The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 12 - An Ecological Society
(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "Broader movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while they must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than the factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...the extraordinary achievements of the Spanish workers and peasants in the revolution of 1936, many of which were unmatched by any previous revolution." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "We are direly in need not only of 're-enchanting the world' and 'nature' but also of re-enchanting humanity -- of giving itself a sense of wonder over its own capacity as natural beings and a caring product of natural evolution" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
Chapter 12 - An Ecological Society
After some ten millenia of a very ambiguous social evolution, we must reenter natural evolution again — not merely to survive the prospects of ecological catastrophe and nuclear immolation but also to recover our own fecundity in the world of life. I do not mean that we must return to the primitive lifeways of our early ancestors, or surrender activity and techné to a pastoral image of passivity and bucolic acquiescence. We slander the natural world when we deny its activity, striving, creativity, and development as well as its subjectivity. Nature is never drugged. Our reentry into natural evolution is no less a humanization of nature than a naturalization of humanity.
The real question is: where have humanity and nature been pitted into antagonism or simply detached from each other? The history of "civilization" has been a steady process of estrangement from nature that has increasingly developed into outright antagonism. Today more than at any time in the past, we have lost sight of the telos that renders us an aspect of nature — not merely in relationship to our own "needs" and "interests" but to the meanings within nature itself. No less strident a German idealist philosopher than Fichte reminded us two centuries ago that humanity is nature rendered self-conscious, that we speak for a fullness of mind that can articulate nature's latent capacity to reflect upon itself, to function within itself as its own corrective and guide. But this notion presupposes that we exist sufficiently within nature and are sufficiently part of nature to function on its behalf. Where Fichte patently erred was in his assumption that a possibility is a fact. We are no more nature rendered self-conscious than we are humanity rendered self-conscious. Reason may give us the capacity to play this role, but we and our society are still totally irrational — indeed, we are cunningly dangerous to ourselves and all that lives around us. We do not make the implicit meanings in nature explicit, nor do we act upon nature to enhance its inner striving toward greater variety. We have assumed that social development can occur only at the expense of natural development, not that development conceived as wholeness involves society and nature cojointly.
In this respect we have been our own worst enemies — not only objectively but subjectively as well. Our mental, and later our factual, dissociation of society from nature rests on the barbarous objectification of human beings into means of production and targets of domination — an objectification we have projected upon the entire world of life. To reenter natural evolution merely to rescue our hides from ecological catastrophe would change little, if anything, in our sensibilities and institutions. Nature would still be object (only this time to be feared rather than revered), and people would still be objects instrumentally oriented toward the world (only this time cowed rather than arrogant). The camouflage of green would remain; only its tints would be deeper. Nature would remain denatured in our vision and humanity dehumanized, but rhetoric and palliatives would replace the furnaces of a ruthless industry, and sentimental babble would replace the noise of the assembly line. Let us at least admit, in Voltaire's memorable words, that we cannot drop to the ground on all fours, nor should we do so. We are no less products of natural evolution because we stand erect on our feet and retain the facility of our minds and fingers, whether we regard this heritage as a boon or as a damnation.
Nor can we afford to banish the memory that "civilization" has inscribed on our brains by surrendering our capacity to function self-consciously in society as well as within nature. We would dishonor the countless millions who toiled and perished to provide us with what is worthy in human consociation, not to mention the even larger numbers who were its guileless victims. The soil is no less a cemetery for the innocent dead than it is a source of life. Were we to honor the maxim, "ashes to ashes," earth to earth, society would seem to at least be responding to nature's "law of return." But society has become so irrational and its diet of slaughter so massive that no law — social or ecological — is honored by any of its enterprises. So let there be no more talk about "civilization" and its "fruits," or about "conciliation" with nature for the "good" of humanity. "Civilization" has rarely considered the "good" of humanity, much less that of nature. Until we rid ourselves of the cafeteria imagery that we must repay nature for its "lunches" and "snacks," our relationship with the biosphere will still be contractual and bourgeois to its core. We will still be functioning in a sleazy world of "cost-effective tradeoffs" and "deals" for nature's "resources." Only the most spontaneous desire to be natural — that is, to be fecund, creative, and intrinsically human, can now justify our very right to reenter natural evolution as conscious social beings.
Then what does it mean to be "intrinsically human" to be "natural" in more than a colloquial sense? What, after alt is "human nature" or is natural about human beings? Here, again, it helps to return to the cradle of social life — the extended development of the young and the motherchild relationship — from which we derived our notions of a libertarian rationality. What emerges from Briffault's account and, more recently, from the new anthropology that has happily replaced Victorian studies of "savage society" is the compelling realization that what we call "human nature" is a biologically rooted process of consociation, a process in which cooperation, mutual support, and love are natural as well as cultural attributes. As Briffault emphasizes,
In the human group by the time that one generation has become sexually mature, new generations have been added to the group. The association between the younger generations, pronounced in all primates, is greatly increased as regards solidarity in the human group. From being a transitory association, it tends to become a permanent one.
The prolonged process of physical maturation in the human species turns individual human nature into a biologically constituted form of consociation. Indeed, the formation not only of individuality but also of personality consists of being actively part of a permanent social group. Society involves, above alt a process of socializing — of discourse, mutual entertainment, joint work, group ceremonies, and the development of common culture.
Hence, human nature is formed by the workings of an organic process. Initially, to be sure, it is formed by a continuation of nature's cooperative and associative tendencies into the individual's personal life. Culture may elaborate these tendencies and provide them with qualitatively new traits (such as language, art, and politically constituted institutions) thus producing what could authentically be called a society, not merely a community. But nature does not merely phase into society, much less "disappear" in it; nature is there all the time. Without the care, cooperation, and love fostered by the mother-child relationship and family relationships, individuality and personality either are impossible or begin to disintegrate, as the modern crisis of the ego so vividly indicates. Only when social ties begin to decay without offering any substitutes do we become acutely aware that individuality involves not a struggle for separation but a struggle against it (albeit in a pursuit of much richer and universal arenas of consociation than the primal kinship group). Society may create these new arenas and extend them beyond the blood oath — that is, when it does not regress in the form of fascism and Stalinism to the most suffocating attributes of the archaic world — but it does not create the need to be engrouped, to practice care, cooperation, and love.
To remove any confusion between an "organic society" structured around the blood oath and the utopistic vision of a free society advanced in this chapter, I call the latter an ecological society. An ecological society presupposes that the notion of a universal humanitas, which "civilization" has imparted to us over the past three millenia, has not been lost. It also assumes that the strong emphasis on individual autonomy, which our contemporary "modernists" so facilely attribute to the Renaissance, will acquire unsurpassed reality — but without the loss of the strong communal ties enjoyed by organic societies in the past. Hierarchy, in effect, would be replaced by interdependence, and consociation would imply the existence of an organic core that meets the deeply felt biological needs for care, cooperation, security, and love. Freedom would no longer be placed in opposition to nature, individuality to society, choice to necessity, or personality to the needs of social coherence.
An ecological society would fully recognize that the human animal is biologically structured to live with its kind, and to care for and love its own kind within a broadly and freely defined social group. These human traits would be conceived as not merely attributes of human nature but also as constituting and forming it — indeed, as indispensable to the evolution of human subjectivity and personality. Such traits would be regarded not simply as survival mechanisms or social features of the biological human community, but as the very materials that enter into the structure of an ecological society.
If this interpretation of human consociation and its origins is sound, it may provide the basis for a reconstructive approach to an ecological society. Up to now, I have had to define social ecology in largely critical terms — as an anthropology of hierarchy and domination. I have been concerned primarily with authority and the conflict in sensibilities between preliterate societies and the emerging State. I have explored the imposition of rule, acquisitive impulses, and property rights on a recalcitrant archaic world, one that has persistently resisted "civilization" — at times violently, at other times passively. I have chronicled the commitment of traditional societies to usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum against class society's claims to property, the sanctity of contract, and its adherence to the rule of equivalence. In short, I have tried to rescue the legacy of freedom that the legacy of domination has sought to extirpate from the memory of humanity.
What has relieved this grim account of the rise of hierarchy and domination has been the enduring features of a subterranean libertarian realm that has lived in cunning accommodation with the prevailing order of domination. I have taken note of its technics, forms of association, religious beliefs, conventicles, and institutions. I have tried to pierce through the layered membranes of freedom, from its outward surface as the inequality of equals, probing through its various economic layers of equivalence, to work with its core as a caring personal sensibility, a supportive domestic life, and its own rule of the equality of unequals. I have found residual areas of freedom in communities where the word simply does not exist, in loyalties that are freely given without expectations of recompense, in systems of distribution that know no rules of exchange, and in interpersonal relations that are completely devoid of domination. Indeed, insofar as humanity has been free to voice the subjectivity of nature and meanings latent within it, nature itself has revealed its own voice, subjectivity, and fecundity through humanity. Ultimately, it is in this ecological interplay of social freedom and natural freedom that a true ecology of freedom will be fashioned.
