Leo Marx's 1964 The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America was a foundational work in environmental studies. This article discusses the volume's significance and how Marx's ideas have evolved in later essays. Especially noteworthy is Marx's insight into the contradictory relationship with nature embodied in American pastoralism. Americans celebrate nature and rural values and yet embrace industry and commercialism as means to a pastoral utopia, even though these are ultimately destructive of the natural environment. Given these contradictions and the ascendancy of industrial and commercial values, Marx argues that American pastoralism ultimately fails as a viable cultural and political ideal. This article is critical of such pessimism but also shows how, in later essays, Marx revises his prognosis. Marx comes to see the pastoral ideal, particularly as manifested in environmentalism, as offering a key political alternative to contemporary industrial society and its social and ecological pathologies.
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