Ecology and religion in history

Ecology and religion in history

392 REVIEWS World War, it is not surprising that the new Libyan government would seek to rectify an anomalous situation. Methodologically Fourth Sho...

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World War, it is not surprising that the new Libyan government would seek to rectify an anomalous situation. Methodologically Fourth Shore is an archival study. Relatively few interviews were conducted and most of these were with friends and relatives of leading personalities such as Italo Balbo or with such outstanding colonial agricultural technocrats as Professor Armando Maugini. As a result, it is difficult from this study to determine the precise socio-economic background of most of the Italian immigrants. Similarly, intriguing hypotheses go untested. The notion that the poorer the immigrant in Italy, the easier he adapted to new conditions in Libya, is worth more detailed study because of its relationship to the potential success of contemporary plans based on the Italian model. Equally worthy of more detailed examination is the supposition that selection criteria favoured politically reliable Fascists and (because regional administrators wanted to dispose of local undesirables) a disproportionate percentage of malcontents. This too has obvious implications for the potential success of the colonization effort. In sum, Fourth Shore is a valuable addition to the scanty English literature on the Italian colonial era. SegrB’s discussion of the intellectual currents that supported and rationalized the colonial impulse is helpful and his presentation of the legal and political aspects of the colonial regime is comprehensive. One comes away from Segr&‘s study supporting his conclusion that “politics gave life to the colonization; politics ultimately strangled it”. Given the similarity of Italian imperialism to that of other colonial powers, it is difficult to envision any other outcome. Clark University


DAVID and EILEENSPRING(Eds), Ecology and Religion in History (New

York, Evanston, San Francisco and London: Harper and Row, 1974. Pp. 154. $3.95 softback) The debate concerning the relationship of religion-and by extension ideology-with man’s impact on the earth has lasted for over a century. While it is perhaps an overgeneralization to group the varieties of views on this subject around two polar positions, the debate was fuelled by the conflict between those who saw material factors as fundamental and religion as a subsequently derived superstructure and those who saw religion, or spiritual activity, as prior and primary human accomplishments in the context of which technology and science, social structures and processes originated. Outstanding proponents of the latter position include of course Max Weber, for whom the power to shape economic institutions was a central thesis, and Max Scheler, who argued incisively for the seminal role of religion in technological and scientific advance. Geographers are familiar with Eduard Hahn’s thesis concerning the religious-ritual roots of animal domestication. Today conflicting interpretations concerning the development of science and technology in ancient China based on the same materialist-idealist argument are made by J. Needham and H. Koster, the first taking the materialist, the second the idealist position. In the late 195Os, with the growing concern with environmental issues, a new debate was initiated. A key figure was the late historian Lynn White, and the editors of the present volume have appropriately selected one of his best essays, ‘The historical roots of our ecological crisis’, as a pivotal contribution, for it evoked wide and varied response. What distinguishes the new debate is not merely that older issues have been formulated in ways which have given them a widely perceived pertinency, but that it seems to be conducted on a common ground accepted by all sides, namely the reality of a global ecological crisis. Lynn White, his followers and to a large extent his critics have come out squarely on the side of Weber, accepting as axiomatic that beliefs are the substratum of destructive (or beneficial) technologies. Specifically, White argues that the roots of a global ecological crisis lie in changes initiated and furthered through history by specific Western beliefs, namely a Judeo-Christian teleological ethic. The editors of this volume, David and