Can we, then, integrate the archaic customs of usufruct, complementarity, and the equality of unequals into a modern vision of freedom? What newer sensibilities, technics, and ethics can we develop, and what newer social institutions can we hope to form? If the freedom of humanity implies the liberation of nature through humanity, by what criteria and means can we reenter natural evolution? Our very use of the words "humanity" and "individuality" betrays the fact that our answers must be drawn from a very different context than that of the preliterate social world. In fact, "civilization" has broadened the terrain of freedom well beyond the parochial relationships fostered by the blood oath, the sexual division of labor, and the role of age groups in structuring early communities. On this qualitatively new terrain, we cannot — and should not — rely on the power of custom, much less on traditions that have long faded into the past. We are no longer an inwardly oriented, largely homogeneous group of folk that is untroubled by a long history of internal conflict and unblemished by the mores and practices of domination. Our values and practices now demand a degree of consciousness and intellectual sophistication that early bands, clans, and tribes never required to maintain their freedom as a lived phenomenon.
With this caveat in mind, let us frankly acknowledge that organic societies spontaneously evolved values that we rarely can improve. The crucial distinction in radical theory between the "realm of necessity" and the "realm of freedom" — a distinction that Proudhon and Marx alike brought to radical ideology — is actually a social ideology that emerges along with rule and exploitation. Viewed against the broad tableau of class ideologies, few distinctions have done more than this one to validate authority and domination. "Civilization," with its claim to be the cradle of culture, has rested theoretically on the imagery of a "stingy nature" that could support only elites, whose own "freedom" and "free time" to administer society, to think, write, study, and infuse humanity with the "light of reason," has been possible historically by exploiting the labor of the many.
Preliterate societies never held this view; ordinarily they resisted every attempt to impose it. What we today would call "onerous toil" was then spontaneously adapted to the community's need to communize all aspects of life in order to bring a sense of collective involvement and joy to the most physically demanding tasks. Rarely did the "savages" even try to "wrestle" with nature; rather, they coaxed it along, slowly and patiently, with chants, songs, and ceremonials that we rightly call dances. All this was done in a spirit of cooperation within the community itself, and between the community and nature. "Necessity" was collectivized to foster cooperation and colonized by "freedom" long before preliterate communities verbalized any distinction between the two. The very words "necessity" and "freedom" had yet to be formed by the separation and tensions that "civilization" was to create between them, and by the repressive discipline "civilization" was to impose on nonhuman and human nature alike.
The same is true of usufruct, which stands on a more generous ethical plane than communism, with its maxim of "to each according to his [and her] own needs." What is perhaps most surprising is that classical anarchism, from Proudhon to Kropotkin, cast its notion of consociation in terms of contract with its underlying premise of equivalence — a system of "equity" that reaches its apogee in bourgeois conceptions of right. The notion that equivalence can be the moral coinage of freedom is as alien to freedom itself as is the notion of the State. Nineteenth-century socialisms, whether libertarian or authoritarian, ultimately are still rooted in the concept of property as such and the need to regulate property relationships "socialistically." Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin's peans to contracts "freely entered into" between "men" and between communities strangely denies the term "freely" by its limited concept of freedom. Indeed, it is not accidental that this kind of language can be found in the constitutions and legal codes of the most unreconstructed bourgeois republics. Traditional anarchist concepts of contract score no greater advance over our system of justice than Marx's notion of a "proletarian dictatorship" scores any advance over our republican concepts of freedom.
Preliterate societies never adhered to this contractual ideal of association; indeed, they resisted every attempt to impose it. To be sure, there were many treaties between tribes and alliances with strangers. But contractual ties within tribes were essentially nonexistent. Not until hierarchy had scored its triumph in the early world and begun its journey into class society did equivalence, "equity," and contract begin to form the context for human social relationships. The quid pro quo of exchange and its ethical balance sheets were simply irrelevant to a community guided by the customs of usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum. The means of life and community support were there to be had rather than apportioned, and even where apportionment did exist, it was guided by egalitarian traditions that respected age, acknowledged infirmities, and fostered a loving care for children. Only "civilization" was to put the figure of Justitia on a pedestal and place its purely quantitative weights on her scale. Her blindfold may have very well been a token of her shame rather than her indifference to the realities of inequality.
The treaties that existed between preliterate communities were more procedural than distributive in their intent; they were meant to establish agreement in decision-making processes and ways of coordinating common actions, not to apportion power and things. And under conditions of general reciprocity, personal alliances were simply a way of breaking out of the kinship nexus and broadening support systems beyond the perimeter of the tribe. Hence the "commodities" that were exchanged between people seemingly as "gifts" were actually tokens of mutual loyalty. By no means did they necessarily have an intrinsic "value" of their own beyond a symbolic one, much less ratios or "price tags" that gave them exchange value.
Finally, complementarity is merely our own word for summing up the widely accepted image that organic societies had of themselves as interdependent systems. Ordinarily, in fact, they had no word to articulate this reality — nor any need to formulate one. They lived as systems of social ecology and hence were guided more by their sense of respect for personality than by a system of juridical imperatives. Independence in any sense of the free-wheeling bourgeois ego, plunged into social life by an ideology of "sink-or-swim," was not only inconceivable to them; it was altogether frightening, even to such fairly scattered hunting and foraging peoples as the Eskimo. Every preliterate culture had one or several epicenters that, by common understanding, brought scattered families and bands together periodically. Ceremonies were partly an excuse to reiterate traditions of consociation, and partly forms of communizing. To be "exiled" from the group, to be expelled from it, was tantamount to a death sentence. Not that a person so exiled couldn't physically survive, but he or she would feel like a "nonperson" as well as be treated like one. Psychologically induced death was not uncommon in preliterate communities.
By contrast, our modern emphasis on "independence" expresses neither the virtues of autonomy nor the claims of individuality; rather, it stridently voices the brute ideology of a pervasive and socially corrosive egotism. It rudely contrasts with the very origins of the spirit of consociation — the selfless, caring love that the human mother ordinarily gives her young — and thoroughly violates our deepest sense of humanity. To be a free-wheeling monad is to lack, as Shepard might say, our very sense of "direction" as living beings, to be bereft of a "niche" or locus in nature and society. It leads to "freaking" society toward the market rather than adapting a generous distributive system to society. Given this orientation (or lack of it), the "realm of necessity" can indeed be rooted in stinginess — but not the "stinginess" of nature. Rather, it is rooted in the stinginess of people — more precisely, of the elites who establish social conventions. When one lives with the continual fear of being "shortchanged," shared by all human monads, one begins to shortchange others routinely — ultimately, maliciously and with an active meanness of spirit. With this resplendent outlook, it is easy for a bourgeois monad to become a "partner" in the buyer-seller relationship and its embodiment as "contract." A society composed of exiles is literally an exiled society — exiled from the roots of human consociation in care and nurture. The "realm of necessity" dominates the "realm of freedom" not because nature itself is jealously possessive of its wealth, but rather because wealth becomes jealously possessive of its hoards and prerogatives.
Domination now enters into history as a social "need" — more precisely, a social imperative — that entangles personality, daily life, economic activity, and even love in its toils. The myth of contractual "trust," with its sanctimonious seals and archaic language, is built on the persistence of contractual mistrust and social estrangement, which the idea of "contract" continually reinforces. That everything has to be "spelled out" is evidence of the ubiquity of moral predation. Every "agreement" reflects a latent antagonism, and (traditional anarchist rhetoric aside) its "mutualistic" ethics lacks any true understanding of care and complementarity. Denied the message of social ecology, the libertarian ideal tends to sink to the level of ideological sectarianism and, even worse, to the level of the hierarchical syndicalism fostered by industrial society.
What "civilization" has given us, in spite of itself, is the recognition that the ancient values of usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum must be extended from the kin group to humanity as a whole. Beyond the blood oath, society must override the traditional sexual division of labor and the privileges claimed by age groups to embrace the "stranger" and exogenous cultures. Moreover, "civilization" has removed these ancient values from the realm of rigid custom and unthinking tradition by rendering them ideational or conceptual. The tensions and contradictions marking social life beyond the tribal world have added an intellectual acuity to mores that once were accepted unreflectively. The enormous potentialities latent in these developments should not be underestimated. Challenges beyond the imagination of the preliterate community they surely are; for a parochial folk to even conceive of itself as part of humanity involved shattering the bones of deeply embedded customs, traditions, and a sense of biological exceptionalism. The myth of the "chosen people," as I have already noted, is not unique to Judaism; almost every folk, to one degree or another, has this image of itself. To include ethical standards of a shared humanitas, of a human community, involved a sweeping change in the process of conceptualizing social relations. A free-flowing realm of ethics, as distinguished from a world of hardened customs (however admirable these may be), is a creative realm in which the growth of mind and spirit is possible on a scale that has no precedent in the world of traditional mores. Ethics, values, and with them, social relationships, technics, and self-cultivation can now become self-forming, guided by intellect, sympathy, and love. That "civilization" has usually" betrayed its promise of ideational and personal self-creativity does not alter the reality of these potentialities and the many achievements in which they were actualized.
Among the greatest of these achievements were the faltering steps toward individuality that occurred in the Hellenic, late medieval, and modern worlds. Not that preliterate societies lack a sense of and a respect for person, but they place relatively little emphasis on human will, on personal eccentricity or deviance as a value in itself. They are not intolerant when behavior departs from certain standards of etiquette and "normality." Uniqueness is definitely prized, as Dorothy Lee noted, but it is always viewed within a group context. To be overly conspicuous, particularly in the form of self-acclaim, elicits a measure of wariness and may expose the individual to ridicule. One's claims to certain abilities must be proved in reality, to say the least, and are often markedly downplayed. Hence a Hopi child traditionally restrained his or her capacity to perform well lest it vitiate group solidarity. The "big man" syndrome — which probably is a later development in preliterate societies and perhaps is most widely known through Kwakiutl potlatch ceremonies — should be placed side by side with the "humility" syndrome. These are strangely complementary rather than contradictory.
