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50 Edward Abbey Quotes From the Environmental Activist

February 2, 2021 7:00 AM EST

These Edward Abbey quotes will give you insight into the mind of a great environmental advocate.

The Monkey Wrench Game, written by American environmental activist Edward Abbey, is hailed as an inspiration to eco-warriors. It is one of his most known works.

50 Edward Abbey Quotes From the Environmental Activist

Just who was Edward Abbey?

His father, a socialist, anarchist, and atheist, influenced Abbey’s beliefs growing up. His mother, a school teacher, helped cultivate his love of literature and classical music. He is clearly a mix of the two, as he became a writer who brought awareness to the environment, to what anarchy is, and how he felt government should run.

The Edward Abbey quotes below delve more into what he thought about the wilderness, life, and the role of anarchy within government.

Ironically, Abbey served as a part of the military police in Italy, where he was promoted twice. However, his natural inclination to fight authoritative figures led to him being demoted (twice) and then honorably discharged. It was that time in the military that reinforced his distrust of institutions and furthered his beliefs. Enjoy these Edward Abbey quotes!

Edward Abbey quotes about being out in the wilderness

1. “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization that destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” ― Edward Abbey

2. “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it, the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” ― Edward Abbey

3. “The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need if only we had the eyes to see.” ― Edward Abbey

4. “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” ― Edward Abbey

5. “Wilderness. The word itself is music.” ― Edward Abbey

6. “Why this cult of wilderness?… because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.” ― Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey quotes about life

7. “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” ― Edward Abbey

8. “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” ― Edward Abbey

If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of fighting cancer quotes about the battle of a lifetime.

9. “You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.” ― Edward Abbey

10. “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” ― Edward Abbey

11. “Anarchism is democracy taken seriously.” ― Edward Abbey

12. “Freedom begins between the ears.” ― Edward Abbey

13. “Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation.” ― Edward Abbey

14. “There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere.” ― Edward Abbey

15. “I stand for what I stand on.” ― Edward Abbey

16. “A drink a day keeps the shrink away.” ― Edward Abbey

17. “When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.” ― Edward Abbey

18. “A house built on greed cannot long endure.” ― Edward Abbey

19. “The distrust of wit is the beginning of tyranny.” ― Edward Abbey

20. “Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful.” ― Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey quotes on life lessons

21. “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” ― Edward Abbey

22. “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” ― Edward Abbey

23. “If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.” ― Edward Abbey

24. “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ― Edward Abbey

25. “Be loyal to what you love, be true to the earth, fight your enemies with passion and laughter.” ― Edward Abbey

26. “A man on foot, on horseback, or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” ― Edward Abbey

27. “There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever if you ask me.” ― Edward Abbey

28. “Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break…I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.” ― Edward Abbey

29. “If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies’ territory, we must accept the fact that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers.” ― Edward Abbey

30. “We know so very little about this strange planet we live on, this haunted world where all answers lead only to more mystery.” ― Edward Abbey

31. “My own ambition, my deepest and truest ambition is to find within myself someday, somehow, the ability to do likewise, to do NOTHING – and find it enough.” ― Edward Abbey

32. “Love implies anger. The man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing.” ― Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey quotes about government, society, and economics

33. “An economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.” ― Edward Abbey

34. “Abolition of a woman’s right to abortion, when and if she wants it, amounts to compulsory maternity: a form of rape by the State.” ― Edward Abbey

If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of abortion quotes for those thinking about the big decision.

35. “Somewhere in the depths of solitude, beyond wilderness and freedom, lay the trap of madness.” ― Edward Abbey

36. “A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive, and murderous society.” ― Edward Abbey

37. “A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for god sake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches – that is the right and privilege of any free American.” ― Edward Abbey

38. “If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers, and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule: That was the American dream.” ― Edward Abbey

39. “Most academic economists know nothing of economy. In fact, they know little of anything.” ― Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey quotes about anarchy, hatred, and knowledge

40. “How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.” ― Edward Abbey

41. “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.” ― Edward Abbey

42. “Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.” ― Edward Abbey

43. “The tragedy of modern war is that the young men die fighting each other – instead of their real enemies back home in the capitals.” ― Edward Abbey

44. “The one thing … that is truly ugly is the climate of hate and intimidation, created by a noisy few, which makes the decent majority reluctant to air in public their views on anything controversial. … Where all pretend to be thinking alike, it’s likely that no one is thinking at all.” ― Edward Abbey

45. “Our ‘neoconservatives’ are neither new nor conservative, but old as Babylon and evil as Hell.” ― Edward Abbey

46. “Ah yes, the head is full of books. The hard part is to force them down through the bloodstream and out through the fingers.” ― Edward Abbey

47. “I took the other road, all right, but only because it was the easy road for me, the way I wanted to go. If I’ve encountered some unnecessary resistance that’s because most of the traffic is going the other way.” ― Edward Abbey

48. “Whatever we cannot understand easily we call God; this saves wear and tear on the brain tissues.” ― Edward Abbey

49. “As a confirmed melancholic, I can testify that the best and maybe only antidote for melancholia is action. However, like most melancholics, I suffer also from sloth.” ― Edward Abbey

50. “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” ― Edward Abbey

Have you seen these John Muir quotes on the mountains of life?

What did you learn from these Edward Abbey quotes?

During his time in college, Abbey worked on the school newspaper and began writing about anarchy, publishing an article titled, “Some Implications of Anarchy.” This caused the university to yank all the copies off the ‘shelves’ and ban him from the newspaper. It likely had to do with the Voltaire quote he chose to use as a cover quotation: “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

Despite the incident at the student paper, Abbey earned a bachelor’s in philosophy and English from the University of New Mexico. He would later earn a master’s in philosophy as well.

In his master thesis, Abbey posed two questions that I think many of us have often pondered when considering the matter: “To what extent is the current association between anarchism and violence warranted? In so far as the association is a valid one, what arguments have the anarchists presented, explicitly or implicitly, to justify the use of violence?”

In large part to his writings about the draft, Abbey found himself on the FBI’s watchlist for most of his life. When he learned of this later in his life, Abbey stated, “I’d be insulted if they weren’t watching me.”

Abbey worked as a park ranger which influenced works like Desert Solitaire. Upon his death, he wanted to be buried out in the wilderness without any embalming. He is buried in an undisclosed location within the Cabeza Prieta Desert in Pima County, Arizona.

What’s your biggest takeaway from these Edward Abbey quotes and sayings? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.

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