29 pages 58 minutes read

Garrett James Hardin

The Tragedy of the Commons

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1968

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


Critical Context

Hardin’s work has influenced the environmental movement but also has been a lightning rod for criticism.

Some critics lambasted Hardin for grounding his arguments on the unregulated commons: They insisted that many common resources, especially among small, local groups, already are regulated, which resolves many of Hardin’s claims (Cox, Susan Jane Buck. “No tragedy of the commons.” Journal of Environmental Ethics, Spring 1985, vol. 7, pp. 49-61). Their concern is that an overweening central regulator’s legislation would upset carefully worked-out agreements by local communities that already successfully manage their common resources.

The two sides aren’t that far apart, though: Hardin confessed that he should have titled his essay “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons” (Hardin, Garrett. “Extensions of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons.’” Science, 1 May 1998, pp. 682-83). His later works address the distinction between regulated and unregulated commons. His 1968 thesis stresses that many resources remain unregulated and need to be protected by enforceable standards to limit misuse; this remains valid on a planetary level, where poisoned air and water and overfished oceans, for example, can adversely affect everyone on Earth.

Since Hardin’s article in 1968, and to some degree because of that article, grassroots environmental movements have pressed governments the world over to take steps to regulate pollution and the overuse of natural resources.