Regarding Ed Abbey’s FBI file:
“Man will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest!” The quote is from Diderot, but Abbey thinks it funnier to attribute the words to Louisa May Alcott.
Democracy has always been a rare and fragile institution. . . . As social conflict tends to become more severe . . . there will inevitably be a tendency on the part of the authoritarian element—always present in our history—to suppress individual freedoms, to utilize the refined techniques of police surveillance (not excluding torture of course) in order to preserve—not wilderness!—but the status quo . . . -Cactus Ed Abbey-
Abbey’s beliefs in freedom and resistance, and his message of aggressive nonconformity, of screw-you freedom, were perfect for the ’60s and ’70s. But it’s hard to imagine that the same message would get a similar reaction today, or to see, at least at first, how his spirit might be adapted to fit our times. For instance, isn’t monkey wrenching dead as a legitimate possibility for the environmental movement? I must admit that in my own grown-up life as a professor and father I don’t blow a lot of things up. For most of us who care about the environment, Wallace Stegner provides a much more sensible model.
But I don’t want to be so quick to toss Abbey on the scrap heap. If the times have changed, Abbey’s ideas about freedom have in some ways never been more relevant. Many of the things that he foresaw have come to pass: we currently live in an age of unprecedented surveillance, where the government regularly reads our letters (now called e-mails) and monitors our movements. Abbey offers resistance to this. Resistance to the worst of our times, the constant encroaching on freedom and wildness. He says to us: Question them, question their authority. Don’t be so quick to give up the things you know are vital no matter what others say. -David Gessner-