Reich Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In his book The Greening of America, Charles A. Reich explained how a new consciousness among young Americans in the 1960’s could alter the U.S. corporate state and slow its destruction of the environment.

Summary of Event

After experiencing the new values and lifestyles of college students and hippies in the 1960’s, law professor Charles A. Reich wrote The Greening of America: How the Youth Revolution Is Trying to Make America Livable to explain the nature and significance of the new consciousness he had found among them. His analysis has much in common with Marxist criticisms of capitalism and with Romantic calls for a return to nature, but Reich does not seek to dismantle technology, and he rejects the methods of liberal reformers and New Left radicals who provoke confrontations with the state. Instead, Reich believes the dehumanizing and destructive power of corporations in the United States will be undermined by individuals who change their own personal values and lifestyles. This new way of thinking he calls Consciousness III, a reaction to the mentality of the power structure of big business and government in twentieth century America. Greening of America, The (Reich) Environmentalism [kw]Reich Publishes The Greening of America (1970) [kw]Greening of America, Reich Publishes The (1970) Greening of America, The (Reich) Environmentalism [g]North America;1970: Reich Publishes The Greening of America[10650] [g]United States;1970: Reich Publishes The Greening of America[10650] [c]Environmental issues;1970: Reich Publishes The Greening of America[10650] [c]Social issues and reform;1970: Reich Publishes The Greening of America[10650] [c]Business and labor;1970: Reich Publishes The Greening of America[10650] Reich, Charles A.

According to Reich, America’s society and environment were shaped by two different ways of thinking, Consciousness I and Consciousness II. The former is the frontier spirit of rugged individualism, self-reliance, and willingness to exploit natural resources for personal profit. Its ideal was the small family farm. By 1900, however, its basic principle of self-interest had run to rampant greed, monopoly, corruption, and despoliation of the environment. To protect workers, consumers, and the environment, people called for reforms, so the government began regulating businesses more extensively. Progressive reforms, such as child labor laws, pure food and drug acts, laws against monopolies, and federal taxes on personal income, followed.

Consciousness II put the public good above individual liberties after the arrival of the Great Depression and World War II. Consciousness II called for massive institutional responses to both crises. The result was the new corporate state, where big business and big government manipulated the nation’s economic system for the public good. Striving for full employment, overproduction, and feverish consumption, the corporate state pushed forward like a juggernaut, threatening to exhaust natural resources.

Reforms of the New Deal and the buildup of a military-industrial complex did not take away power from business and give it back to individuals. Rather, the government aggregated more and more power unto itself. Regulation of business was so extensive that government became, in effect, a partner in virtually every business, making the decisions about plant safety, tax rates, wages, prices, advertising claims, and the contents of products, among other things. Government’s business partner was not restrained from curbing employee’s rights, as government was by the U.S. Constitution. Consciousness I envisioned the United States as a free country where a person could not be told whether to wear a hat or not. Consciousness II turned the United States into a nation where workers had to dress and behave according to employers’ expectations.

If the nature of government was radically altered, so was the way ordinary people lived their lives. As the corporate state sought to advance the public good, individual rights had to be subordinated to that end. The democracy envisioned by Consciousness I gave way to a meritocracy. A new kind of property emerged: status, one’s place within the meritocracy. Individual personality and desires had to be sacrificed for status. Fear of losing one’s status or job meant citizens would conform to approved codes of conduct, however regimented or repressed.

While the corporate state was driven by self-justifying obsessions with progress, technology, efficiency, growth, prosperity, and development, citizens were manipulated as workers and consumers. Natural enjoyments were replaced by artificial substitutes, as frozen dinners drove out fresh food, air-conditioning replaced open windows, and television replaced experience. Citizens sought status, success, and respectability in a game of life that consisted of using things, as opposed to simply being with people. As Reich sees it, the ultimate devastations of Consciousness II are deadened minds and ruined environments.

Consciousness III first sprang up, “like flowers pushing up through the concrete pavement,” among the young Americans who knew they might be drafted to wage a war they could not justify. They preferred to live their own lives, to forsake careers as functionaries in the corporate state, and to pursue happiness through free expression, the appreciation of music and arts, psychedelic drugs, and contemplation. Rejecting the materialism, aggression, and lust for power that fuel the U.S. corporate state, Consciousness III seeks instead “the sensual beauty of a creative, loving, unrepressed life” lived close to nature.


The Greening of America was a best seller that opened many minds to the radical ideas of the New Left. The book provided an intellectual foundation on which civil rights activists, war protesters, and environmentalists could build a common platform. Most important, Reich explored alternative ways of finding personal, noninstitutional solutions to ecological and political problems. Thus he anticipated a rather far-reaching aspect of the environmental movement: the appeal to individuals to adopt new ways of living that are more friendly to the environment.

While Consciousness III people lack enthusiasm for institutional procedures and solutions, and while Reich did not favor revolutionary confrontations with the state, he realized that the environmental movement could and would make advances on all these fronts. He found in the Storm King case Storm King power plant of the mid-1960’s the beginning of a legal strategy to wield the power of the courts on behalf of the environment. The Federal Power Commission Federal Power Commission (now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) had approved Consolidated Edison’s Consolidated Edison plans to build a power plant on the Hudson River near Storm King Mountain, over the protests of conservationists who objected to the damage it would do. The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the commission’s approval, on grounds that the public interest had not been served, since environmental factors had been misjudged relative to economic calculations. Reich correctly predicted that this new method of legal reasoning would lead to a time when, for example, oil pollution might be considered reason enough to stop offshore drilling.

