A person who has been ravaged by liberalism might loudly attack Scott P. Richert for his reminiscences on Russell Kirk’s noble reclamation project in Mecosta County (“Ghosts of the Midwest,” Views, February), especially if that person were a partisan of all things Native American.  The logic goes like this: Native Americans, the true Agrarians, first settled the Michigan countryside around Piety Hill.  The despoliation caused by lumber barons was a blight against the sylvan heritage of the Native Americans, not merely an assault on the idyllic lands of the white man.  Russell Kirk was a white man.  Therefore, the fruits of his revival of Mecosta County should be tendered to those original victims of industrial expansion, the Native Americans.

Whether this logic makes any sense may not unduly worry the fretful liberal, impassioned as he often is by the animus of righteous indignation and the spirit of vindication; but Mr. Richert, for the sake of history as opposed to hagiography, might have mentioned those benighted redskins, if only to put into context the continual and complex problems of development.  Development is necessarily bound up with an ongoing sequence of evolutionary events and dynamics of the sort that one sees when observing the prized wilderness.  Species thrive; environments change; species perish.

To have expanded the logic behind such environmental fluctuations, Mr. Richert might have zeroed in on the poignancy of the very problem of Dr. Kirk’s fecundity: With four daughters to his credit, values aside, the good doctor, like Henry Ford, did his own part in keeping strong “the forces of indiscriminate growth,” which are abetted, in part, by population expansion.  What the true liberal might not understand is that population growth does not logically lead to ecological degradation.  There is no deterministic relationship between the two processes of life.  It would have been to Mr. Richert’s credit, however, if he would at least have outlined the conundrum of the relationship between expanding populations and diminishing resources.  If Kirk’s progeny decide that Wal-Marts are better than tree-lined saddle ridges and hardwood copses, then all those trees may go the way of all flesh all over again.

        —Tony Daley
Chicago, IL

Mr. Richert Replies:

I’m not sure how a discussion of American Indians would have “put into context the continual and complex problems of development.”  The history of Indians in Michigan, a subject in which Dr. Kirk was very interested, is somewhat different from that of Indians on the East Coast or the Great Plains.  Tribes were smaller, more settled, and (generally) more peaceful.  Yes, there were Indians in Central Michigan (though not nearly as many as one might think), and many of their descendants remain there today, having intermarried with free blacks to become the “Old Settlers” of whom Dr. Kirk was so fond.  Indians and Old Settlers were largely assimilated into the later European communities of Central Michigan, though there is a Chippewa reservation in Mount Pleasant, which runs an enormously successful casino and hotel complex, constructed by destroying a large stand of forest on the east side of town.

Which brings me to Mr. Daley’s second point.  Of course human beings make choices, and the Chippewa of Mount Pleasant have decided that their economic “progress” is more important than trees and virgin soil.  Dr. Kirk’s children and mine could both decide that “Wal-Marts are better than tree-lined saddle ridges and hardwood copses,” though, to be honest, I doubt that either will.  What, exactly, does this have to do with “population expansion”?  Again, we’re back to the question of choice or, more precisely, free will.  An only child could choose Wal-Mart just as easily as a child with three siblings could—perhaps more easily, because Wal-Mart plays into the dynamics of instant gratification that, in general, afflict only children more fully than those from larger families.  If the problem were not the texture of population expansion (for instance, growth of native populations versus immigration) but simply that sheer numbers translate into “indiscriminate growth” (something that Virginia Abernethy has decisively disproved, in these pages and elsewhere), then the only way to prevent our progeny from choosing Wal-Mart over hardwood copses would be to quit having children altogether.  That would certainly preserve “nature,” but without man to enjoy and tame it, what would that “nature” be?

On Chronicles in the Classroom

Congratulations to Dr. Roger McGrath for his efforts in the fight against cultural Marxism.  Dr. McGrath’s articles and columns in Chronicles have become required reading in the 11th-grade U.S. history courses that I teach at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles.  Please continue your fine work.

        —Kieley D. Jackson
Los Angeles, CA