AFTER NATURE by Jedediah Purdy


A Politics for the Anthropocene
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Purdy (Law/Duke Univ.; A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom, 2009, etc.) examines the growing awareness of the relationship between humans and other species, which could create “a Copernican revolution in ethical imagination.”

Adopting a historical perspective, the author suggests that such evils of the past as “imperialism, racism, and gender hierarchy all came from the same arrogance as human subjection of the living world.” But Purdy also recognizes that environmentalists have been guilty of misanthropy “braided together with bigotry, narrowness, obtuse privilege and nostalgia.” The author offers a balanced exploration of how “post-humanism” can inspire an enlarged perspective on how we can take responsibility for the nonhuman world. Unlike geologically and ecologically based terminology that is based on the fossil record—e.g., the dating of the start of the Holocene epoch back 11,700 years ago—the term Anthropocene signifies a cultural phenomenon that Purdy calls a way “of owning up to the responsibility for shaping the world.” The author traces the evolution of current ideas on environmentalism back to the first European settlers in America, who thought it was God's purpose for mankind to tame nature. This was succeeded by a romantic view of wilderness, exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson. A third phase, led by Theodore Roosevelt, responded to the ravages of industrial development, including the destruction of forests by timber interests and the extraction of raw materials by mining companies. Purdy identifies the last 50 years as a fourth phase, “the neoliberal Anthropocene,” which is “distinguished by a legal device that launders inequality almost as neatly as the global atmosphere: free contract within a global market.” The author employs numerous historical examples to strengthen his contention that climate change and the protection of other species cannot be dealt with via political polemics. We require a more pragmatic approach to living peacefully with nature and each other.

A profound vision of post-humanistic ethics.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-674-36822-4
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2015


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