Reich believes that, ultimately, the environment may be saved not by such institutional procedures, but by individuals changing their own values, habits, and ways of living. He points out that the environment is being ruined not by society’s wantonness or carelessness but by the unquestioned values of progress and technology. The American corporate state bulldozes its way through nature by force of its basic commitment to development, growth, profit, technology, and progress. Not until people turn away from these goals will the state’s pace be slowed. The damage to nature will continue so long as people love their wasteful habits of excessive consumption.

Reich encourages people to reject the substitution of artificial things for natural ones. Indeed, consumers have begun demanding more organic and natural foods and less processing in the manufacture of a wide range of goods. Many people avoid foodstuffs grown with the aid of artificial fertilizers. The backlash against toxic substances has led some growers to control pests with natural predators instead of with pesticides. For Reich, much of the destructiveness of the corporate state comes out of this substitution of artificial for natural: from the jet noise over residential areas, to the sterile design of housing projects, and to the bomb-cratered landscape of Vietnam.

Reich also anticipated urban-renewal projects that bring trees and other green plants back into the centers of cities. He suggests that the substitution of pavement for land and skyscrapers for open sky may have made many of society’s undiagnosed problems worse in cities. If the loss of contact with nature contributes to mental illness, antisocial behavior, crime, and psychotic personalities, then these social ills might be ameliorated by letting people see more green land and blue sky.

The success of Reich’s idea that individuals must change their ways can be seen in the subsequent widespread enthusiasm for recycling, using consumer goods made of biodegradable materials, and buying products without harmful chemical additives. When many individuals change the way they purchase, use, and dispose of consumer goods, manufacturers change the way they do business. For example, as individuals sort out paper, aluminum, and other recyclable materials from refuse, companies find ways to reuse them in production. Thus people lower costs and reduce the need for resources newly mined, lumbered, farmed, or otherwise extracted from nature. Recycled products enjoy a competitive advantage among consumers who want manufacturers to be more friendly to the environment.

As Reich predicted, environmentalists found common cause with war protesters and civil rights advocates, and political changes followed. U.S. troops were pulled out of Vietnam, and amnesty was granted to those who evaded the draft by leaving the country. Civil rights and affirmative action became customary procedure in employment policies of business and government. Courts and legislatures extended the policy of weighing environmental damage against economic benefits of proposed development projects. Also, Reich’s reservations about institutional solutions influenced later writers who warned against authoritarian tendencies in the intrusiveness and scope of the environmental movement. Greening of America, The (Reich) Environmentalism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dobson, Andrew, and Derek Bell, eds. Environmental Citizenship. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. Addresses the issue of encouraging people to embrace environmentalism as an act for the common, public good and for the good of the shared environment. A multidisciplinary work that provides a good balance of ideas.
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    xlink:type="simple">Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964. Analyzes effects of technology on society, focusing not on scientific machinery, but on the tendency to standardize procedure and behavior to achieve a result by the one best method. Concludes that this obsession imposes rigid routine on anything it touches, collectivizes society, and dissolves freedom.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Galbraith, J. Kenneth. The New Industrial State. 1971. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Asks how human personality can be saved from America’s impersonal technostructure. Explains how the technostructure replaced the market as the power center of capitalism, and how business and government were merged by managers who sought to maximize corporate influence and prestige after being forbidden by public policy from maximizing profits.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karliner, Joshua. The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997. Argues that transnational corporations hide behind “free trade agreements and World Bank policies” to shield themselves from environmental responsibility. An excellent analysis of the ecological impact of globalization. The author is the founder of CorpWatch (, which investigates and exposes corporate wrongdoing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keniston, Kenneth. The Uncommitted: Alienated Youth in American Society. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965. Describes a pattern of behavior and attitudes among rebellious youth. Psychological tests were administered to three groups of Harvard men, which concluded that technology and affluence lead to abnormally one-sided personality development and, thus, to alienation from society.
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    xlink:type="simple">Lyon, Thomas P., and John W. Maxwell. Corporate Environmentalism and Public Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Analyzes how corporations are addressing environmental concerns as part of business strategy. The authors state the book’s message: that “political-economic analysis is required to understand the emergence of corporate environmentalism, by which we mean environmentally friendly actions not required by law.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. 1955. New preface. Boston: Beacon Press, 1974. A classic psychological study of why individuals form political societies. Marcuse questions Sigmund Freud’s theory that civilization is based on the permanent suppression of sexual instincts. He proposes that humankind could develop a nonrepressive society. Suggests that political revolution in the United States is forestalled by the availability of consumer goods.
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    xlink:type="simple">Mishan, E. J. The Costs of Economic Growth. 1967. Rev. ed. New York: Praeger, 1993. A powerfully pessimistic response to Galbraith’s The New Industrial State. Argues that rapid growth and technological efficiency create needs that cannot be met, thereby causing stress and frustration, which undermine personal happiness and social harmony. Urges legal recognition of rights to peace and quiet, clean air, and privacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reich, Charles. The Greening of America. 1995. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Reich’s popular work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Sorcerer of Solinas Reef. New York: Random House, 1976. This autobiography shows how The Greening of America grew out of Reich’s own experiences. Justice William O. Douglas urged Reich to question the humanity of those in high office and to help save the environment from their misguided policies.

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Green Revolution

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DDT Ban Signals New Environmental Awareness

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First Earth Day Is Celebrated

Environmental Protection Agency Is Created

Categories: History