The Ecology of Freedom

By Murray Bookchin (1982)

Revolt Library Anarchism The Ecology of Freedom

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(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....)
• "...anarchism is above all antihierarchical rather than simply individualistic; it seeks to remove the domination of human by human, not only the abolition of the state and exploitation by ruling economic classes." (From: "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...real growth occurs exactly when people have different views and confront each other in order to creatively arrive at more advanced levels of truth -- not adopt a low common denominator of ideas that is 'acceptable' to everyone but actually satisfies no one in the long run. Truth is achieved through dialogue and, yes, harsh disputes -- not by a deadening homogeneity and a bleak silence that ultimately turns bland 'ideas' into rigid dogmas." (From: "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)


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Acknowledgments This book stands on its own ground and projects a coherent theory of social ecology that is independent of the conventional wisdom of our time. But we all stand on the shoulders of others, if only-in terms of the problems they raised and we are obliged to resolve. Thus, I owe a great deal to the work of Max Weber, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Karl Polanyi, who all so brilliantly anticipated the problems of domination and the crises of reason, science, and technics that beleaguer us today. I have tried to resolve these issues by following intellectual pathways opened by the anarchist thinkers of the previous century, particularly Peter Kropotkin's natural and social mutualism. I do not share his commitment to confederalism based on contract and exchange, and I find his notion of "sociality" (which I personally interpret to mean "symbiotic mutualism") among nonhuman organisms a bit simplistic. However, Kropotkin is unique in his em... (From :

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Introduction This book was written to satisfy the need for a consistently radical social ecology: an ecology of freedom. It had been maturing in my mind since 1952 when I first became acutely conscious of the growing environmental crisis that was to assume such monumental proportions a generation later. In that year, I published a volume-sized article, "The Problems of Chemicals in Food" (later to be republished in book form in Germany as Lebensgefiihrliche Lebensmittel). Owing to my early Marxian intellectual training, the article examined not merely environmental pollution but also its deep-seated social origins. Environmental issues had developed in my mind as social issues, and problems of natural ecology had become problems of "social ecology" — an expression hardly in use at the time. The subject was never to leave me. In fact, its dimensions were to widen and deepen immensely. By the early sixties, my views could be summarized in a fairly... (From :

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9. Two Images of Technology In trying to examine technology and production, we encounter a curious paradox. We are deeply riven by a great sense of promise about technical innovation, on the one hand, and by a thorough sense of disenchantment with its results, on the other. This dual attitude not only reflects a conflict in the popular ideologies concerning technology but also expresses strong doubts about the nature of the modern technological imagination itself. We are puzzled that the very instruments our minds have conceived and our hands have created can be so easily turned against us, with disastrous results for our well-being — indeed, for our very survival as a species. It is difficult for young people today to realize how anomalous such a conflict in technical orientation and imagery would have seemed only a few decades ago. Even such a wayward cult hero as Woody Guthrie once celebrated the huge dams and giant mills that have now earned... (From :

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1. The Concept of Social Ecology The legends of the Norsemen tell of a time when all beings were apportioned their worldly domains: the gods occupied a celestial domain, Asgard, and men lived on the earth, Midgard, below which lay Niffleheirn, the dark, icy domain of the giants, dwarfs, and the dead. These domains were linked together by an enormous ash, the World Tree. Its lofty branches reached into the sky, and its roots into the furthermost depths of the earth. Although the World Tree was constantly being gnawed by animals, it remained ever green, renewed by a magic fountain that infused it continually with life. The gods, who had fashioned this world, presided over a precarious state of tranquility. They had banished their enemies, the giants, to the land of ice. Fenris the wolf was enchained, and the great serpent of the Midgard was held at bay. Despite the lurking dangers, a general peace prevailed, and plenty existed for the gods, men, and all... (From :

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2. The Outlook of Organic Society The notion that man is destined to dominate nature is by no means a universal feature of human culture. If anything, this notion is almost completely alien to the outlook of so-called primitive or preliterate communities. I cannot emphasize too strongly that the concept emerged very gradually from a broader social development: the increasing domination of human by human. The breakdown of primordial equality into hierarchical systems of inequality, the disintegration of early kinship groups into social classes, the dissolution of tribal communities into the city, and finally the usurpation of social administration by the State — all profoundly altered not only social life but also the attitude of people toward each other, humanity's vision of itself, and ultimately its attitude toward the natural world. In many ways, we are still agonized by the problems that emerged with these sweeping changes. Perhaps only by examining the at... (From :

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3. The Emergence of Hierarchy The breakdown of early Neolithic village society marks a decisive turning point in the development of humanity. In the millennia-long era that separates the earliest horticultural communities from the "high civilizations" of antiquity, we witness the emergence of towns, cities, and finally empires — of a qualitatively new social arena in which the collective control of production was supplanted by elitist control, kinship relations by territorial and class relations, and popular assemblies or councils of elders by state bureaucracies. This development occurred very unevenly. Where settled agricultural communities were invaded by pastoral nomads, the shift from one social arena to another may have occurred so explosively that it acquired apocalyptic proportions. Languages, customs, and religions seemed to replace each other with bewildering rapidity; old institutions (both heavenly and earthly) were effaced by new one... (From :

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4. Epistemologies of Rule The shift from hierarchical to class societies occurred on two levels: the material and the subjective. A clearly material shift was embodied in the emergence of the city, the State, an authoritarian technics, and a highly organized market economy. The subjective shifts found expression in the emergence of a repressive sensibility and body of values — in various ways of mentalizing the entire realm of experience along lines of command and obedience. Such mentalities could very well be called epistemologies of rule, to use a broad philosophical term. As much as any material development, these epistemologies of rule fostered the development of patriarchy and an egoistic morality in the rulers of society; in the ruled, they fostered a psychic apparatus rooted in guilt and renunciation. Just as aggression flexes our bodies for fight or flight, so class societies organize our psychic structures for command or obedience. A rep... (From :

