The War Against Nature: Benton Mackaye’s Regional Planning Philosophy and the Pursuit of Balance




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Benton MacKaye (1879-1975) is widely recognized as the creator of the Appalachian Trail, but scholars rarely acknowledge him for his contributions to environmental thought and planning. In this dissertation, I interpret and analyze MacKaye’s regional planning philosophy and trace the main influences on MacKaye’s work. In particular, I show how MacKaye’s environmental thought in part responded to the challenge of William James’s 1910 essay, “Moral Equivalent of War.” In the essay, James argued for pursuing peaceful alternatives to war while retaining the values of dedication, hard work, and discipline that are central to military training. Although evident in a number of MacKaye’s projects and publications, the connection between his work and James’s argument is clearest in an unpublished essay associated with his 1928 full-length work entitled The New Exploration: A Philosophy of Regional Planning. First, I review the content and impact of William James’s “Moral Equivalent of War” while visiting the responses of many notable individuals as well as MacKaye’s brothers, Percy and James. Next, I situate MacKaye in the trajectory of environmental history, from Thoreau to Aldo Leopold, who later collaborated with MacKaye. I also explain the work of Lewis Mumford and the Regional Planning Association of America to illustrate how MacKaye was directly involved with the regional planning movement of the 1920s. I argue that these individuals also influenced MacKaye’s proposition for a moral equivalent of war: fighting industrialism to protect the material, energy, and psychological resources found in the natural environment. Thirdly, I argue that James’s essay influenced MacKaye by conducting a close reading of an unfinished and unpublished essay. I then show how the unpublished essay relates to The New Exploration. Finally, I argue that MacKaye implemented his response to “Moral Equivalent of War” in his environmental and regional planning projects in which he was involved throughout his life, such as the United States Forest Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Regional Planning Association of America, and the Wilderness Society. Additionally, MacKaye worked as a consultant to Dartmouth College Professor Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy and the experimental Civilian Conservation Corps Camp William James, where the primary focus was to fulfill James’s call to provide young men, and later women, with a moral equivalent to war.



MacKaye, Benton, 1879-1975, James, William, 1842-1910, Regional planning, Appalachian Mountains, Appalachian Trail, Environmental protection—Planning


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