Far more than its claims of achieving rationality, "civilization" certainly did provide the soil for the emergence of the highly willful individual, and placed a high premium on volition as a formative element in social life and culture. Indeed, "civilization" went even further: it identified will with personal freedom. Our individuality consists not only in the uniqueness of our behavior and character structure, but also in our right to act in accordance with our sovereign judgment or "freedom of will." In fact, according to the canons of modern individualism, we are free to choose — to formulate our own personal needs, or at least to select from those that are created for us. That the current fetishization of needs reduces this freedom to the level of custom is one of the most subversive factors in' the decline of individuality. But the myth of our autonomy is no less real than the reality of its decline. Whether as myth or canon, will — conceived as the personal freedom to choose or to create the constituents of choice — presupposes that there is such a phenomenon as the individual, and that he or she is competent and therefore capable of making rational judgments; in short, that the individual is capable of functioning as a self-determined, self-active, and self-governing being.
Tragically, "civilization" has associated volition with control, domination, and authority; hence, it also has associated it with mastery and, in the archaic world, with a godlike superhumanity of the absolute ruler. Figures such as Gilgamesh, Achilles, Joshua, and Julius Cesar were more than just men of action — the supreme egos we associate with the "heroic" cast of personality (the ego as warrior). In several cases they became transcendental figures whose superhumanity carried them beyond the controls of nature itself. This view defiled not only the very notion of a human nature, but also the concrete reality and constraints of the natural world. As late as Hegel's time, they were viewed as metaphysical figures, or "World Spirits," cast from a Napoleonic mold. To this day, in the vulgar imagery of television, they are clothed in the advertising agency's trappings of "charismatic" egos, or what we so appropriately call "personalities" and "stars."
But this commitment of individuality to domination, so compellingly forged by "civilization," is certainly not the sole form of individual creativity. The Renaissance, as Kenneth Clark noted, did not develop a very substantial body of philosophical literature, comparable, say, to that of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, because it expressed its philosophy in art. For all its understatement of Renaissance thought, this passing observation is arresting. Here, will found expression in the incomparable statuary of Michelangelo's "David" and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; in Raphael's "School of Athens"; in Leonardo's "Last Supper"; and in scientific research. Thus heroism acquired another voice from that of the battlefield's clamor. Imagination, stirred to life by the mother's songs and stories, slowly formed around creativity conceived as the expression of beauty.
Hence, it is by no means a given that individuality, autonomy, and willfulness must be expressed in domination; they can just as well be expressed in artistic creativity. Schiller viewed the affirmation of human individuality and power as the expression of joy, play, and fulfillment of the esthetic sensibility; Marx saw it as assertion, Promethean control, and domination — through production, the fire of labor, and the conquest of nature. Yet the poet no more implied a denial of power and individuality than the social thinker. Indeed, the right to imagine a highly individuated life as an art rather than as a conflict has been with us all the time. In contrast to the parochial world of the kin group and its fixity in custom, "civilization" has given us the wider world of the social group and its flexibility in ratiocination. Today, the real issue posed by this historic transcendence is no longer a question of reason, power, and techné as such, but the function of imagination in giving us direction, hope, and a sense of place in nature and society. The cry "Imagination to Power!" that the Parisian students raised in 1968 was not a recipe for the seizure of power but a glowing vision of the estheticization of personality and society.
We do not normally find these visions in traditional radicalism. The nineteenth-century socialists and anarchists were largely economistic and scientistic in their outlook, often on a scale comparable to the conventional social theorists of their day. Proudhon was no less committed to a "scientific socialism" than was Marx. Kropotkin was often as much of a technological determinist as Engels, although he redeemed this stance by his emphasis on ethics. Both men, like the Victorians of their time, were thoroughly enamored of "progress" as a largely economic achievement. All these principal figures viewed the State as "historically necessary." Bakunin and Kropotkin saw it as an "unavoidable evil"; Marx and Engels saw it as a historically progressive datum. Errico Malatesta, perhaps the most ethically oriented of the anarchists, saw these failings clearly and openly criticized them in Bakunin and Kropotkin. All of them were often dystopian in their outlook. The given reality, with its hypostatization of labor, its reverence for science and technics, its myths of progress, and above all, its commitment to proletarian hegemony, was part of a shared mythology that cements the "libertarian" and "authoritarian" socialisms of the last century into an equally uninhabitable edifice. Imagination as a socially creative power found its
Imagination as a socially creative power found its voice not in the prevalent radical social engineers of the nineteenth century but in the rare, luminescent utopian works that flashed annoyingly around "scientific socialists" of all kinds. Occasionally, the irridescence of these works dazzled them, but more often than not, they were embarrassed by these fanciful flights into new realms of possibility and responded with vigorous disclaimers. Utopians — at least, utopians of the vintage of Rabelais and Fourier — had made freedom too lurid and sensuously concrete to be acceptable to the Victorian mind. Even in "good company," a woman may bare her breasts with decorum to feed her infant, but never "wantonly," on a barricade or at a public rally for freedom. The great utopians did precisely that — and more — on their barricades, like the two anonymous "harlots" on the barricades of June, 1848, who insouciantly and defiantly raised their skirts before the attacking National Guardsmen of bourgeois Paris, and were shot down in the act.
What marked the great utopians was not their lack of realism but their sensuousness, their passion for the concrete, their adoration of desire and pleasure. Their utopias were often exemplars of a qualitative "social science" written in seductive prose, a new kind of socialism that defied abstract intellectual conventions with their pedantry and icy practicality. Perhaps even more importantly, they defied the image that human beings were, in the last analysis, machines; that their emotions, pleasures, appetites, and ideals could be cast in terms of a culture that viewed the quantitative as authentic truth. Hence, they stood in flat opposition to a machine-oriented mass society. Their message of fecundity and reproduction thus rescued the image of humanity as an embodiment of the organic that had its place in the richly tinted world of nature, not in the workshop and the factory.
Some of these utopias advance this message with unabashed vulgarity, such as Rabelais' outrageous Abbey of Theleme, a land of Cokaygne dressed in the Renaissance earthiness and sexuality that even the folk utopia lacked. Like nearly all Renaissance utopias, the Abbey is a "monastery" and a "religion," but one that mocks monastic life and reverence for the Deity. It has no walls to contain it, no rules to regulate it. It admits both women and men, all comely and attractive, and accepts no vows of chastity, poverty, or obedience. Lavish dress replaces ecclesiastical black; sumptuous repasts replace gruel and hard bread; magnificent furnishings replace the cold stone walls of the monastic cell; falconries and pools replace somber retreats and work places. The members of the new order spend their lives "not in laws, statutes, and rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure." They arise from bed when it pleases them; dine, drink, labor, and sleep when they have a mind to; and disport themselves as and when they wish. The clock has been abolished, for what is the "greatest loss," in Rabelais' words, than to "count the hours, what good comes of it?"
But what really may have outraged its bourgeois readers were the three Graces who surmount the Abbey's fountain, "with their cornucopias, or horns of abundance," which spurt out water "at their breasts, mouths, ears, eyes, and other open passages of the body." Looking upon this provocative symbol in their courtyard, the women and men of the Abbey are reminded that they must obey one strict rule: "Do as thou wilt." We should not allow the typical Renaissance elitism of Rabelais' Abbey to conceal the intimate association it establishes between pleasure and the total absence of domination. That there are servants, custodians, and laborers who render the vision credible does not alter the fact that it is justifiable as an end in itself. Christian asceticism and the bourgeois work ethic did not aim at the equality of humanity on earth, but rather the repression of every impulse that might remind the body of its sensuous and hedonistic claims. Even if Rabelais can depict the realization of these claims only among the "well-born" and "rich," at least he provides a voice for human individuality, freedom, and a sensuous life that vitiates every form of servitude. Freed from servitude, people possess a natural instinct that "spurs" them to "virtuous actions." If only the few can live honorable lives (I am speaking of views formulated in the sixteenth century), this does not mean that human nature is any the less human or that its virtues cannot be shared by all. The rebellion of free will and the right to choose against "laws, statutes or rules" is thus identified with the claims of earthly pleasure against the life-long penance of denial and toil.
After the Abbey of Theleme, the terrain Rabelais opened was cluttered by sybaritic visions of the "good life." Although the Reformation's sternness muted these privatized hedonistic futuramas, they more or less persisted into our own day as erotic and science-fiction dramas. A few Enlightenment "utopias," if such they can be called, provide notable exceptions. Diderot's superb Jacques le Fataliste and his Bougainville dialogue, taken in combination, exude an earthiness and generosity of spirit, a respect for the desires of the flesh and for the cultures of preliterate peoples that have yet to be matched in our own time. But neither work advances a program or even a vision that challenges entrenched values and institutions. They contritely depict a different kind of "fall" from the grace of nature and naturalness of behavior that is more tragic in their hopelessness than redemptive in their idealism.