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5. The Legacy of Domination The hierarchical origins of morality occur in the early and classical forms of family organization — in the moral authority claimed by its male head. The Bible provides ample evidence of the sovereignty enjoyed by the patriarch in dealing with his wives and children. To put it bluntly, they were his chattels, like the animals that made up his herds. His power over them lacked all restraint but that evoked by compassion and by the feeling of immortality he derived from the living products of his loins. Whether or not the son be cast in the image of the father, both are nevertheless made in the image of the deity who thereby unites them by covenant and blood. The demanding characteristics of father-love, in contrast to the selfless characteristics of mother-love, represent the male's resolution of his quarrel with eternity. The Hebrew patriarchs required no heaven or immortal soul, for both of them existed in the physical reality of t... (From :

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6. Justice — Equal and Exact The notion of "freedom" does not seem to exist in organic society. As we saw earlier, the word is simply meaningless to many preliterate peoples. Lacking any institutionalized structure of domination, they have no way of defining a condition that is still intrinsically part of their social lives — a condition into which they grow without the elaborate hierarchical and later class structures of the late Neolithic and of "civilization." As "freedom" and "domination" are not in tension with each other, they lack contrast and definition. But the very lack of distinction between "freedom" and "domination" leaves organic society unguarded against hierarchy and class rule. Innocence exposes the community to manipulation on the most elementary levels of social experience. The elders, shamans, later the patriarchs, priestly corporations, and warrior chieftains, who are to corrode organic society, need only produce shifts... (From :

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7. The Legacy of Freedom The most triumphant moment of Justitia does not occur in her apotheosis as "bourgeois right," when the marketplace gives materiality to the rule of equivalence. Rather, it occurs in those times of transition when justice is extricating itself from the parochial world of organic society. This is the heroic moment of innocence, before the materiality of equivalence in the form of the commodity reclaims an early idealism. At this time, justice is emergent, creative, and fresh with promise — not worn down by history and the musty logic of its premises. The rule of equivalence is still loosening the grip of the blood oath, patriarchy, and the civic parochialism that denies recognition to individualism and a common humanity. It is opening society's door to personality with all its wild eccentricities and to the stranger as the shadowy figure of the "outsider." But by the bourgeois era, particularly its nineteenth-century cultural apogee, ind... (From :

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8. From Saints to Sellers But what of the social movements that these expanding notions of freedom were meant to influence? What of the ancient tribes who crossed the threshold into "civilization," the plebes and slaves to whom Christianity appealed, the discontented congregations of the "elect" and the unruly conventicles of the radical "Saints," the mystics and realists, the ascetics and hedonists, the pacifists and warriors of Christ who were to "turn the world upside down"? Up to now, I have explored the legacy of freedom in terms of its development as a theory. But how did the legacy function as a social movement, and how did the social movement react back upon the legacy, raising problems not only of faith and "Sainthood" but in our own time problems of economics, technics, and the impact of a marketplace of sellers? To understand the legacy of freedom as it was lived, not only thought, we must immerse our ideas in the rich flux of reality and sort out their a... (From :

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10. The Social Matrix of Technology Just as serious as the extent to which we have mechanized the world is the fact that we cannot distinguish what is social in our lives from what is technical. In our inability to distinguish the two, we are losing the ability to determine which is meant to subserve the other. Herein lies the core of our difficulties in controlling the machine. We lack a sense of the social matrix in which all technics should be embedded — of the social meaning in which technology should be clothed. Instead, we encounter the Hellenic conception of techné in the form of a grotesque caricature of itself: a techné that is no longer governed by a sense of limit. Our own, thoroughly market-generated conception of techné has become so limitless, so unbounded, and so broadly defined that we use its vocabulary ("input," "output," "feedback," ad nauseam) to explain our deepest interrelationships — which consequently are rend... (From :

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11. The Ambiguities of Freedom The technics and the technical imagination that can nourish the development of a free, ecological society are beset by ambiguities. Tools and machines can be used either to foster a totally domineering attitude toward nature or to promote natural variety and nonhierarchical social relationships. Although what is "big" in technics may be very ugly, what is "small" is not necessarily beautiful. Great despotisms have been based on a technology that is Neolithic in scale and form. The criticism of "industrial society" and "technological man" which erupted in the 1970s is testimony to popular disenchantment with the hopes of earlier generations for growing technological development and the freedom it was expected to yield — a freedom based on material plenty and the absence of debasing toil. Perhaps less obviously, the same ambiguities also becloud our attitudes toward reason and science. To Enlightenment thinkers two ce... (From :

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12. An Ecological Society After some ten millennia 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... (From :

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Epilogue In this book, I have tried to "turn the world upside down" in a form more theoretical than the efforts of the Diggers, Levelers, Ranters and their contemporary descendants. I have tried to shake out our world and explore the conspicuous features of its development. My efforts will succeed if they demonstrate how profoundly the curse of domination has infused almost every human endeavor since the decline of organic society. Hardly any achievement — be it institutional, technical, scientific, ideological, artistic, or the noble claims to rationality — has been spared this curse. In contrast to highly fashionable tendencies to root the origins of this curse in reason as such or in the "savage's" attempts to "wrestle" with nature, I have sought them out in the sinister endeavor of emerging elites to place human beings and human nature in a condition of subjugation. I have emphasized the potentially liberating role of art and imagination in giving ex... (From :


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