THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: the emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005). Introduction
I am coming to realize that Murray Bookchin, whose name I first heard a year or so ago, was one of the great thinkers of our time.
His book, The Ecology of Freedom, is a profound work that is worth studying closely. I intend to do this by reviewing the book chapter by chapter, partly to stimulate interest in his ideas but more to clarify my own thinking.
His basic idea is that human domination of nature and human domination of other human beings are part of the same thing. This sounds simple. What he does in this book is to describe the history of how this has played out in all its cultural, political, economic and religious aspects, and map paths to a better future.
My basic political principles are the ideas of American freedom and democracy that I was taught as a small boy. My ideals have changed little in more than 70 years, but my ideas of how the world works have changed a lot, especially in the past 10 or 20 years.
State socialism based on command economies haven’t worked. A tiny group of masterminds, even if they have good intentions, are not qualified to make decisions for the rest of us. The kind of capitalism we have now doesn’t work either. So I am interested in learning about alternatives.
Born in 1921 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bookchin was a labor organizer in the 1930s and 1940s and a participant in the anti-nuclear and radical Green movements in the 1960s and 1970s. As a young man, he was a Communist. He later became a Trotskyite, then an anarchist, and, in this book, espoused a philosophy he called social ecology or libertarian socialism.
The Ecology of Freedom begins with introductions to the 2005, 1991 and original 1982 editions, in which he expresses his disappointment with the environmental movement’s failure to live up to its original promise because of the failure to develop an adequate political philosophy.
One current of the environmental movement became a mere lifestyle option, based on consumer choice. The Deep Ecology movement and part of the population control movement decided that human beings as such, rather than oppressive governments or exploitative corporations, were the problem.
Many self-described environmentalists identified being anti-rational, anti-science and anti-technology with being in harmony with nature, which was one of the teachings of fascism.
All these things, Bookchin wrote, indirectly helped prop up the status quo. Environmentalists did accomplish important practical victories in individual situations, for which they deserve praise. But they did not change the overall direction of society because of the lack of a unifying vision, which he called “social ecology”.
That vision is a symbiotic relationship among human beings, and between human beings and the rest of nature. This doesn’t mean passivity, or abandonment of the human-made environment to wilderness, he wrote; it means to work with natural processes and with human nature rather than trying to override them.
This seems to me very much like the Unitarian Universalist Seventh Principle, which is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin – the complete book in PDF form.
Society and Ecology by Murray Bookchin.
Social Ecology Versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement by Murray Bookchin (1987)
Libertarian Municipalism by Murray Bookchin (1991)
What Is Social Ecology? by Murray Bookchin (1993)
Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism by Janet Biehl.
Remembering Murray Bookchin by David Rosen for Counterpunch.