Dialectical naturalism

'A social ecology, as a holistic vision', writes John Clark, 'seeks to relate all phenomena to the larger direction ofevolution and emergence in the universe as a whole.'34 In his 'dialectical naturalism', Bookchin proposes to think together nature and society. 'Social ecology, in effect, stands at odds with the notion that culture has no roots whatever in natural evolution.'35 We cannot then be freed from nature; if capitalism seeks to do so, it is false. Bookchin thereby opposes attempts to separate society from nature (which he terms dualism) or collapse society into nature (which he calls monism). Bookchin holds to the term 'dialectical' as a way of indicating that he wishes to hold together natural development and social development.

This development is always evolutionary. At this point, however, Bookchin takes issue with standard treatments of evolution which privilege 'struggle' and 'competition'. He writes: 'Ecologists have yet to come to terms with the notion that symbiosis (not only "struggle") and participation (not only "competition") factor in the evolution of species.'36 Here we may detect the influence of the work of Peter Kropotkin.37 This dialectical naturalism is also organic: Bookchin proposes that social evolution

34. John Clark, 'A Social Ecology', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 8:3 (1997), 3-33 (10).

35. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, 2nd edition, p. 85.

has its precondition in - indeed, phases out of - natural evolution. In the development of evolution, a continuum of the emergence of the human from nature may be discerned.

Bookchin's naturalism makes a strong claim concerning the emergence of the human from natural conditions. 'The power of social ecology lies in the association it establishes between society and ecology, in understanding that the social is, potentially at least, a fulfilment of the latent dimension of freedom in nature, and that the ecological is a major organising principle of social development. In short, social ecology advances the guidelines for an ecological society.'38 We should be careful here: Bookchin is not proposing that we should read off from nature blueprints or templates for human, social organisation. Rather, he wants to argue that some ofthe characteristics ofhumanity have precursors in natural evolution; human characteristics such as freedom, creativity and rationality are the products of evolution; humanity is evolutionary nature become self-conscious.

The emergence ofsecond nature thus has as its precondition a vibrant and lively first nature. More than this, 'one may claim ... that there is a natural tendency toward greater complexity and subjectivity in first nature, arising from the very interactivity of matter, indeed a nisus toward self-consciousness'.39 We may now appreciate the ontological foundation of the claim that nature is not only the precondition ofthe emergence ofthe human but also the precondition of its development. As Bookchin confirms, 'the study of nature exhibits a self-evolving nisus, so to speak, that is implicitly ethical. Mutualism, freedom, and subjectivity are not solely human values or concerns. They appear, howevergerminally, in larger cosmic or organic processes.' In other words, Bookchin seeks an objective basis for the ethics that he is proposing. 'If social ecology', he continues, 'can provide a coherent focus on the unity of mutualism, freedom, and subjectivity as aspects of a cooperative society that is free from domination and guided by reflection and reason, it will have removed the difficulties that have plagued naturalistic ethics for so long'.40 In such fashion, Bookchin seeks to break down the epistemological cordon sanitaire that has separated mind from matter, the human from non-human nature.

Hence Bookchin can describe his naturalistic ethics as objective. As he puts it, 'we must invert Nietzsche's dictum "All facts are interpretations" and demand that all interpretation is rooted in objectivity'.41 The

38. Ibid., p. 87. 39. Ibid., p. 31. 40. Ibid., pp. 65-6. 41. Ibid., p. 179.

objectivity to which he appeals is set out in this dialectical naturalism, in which nature is seen as lively, active substance, out of which the social evolution of humanity phases. Thus we must see 'nature as a ground for ethics' as long as that nature is construed not hierarchically but instead as 'a nascent domain of freedom, selfhood, and consciousness'.42 Important clues are thereby given in this movement, always dialectical, from first to second nature.

As human beings are by nature social, Bookchin appeals to a concept of nature to ground his anarchist ethics. The anarchist emphasis on freedom, creativity and rationality is not subjective or arbitrary, but instead has an objective basis. Thus we may appreciate that the anarchist politics that Bookchin proposes elsewhere - the self-governance of human communities by citizen's assemblies, and the privileging of citizenship as both a crucial way of understanding the human individual and as offering a training for individuals - has its objective basis in a naturalistic ethics. This anarchist politics emerges out of the tendencies to participation and differentiation that Bookchin has already detected in nature; and hierarchy and domination interrupt such participation and differentiation.

'In what sense does social ecology view nature as a grounding for an ethics of freedom.?' asks Bookchin.43 To avoid the charge that naturalism leads to natural law, or fascist construals of BlutundBoden, or Stalinist natural dialectics, Bookchin stresses that his position is dialectical. Dialectical reason is not deductive but, rather, eductive reasoning: 'Dialectic ... is a logic of evolution from abstraction towards differentiation.'44 Thus Bookchin will insist on a continuum of the emergence of the human from nature but such a continuum is always dialectical. The natural and the social should not be run together: 'indeterminacy' in nature is not 'autonomy' in humanity; 'openness' in nature is not 'freedom' in humanity. Instead, the integration of second nature with first nature involves 'an abiding ecological sensibility that embodies nature's thrust toward self-reflexivity'.45 In short, the relationship is always dialectical. As Bookchin summarises the ontological-ethical commitments ofsocial ecology: The power of social ecology lies in the association it establishes between society and ecology, in understanding that the social is, potentially at least, a fulfilment of the latent dimension of freedom in nature, and that the ecological is a major organizing principle of social

42. Bookchin, The Modern Crisis,p. 10. 43. Ibid., p. 72.

44. Bookchin, ThePhilosophy ofSocialEcology, 2nd edn, p. 112.

development. In short, social ecology advances the guidelines for an ecological society. The great divorce between nature and society - or between the 'biological' and the 'cultural' - is overcome by shared developmental concepts such as greater diversity in evolution; the wider and more complete participation of all components in a whole; and the ever more fecund potentialities that expand the horizon of freedom and self-reflexivity. Society, like mind, ceases to be suigeneris. Like mind, with its natural history, social life emerges from the loosely banded animal community to form the highly institutionalised human community.46 A political theology that explicates a common realm of God, nature and humanity will find much to welcome in this dialectical naturalism: a holistic emphasis on the unity of nature and society; a dialectical account of human-nature relations towards the affirmation of diversity and differences; the stress that nature is a companion of society and is always the condition of its development; and the insistence that restrictive or oppressive political organisation cannot be read off this dialectical construal of nature. Before beginning a critique, I want to complete my analysis of the political trajectory of Bookchin's position by reviewing his notion of confederal municipalism.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Affirmations For Success

Affirmations For Success

Finally, The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life Forever. Get Your Hands On The Ultimate Guide For Live Improvement Through Affirmations For Success And Let It's Magic Change Your Life Forever. Discover How OrdinaryPeople Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through The Power Of Affirmations.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment