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Nature is Made Lovely by Capitalism

Here’s a letter to the New York Times (using a quotation that, I concede, I turn to often):

Good for Kianna Scott that she found comfort by spending time in the wilderness before entering college (Letters, Aug. 2).  But lest we forget that the kindness and inspiration that we moderns find in the wilderness are consequences of the riches, leisure, and security that we enjoy chiefly because of industrial capitalism, I offer here an observation from Thomas Babington Macaulay’s History of England:

“Indeed, law and police, trade and industry, have done far more than people of romantic dispositions will readily admit, to develop in our minds a sense of the wilder beauties of nature.  A traveller must be freed from all apprehension of being murdered or starved before he can be charmed by the bold outlines and rich tints of the hills.  He is not likely to be thrown into ecstasies by the abruptness of a precipice from which he is in imminent danger of falling two thousand feet perpendicular; by the boiling waves of a torrent which suddenly whirls away his baggage and forces him to run for his life; by the gloomy grandeur of a pass where he finds a corpse which marauders have just stripped and mangled; or by the screams of those eagles whose next meal may probably be on his own eyes. . . .

“It was not till roads had been cut out of the rocks, till bridges had been flung over the courses of the rivulets, till inns had succeeded to dens of robbers . . . that strangers could be enchanted by the blue dimples of lakes and by the rainbows which overhung the waterfalls, and could derive a solemn pleasure even from the clouds and tempests which lowered on the mountain tops.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Thomas Babington Macaulay, History of England, Vol. 6 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1900), pp. 55-56.