Perhaps the least understood "utopia" of the period, however, is the Marquis de Sade's plea for a revolutionary emancipation of passion itself from the constraints of convention and Christian morality. The Marquis de Sade has been justly condemned for his rapacious egotism, his objectification of women and sexuality, and the instrumental mentality he exhibits toward the sensuous itself. Yet his Philosophy of the Bedroom is perhaps one of the most psychologically disruptive works of its time, although its influence was not felt until a much later period. For de Sade, sexuality is not only a pleasure in its own right; it is a "calling," indeed the "soul's madness" — l'amour fou, as Breton and the Surrealists were to call it — that shreds the irrationality of self-constraint and subdued passion. Libertinage becomes libertarian when it opens the most internalized repressions of the psyche to the light of reason and passion, however seemingly minuscule and privatized they may be. In a statement that de Sade regards as "audacious," he declares, "A nation that begins by governing itself as a republic will only be sustained by virtue because, in order to attain the most, one must always start with the least." Heading de Sade's disquisition in the dialogue is the cry: "Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If You Would Become Republicans!"
Thereupon de Sade impugns law itself: "Man receives from nature the impressions which allow one to pardon him for this action, while law, on the contrary, being always in opposition to nature and owing nothing to it, cannot be authorized to permit itself the same motives . . . ." Not that de Sade denies the need for laws (which should be as "mild" as possible) or the paraphernalia of a republic; but the libertarian tenor of his position and his passionate hatred of social and psychological restraint are evident. His tenor and position would be more convincing if they applied to the victims of his own sexual tastes. But his orgiastic appeal to a new sensibility, based on a naturalistic reawakening of the senses and the body from the deep sleep of repression, stands sharply at odds with the strong emphasis on "self-discipline" that the emerging industrial bourgeoisie was to impose on the nineteenth century. L'amour fou, the indispensable sensory "derangement" that de Sade's "bedroom philosophy" implies, found its resting place in esthetic movements of the nineteenth-century Symbolists, and our own century's Dadaist and Surrealist movements. In these comparatively exotic forms, it was socially marginal — until the counterculture of the sixties and the "youth revolt" of the eighties in Central Europe swept it from shadowy artistic bohemias into the open light of social activism.
In the early nineteenth century, Rabelais and de Sade enjoyed a brief Indian summer in Charles Fourier's utopian visions, which have received worldwide attention as a seemingly practical system for initiating a "socialist" society. Fourier has been widely heralded for his stunning originality and fertile imagination — but often for the wrong reasons. Despite his vigorous denunciations of liberalism's hypocrisies, he was not a socialist; hence, he was no "precursor" of Marx or Proudhon. Nor was he an egalitarian in the sense that his utopia presumed a radical leveling of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the wealthy. To the extent that such a leveling would occur, it was the work his utopia might hope to achieve gradually, in the fullness of time. Fourier was a rationalist who detested the rationalization of life in bourgeois society; therefore it is a grave error (and one made by many of his critics) to accuse him of "antirationalism." Despite his admiration for Newton's mechanical system, his own system yields such a cosmic world of "passionate" intercourse that to regard him as a social "mechanist" (another criticism that has been voiced against him) is simply preposterous.
To be sure, the contradictions in Fourier's "Harmonian" future, which he contrasted with the degrading state of "Civilization," are legion. Women are to be totally liberated from all patriarchal constraints, but this does not prevent Fourier from viewing them as sexual performers — each of whom will cook, later entertain his communities, or phalansteries, in singing and other delightful virtuosities, and, in accordance with their feminine proclivities, satisfy the sexual needs of several males. Nonviolent and playful wars will occur in Harmony, and captives, held for several days at most, will be obliged to obey their captors even in performing sexual tasks that may be onerous to them. Secret infidelities will be punished in much the same way. Despite Fourier's basic detestation of authority, however, he toyed with the notion of a world leader at the summit of his vague functional hierarchy, a position he variously offered to Napoleon and Czar Alexander I.
Yet when such contradictions are placed in the larger perspective of his entire work, Fourier turns out to be the most libertarian, the most original, and certainly the most relevant utopian thinker of his day, if not of the entire tradition. As Mark Poster observes in an excellent review of his work,
Stamped as a utopian by the pope of socialist orthodoxy [Marx], it has been Fourier's misfortune to be misunderstood by generation after generation of scholars. Seen in his own terms, in the context of his own intellectual problematic, Fourier emerges as a brilliant pioneer of questions that have not been fully examined until the twentieth century. The fate of the passions in bourgeois society, the limitations of the nuclear family, the prospects of communal education, the types of love relations in industrial society, the possibility of attractive labor, the nature of groups and the role of sex in the formation of groups, the dehumanization of market relations, the effects of psychic frustration, the possibility of a non-repressive society — all of these questions, which were dropped by the socialist tradition and never even raised by liberalism have only recently been resurrected from the oblivion fated for all questions relating merely to the "superstructure."
More so than most utopian writers, Fourier left behind pages upon pages of elaborate descriptions of his new Harmonian society, including the most mundane details of everyday life in a phalanstery. His critique of "civilization," notably of capitalism, was utterly devastating; indeed, it is largely for his critical writings that he earned the greatest amount of praise from later socialist writers. But such a one-sided, rather patronizing treatment of Fourier does him a grave injustice. He was above all the advocate of l'ecart absolu, the complete rejection of the conventions of his time. L'ecart absolu could easily provide a substitute for Maurice Blanchot's plea for an "absolute refusal," an expression that was to acquire special applicability to the social protest voiced by the 1960s. With a fervor and scope that makes him uniquely contemporary, Fourier rejected almost every aspect of the social world in which he lived — its economy, morality, sexuality, family structure, educational system, cultural standards, and personal relations. Virtually nothing in his era or, for that matter, in the deepest psychic recesses of the individuals of his day, was left untouched by his critical scalpel. He even formulated a new conception of the universe that, however fantastic and extravagantly imaginative, is likely to be congenial to the ecological sensibilities of our day.
To Fourier, the physical world is governed not by Newton's law of universal gravitation but by his own "law of passionate attraction" — a law that he exuberantly proclaimed as his greatest contribution to modern knowledge. In place of Newton's mechanical interpretation of the universe, Fourier advances a concept of the cosmos as a vast organism that is suffused by life and growth. A vibrant vitalism so completely replaces the despiritized matter of conventional physics that even the idea of planets copulating is not implausible. Life, as we normally conceive it, and society are merely the offspring of a progressive elaboration of the passions. Fourier, to be sure, is not unique in conceiving of the universe in biological terms. But in contrast to most vitalists, he carries his "law of passionate attraction" from the stars into humanity's innermost psychic recesses.
"Civilization" — the third in seventeen ascending stages that Fourier charts out as humanity's destiny — is perhaps the most psychically repressive phase of all, a phase that brutally distorts the passions and channels them into perverted and destructive forms. The brutalities of the new industrial society, which Fourier recounted with the most powerful prose at his command, are essentially the expression of "civilization's" highly repressive psychic apparatus. Harmony, the culminating stage of society's development, will be marked by the predominance of entirely new social institutions — notably, the phalanstery — that will not only dismantle "civilization's" repressive apparatus but finally provide individuals with the full release of their passions and the full satisfaction of their desires.
Despite the inconsistencies that mar his discussions of women, Fourier was perhaps the most explicit opponent of patriarchalism in the "utopian" tradition. It was he, not Marx, who penned the famous maxim that social progress can be judged by the way a society treats its women. When viewed against the background of the utopian tradition as a whole, with its strong emphasis on paternal authority, this maxim would be enough to single out Fourier as one of the most radical thinkers of his time. But he also distinguished himself from radical social theorists on issues that vex us to this very day. In contrast to the Jacobin creed of republican virtue, he totally rejected an ethic of self-denial, of reason's absolute supremacy over passion, of moderation of desire and restriction of pleasure. Unlike Marx, he denied that work must necessarily be taxing and inherently oppressive. In contrast to Freud, he measured societal advances not in terms of the extent to which eroticism is sublimated into other activities but the extent to which it is released and given full expression. In the Harmonian world, the psychic repressions created by "civilization" will finally be replaced by a full flowering of passion, pleasure, luxury, love, personal release, and joyous work. The "realm of necessity" — the realm of toil and renunciation — will be suffused by the "realm of freedom." Work, however attenuated its role may be in a socialist society, will be transformed from an onerous activity into play. Nature, wounded and perverted by "civilization," will become bountiful and yield abundant harvests for all to enjoy. Indeed, as in the land of Cokaygne, even the salinity of the oceans will give way to a fruit-like, drinkable fluid, and orchards, planted everywhere by Harmonian humanity, will provide a plentitude of fruits and nuts. Monogamy will yield to uninhibited sexual freedom; happiness to pleasure; scarcity to abundance; boredom to a dazzling variety of experiences; dulled senses to a new acuity of vision, hearing, and taste; and competition to highly variegated associations at all levels of personal and social life.
