Murray Bookchin: the legacy of domination

This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin, which I’m doing in order to help myself understand it better.  I’m interested in Bookchin’s philosophy of social ecology, which seems like a kind of socialism without government or libertarianism without corporations.


chapter five: the legacy of domination

Murray Bookchin believed that human beings first lived in what he called “organic societies”.  They lived more or less in harmony with nature and with each other.  They were “matricentric”—not ruled by women, but reflecting the motherly values of home and hearth.

By the time of ancient Israel and ancient Greece, patriarchy came into its own.  Israelite and Greek fathers had complete authority over their grown sons, including the right to banish and disinherit them for disobedience.

Women were taught the virtues of renunication, modesty and obedience, lest they become like Eve, Pandora or Circe.   They were regarded as sources of temptation, and were taught the virtues of renunciation, modesty and obedience.

In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh exercised the absolute authority of a patriarch, not only over a clan but over a whole nation.   The book of Genesis told how Joseph, Pharaoh’s agent, collected and distributed food, and had food surpluses stored up so they would be available in hard times.

This became the typical pattern for the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world.  People became convinced they could not get along without a government to provide for them, Bookchin wrote.

The same attitude persists today, he added.  People think freedom is choosing the right form of government.  They do not question the need for government.

Ancient Athens was the shining exception to this, he wrote.

It is true the Athenians were patriarchal.  They did not accept slaves, former slaves, women or foreigners as equals, so were every other people they knew about.  But among themselves, they regarded each other as competent, self-reliant individuals, capable of self-management and management of public affairs.

Everything was decided in public assemblies, and the people who decided were the ones who carried out the decisions, including decisions regarding peace and war.

This represented an advance over the primitive organic societies, Bookchin wrote, because Athenian society was created and maintained intentionally and with full awareness, as the Funeral Oration of Pericles showed.

The oration was the equivalent of the Gettysburg address, paying tribute to Athenian soldiers who died in the war with Sparta.   Pericles said Athenians honored the right of the individual to strive for excellence in his own way, and they fought just as bravely as those who submitted to regimentation and hierarchy.

But many Athenian thinkers, including Thucydides, who recorded Pericles’ oration, regarded freedom and democracy as a form of chaos, and chose order instead.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Neither the values of Athenian democracy nor those of the primitive organic societies died out altogether, Bookchin wrote.  He mentioned Europe’s medieval communes, in which citizens of a town or city would join together and swear an oath to defend themselves against lawless barons and kings.

He mentioned the villages of India, who (to Karl Marx’s disgust) maintained their ancient customs through the centuries as despots and empires came and went.

The values of commerce were not allowed to dominate society, he wrote.  He mentioned the Oriental bazaars, in which a customer and merchant sit down, drink tea, exchange pleasantries and only then get around to negotiating a sale.  He contrasted this with the impersonality of the modern shopping center.

“As the inorganic replaces the organic in nature,” he wrote, “so the inorganic replaces the organic in society and in personality.”


PREVIOUS: chapter four: epistemologies of rule

NEXT: chapter six: justice—equal and exact



The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin – the complete book in PDF form.

Freedom and Necessity in Nature: A Problem in Evolutionary Ethics by Murray Bookchin.

On Spontaneity and Organization by Murray Bookchin.

Introduction to The Murray Bookchin Reader by Janet Biehl.

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One Response to “Murray Bookchin: the legacy of domination”

  1. Preventing Ecological Catastrophe Means Abolishing Hierarchy and Domination – towardsautonomyblog Says:

    […] [3] […]


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