Eileen Spring, have chosen some of the best essays that appeared in response to Lynn White’s thesis. He has been challenged on his reading of the Judeo-Christian tradition (for example by J. Macquarrie and J. Barr), on his geographic-historical bias which plays down the damage caused to the natural world by the activities of non-Western man (by Yi-Fu Tuan), and for ignoring social and technological forces and the biodynamics of ecosystems in which religion plays only a subsidiary, even negligible, role (by R. Dubos and L. Moncrief). Yet the essays in this volume do not exhaust the issues raised by White. For example, both Macquarrie and Barr have taken issue with White’s derivation of Western attitudes toward nature from Genesis 1 : 28, pointing out that significant as the Genesis creation dogma is for all Christian creeds, to identify it as the theological root of all evils unleashed by Western Christianity upon the natural world is untenable. (The relevant passage is: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”.) Macquarrie points out that it is not in ancient Israel that we find the nursery for the science and technology of the West, but in Greece. This reviewer finds extraordinary the extent to which even defenders of Western religion concede that the idea of progress is a specific Judeo-Christian contribution. This assent, though silent, testifies to one of the more remarkable vagaries of the historiography of our times. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship which showed that the principle of progress was one of the central ideas of classical antiquity has been completely forgotten. And yet as late as 1920, W. R. Inge in his famous Romanes Lecture, ‘The idea of progress’, assembled expressions of the classical attitude to progress without feeling the need to cite any Greek or Roman statements in opposition to the idea of progress. That the Greeks and Romans are now deprived of the idea while the “JudeoChristian tradition” has been saddled with it is in part due to J. B. Bury’s Idea of Progress, a bad work whose central thesis has prevailed; but more importantly it is due to the cultural disillusionment of modern Western historians. Since progress has now been defined as bad their considerable mythopoeic abilities have been engaged in attributing it to their own civilization, lodging it more specifically in that part of their civilization which has failed them most. There are two additional problems with White’s thesis which are only partially confronted in this volume. One is the comfortable elision “Judeo-Christian”, for, in fact, Jewish and Christian attitudes toward nature were fundamentally different. The other is the disguised romantic attack on Christianity for what are in the overall context of history minor sins, an attack which ignores Christianity’s achievements in making the land more productive, usually with less lasting damage than has been inflicted by other civilizations. The attitude of the Hebrew Bible to man’s task on earth and his relationship to its fauna and flora is emphatically different from attitudes as they developed in Christendom. Biblical and post-biblical halachic laws concerning the land and non-human life read like primers of the conservation movement. They did not consist merely of pious exhortations but provided the governing principles in Jewish agricultural life into the late Byzantine era. Laws of the sabbatical year (shemita, yovel), laws prohibiting the destruction of natural fauna and flora (bal tashchit), laws against uprooting of cultivated plants even in enemy territory in time of war, almost absolute prohibition of hunting-and there are a great many more examples-illustrate the Bible’s concern for land and life. There is probably no more striking illustration of the divergence of Judaism and Christianity than in Paul’s comment on the biblical prohibition “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (Deuteronomy 25 : 4). Paul says “. . . doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?’ (I Corinthians 9 : 9-10). But more fundamentally, White’s essay, and to even greater extent that of Toynbee, which closes this volume, are not careful historical investigations but rather expressions



of a religiosity yearning for a new Christianity better than the historical Christianity. That this is so becomes apparent in the form taken by post-Christian disenchantment with the Faustian drive (inaccurately translated as the Judeo-Christian ethic) of Western civilization. First, the West is saddled with sins it did not commit, or when committed are peccadilloes compared to the devastation caused by other civilizations. While Lynn White makes much of the ecological effect of the reclamation of the Zuider Zee, of the extinction of the urus and of the bad effects of the fur trade, these had a minor impact compared to the devastation of vast areas of the Old World by the Arab imperial expansion, or the denudation of central Burma by Buddhism (a religion much lauded by White for its attitudes). By contrast, in this broad indictment against the West, true achievements are suppressed, those, for example, of European peasantry which created highly productive and at the same time balanced ecological systems. In pillorying the West for its sins against nature, White and those of his school avoid confrontation with the real crisis at the heart of Western civilization and the root cause of the human holocausts which it periodically unleashes, a cause to be found not in Genesis 1 : 28 but rather in the West’s historic inability to assimilate a “Jude0-Christian” ethic. City College of New York


Contents of the Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 3 (1) appearing

in January


The next issue of the Journal will include, Alan Everitt,

“River and wold: reflections regions and pays”

David Grigg,

“E. G. Ravenstein

on the historical

and the ‘laws of migration’

origins of ”

Edward K. Muller, “Regional Urbanization and the selective growth of towns in North American regions” and Mark Billinge, as well as two conference

“Phenomenology reports.

and historical