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—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. 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. did not hinder prevent the Athenians from fighting bravely.
But many Athenian thinkers, including Thucydides, who recorded Pericles’ oration, regarded freedom and democracy as a form of chaos, and chose order instead.