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). Doing this has been harder and taken longer than I expected. The effort is worthwhile for me, but I fear I am not doing justice to the breadth and depth of Bookchin’s thought. I hope videos and links will partly make up for this lack.
chapter twelve – an ecological society
In previous chapters, Murray Bookchin explained his ideas about humanity’s original organic societies, which were family-based clans in which everyone was valued, everyone contributed what they could and there supposedly was neither coercion nor selfish individualism.
He went on to explain how hierarchy arose through priesthoods and warrior bands, and the permutations of hierarchy through human history, and how universal religious and philosophical ideals arose as both a product of hierarchy and a reaction against it.
In this, his final chapter, he outlined his hopes for a future society which embodies the best ideals and practices of the original organic society and the newer universal ideals.
He didn’t provide a detailed outline of an ideal anarchist society not a strategy for bringing such a society into being.
Rather he provides a way of thinking that leads me to question my assumptions about what the world has to be like and to realize that things have to be the way they are now.
A good society rejects the idea that humanity and nature are antagonistic, Bookchin wrote. Although the idea that humanity is nature made conscious is only a figure of speech, it is the case that individual human nature is rooted in biological nature and human society is rooted in ecological nature.
Down through history, underneath the layers of domination, there have been “layered membranes” of freedom and community, he wrote. We need a modern vision of freedom that is intentional and not based on tradition and custom, although it will be hard to improve on the virtues of pre-literate societies.
Civilization historically has rested on scarcity, so that the freedom of the elite rested on the labor of the many. From scarcity arose the notion of contract, so that people could protect themselves from being cheater of their fair share.
Pre-literate societies rejected the idea of contract as the basis of society, Bookchin wrote. When you live in fear of being short-changed, you short-change others.
He said we should cease to identify freedom with domination. We should admire Michelangelo, not Gilgamesh, Achilles, Joshua and Julius Caesar.