Robin O’Sullivan reviews American Wilderness: A New History at History News Network. Plenty of juice here, including editor Michael Lewis’s swipe at “citizens who passionately oppose oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, yet brashly drive hundreds of miles in gas-chugging vehicles to hike in national parks,” but I was especially struck by this passage in the review:

“Donald Worster’s epilogue ties protection of wild nature to modern liberal, democratic ideals held by ‘ordinary people.’ He shows that defense of wilderness has been most successful in nations that support democratic principles, human rights, and freedom of speech — e.g., Costa Rica, Panama, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Scotland. In these countries, wilderness is perceived as a place of freedom, worthy of respect. In more authoritarian nations, Worster contends, wilderness is a threat to dictatorial control. He optimistically believes that there is plenty of wild nature left for liberal democracies to protect.”

Try substituting “the right to keep and bear arms” for “wilderness” in those last two sentences. Works pretty well, doesn’t it?

Once again I am NOT arguing that either wilderness or gun ownership is good or bad. Save that debate for somewhere else. I am suggesting that there’s a deeper parallelism. Conservatives tend to think of gun ownership as a kind of protection of freedom and order against lawlessness (from above or from below); perhaps liberals tend to think of “untrammeled” wilderness in the same way. But surely our protection isn’t individual (holding a gun or retreating into the wild) but social: an educated, knowledgeable citizenry with a real stake in the social customs (like live-and-let-live) and political institutions (like the Constitution) that maintain order and freedom.