In essence Fourier rehabilitates Rabelais' Abbey of Theleme with his concept of the phalanstery, but his community is to be the shared destiny of humanity rather than of a well-bred elite. Unlike the land of Cokaygne, however, Fourier did not rely on nature alone to provide this material bounty. Abundance, indeed luxury, will be available for all to enjoy because technological development will have removed the economic basis for scarcity and coercion. Work will be rotated, eliminating monotony and one-sidedness in productive activity, because technology will have simplified many physical tasks. Competition, in turn, will be curtailed because the scramble for scarce goods will become meaningless in an affluent society. The phalanstery will be neither a rural village nor a congested city, but rather a balanced community combining the virtues of both. At its full complement, it will contain 1, 700 to 1,800 people — which, to Fourier, not only allows for human scale but brings people together in precisely the correct number of "passionate combinations" that are necessary to satisfy each individual's desires.
Fourier, however, stood on a much more advanced and complex social level than Rabelais and de Sade. The monk and the marquis essentially cloistered their views in specific environments. But Fourier boldly stepped. up on the social stage for all to see. He furnished it not only with his own presence and his imaginative "license" but also with a fully equipped phalanstery and its luxurious bedrooms, arcades, greenhouses, and work places. His vehicle was not the picaresque novel of the Renaissance or the exotic dialogue of the Enlightenment, but the newspaper article, the treatise, the oral as well as written attack upon injustice, and the compelling pleas for freedom. He was an activist as well as a theorist, a practitioner as well as a visionary.
Fourier's notion of freedom is the most expansive we have yet encountered in the history of liberatory ideals. Even Suso, the Free Spirit, and the Adamites seem lesser in scope, for theirs is still the elitist utopia of Rabelais. They are more like Christian orders than a society, an association of the elect rather than a community for all. Far more than Marx, Fourier linked the destiny of social freedom inextricably with personal freedom: the removal of repression in society must take place concurrently with the removal of repression in the human psyche. Accordingly, there can be no hope of liberating society without self-liberation in the fullest meaning of selfhood, of the ego and all its claims.
Finally, Fourier is in many ways the earliest social ecologist to surface in radical thought. I refer not only to his views of nature but also to his vision of society. His phalanstery can rightly be regarded as a social ecosystem in its explicit endeavor to promote unity in diversity. Fourier painstakingly itemized and analyzed all the possible passions that must find expression within its walls. Although this has been grossly misread as such, it was no pedantic exercise on Fourier's part, however much one may disagree with his conclusions. Fourier seems to have had his own notion of the equality of unequals; the phalanstery must try to compensate in psychic wealth and variety for any inequalities of material wealth existing among its members. Whether its members are well-to-do or not, they all share in the best of wines, the greatest of culinary, sexual, and scholarly pleasures, and the widest conceivable diversity of stimuli. Hence, quantitative variations of income within the community become irrelevant in a feast of diversified, qualitatively superb delights.
For Fourier, an emphasis on variety and complexity was also a matter of principle, a methodological and social critique he leveled at the mechanical outlook of the eighteenth century. The philosophes of the French Enlightenment and the Jacobins who followed them "had eulogized sacred simplicity and a mechanical order in which all the parts were virtually interchangeable," observes Frank Manuel in his excellent essay on Fourier. "Fourier rejected the simple as false and evil, and insisted on complexity, variety, contrast, multiplicity." His emphasis on complexity applied not only to the structure of society but also to his assessment of the psyche's own needs. "Fourier's psychology was founded on the premise that in plurality and complexity there was salvation and happiness," Manuel adds; "in multiplicity there was freedom." This is not psychic or social "pluralism" but an intuitive ecological sense of wholeness. What Fourier patently sought was stability through variety and, by virtue of that stability, the freedom to choose and to will — in short, freedom through multiplicity.
The extraordinary decades that led from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era witnessed a tremendous proliferation of utopias. Many, like Mably's communistic utopia, were utterly authoritarian; others, like Cabet's, were thoroughly ascetic and patriarchal; still others, like Saint-Simon's vision, were largely technocratic and hierarchical. Robert Owen's "utopian" socialism was certainly the most pragmatic and programmatic. A successful textile manufacturer, Owen had organized his famous mill at New Lanark into a paternalistic enterprise in industrial philanthropy that proved highly remunerative financially without maltreating its workers (given the barbarous standards of the early Industrial Revolution). Cleanliness, decent pay, benign discipline, relatively short working hours, cultural events, company schools and nurseries — all tailored to the worker's stamina, sex (most of the operatives were women), and physical condition — demonstrated to a deluge of admiring visitors from all parts of Europe that factory towns could not only be free of demoralization, alcoholism, prostitution, rampant disease, and illiteracy, but they could also yield substantial profits, even in periods of economic depression. Owen ventured far afield in his later years. He devoted most of his fortune to establishing "New Harmony," an American utopia that failed miserably. He later became a revered figure in the English workers' movement, living modestly and writing prolifically in support of his unique version of socialism.
Owen's vision of the "industrial village," which combines factories and workshops with agriculture in human-scaled units, forms the authentic prototype for Kropotkin's communal idea (as developed in his Fields, Factories, and Workshops) and Ebenezer Howard's "garden cities." But none of Owen's libertarian and reformist successors added anything that was substantially new to his vision. Like most of the utopians and socialists of his time, he was harshly ascetic and ethically a utilitarian — indeed, he was an avowed admirer of Bentham. As John F. C. Harrison observes, "He did not envisage happiness as the seeking or attainment of pleasure, but rather as some 'rational' form of living." This "rationality" was surprisingly industrial and quantitative. Like many radicals and reformers of the period who "quoted Bentham to the effect that 'the happiness of the greatest number is the only legitimate object of society,'" Owen and the Owenites "added their claim that only in a 'system of general cooperation and community of property' could this greatly desired end be attained."
By the end of the nineteenth century — a time marked by a large number of technocratic, virtually militaristic utopias and syndicalist panaceas — it probably was inevitable that a backward-looking, largely anti-industrial utopia should surface. William Morris, in his News from Nowhere, terminated the utopian tradition of the past two centuries with a bucolic recovery of a libertarian but technically medieval evocation of crafts, small-scale agriculture, and a charming commitment to simple living and its values. Amazingly, no utopian thinker spoke more directly to the countercultural values of the 1960s than Morris — and was more thoroughly ignored in favor of a bouquet of flimsy pamphlets and booklets on "simple living."
Riding the crest of late sixties' sentiments, Herbert Marcuse echoed (and soon abandoned) the deepest impulses of the New Left and counterculture with his cry, "from Marx to Fourier." Reduced to a mere slogan, Fourier was in fact subtly defamed. "Harmonian Society," for all its day-dreaming naivete, was at least meant to be a society — one that Fourier had painstakingly explored (often in meticulous detail) and vigorously championed. Marcuse never undertook this project. If anything, he confused it with his attempts to meld Fourier with Marx. Utopistic reconstruction thus remained an uncertain, often unthinking practice. Tragically, this practice tended to narrow in numbers and scope as the sixties expired. Lacking any philosophical direction and respect for mind, it too split in contradictory directions toward a "voluntary simplicity" that denied the need for physical and cultural complexity, a proclivity for gurus that denied the need for nonhierarchical relationships, a self-enclosed ascetism that denied the claims of pleasure, an emphasis on survival that denied the authenticity of desire, and a parochialism that denied the ideal of a free society. Charles Reich's Greening of America, which attempted to explain the counterculture to a middle-aged America, has already been supplanted by "The Poisoning of America" (Time, September 22, 1980).
If accounts of the "poisoning of America" are even modestly accurate, utopian thinking today requires no apologies. Rarely has it been so crucial to stir the imagination into creating radically new alternatives to every aspect of daily life. Now, when imagination itself is becoming atrophied or is being absorbed by the mass media, the concreteness of utopian thinking may well be its most rejuvenating tonic. Whether as drama, novel, science fiction, poetry, or an evocation of tradition, experience and fantasy must return in all their fullness to stimulate as well as to suggest. Utopian dialogue in all its existentiality must infuse the abstractions of social theory. My concern is not with utopistic "blueprints" (which can rigidify thinking as surely as more recent governmental "plans") but with the dialogue itself as a public event.
It is not in this book that the reader should expect to find the "concrete universals" that will stimulate imagination and evoke the details of reconstruction, but rather in the interchange of utopian views that still awaits us. I would like, however, to advance certain basic considerations that no radical utopian vision — particularly an ecological one — can afford to ignore. The distinction between libertarian and authoritarian approaches — in reason, science, technics, and ethics, as well as in society — can be ignored only at grave peril to the utopian vision. This distinction underpins every conceptual aspect of an ecological society. We can ill afford to forget that the two approaches have developed side by side for millenia, and that their contest has affected every aspect of our sensibilities and behavior. Today, when technics has assumed unprecedented powers of control and destructiveness, these approaches can no longer coexist with each other, however uneasily they have done so in the past. The authoritarian technics of the factory — indeed, the factory conceived as a technique for human mobilization — has so completely invaded everyday life (even such domains as the home and neighborhood that once enjoyed a certain degree of immunity to industrial rationalization) that freedom, volition, and spontaneity are losing their physical terrain, however much they are honored rhetorically. We are faced with the desperate necessity of insulating both these arenas from bureaucratic control and the invasion of the media, if individuality itself is to continue.
I speak, here, from a world that once knew community in the form of culturally distinct neighborhoods, even in giant cities; that once communicated personally on tenement stoops, on street corners, and in parks rather than electronically; that once acquired its food and clothing from small, personal retailers who chatted, advised, and gossiped as well as checked prices; that once received most of its staples from small farms existing within a few score miles of the city's center; that once dealt with its affairs leisurely and formed its judgments reflectively. Above all, this world was once more self-regulating in matters of personal and social concern, more human in scale and decency, more firmly formed in its character structure, and more comprehensible as a social entity to its citizenry.
