This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005)
chapter three: the emergence of hierarchy
In the dawn of recorded history, the human race was in the midst of a social, political and technological revolution. Agriculture has started to replace hunting and gathering. New technologies such as the wheel, the pottery kiln, the metal smelter and the loom generated increased wealth, making possible societies with much larger populations than villages and hunting clans.
Hardly any of this, however, went to improve the overall human material standard of living. Instead the increased means of power and wealth went to support emperors, priesthoods, aristocracies, armies and merchants. Human beings gained both increased power over nature and increased power over other human beings.
Studies of grave sites indicate that the average human in ancient civilizations was in poorer health and was more poorly nourished that the so-called savages living in hunting and gathering societies.
Most historians, including Marxist historians, recognize this, but they think it was a good thing, not a bad thing.
If the increased wealth had been spread among the populace, they say, it would have resulted only in a moderately prosperous mediocrity. The concentration of wealth made it possible to create science, philosophy, literature, the fine arts and more new technologies, which is turn allowed humanity to advance through stages to the good life we enjoy today—or, according to the Marxists, create the material basis for a utopian society of the future.
Murray Bookchin disagrees. For one thing, he does not believe that history proceeds in pre-ordained stages. He believes that the different periods of history offered choices of roads to take, some good, some bad, most of them mixtures of the two.
The rejection of hierarchy would have been a good choice, he wrote. There are many non-Western societies in which people, in Gandhi’s words, have enough for their need, but not their greed. Such societies are rich in tradition and culture, and people are at least as happy as modern Americans and Europeans.
I am not as sure as Bookchin that such a choice was feasible. Once one civilization devotes itself to militarism and acquisition, the rest must submit or find a method of defense, and the most obvious method of defense is to become militaristic and acquisitive themselves.
This is a dilemma that still exists today, and which thinkers such as Gene Sharp have tried to find answers for.