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2 - The Tragedy of Garrett Hardin’s Commons

from Part I - Revisiting the Origins and Evolution of Commons Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 October 2021

Sheila R. Foster
Affiliation:
Georgetown University School of Law
Chrystie F. Swiney
Affiliation:
Georgetown University School of Law
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Summary

This chapter unpacks Garrett Hardin's 1968 landmark article "The Tragedy of the Commons" by exploring the controversial views of its author and the explosive social context from which it emerged. More than an essay about resource management in the abstract, Hardin's admitted main point in "The Tragedy of the Commons," often excerpted out of many anthologies and reprints, is at its core an argument for population control. Hardin’s views veered from the mainstream and openly incorporated racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant ideas. Given this, it seems quite surprising today that the article was received so well, both popularly and in academic circles. But in reality, Hardin's success came because of his focus on population – not in spite of it. The article came at just the right time to catch on: precisely when the environmental movement neared its crest and just before his most controversial idea – population control – was about to enter the public realm as a serious matter of debate.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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