Skip to main content Accessibility

Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin was a prolific and controversial writer whose 1968 article “The Tragedy of the Commons” launched him onto the national stage as one of the intellectual leaders of the environmental movement.

About Garrett Hardin

Hardin used his status as a famous scientist and environmentalist to provide a veneer of intellectual and moral legitimacy for his underlying nativist agenda, serving on the board of directors of both the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform and the white-nationalist Social Contract Press. He also co-founded the anti-immigrant Californians for Population Stabilization and The Environmental Fund, which primarily served to lobby Congress for nativist and isolationist policies.

In his own words:

"Promoters of more diversity maintain that the more immigrants the better; and the greater the variety the richer America will become. Many of these promoters are ‘Europhobic' — fearful of, or revolted by, European civilization and values. They say we should stop taking in North Europeans, urging us instead to solicit the Filipinos, the Taiwanese and the Salvadorans… . Diversity is the opposite of unity, and unity is a prime requirement for national survival.”
—“How Diversity Should be Nurtured,” The Social Contract, 1991

“During the first part of the 20th century, immigration to the United States was biased to favor those who were most like the people who created this legal entity — the northern Europeans. … Then popular anthropology came along with its dogma that all cultures are equally good and valuable. To say otherwise was to be narrow-minded and prejudiced, to be guilty of the sin of ethnocentrism… . That which was foreign and strange, particularly if persecuted, became the ideal. Black became beautiful, and prolonged bilingual education replaced naturalization.”
—“Conspicuous Benevolence and the Population Bomb,” Chronicles, 1991

“The Ford Foundation (and other organizations financed by American money) have allotted many millions of dollars to nondemocratic Latino organizations that are determined to revise the political structure of the United States. … We have no reason to suppose that suicidal political organizations will never succeed in creating a chaotic NorteAmericano Central. The human species may not self-destruct; but what we like to call ‘human civilization’ may.”
—“The Persistence of the Species,” Politics and the Life Sciences, 1999

“My position is that this idea of a multiethnic society is a disaster. That's what we've got in Central Europe, and in Central Africa. A multiethnic society is insanity. I think we should restrict immigration for that reason.”
—Interview with The Social Contract, 1997


For almost 60 years, Garrett Hardin used his authority as a respected, if controversial, ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to integrate nativist attitudes towards race and immigration into the American environmentalist movement. He portrayed overpopulation as an existential threat, and based many of his arguments on racist, pseudo-scientific assertions about immigrants’ fertility rates. Supported by grants from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation dedicated to the promotion of racist pseudo-science, Hardin prophesied a total collapse of civilization if immigration, particularly non-white immigration, was allowed to continue unabated. He worked within both academic and activist circles to make immigration an environmental issue by convincing the public that impending environmental disaster could only be averted by sealing the borders, cutting off relief efforts and foreign aid to poor nations, and working to purge as much ethnic and cultural diversity from the United States as possible.

Hardin wrote for two very different audiences over the course of his career. His scientific publications targeted the educated public, and in them he worked to establish immigration as a plausible ecological threat while loudly disavowing any racist intent. At the same time, however, Hardin also published numerous articles in far-right publications, including The Social Contract, a nativist magazine founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton and edited by Wayne Lutton, and Chronicles, a far-right magazine controversial even among conservatives for its racism and anti-Semitism. In these venues, he insisted that the United States and northern Europe were in danger of being overrun by non-white hordes, especially Latinos and Muslims. He framed these views in terms of ethnic struggle, claiming that “there are two forms [of genocide]. Active genocide is the sort one first thinks of — Hitler killing six million Jews. But there is another form — more subtle, less obvious, but potentially equally effective — that we may call passive genocide. The way this works was recently revealed in … remarks by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament… Translated bluntly, ‘We Muslims are going to outbreed you.’ … If two cultures compete for the same bit of ‘turf’ (environment), and if one of the populations increases faster than the other, then year by year, the population that is reproducing faster will increasingly outnumber the slower one. … This is passive genocide.”

Hardin used the specter of environmental destruction and ethnic conflict to promote policies that can be fairly described as fascist. Concerned that ethnic solidarity would lead minorities in the United States to liberalize immigration policy, Hardin argued that “[t]he double question Who benefits? Who pays?suggests that a restriction of the usual democratic franchise would be appropriate and just in this case.” Moreover, he regularly insisted that to prevent catastrophe, American culture would have to adopt radically new values, especially regarding reproductive freedoms. In 1963, Hardin began publicly advocating for women’s reproductive rights. With the 1968 publication of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” however, he began calling for the United States to reject the UN Declaration of Human Rights, explicitly arguing that the government should adopt coercive measures to prevent women (especially, as he argued elsewhere, non-white women) from reproducing. According to Hardin, certain racial groups have “adopt[ed] overbreeding as a policy to secure [their] own aggrandizement,” and because of this, he argued, “the freedom to breed is intolerable.”

Hardin was generally coy about what coercive measures he had in mind to prevent the “wrong” people from breeding, although in various outlets he praised China’s one-child policy and suggested that forcible sterilization was a viable option. In later interviews, he admitted that he used the rhetoric of women’s rights to cloak his true interest in abortion and sterilization, because “[t]o mention abortion's effect on population growth would be to arouse the suspicion that I was a nasty Nazi.”

