make the more moderate efforts at conservation look even more moderate.

Use your imagination. But keep it legal, of course, and be sure to follow all the rules.

The Antimodern Condition by Peter King

King’s exposition on anti-modern conservatism has become one of my favorite books, along with Foreman’s Rewilding North America, Rubin’s The Eclipse of Man, and Kaebnick’s Humans in Nature. This is a high bar for entry, and King surpassed it by elegantly demonstrating the character of antimodernism–thankfully with much better prose than Dienstag’s similar book on pessimism, reviewed in a previous Briefly Noted section.

This book is first an argument for King’s personal antimodernist views and only secondarily an overview of antimodernism as a whole, but I found that it fulfills both functions well. While presenting his views, he is diligent in referencing his influences and sources, like Nietzsche, Cioran, Burke, and Guenon. Fortunately, and unlike Dienstag, he is not painfully dull about it, instead leaving the reader room to explore the ideas for himself by referencing the bibliography.

King also does a good job of linking antimodern views to the conservative tradition, something that I’ve noted is a goal of the Wild Will Coalition at the moment. Like the others who have made this connection, King only dares defend a moderate antimodern view, but he does mention that radical environmentalism and some forms of Islamist extremism are incarnations of “strong antimodernism.” He even mentions Ted Kaczynski and John Zerzan along the way.

But what I think is the best aspect of the book is his explicit condemnation of race and nation as bases for antimodernism, a view that is shared by many other antimodern and traditionalist thinkers, but not something that appears often in the major works of the tradition. That is, while they may not mention race or nation because they do not find them important, few have explicitly disavowed the constructs. But King writes in the preface:

…as Eric Voeglin has argued, the notions of race and nation as expressed by many traditionalists and conservatives are themselves modernist constructs… They are derived from post-Westphalian political thought and have little to do with pre- and antimodern ideas that are based instead on notions of community and local affiliation.

Lastly, I don’t agree with some chunks of King’s book. Specifically, chapter four (“I’m Good”) is a mess (see chapter 19 of Pinker’s Blank Slate instead), he occasionally holds contradictory stances on individualism, his skepticism of science is a little too strong, and twice he condemns “anti-democratic values,” apparently not realizing that this is a key element of most antimodern ideas. He also tends too far toward political emasculation. Nevertheless, the book is good for those who wish to become acquainted with the tradition and it is safe to recommend to young people who may otherwise become confused about the place of “race” and “nation” if they started out with, say, Evola or de Benoist.

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