If we take for granted and accept unreflectively that community consists of an aggregate of unrelated, monadic, self-enclosed, and highly privatized egos; that the telephone, radio, television set, and night letter constitute our principal windows to the world; that the shopping mall and its parking lots are our normal terrain for public intercourse; that processed and packaged foods, transported thousands of miles from remote areas of the country, are our major sources of nutriment; that "time is money," fast-talking is a paying skill, and speed-reading is a desideratum; that, above all, bureaucracy comprises the sinews of social life, gigantism is the measure of success, and clientage to professionals and centralized authority is evidence of a public sphere — then we will be irretrievably lost as individuals, will-less as egos, and formless as personalities. Like the natural world around us, we will become the victims of a simplification process that renders us as inorganic and mineral as the ores that feed our foundries and the sand that feeds our glass furnaces.
It is no longer a "New Age" cliche to insist that, wherever possible, we must "unplug" our "inputs" from a depersonalized, mindless system that threatens to absorb us into its circuitry. In little more than a decade, we have been victimized by our electronic and cybernetic society more than the most outspoken critics of everyday life could have anticipated in the sixties. Loss of individuality and personal uniqueness, with its ultimate result in the "liquidation" of personality itself, begins with the loss of our ability to contrast a more human-scaled world that once was; another world, approximating complete totalitarianization, that now is; and finally a third one, human-scaled, ecological, and rational, that should be. Once that sense of contrast disappears, the tension between these worlds also passes away; it is this tension that motivates us to rear up in resistance against our complete defilement. Hence, daily life itself must be viewed as a calling in which we have an ethical responsibility to function in a state of unrelieved opposition to its prevailing norms.
The things we need, how we acquire them, whom we know, and what we say have become the elements of a battleground on a scale we could not have foreseen a generation ago. Today, a food cooperative is unlikely to replace a supermarket; a French-intensive garden to replace agribusiness; barter and mutual aid to replace our banking system; personal intercourse to replace the electronic paraphernalia by which the world "communicates" with itself. But we can still choose the former body of possibilities over the latter "realities." Our choices will keep alive the contrast and tension that technocratic and bureaucratic homogeneity threaten to efface, together with personality itself.
We also must recover the terrain necessary for the personification and the formation of a body politic. To defend society's molecular base — its neighborhoods, public squares, and places of assembly — expresses a demand not only for "freedom from . . ." but also for "freedom for. . . ." The fight for shelter has ceased to be a matter of defending one's private habitat; it has become a fight to autonomously assemble, to spontaneously discuss, to sovereignly decide — in short, to be a public person, to create a public sphere, and to form a body politic against entrenched power and bureaucratic surveillance. What began in the late 1970s as a squatters' movement for more housing in Holland has now turned into a fervent struggle by young people in Switzerland for space free from authority and surveillance. Issues of habitation and logistics have turned into issues of culture, and issues of culture have become issues of politics. What the future of these specific trends in Central Europe may be, I shall not venture to predict. But the trends themselves are crucial; they reflect an intuitive passion for autonomy, individuality, and uniqueness that would win a Fourier's plaudits. Without our "freedom for" a public terrain, the phrase "body politic" becomes a mere metaphor; it has no protoplasm, no voices, no faces, and no passions. Hence its potential human components become privatized into their isolated shelters, their purposeless lives, their personal anonymity, and their mindless "pleasures." They become as fleshless as the electronic devices they are obliged to use, as unthinking as the fashionable garments they wear, as mute as the pets with which they console themselves.
To disengage ourselves from the existing social machinery, to create a domain to meet one's needs as a human being, to form a public sphere in which to function as part of a protoplasmic body politic — all can be summed up in a single word: reempowerment. I speak of reempowerment in its fullest personal and public sense, not as a psychic experience in a specious and reductionist form of psychological "energetics" that is fixated on one's own "vibes" and "space." There is no journey "inward" that is not a journey "outward" and no "inner space" that can hope to survive without a very palpable "public space" as well. But public space, like inner space, becomes mere empty space when it is not structured, articulated, and given body. It must be provided with institutional form, no less so than our highly integrated personal bodies, which cannot exist without structure. Without form and articulation, there can be no identity, no definition, and none of the specificity that yields variety. What is actually at issue when one discusses institutions is not whether they should exist at all but what form they should take — libertarian or authoritarian.
Libertarian institutions are peopled institutions, a term that should be taken literally, not metaphorically. They are structured around direct, face-to-face, protoplasmic relationships, not around representative, anonymous, mechanical relationships. They are based on participation, involvement, and a sense of citizenship that stresses activity, not on the delegation of power and spectatorial politics. Hence, libertarian institutions are guided by a cardinal principle: all mature individuals can be expected to manage social affairs directly — just as we expect them to manage their private affairs. As in the Athenian Ecclesia, the Parisian sections of 1793, and the New England town meetings — all of which were regularly convened public assemblies based on face-to-face democracy — every citizen is free to participate in making far-reaching decisions regarding his or her community. What is decisive, here, is the principle itself: the freedom of the individual to participate, not the compulsion or even need to do so. Freedom does not consist in the number of people who elect to participate in decision-making processes, but in the fact that they have the unimpaired opportunity to do so: to choose to decide or not to decide public issues. A "mass assembly" is simply an amorphous crowd if it is cajoled to assemble by emoluments, entertainment, the absence of any need to reflect, or the need to make quick decisions with minimal dialogue. Quorums, consensus, and pleas for participation are degrading, not "democratic"; they emphasize quantity as a social goal, not quality as evidence of an ethical community. To limit discussion and reduce problems to their lowest common denominator, lest they tax the intelligence and the attention span of a community, is to foster a people's degradation into a mute, insubstantial aggregate, not to enhance the human spirit. The Athenian Ecclesia was a democracy only to the degree that its citizen (alas, all males of Athenian ancestry) chose to attend its sessions, not because they were paid to do so or were virtually forced to participate in its deliberations (as occurred in the declining period of the polis).
Are these principles and forms of libertarian institutionalization realistic or practical? Can they really work, "human nature" being what it is and "civilization" imprinting its horrendous legacy of domination on the human enterprise? Actually, we will never be able to answer these questions unless we try to create a direct democracy that is free of sexual, ethnic, and hierarchical biases. History does provide us with a number of working examples of forms that are largely libertarian. It also provides us with examples of confederations and leagues that made the coordination of self-governing communities feasible without impinging on their autonomy and freedom. Most important is whether or not we accept a radical notion of the individual's competence to be a self-governing citizen. Depending upon the assumptions one makes, direct democracy is either worth the test of experience or it is inherently excluded from serious social discourse. We cannot interpret the decline of the Athenian Ecclesia, the ultimate failure of the Parisian sections, and the waning of the New England town meetings as denying the popular assembly's feasibility for a future society. These forms of direct democracy were riddled by class conflicts and opposing social interests; they were not institutions free of hierarchy, domination, and egotism. What is extraordinary about them is that they functioned at all, not the weary conclusion that they eventually failed.
A second premise in creating libertarian institutions is a clear distinction between the formulation of policy and its administrative implementation. This distinction has been woefully confused by social theorists like Marx, who celebrated the Paris Commune's fusion of decision-making with administration within the same political bodies and agencies. Perhaps no error could be more serious from a libertarian viewpoint. The danger of delivering policy-making decisions to an administrative body, which normally is a delegated body and often highly technical in character, is redolent with elitism and the usurpation of public power. A direct democracy is face-to-face and unabashedly participatory. A council, committee, agency, or bureau is precisely the opposite: indirect, delegated, and often unabashedly exclusionary. For the latter to make policy decisions, as distinguished from coordinating activities, is to remove policy from the public domain — to depoliticize the process in the Athenian sense of the term at best, and render policy formulation totally exclusionary at worst. In fact, this subversive range of possibilities, all inimicable to freedom and the ideal of an active citizenry, has been the destiny of the revolutionary council movements since the beginning of the century — notably, the Russian soviets, the German Räten, and the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist chain of "committees" that developed early in the Spanish Revolution. Other council movements, such as the Hungarian in 1956, were too shortlived to degenerate as their predecessors had.
Moreover, the council system, conceived as a policy-making structure, is inherently hierarchical. Whether based on factories or communities, it tends to acquire a pyramidal form, however confederal its rhetoric and surface appearance. From factory and village to town, to city, to region, and finally to swollen, infrequently convened, easily manipulated national "congresses," the short-lived German Räten and the more long-lived Russian soviets were so far removed from their popular base that they quickly degenerated into decorative instruments for highly centralized workers' parties.
What is obviously at issue is not whether a council has been delegated, chosen by sortition, or formed in an ad hoc manner, but whether or not it can formulate policy. It would matter very little — given a reasonable amount of prudence, public supervision, and the right of the assembly to recall and rotate councilors — if councils were limited to strictly administrative responsibilities. Their narrow functions would thereby define their powers and their limits. It would not be difficult to determine whether these limits, once clearly defined, have been overstepped and the council has engaged in functions that impinge on the assembly's policy-making powers. Nor would it be difficult to determine when certain functions have been discharged and needless administrative bodies can be disbanded. A relentless system of accountability would put administrative groups largely at the mercy of decision-making assemblies, hence reinforcing the limits that confine councils to strictly coordinative functions.