Unsurprisingly, Hardin evinced a lifelong interest in eugenics and racial differences. He fiercely denounced the “equalitarians” who pointed out that there was no evidence to support his racist beliefs in the intellectual, psychological, and moral inferiority of nonwhites. Hardin was one of 52 signatories to Linda Gottfredson’s infamous 1994 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Mainstream Science on Intelligence,” which claimed, among other things, that the average IQ among the black population was only 85, and that the average black 17-year-old was the mental equivalent of the average white 13-year-old. His beliefs about black intellectual inferiority take on even darker connotations when laid alongside his assertion in an undergraduate biology textbook that “[t]here seems to be little danger of society’s being deprived of something valuable by the sterilization of all feeble-minded individuals.” Demonstrating definitively that his concern with overpopulation was primarily a cover for his racist ideology, Hardin opposed groups like Zero Population Growth, which encouraged their primarily white membership to remain child-free. Richard Lynn, another signatory of “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” and noted purveyor of racist psychological theories, praised Hardin for his willingness to argue “that this would be dysgenic because the peoples of the first world are more intelligent than those in the third world.”

Hardin’s interest in curtailing both the immigration and reproduction of ethnic minorities in the United States was part of a broader program of white separatism. Hardin usually obfuscated this stance in mainstream publications; however, in 1990 he gave an interview to Californians for Population Stabilization, an anti-immigrant organization he co-founded. In this interview, he laid out his belief that nations should be segregated along ethnic and religious lines, arguing that “we will have the greatest success if the diversity is spatially isolated to a considerable extent; that is, if you get inside of one nation equal proportions of all the world’s cultures, all the world’s ethnic groups, all the world’s religions, you will have such a mixture that there’ll be nothing but internal warfare, and it’ll be absolutely dreadful.” When asked if he was advocating for segregation, he responded, “Segregat[ion] by nation, not by neighborhoods within a nation. See, that’s a different thing; the same word, segregation, but if we segregate by nations, then peace is possible.”

Hardin’s anti-immigrant rhetoric often revolved around his belief that immigrants came to the United States in order to steal the wealth and privilege that they, and the cultures they came from, were incapable of providing for themselves. From this starting point, he argued that not only was immigration intolerable, but that foreign aid, particularly disaster relief, was allowing poor nations to live beyond their means, and should thus be cut off. The Environmental Fund, which was founded by Hardin and funded by Cordelia Scaife May, right-wing activist and heiress to the Mellon-Scaife fortune, lobbied against P.L. 480, the “Food for Peace” program that sells heavily subsidized surplus grain to famine-stricken nations. While unsuccessful at having it repealed, he took credit for convincing Congress to let the program “wither on the vine,” calling this “success” the Fund’s hallmark achievement.

Hardin’s opposition to famine relief made his opposition to immigration even more striking. He singled out refugees in a number of his writings, portraying them as greedy freeloaders. One of his favorite rhetorical tactics was to describe nations as lifeboats, each with severely limited resources. Because of these limitations, it was morally acceptable to forbid any more people from boarding a lifeboat that was close to capacity, and in some cases it would even be acceptable to throw existing residents “overboard.” In his controversial 1974 essay, “Living on a Lifeboat,” Hardin portrayed refugees as cynically choosing to “fall out of their lifeboats and swim for a while in the water outside, hoping to be admitted to a rich lifeboat, or in some other way to benefit from the ‘goodies’ on board.”

Ironically, he acknowledged that white Americans had no good moral claim to their own “goodies,” but when asked if the land their wealth was built on should be given back to the native population from whom it had been stolen, he said “[a]s an exercise in pure logic, I see no way to reject this proposal. Yet I am unwilling to live by it. … Suppose, becoming intoxicated with pure justice, we ‘Anglos’ should decide to turn our land over to the Indians… Then what would we non-Indians do? Where would we go?” Yet anyone asking the same question about nonwhite refugees was not only “irrational,” but “suicidal.”

Despite all this, Hardin is still taken seriously as a scientific and environmental thinker by the broader educated public. Excerpted portions of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” in addition to being assigned in countless college courses, were included in The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins, and American Earth: Environmental Writing since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben with an introduction by Al Gore, both published in 2008. After his suicide in 2003, The New York Times published an obituary of Hardin in which its strongest criticism was simply that he “saw his harsh message on overpopulation as a form of tough love.”

Over the course of his career, Hardin wrote 27 books and over 350 articles, many of which were frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism. Nevertheless, whenever Hardin’s views are presented to the public, the white nationalism that unified his thought is invariably glossed over. In general, the only places to find open discussions of the entirety of Hardin’s thought are on white supremacist websites, where he is celebrated as a hero. Articles and comments on,, and The Occidental Quarterly, not to mention publications Hardin personally contributed to like The Social Contract and Chronicles, recognize Hardin as one of the intellectual pillars of modern scientific racism and white separatism. After his death, John Tanton and Wayne Lutton founded the Garrett Hardin Society to continue Hardin’s mission of transforming environmentalism into a weapon to use against immigrants, minorities and poor nations.