The Ecology of Freedom: epilogue

THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  Epilogue.  This concludes my chapter-by-chapter review of Murray Bookchin’s great work, which I began last April.  I could and should have completed this project in a few weeks.   But the exercise was worth doing from my standpoint, and I will be pleased if I have stimulated interest in Bookchin’s ideas.

Western philosophers, from the ancient Greeks to the European Renaissance, maintained that human values should be rooted in nature.  Their problem, according to Murray Bookchin, was that they called upon an external factor—God, Spirit, what Henri Bergson later called the “vital force” to bring them together.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The truth is, according to Bookchin, that no external factor is necessary.   Mutualism, self-organization, freedom and awareness are present in nature, and evidently were latent in the universe from the very beginning.  Matter has self-organizing properties that cause it to become more complex.  Life has self-organizing properties that generate fertility, complexity and interdependence.

The evolution of life is as much a matter of developing new forms that fit in with the whole as it is competition between individuals and species.

Some biologists think that the biosphere itself is like a huge organism, which is able to regulate its internal processes and keep itself in balance.

The cruelty of nature is exaggerated, Bookchin wrote.  Wolves bringing down a sick or aged caribou is part of the cycle of life.  There is nothing in the natural world that is comparable to organized human warfare.

Human history also develops on its own, Bookchin wrote.  It is wrong to take any one factor—economics, technology, religion or culture—and make it the foundation for all the rest.

Bookchin said almost everything can have a libertarian or an authoritarian aspect.  Radical mysticism can be as anti-human as purely instrumental science.

That said, moral choice is a much more important factor in human history than historians generally acknowledge.  How else, Bookchin asked, do you explain the survival of the Jewish people, the centuries-old Irish struggle for liberation, or the protests of oppressed people from the Reformation to the French Revolution against domination and hierarchy?

Humanity now faces a moral choice in resisting domination and hierarchy in almost all human and social relationships—including politics and economics, religion and psychotherapy, and the treatment of women and children.

  He concludes:

“Civilization” as we know it today is more mute than nature for which it professes to speak and more blind than the elemental forces of nature it professes to control.  Indeed, “civilization” lives in hatred of the world around it and in grim hatred of itself.

Its gutted cities, wasted lands, poisoned air and water and mean-spirited greed constitute a daily indictment of its odious immorality.  A world so dominated may well be beyond redemption, at least within the terms of its own institutional and ethical framework.

The flames of Ragnorak purified the world of the Norsemen.  The flames that threaten to engulf our planet may leave it hopelessly hostile to life—a dead witness to cosmic failure.  If only because this planet’s history, including its human history, has been so full of promise, hope and creativity, it deserves a better fate than what seems to confront it in the years ahead.


I am in favor of implementing Murray Bookchin’s ideas to the extent that they are feasible.  My doubts are based on his optimism about unconstrained human nature.

I feel sure that jealousy, greed and human spite existed in his pre-literate organic societies; I feel sure they would continue to exist in the best of social organizations in the future.  The most I hope for is that the form of social organization will not suppress the nobler human impulses.


PREVIOUS: introduction

chapter one: the concept of social ecology

chapter two: the outlook of organic society

chapter three: the emergence of hierarchy

chapter four: epistemologies of rule

chapter five: the legacy of domination

chapter six: justice—equal and exact

chapter seven: the legacy of freedom

chapter eight: from saints to sellers

chapter nine: two images of technology

chapter ten: the social matrix of technology

chapter eleven: the ambiguities of freedom

chapter twelve: an ecological society



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.

Murray Bookchin: The Man Who Brought Radical Ecology and Assembly Democracy to the Left by Janet Biehl

Remembering Murray Bookchin by David Rosen for Counterpunch.

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