Environmentalism as Aestheticism?

2008-05-03

While slowly completing research for my forthcoming book The Tao of Roark, I noticed an interesting passage in the first scene of part four of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead:

He could not name the thing he wanted of life. He felt it here, in this wild loneliness. But he did not face nature with the joy of a healthy animal -- as a proper and final setting; he faced it with the joy of a healthy man -- as a challenge; as tools, means and material. So he felt anger that he should find exultation only in the wilderness, that this great sense of hope had to be lost when he would return to men and men's work. He thought that this was not right; that man's work should be a higher step, an improvement on nature, not a degradation....

Although Ayn Rand and other advocates of a free market are often perceived as advocating a kind of rapine capitalism that would degrade the earth in the greedy pursuit of unlimited profit, the example of Howard Roark's organic architecture (derived from that of Frank Lloyd Wright) belies that straw man. Example: in this scene, Roark's Monadnock Valley development was not some huge warren of a hotel that degraded the natural beauty of the surrounding hills, but instead consisted of a series of small, widely separated homes that did not require blasting of the granite ledges but that worked with and improved upon the natural terrain.

The principle of ensuring that one's work not degrade nature but instead improve upon it perhaps provides a foundation for a kind of environmentalism that is yet unknown: not environmentalism as moralism (don't degrade nature because that is the deontologically wrong and evil thing to do) but as aestheticism (don't degrade nature because that is the ugly and inartistic thing to do). I'm not yet sure if this principle can be converted into actionable policies, but the possibility might be worth pursuing.


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