This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin. His ideas about the evolution of human society are conjectural, but I think much of what he wrote is true, most of it could be true and all of it makes me see the world in a new light.
chapter six: justice—equal and exact
In this chapter, Murray Bookchin wrote about how concepts such as “freedom” and “justice” came into being as counterpoints to domination.
The first human communities, which he called “organic societies,” practiced what Bookchin called equal treatment of unequals—what Marx later called the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.
Over time this changed into what Bookchin called the unequal treatment of equals—impersonal laws that treated everybody as if they were the same—what Anatole France called the law that in its majesty forbid rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal loaves of bread.
In organic societies, Bookchin wrote, there were no laws, judges or punishments. Instead there was solidarity within the group. In such societies, it didn’t matter whether you were a mighty hunter or somebody who could barely keep up. Everybody was entitled to what they needed in order to survive.
Limitations on choice were imposed by circumstances—the weather, the availability of game, sickness and health—not human domination.
If you endangered the survival of the group, you might be put to death (as among Eskimos) or severely beaten (as among Crow Indians). Other than that, there was free rein for eccentric behavior, sexual freedom, personal ambition (to be a “big man”), religious visions and the exercise of skill and courage.
Bookchin wrote in previous chapters how the elders of organic societies reinvented themselves as shamans and then as priests, while young warriors made blood oaths that took precedence over loyalty to the tribe. As sacred kings emerged in Egypt and Mesopotamia, priests and warriors provided teachings and coercive force to support their rule.
Within the original small organic societies, everybody knew each other personally. The larger kingdoms had need for impersonal laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi. Legal obligations and punishments were different for nobles, common people and slaves, and for subjects of the kingdom and for strangers.
As empires expanded, the idea of impartial and universal justice emerged.
The Mosaic law in the Hebrew Bible, for example, deals mostly with obligations of the Jewish people toward one another, and distinguishes between Jews and strangers. But the law contains other passages—inserted later?— prescribing the duty to be as just and kind to strangers as to one’s own.
There seems to be an evolution here. Likewise, Yahweh is described at first as a jealous God and then as a just God. What seems to be emerging is a need to morally justify the religion.
Ancient Greeks strongly believed that only they were free men by nature (Greek women weren’t free) and non-Greeks were naturally slaves. Athenian democracy did not apply slaves, freed slaves, women or foreigners.
The conquests of Alexander the Great and his successors broke down this distinction. They created empires that came and went, without resting on any fixed traditions or making any.