Scott Nearing is best known for a book he wrote with his wife Helen, Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. in l954. The Nearings stimulated a back-to-the-land movement that they embodied for 50 years, until Scott’s death at the age of l00 in l983. Scott’s writing during and between World Wars I and II have growing relevance as the U.S. starts the 21st century’s first major war. America’s weapons have developed, but the main reasons for its war-making remain the same and were well-described by Nearing over 80 years ago.
A young University of Pennsylvania economics professor as World War I began, Nearing wrote a pamphlet about war, “The Great Madness,” that documented the commercial causes of war. Nearing asserted that the main purpose of the U.S. military was “to guard the hundreds of millions of dollars…invested in ‘undeveloped’ countries.” For such views and speaking out against child labor, the university fired Nearing.
In “The Menace of Militarism” Nearing “analyzed… military preparedness and war-making as sources of business profits. My ‘Oil and the Germs of War’ explained the role of the petroleum and other big business interests in the international struggle for sources of raw material, markets, and investment opportunities.” Over 80 years later, as the U.S. (lead by oilmen) begins its Afghanistan War, once again we have war caused partly by our oil dependency.
“War is an attempt of one group to impose its will upon another group by armed violence,” Nearing observes, adding, “But war has wider implications. War offers those in power a chance to rid themselves of opposition while covering up their designs with patriotic slogans.” The leaders of the U.S.’s current war pursue a domestic agenda against “opposition,” as well as an international one.
“War drags human beings from their tasks of building and improving, and pushes them en masse into the category of destroyers and killers.” Wars transform the societies that wage them. The Afghanistan War gives U.S.-based terrorists permission to commit violence, including the use of anthrax and other weapons.
“The event which finally tore me away from my commitment to western civilization was the decision of Harry Truman to blot out the city of Hiroshima,”Nearing reveals. “This decision was one of the most crucial ever made by modern man. The decision was the death sentence of western civilization….the use of atomic weapons against Japan was not only a crime against humanity, but was a blunder which would lead to a gigantic build-up of the planet’s destructive forces…Humanity is today astride a guided missile equipped with a nuclear warhead.”
War’s degradation of nature also concerned Nearing, “Man is able to live on the earth because its soil, water, air, sunshine, and the radiant forces which play so large a part in the preservation of life exist in relative abundance.” Nearing writes about how the planet’s natural resources have “been squandered in waging war,” especially “supplies of fuels and metals.” He criticizes “the pollution and poisoning of land, water, and air by the waste products of concentrated urban life and of large-scale industry.” Nearing became a critic of technology and western civilization and a practical conservationist.
In 1932, as he approached 50, Nearing abandoned the city for country living. Scott and Helen inspired thousands of visitors to their Forest Farm in Vermont and Maine. That inspiration continues through their books and the Good Life Center that still hosts events and welcomes visitors.
In “Freedom: Promise and Menace” (1961) Nearing writes that “in the present world crisis conservatives are using the ‘freedom’ slogan to win support for their reactionary policies.” As politicians once again shout the “freedom” slogan, it is important not to be deceived. Scott Nearing was one of America’s greatest 20th century peace activists and practical conservationists. As the Afghanistan War threatens to spread, it is worth returning to Nearing’s writing and his model of living in harmony with nature. CP
Shepherd Bliss visited the Nearings at their Forest Farm in the mid-80s and now owns the organic Kokopelli Farm, near Sebastopol, California. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org