Who is Charles Alan Reich, and why is his book The Greening of America important?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Green America's identification with the natural world was primal. The Greening of America assert that "contact with the open spaces of nature [is] a basic need" (168) ..., referring to Sixties youth culture and its vivification [i.e., enlivening], as it bonds mind and body to the natural environment:

"'Perhaps the deepest source of consciousness is nature. Members of the new generation seek out the beach, the woods, and the mountains. ... They do not go to nature as a holiday from what is real. They go to nature as a source. The salt water of the sea is the salt in their blood; the freedom of the sea is their freedom. The forest is where they came from, it is the place where they feel closest to themselves, it is renewal. ... Nature is not some foreign element. ... Nature is them.' ([The Greening of America], 262)" (Cecelia Tichi, Embodiment of a Nation)

Charles Alan Reich is the Yale law professor who define and described the counter-culture that developed in 1960s as a reaction against the culture of materialized, mechanized, corporatized America and as a reaction against the "police action" war then taking place, and escalating, in Vietnam. Reich was the spokesperson of the rejection of the political-economic structure [Marxian superstructure] that had come to dominate American life that could make "the people" supercilious and that could clandestinely disguise and withhold motives and actions from the voters of the Republic democracy of America.

The son of a physician father and an educator mother (Tichi), Reich took his law degree from Yale, where he was selected as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, which lent him to prestigious advantages in his future career appointments and positions. After being a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black during the "momentous 1953 Term of the Supreme Court ... when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided ... [and] the Court divided in a series of cases with profound implications for the future" (Reich, "A Passion for Justice"). After clerking, Reich went on to take positions with prestigious New York then Washington D.C. law firms. After six years of practicing law for corporate America from within top law firms, Reich turned his back on corporate law and became an associate professor of law at Yale in 1960: he went from the top to the bottom of the "ladder of success" as a voluntary choice. The motivation he had for turning his back on the superstructure and looking for a new basis for a cultural structure as a beginning professor was that he saw the "unreality" of the first and the growing "vivification" of the second.

As expressed by his student Michael I. Swygert in "Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America" (1971), Reich had the uncommon ability to observe "imaginatively, comprehensively, relevantly, insightfully and perceptively" and the ability to truthfully report his "mental findings." The Greening of America was Reich's cogent report of his mental findings from his acute observations of America and of the then newest generation entering adulthood--which included Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham--in America in the "Sixties" (Swygert).

The Greening of America is important for a number of significant reasons, which Cecelia Tichi discusses in Embodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Places. The encapsulation of the reasons for the importance of Greening is that Reich redefines American culture as it had become and re-envisioned American culture as it needed to become. As Tichi explains, Reich called the present time the verge of the new green era--when nature would represent reality and union with reality would bring "wholeness"--the beginning of a new ethos that rejected the "hierarchy, security, money, possessions, power" of corporate America as "wrong" and "unreal." He posited "reality" as unfolding with "nature as a source" in which a new aesthetic and spirituality would be born and embodied in new ways of relating, new ways of wearing clothes and new ways of making and responding to music. While the core element undergirding Reich's re-envisioning of a greening America beginning with the Sixties counter-culture, that of psychedelic drugs, has since been rejected as presenting the utmost danger, the sweeping vision Reich presented--and the dangers of endemic to an America that might not be revolutionized by a greening--of a greened America in which an individual's true identity, newly deepened aesthetic and spirituality, and genuine interconnectedness has not lost its validity.