Date of Award


Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Dr. R. Bruce Stephenson

Second Advisor

Dr. Leslie K. Poole


Since its founding, nature and nature-ownership have been central to American democracy, with property ownership remaining a fundamental part of its citizens' idea of liberty and freedom. Although initially constrained by common law principles, private property rights have varied over the centuries and have largely ignored the land's natural features. Landownership today tends to equate more with individual power than public responsibility. As a result of individualistic actions that have degraded the landscape and neglected the interdependence of humans with the greater biotic community, the divide between humans and nature has grown. In his groundbreaking essay, "The Land Ethic," Aldo Leopold wrote that the boundaries of community must be extended beyond humans to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land. This changes the role of humans from conquerors to citizens and plain members of the land community. Leopold argued that an ethical shift in the attitude toward land is necessary for its recovery and continued health; but as humans can only be ethical to something they can see, feel, understand or otherwise have faith in, active participation as a member of the land community is imperative. This paper expands on the idea that there is a fundamental connection between land and democratic rights and responsibilities. Democracy and democratic citizenship also demand participation, as well an acceptance of the interconnectivity and interdependence of humans and the land. Viewed through the lens of Leopold's land ethic, the definition of democracy is extended beyond the human sphere to include all members of the land community. This paper concludes with examples of how the land ethic, in its application, is helping to restore the natural and civilized landscapes and, as Leopold proposed, bridge the gap between humans and nature.