Finally, I must emphasize that direct democracy is ultimately the most advanced form of direct action. There are doubtlessly many ways to express the claims of the individual and community to be autonomous, self-active, and self-managing — today as well as in a future ecological society. To exercise one's powers of sovereignty — by sit-ins, strikes, nuclear-plant occupations — is not merely a "tactic" in bypassing authoritarian institutions. It is a sensibility, a vision of citizenship and selfhood that assumes the free individual has the capacity to manage social affairs in a direct, ethical, and rational manner. This dimension of the self in self-management is a persistent call to personal sovereignty, to roundedness of ego and intellectual perception, which such cojoined terms like "management" and "activity" often overshadow. The continual exercise of this self — its very formation by one's direct intervention in social issues — in asserting its moral claim and right to empowerment stands on a higher level conceptually than Marx's image of self-identity through labor. For direct action is literally a form of ethical character-building in the most important social role that the individual can undertake: active citizenship. To reduce it to a mere means, a "strategy" that can be used or discarded for strictly functional purposes, is instrumentalism in its most insidious, often most cynical form. Direct action is at once the reclamation of the public sphere by the ego, its development toward self-empowerment, and its culmination as an active participant in society.
But direct action can also be degraded, on its own terms, by seeming to honor some of its most dubious characteristics: aggressiveness, arrogance, and terrorism. Inevitably, these characteristics rebound against the individual, and often lead to what Fourier called a malignant "counterpassion" — a spoiled, disappointed adherence to authority, delegated powers, and personal passivity. We are very familiar with the fulminating "anarchist" terrorist who turns into the most reverential supporter of authority, as Paul Brousse's career revealed. Direct action finds its authentic expression in the painstaking work of citizenship — such as the building of libertarian forms of organization today and their conscientious administration in routine work with lasting ardor. This unassuming work is all too readily overlooked for dramatic actions and colorful projects.
The high degree of competence individuals have exhibited in managing society, their capacity to distinguish policy-making from administration (consider the Athenian and early Swiss examples), and their awareness of selfhood as a mode of social behavior — all these traits will be heightened by a classless, nonhierarchical society. We have no reason to be disenchanted by history. As barbarous as its most warlike, cruel, exploitive, and authoritarian periods have been, humanity has soared to radiant heights in its great periods of social reconstruction, thought, and art — despite the burdens of domination and egotism. Once these burdens are removed, we have every reason to hope for a degree of personal and social enlightenment for which there are no historical precedents. Through the mother-infant relationship, we regularly plant the seeds of a human nature that can be oriented toward selfless endearment, interdependence, and care. These are not trite words to describe the womb of human renewal, generation after generation, and the love each child receives in virtually every society. They become cliches only when we ignore the possibility that separation can yield an aggressive egotism and sense of rivalry, when material insecurity produces fear toward nature and humanity, and when we "mature" by following the pathways of hierarchical and class societies.
We must try to create a new culture, not merely another movement that attempts to remove the symptoms of our crises without affecting their sources. We must also try to extirpate the hierarchical orientation of our psyches, not merely remove the institutions that embody social domination. But the need for a new culture and new institutions must not be sacrificed to a hazy notion of personal redemption that makes us into lonely "saints" amid masses of irredeemable "sinners." Changes in culture and personality go hand in hand with our efforts to achieve a society that is ecological — a society based on usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum — but that also recognizes the existence of a universal humanity and the claims of individuality. Guided as we may be by the principle of the equality of unequals, we can ignore neither the personal arena nor the social, neither the domestic nor the public, in our project to achieve harmony in society and harmony with nature.
Before exploring the general contours of an ecological society, I must first examine the concept of individual competence in managing social affairs. To create a society in which every individual is seen as capable of participating directly in the formulation of social policy is to instantly invalidate social hierarchy and domination. To accept this single concept means that we are committed to dissolving State power, authority, and sovereignty into an inviolate form of personal empowerment. That our commitment to a nonhierarchical society and personal empowerment is still a far cry from the full development of these ideals into a lived sensibility is obvious enough; hence our persistent need to confront the psychic problems of hierarchy as well as social problems of domination. There are already many tendencies that are likely to force this confrontation, even as we try to achieve institutional changes. I refer to radical forms of feminism that encompass the psychological dimensions of male domination, indeed, domination itself; to ecology conceived as a social outlook and personal sensibility; and to community as intimate, human-scaled forms of association and mutual aid. Although these tendencies may wane periodically and retreat for a time to the background of our concerns, they have penetrated deeply into the social substance and ideologies of our era.
What would further reinforce their impact on contemporary consciousness and practice is the meaning — the function and sense of direction — they impart to our vision of an ecological society. Such a society is considerably more than an ensemble of nonhierarchical social institutions and sensibilities. In a very decisive sense, it expresses the way in which we socialize with nature. I use the word "socialize" advisedly: my concern is not merely with those cherished "metabolic" processes of production so central to Marx's idea of labor, nor with the design of an "appropriate" technics so dear to the hearts of our environmental engineers. What concerns me deeply, here, are the functions we impart to our communities as social ecosystems — the role they play in the biological regions in which they are situated. Indeed, whether we merely "situate" our ecocommunities or root them in their ecosystems, whether we "design" them merely as part of a "natural site" (like a Frank Lloyd Wright dwelling) or functionally integrate. them into an ecosystem (like an organ in a living body) — these choices involve very different orientations toward technics, ethics, and the social institutions we so blithely call ecological. Wiser solar technicians have emphasized that a domestic solar energy system is not a component of a home, like a kitchen or bathroom; it is the entire house itself, as an organism interacting with nature. In less mechanical terms, the same principle of organic unity holds true for the ecocommunities and ecotechnologies we seek to integrate into the natural world.
It is a commonplace that every human enterprise necessarily "interferes" with "pure" or "virginal" nature. This notion, which suggests that human beings and their works are intrinsically "unnatural" and, in some sense, antithetical to nature's "purity" and "virginity," is a libel on humanity and nature alike. It unerringly reflects "civilization's" image of "man" as a purely social being and society as an enemy of nature, merely by virtue of the specificity and distinctiveness of social life itself. Worse yet, it grossly distorts the fact that humanity is a manifestation of nature, however unique and destructive — hence the myth that "man" must "disembed" himself from nature (Marx) or "transcend" his primate origins (Sahlins).
We may reasonably question whether human society must be viewed as "unnatural" when it cultivates food, pastures animals, removes trees and plants — in short, "tampers" with an ecosystem. We normally detect a tell-tale pejorative inflection in our discussions on human "interference" in the natural world. But all these seeming acts of "defilement" may enhance nature's fecundity rather than diminish it. The word fecundity, here, is decisive — and we could add other terms, such as variety, wholeness, integration, and even rationality. To render nature more fecund, varied, whole, and integrated may well constitute the hidden desiderata of natural evolution. That human beings become rational agents in this all-expansive natural trend — that they even benefit practically from it in the form of greater and more varied quantities of food — is no more an intrinsic defilement of nature than the fact that deer limit forest growth and preserve grasslands by feeding on the bark of saplings.
For human society to acknowledge that its well-being, perhaps its very survival, may depend upon consciously abetting the thrust of natural evolution toward a more diversified, varied, and fecund biosphere does not necessarily mean that we must reduce nature to a mere object for human manipulation — an ethical degradation of nature as a "something" that merely exists "for us." To the contrary, what is authentically "good" for us may very well not be a purely human desideratum but a natural one as well. As a unique product of natural evolution, humanity brings its powers of reasoning, its creative fingers, its high degree of conscious consociation — all qualitative developments of natural history — to nature, at times as sources of help and at other times as sources of harm. Perhaps the greatest single role an ecological ethics can play is a discriminating one — to help us distinguish which of our actions serve the thrust of natural evolution and which of them impede it. That human interests of one kind or another may be involved in these actions is not always relevant to the ethical judgments we are likely to make. What really counts are the ethical guidelines that determine our judgment.
The concept of an ecological society must begin from a sense of assurance that society and nature are not inherently antithetical. In our characteristic view of difference as a form of opposition and estrangement, we have permitted the unique aspects of human society to obscure our perception of its commonality with nature, as a "niche" in a given bioregion and ecosystem. More pointedly, we have permitted the very failings of "civilization" — its objectification of nature and human beings, its hierarchical, class, domineering, and exploitative relationships — to be interpreted as intrinsic social attributes. Hence, a deformed society has come to represent society as such, with the result that its antihuman and antinatural qualities become visible only when we contrast this deformed society with organic society. Without the benefit of this hindsight, we myopically extoll the very failings of "civilization" as evidence of the "disembeddedness" of society from nature. Our greatest shortcomings and defaults are turned into grossly unjustifiable "successes"; our most irrational actions and institutions become the "fruits" of human reason and volition. That humanity was expelled from the Garden of Eden does not mean that we must turn an antagonistic face toward nature; rather, it is a metaphor for a new, eminently ecological function: the need to create more fecund gardens than Eden itself.
