I have used the term 'anarchist' in my initial description of Bookchin's position. In what senses is Bookchin's position anarchist.? Five aspects of ecoanarchist thought have been identified by Robyn Eckersley: a rejection of the nation-state; the mutual and interactive compatibility of ecology and anarchism; a rejection of hierarchy in both human and natural worlds; an emphasis onlocal, extra-parliamentary political (direct) action; and, finally, 'the importance of maintaining consistency between ends
10. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 11.
and means in Green political praxis'.11 All these aspects may be found in Bookchin's work.
Further, Bookchin develops the central theme of anarchism: the importance of community. Socialism, we might say, emerges out of one of the constructions of capitalism: the bifurcation of society into classes. Anarchism, by contrast, emerges out of the (earlier.?) deracination and displacement of communities by capitalist forces of production. Bookchin will therefore criticise capitalism for its effects upon the human spirit and not from the standard socialist (that is, productivist and economistic) perspective of class. His criticisms of Marxism and ecosocialism are made from this perspective: for class, Bookchin has hierarchy; for exploitation, domination; for the abolition of the state, liberatory institutions; for justice, freedom; for happiness, pleasure.12
Such commitments inform Bookchin's criticism of the mysticism of deep ecology: that is, its anti-rationalism and, especially, its failure to develop an account of the current hierarchical political organisation of human beings. It follows, in turn, that Bookchin's politics are resolutely anti-statist: he denies the importance of 'politics as statecraft' in favour of politics as direct democracy - a municipalism. One feature of Bookchin's style of arguing is the way that he robustly presses his case. This can lead to some surprisingly non-dialectical conclusions coming from this self-professed dialectical thinker.13 For example, in maintaining the anarchist perspective from community, Bookchin notes that one strand within anarchism - the anarcho-syndicalist - has privileged labour as the principal agent of emancipatory politics, but does not develop this point dialectically.14 Narrowing the anarchist tradition, Bookchin opposes community to class. Indeed, the failure to maintain an account of reason as dialectical will be my chief criticism of Bookchin's view.
Domination is the key word in Bookchin's writing, argues Alan P. Rudy.15 Domination, exercised through hierarchies, is a social phenomenon. That is, such domination applies only to the human realm, to
11. Robyn Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political Theory:Toward an Ecocentric Approach
(London: University College London Press, 1995), p. 145.
12. Bookchin, TheEcology of Freedom, p. 1.
13. For a reading of this tendency to non-dialectical interpretation, see Joel Kovel, 'Negating
Bookchin', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 8:1 (1997), 3-35.
14. See John Clark, 'Reply', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 9:1 (1998), 37-45 (38).
15. Alan P. Rudy, 'Ecology and Anthropology in the Work of Murray Bookchin', Capitalism,
'second nature' and not to 'first nature'. Through his magnum opus, The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin gives an account of the emergence of hierarchy and offers social ecology as the theory and praxis for its overcoming. Domination and hierarchy are, Bookchin concedes, separable: a hierarchical society might not dominate nature; there is no guarantee that a non-hierarchical society will not dominate nature. However, he argues that the idea of dominating nature emerges only after the calcification of hierarchy. Bookchin describes hierarchy in this fashion:
By hierarchy, I mean the cultural, traditional and psychological systems of obedience and command, not merely the economic and political systems to which the terms class and State most appropriately refer ...I refer to the domination of the young by the old, of women by men, of one ethnic group by another, of 'masses' by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their 'higher social interests', of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality, and of nature by society and technology.16
The aim of social ecology is to explain the emergence of such hierarchy, account for the economy of command and obedience that it supports, and propose a political path towards the overcoming of such hierarchy. The aim is therefore the achievement of what Bookchin terms 'free nature' when 'human beings intervene in natural evolution with their best capacities - their moral sense, their unprecedented degree of conceptual thought, and their remarkable powers of communication'.17 Throughout, Bookchin rejects a dominant view of nature, in his view maintained by both socialist and liberal thinking, that nature is to be seen as '"blind", "mute", "cruel", "competitive", and "stingy", a seemingly demonic "realm of necessity" that opposes "man's" striving for freedom and self-realization'.18 Instead, the attribution of stinginess to nature is to be related to hierarchy and domination: 'The myth of a "stingy" nature has always been used to justify the "stinginess" of exploiters in their harsh treatment of the exploited.'19 In other words, Bookchin holds true to his method: such a false - and ideologically biased - characterisation of nature as blind, etc. is always the projection ofintrahuman domination through hierarchy.
