In 1845, New York journalist John O’Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny,” an expression that would remain shorthand during the late nineteenth century for the belief that Americans had an obligation to settle the western territories. Indeed, the phrase “Manifest Destiny” implied that America’s expansion was predetermined, undeniable, and – most importantly – inspired by God.
The ideas that precipitated talk about and belief in Manifest Destiny, however, were not necessarily the most important cause for America’s population expansion in the west. Rather, throughout the late 1840s, Manifest Destiny was a rallying cry of those in government who wanted the entirety of the North American continent settled. A religious rationale that echoed this aim was a convenient and useful way to ask Americans to go west.
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Today, powerful groups of anti-environmental activists are using similar tactics. The anti-environmental philosophy known as “Wise Use” has gained a large audience, and many of its advocates hold a menacing influence over government. There are increasingly close ties between those who subscribe to the ideas of Wise Use and members of fundamentalist Christian churches and organizations, particularly as Wise Use advocates are increasingly adapting their own agenda to include the concerns of religious voters. In doing so, the Wise Use movement has gained an army of God to promote its own agenda.
Although many credit the modern day right-wing activist and timber industry consultant Ron Arnold with coining the term “Wise Use,” Arnold borrowed it from the writing of Gifford Pinchot, the head of the US Forest Service under Theodore Roosevelt. But Arnold has come a long way in redefining the concept from the way it was initially used by Pinchot. Arnold is generally considered the father of this modern-day incarnation of Wise Use, and he is particularly well-known for conceptualizing a combative critique of the environmental movement that is deeply ideological. He is currently executive vice-president of The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise which, according to its Web site, monitors “threats to free markets, property rights and limited government.” It also serves as a key center for anti-environmental activism.
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