It is tempting to venture into a utopian description of how an ecological society would look and how it would function, but I have promised to leave such visions to the utopian dialogue that we so direly need today. However, certain biotic and cultural imperatives cannot be ignored if our concept of an ecological society is to have integrative meaning and self-conscious direction. Perhaps the most striking example of how natural evolution phases into social evolution is the fact that we are the heirs of a strong natural thrust toward association. Owing to our prolonged dependency as children and the plasticity of mind that this long period of growth provides, we are destined to live together as a species. Highly privatistic pathologies aside, we have a maternally biased need to associate, to care for our own kind, to collaborate. Whether in village or town, polis or city, commune or megalopolis, we seem impelled by the very nature of our child-rearing experiences and attributes to live in a highly associative world.
But what kind of associations could we expect to find in our future ecological society? While the kinship tie or the blood oath is a more strictly biological basis for association than any form we know, it is patently too parochial and restrictive, in view of our modern commitment to a universal humanitas. Indeed, it is fair to ask whether the strictly biological is necessarily more "natural" than the human social attributes produced by natural evolution. Our very concept of nature may be more fully expressed by the way in which biological facts are integrated structurally to give rise to more complex and subtle forms of natural reality. Society itself may be a case in point, at least in terms of its abiding basic elements, and human associations that extend beyond the blood tie may reflect more complex forms of natural evolution than the highly limited biological kinship relations. If human nature is part of nature, the associations that rest on universal human loyalties may well be expressions of a richer, more variegated nature than we hitherto have been prepared to acknowledge.
In any case, it is apparent that we score a much richer ecological advance over the conventional biological wisdom of early humanity when we relate on the basis of a simple affinity of tastes, cultural similarities, emotional compatibilities, sexual preferences, and intellectual interests. Nor are we any the less natural for doing so. Even more preferable than the blood-related family is the commune that unites individuals by what they choose to like in each other rather than what they are obliged by blood ties to like. Conscious cultural affinity is ultimately a more creative basis for association than the unthinking demands of kin loyalties. The rudiments of an ecological society will probably be structured around the commune — freely created, human in scale, and intimate in its consciously cultivated relationships — rather than clan or tribal forms that are often fairly sizable and anchored in the imperatives of blood and the notion of a common ancestry. It is not "retribalization" that an ecological society is likely to seek but rather recommunalization with its wealth of creative libertarian traits.
On a still larger scale, the Commune composed of many small communes seems to contain the best features of the polis, without the ethnic parochialism and political exclusivity that contributed so significantly to its decline. Such larger or composite Communes, networked confederally through ecosystems, bioregions, and biomes, must be artistically tailored to their natural surroundings. We can envision that their squares will be interlaced by streams, their places of assembly surrounded by groves, their physical contours respected and tastefully landscaped, their soils nurtured caringly to foster plant variety for ourselves, our domestic animals, and wherever possible the wildlife they may support on their fringes. We can hope that the Communes would aspire to live with, nourish, and feed upon the life-forms that indigenously belong to the ecosystems in which they are integrated.
Decentralized and scaled to human dimensions, such ecocommunities would obey nature's "law of return" by recycling their organic wastes into composted nutriment for gardens and such materials as they can rescue for their crafts and industries. We can expect that they would subtly integrate solar, wind, hydraulic, and methane-producing installations into a highly variegated pattern for producing power. Agriculture, aquaculture, stockraising, and hunting would be regarded as crafts — an orientation that we hope would be extended as much as possible to the fabrication of use-values of nearly all kinds. The need to mass-produce goods in highly mechanized installations would be vastly diminished by the communities' overwhelming emphasis on quality and permanence. Vehicles, clothing, furnishings, and utensils would often become heirlooms to be handed down from generation to generation rather than discardable items that are quickly sacrificed to the gods of obsolescence. The past would always live in the present as the treasured arts and works of generations gone by.
We could expect that work, more craftlike than industrial, would be as readily rotated as positions of public responsibility; that members of the communities would be disposed to deal with one another in face-to-face relationships rather than by electronic means. In a world where the fetishization of needs would give way to the freedom to choose needs, quantity to quality, mean-spirited egotism to generosity, and indifference to love, we might reasonably expect that industrialization would be seen as an insult to human physiological rhythms and that physically onerous tasks would be reworked into collective enterprises more festive than laborious in nature. Whether several ecocommunities would want to share and cojointly operate certain industrial entities — such as a small-scale foundry, machine shop, electronic installation, or utility — or whether they would want to return to more traditional but often technically exciting means of producing goods is a decision that belongs to future generations. Certainly, no law of production requires that we retain or expand the gigantic, highly centralized and hierarchically organized plants, mills, and offices that disfigure modern industry. By the same token, it is not for us to describe in any detail how the Communes of the future would confederate themselves and coordinate their common activities. Any institutional relationship of which we could conceive would remain a hollow form until we knew the attitudes, sensibilities, ideals, and values of the people who establish and maintain it. As I have already pointed out, a libertarian institution is a peopled one; hence its purely formal structure will be neither better nor worse than the ethical values of the people who give it reality. Certainly we, who have been saturated with the values of hierarchy and domination, cannot hope to impose our "doubts" upon people who have been totally freed of their trammels.
What humanity can never afford to lose is its sense of ecological direction and the ethical meaning it gives to its projects. As I have already observed, our alternative technologies will have very little social meaning or direction if they are designed with strictly technocratic goals in mind. By the same token, our efforts at cooperation will be actively demoralizing if we come together merely to "survive" the hazards of living in our prevailing social system. Our technics can be either catalysts for our integration with the natural world or the chasms separating us from it. They are never ethically neutral. "Civilization" and its ideologies have fostered the latter orientation; social ecology must promote the former. Modern authoritarian technics have been tested beyond all human endurance by a misbegotten history of natural devastation and chronic genocide, indeed, biocide. The rewards we can glean from the wreckage they have produced will require so much careful sifting that an understandable case can be made for simply turning our backs on the entire heap. But we are already too deeply mired in its wastes to extricate ourselves readily. We have become trapped in its economic logistics, its systems of transportation and distribution, its national division of labor, and its immense industrial apparatus. Lest we be totally submerged and buried in its debris, we must tread cautiously — seeking firm ground where we can in the real attainments of science and engineering, avoiding its lethal quagmire of weaponry and its authoritarian technics of social control.
In the end, however, we must escape from the debris with whatever booty we can rescue, and recast our technics entirely in the light of an ecological ethics whose concept of "good" takes its point of departure from our concepts of diversity, wholeness, and a nature rendered self-conscious — an ethics whose "evil" is rooted in homogeneity, hierarchy, and a society whose sensibilities have been deadened beyond resurrection. Insofar as we hope to resurrect ourselves, we are obliged to use technics to bring the vitality of nature back into our atrophied senses. Having lost sight of our roots in natural history, we must be all the more careful in dealing with the means of life as forms of nature: to discern our roots in the sun and wind, in minerals and gases, as well as in soil, plants, and animals. It is a challenge not to be evaded — notably, to see the sun as part of our umbilical cord to power just as we discern its role in the photosynthetic activities of plants.
Inevitably, I am asked how to go from "here to there," as though reflections on the emergence and dissolution of hierarchy must contain recipes for social change. For social "paradigms" one can turn to such memorable events as the May-June upheaval in France during 1968, or to Portugal a decade later, and possibly to Spain a generation earlier. What should always count in analyzing such events is not why they failed — for they were never expected to occur at all — but how they managed to erupt and persist against massive odds. No movement for freedom can even communicate its goals, much less succeed in attaining them, unless historic forces are at work to alter unconscious hierarchical values and sensibilities. Ideas reach only people who are ready to hear them. No individual, newspaper, or book can undo a character structure shaped by the prevailing society until the society itself is beleaguered by crises. Thus ideas, as Marx shrewdly observed, really make us conscious of what we already know unconsciously. What history can teach us are the forms, strategies, techniques — and failures — in trying to change the world by also trying to change ourselves.
The libertarian technics of change have been discussed and tried extensively. Their capacity for success still must be proven by the situations in which they can really hope to attain their goals. None of the authoritarian technics of change has provided successful "paradigms," unless we are prepared to ignore the harsh fact that the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban "revolutions" were massive counterrevolutions that blight our entire century. Libertarian forms of organization have the enormous responsibility of trying to resemble the society they are seeking to develop. They can tolerate no disjunction between ends and means. Direct action, so integral to the management of a future society, has its parallel in the use of direct action to change society. Communal forms, so integral to the structure of a future society, have their parallel in the use of communal forms — collectives, affinity groups, and the like — to change society. The ecological ethics, confederal relationships, and decentralized structures we would expect to find in a future society, are fostered by the values and networks we try to use in achieving an ecological society.
We know from the Parisian sections that even large cities can be decentralized structurally and institutionally for a lengthy period of time, however centralized they once were logistically and economically. Should a future society, confederally integrated and communally oriented, seek to decentralize itself logistically and economically, it will not lack the existing means and latent talents to do so. Just as New York City has shown that it can effortlessly dismember itself in less than a decade and become a physical ruin, so Germany's cities after World War II have shown that they can rebuild themselves from ruins into thriving (if tasteless) megalopolises in an equal span of time. The means for tearing down the old are available, both as hope and as peril. So, too, are the means for rebuilding. The ruins themselves are mines for recycling the wastes of an immensely perishable world into the structural materials of one that is free as well as new.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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