16. Bookchin, The Ecology ofFreedom,p. 4. 17. Bookchin,'What is Social Ecology?', p. 370.
18 . Bookchin, TheModern Crisis, p . 50; cf. p . 11 .
19. Murray Bookchin, RemakingSociety: Pathways to a Green Future (Boston, MA: South End
From where does Bookchin's confidence come that free nature is a political objective, both actual and possible.? This is another form of the question: is not Bookchin overly optimistic about human nature? A superficial answer would appeal to Bookchin's account of the organic society which existed 'before hierarchy'. Much of The Ecology of Freedom is taken up with an account of the emergence of hierarchy out of organic society. However, Bookchin never proposes a movement adfontes: this is no philosophy of Eden in which return to a former state is recommended. The development of technology alone, Bookchin argues, makes such a return impossible. Instead, Bookchin argues that his account of organic society makes the case -in fact, a point common to all types of anarchism - that human beings are naturally social and that hierarchy is a contingent, not a natural, fact. In other words, the central point that Bookchin makes is ontological: if hierarchy and domination are not necessary, then how is the world to be interpreted 'in favour of the actuality of participation and freedom?
Bookchin's response comes in two parts, deeply intertwined: first, a reading of the anarcho-communist tradition in which he participates;20 and, second, an account of nature as evolutionary. Restating the concept of social ecology, Bookchin argues that his views amount to a holism: that is, the aim of social ecology is not merely to note the domination of nature by humanity but to overcome this domination; not merely to identify the damaged and damaging relations between nature and society but to contribute to their healing. Holism is never monism: 'In conceiving them holistically, that is to say, in terms of their mutual interdependence, social ecology seeks to unravel the forms and patterns ofinterrelationships that give intelligibility to a community, be it natural or social.'21 It is therefore proper to speak of the unity of nature and society, but never of their oneness.22
Bookchin is thereby proposing a holism that is best described as 'unity in diversity' or 'unity in difference'. Nor is this unity static. Akey word here is development: Bookchin proposes a 'logic of differentiation' in which the diversity and fecundity of nature phases into human development. The point is not to look for false analogies between the human and the animal world - queen bees, colonies of ants, etc. - but to grasp the ways
20. According to David Macauley, 'Evolution and Revolution: The Ecological Anarchism of Kropotkin and Bookchin', in Andrew Light (ed.), SocialEcology afterBookchin, pp. 298-342
(p. 314), there are six strands of anarchism: communist, individualist, syndicalist, mutualist, pacifist and collectivist.
21. Bookchin, TheEcology of Freedom, p. 23. Cf. Bookchin, TheModern Crisis, p. 60; Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 99f.
22. Bookchin charges deep ecology with the employment of the language of oneness.
in which human societies must be understood as phasing out of nature. In this regard, Bookchin argues that nature must always be understood as the condition of human society. Clearly, this is a rather different view from dominant liberal and socialist schemes which identify part ofthe human project as dominating nature in order to overcome its stinginess. Instead, Bookchin argues that we cannot separate ourselves out from nature to perform such domination. Indeed, we are part of nature's diversity - an evolutionary outcome - and we may either further contribute to that diversity or inhibit and finally reduce such diversity. Bookchin makes this point in an early essay:
To sum up the critical message of ecology: if we diminish variety in the natural world, we debase its unity and wholeness; we destroy the forces making for a natural harmony and for a lasting equilibrium; and, what is more significant, we introduce an absolute regression in the development of the natural world which may eventually render the environment unfit for advanced [sc. including human] forms of life. To sum up the reconstructive message of ecology: if we wish to advance the unity and stability of the world, if we wish to harmonize it, we must conserve and promote variety.23
Bookchin's argument comes full circle: the key ways in which social humanity reduces the variety and diversity ofevolutionary nature is through the practices of a hierarchical society. Humanity seeks to simplify its relations with nature on account of its attempt to dominate nature. This libido dominandi is to be sourced to intrahuman hierarchy. In that human nature phases out of non-human nature in the developmental process of differentiation, any reduction in diversity will also affect human beings. A free and spontaneous life of pleasure can only be attended to by the surpassing of the hierarchical forms of political domination which will then release the potential of human beings in their relations to one another and to the crucial condition of human life, nature. Of course the notion of the logic of differentiation, which in turn supports the distinction between community and society, means that nature cannot function as the basis of 'natural laws': Bookchin is scathing about approaches that propose that 'Nature knows best'. Although advocating a naturalism, Bookchin stresses the importance of dialectic: nature and society form a unity in diversity linked through a logic of differentiation. Nature does not provide a naturalistic template to which humanity must conform.
23. Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 98.
Furthermore, of vital importance are the ways in which Bookchin stresses the subjectivity and agency of nature. As we shall see in the next section, Bookchin regards the striving of nature as reaching a culmination in humans beings. This is the theme of'stewardship' in Bookchin's writings.24 Those aspects that make humanity different from nature - self-consciousness, reason, freedom - have important precursors in that same nature. Thus nature is the permanent companion of human society: 'not only does humanity place its imprint on the natural world and transform it, but also nature places its imprint on the human world and transforms it'.25 Nature thereby has a certain 'subjectivity' which persists in interaction with human society. Nature is not only the precondition for the emergence of human society, but also the condition for its development. 'Labor's metabolism with nature cuts both ways', writes Bookchin, 'so that nature interacts with humanity to yield the actualisation of their common potentialities in the natural and social worlds'.26 The invitation is therefore to think of nature in distinctly non-modern ways.
That is, Bookchin is arguing that the affirmation and development of diversity, fecundity and stability in nature requires certain sorts of political organisation that foster such diversity. Diverse, spontaneous, interactive, purposive, rational polities will be required to support and match the diversity of nature. To simplify human relations in hierarchical ways is to simplify our relation with non-human nature, to the detriment of both. From this vantage point, it is easy to see why Bookchin's position confuses: he seems to be proposing an anthropocentrism. After all, is not the domination of nature rooted in domination of humanity.? However, the overcoming ofsuch domination, Bookchin proposes, requires human societies to acknowledge their interdependence with non-human nature. 'A new type ofcommunity, carefully tailored to the characteristics and resources of a region, must replace the sprawling urban belts that are emerging today.'27
The vision is compelling. Is it convincing, however? One problem is Bookchin's insistence that the domination of humanity is always separable from the domination of nature. On an intuitive level, such a position seems curious on Bookchin's own premises: if'nature is there all the time',28 can it be argued that the idea of the domination of nature must
24. See Bookchin, The Philosophy ofSocialEcology, pp. 176,186; Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social
Ecology, 2nd edition, p. 131.
25. Bookchin, TheEcology of Freedom, p. 32. 26. Ibid., p. 33.
27. Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism,p. 97. 28. Bookchin, TheEcology ofFreedom,p. 317.
always be preceded by intrahuman domination.? Bookchin's position implies that any tendencies away from unity in diversity must always result in simplifying or reductive pressures within human society. But, on the grounds of wholeness that Bookchin proposes, what sense can be made of the claim that, when it comes to the origins of the domination, one reading of that wholeness - the unity of nature and society - can never be cited? It appears that Bookchin has two conceptions of'whole' running in tandem: from the perspective of development, nature and society; from the perspective of domination, human society only. The relevant question is: on what grounds is the dialectic operative in the first 'whole' denied its operations in the second? Why cannot the logic of differentiation, dialectically conceived, require attention to the domination of nature and the domination ofhumanity?
On a conceptual level, it is not certain that Bookchin's claim to the source of the domination of nature is in fact supported by his historical argument concerning the emergence of hierarchy. Bookchin argues that gerontocracy was the first hierarchy to emerge: the old had to find ways of making themselves indispensable to preliterate societies when, in terms of their practical contribution to such a society, they were redundant. In order to maintain the support of the community, the old required that society be organised in ways that acknowledged their wisdom and authority. Bookchin writes: 'their need for social power, and for hierarchical social power at that, is a function of their loss of biological power. The social sphere is the only realm in which this power can be created and, concomitantly, the only sphere that can cushion their vulnerability to natural forces.'29 Thus, hierarchy results. What makes this argument curious is, as Alan Rudy has pointed out, that the emergence of domination is 'rooted in struggles associated with human biological nature'.30 It would certainly be odd for a dialectical position in ecological thought to maintain that there is no relationship between human biological nature and nonhuman nature. Given that Bookchin traces the emergence of hierarchy to responses to ageing bodies, sourcing the idea of the domination of nature to the domination ofhuman by human lacks credibility.
