Abstract

Abstract:

The influence of John Locke's political thought on Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe has often been discussed. Most studies have focused on how the novel speaks to political crises in England, especially those surrounding the Glorious Revolution, which have traditionally been seen as forming the key context for understanding Locke's Two Treatises of Government. But recent scholarship has shown that the Two Treatises also addressed the colonial context in America and provided the intellectual platform that justified British expansion in the New World. Though studies of Robinson Crusoe have for some time analyzed the novel in the context of colonialism, Locke has not figured much in such analyses. This essay argues, however, that Locke's key connection to Robinson Crusoe is his view of America and empire and that Defoe's story of survival in the wild builds on and powerfully reinforces Locke's colonial ideology, which is grounded in a vision of how human beings should (and should not relate) to the earth. This vision is deeply anthropocentric and matches what the environmental historian Donald Worster calls "the 'imperial' view of nature." The vision of empire shared by Locke and Defoe is thus based on and inseparable from a quest for ecological dominion that is global in scope. In the latter part of the essay, I discuss the astounding popularity of the Crusoe story and its status as myth and argue that it constitutes a version of what Carolyn Merchant terms the "Recovery Narrative," which forms "perhaps the most important mythology that humans have developed to make sense of their relationship to the earth." Given its influence and enduring popularity, I suggest that we see Robinson Crusoe as a key text and driver of the Anthropocene—the geological epoch in which human activities have altered the planet's land surfaces, oceans, and biosphere and produced the environmental crises that we face today.

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