Bookchin comes close to considering this point when he writes that 'The ambiguity that permeates the outlook of the primordial world
29. Ibid., p. 81. In following at this point Bookchin's argument in TheEcology of Freedom, I do not wish to imply that Bookchin in all his writings presents gerontocracy as the lead emergent hierarchy. Gerontocracy, always linked by Bookchin to gender-based divisions of labour and expanding populations, is not always given such priority.
30. Rudy, 'Ecology and Anthropology in the work of Murray Bookchin', p. 74.
toward nature ... is accented among the aged with a measure of hatred, for in so far as fear is concerned they have more to fear from nature's vicissitudes than do the young.' A qualification is immediately offered: we have here 'nature internalised, the nature in humanity itself'.31 We are told further that 'the attempt to dominate external nature will come later, when humanity is conceptually equipped to transfer its social antagonisms to the natural world outside'. The cogency of the argument depends, it seems, on whether human embodiment is best interpreted as nature 'internalised'. Even on Bookchin's own argument, to speak of the human body in terms of internalised nature cuts against the commitment to understand the relationship between first and second nature in terms of a logic of differentiation. Bookchin's position appears to be closer to a logic of separation.
Such a logic of separation may also be traced in the contrast that Bookchin everywhere draws between 'community' and 'society'. For Bookchin, as already noted, groupings of animals maybe called communities. However, the institutionalised communities that human beings form are better described as 'societies'. By this manoeuvre, Bookchin ensures that social, that is, human, organisation, cannot be read off communal, that is, animal, organisation. The problem with this view for Bookchin's overall programme is the privilege that it gives, on account of his commitment to anarchist principles, to the notion of community. Community is, for Bookchin, the ground of social being. Hence his strong affirmation of a political programme that privileges the face-to-face direct democracy of the municipality. In turn, Bookchin affirms that such municipalities will also be ecocommunities.
Clearly, there is a problem here over terminology: community is contrasted with society when considering the relations between non-human nature and humanity; yet community is also the ground of human social being.32 In short, confederal municipalism is about the establishment of ecocommunities. But ecocommunities, Bookchin tells us, are not ecoso-cieties. What, then, does his position amount to apart from a sustained attempt to protect the privilege that he gives to the anarchist notion of community? Given the relations of interdependency that Bookchin wishes to identify between nature and society, in my judgment it makes better sense to bypass the language of community as overly anthropomorphic and instead to interpret these relations as social.
31. Bookchin, TheEcology of Freedom, p. 82.
32. Clark, 'Municipal Dreams: A Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin's Politics', p. 146.
These criticisms do not refute Bookchin's position. Instead, they question the absolute priority that he gives to intrahuman hierarchy as the source of the idea of the domination of non-human nature. (In similar fashion, a mirror-image position that declared that all social hierarchy is to be sourced to the domination of nature by the human would also have to be subjected to detailed scrutiny.)
Why Bookchin encounters these difficulties is, I think, beginning to emerge: he wishes to affirm the centrality of the community as the ground of social being. To be precise, Bookchin wishes to affirm the polis as the ground of social being: the communitarian municipality in which face-to-face democracy is practised and where the individual is immersed in the strenuous paideia of citizenship. This is the anarchist perspective, interpreted by Bookchin in terms ofmunicipality, that insists that humans are naturally social. By this means, Bookchin resists any attempt to retro-ject hierarchy in society or the state into non-human nature. The distinction between community and society serves this purpose also.
However, Bookchin wishes to give an ontological foundation to this centring ofcommunity or polis. To argue that human beings are by nature social is no mere rhetorical flourish: this argument must, for Bookchin, have an 'objective' ground in nature. Bookchin is thereby not recounting the origins of organic society and its 'fall' into hierarchical societies to offer some historical warrant for the anarchist position. It sometimes reads as if, by tracing this history of anarchist forms of association, Bookchin is delivering a 'golden thread' type of argument: we can have confidence in the attempt to build an anarchist polity because there have been many attempts to do so in the past. But that 'golden thread' ofanar-chist events is not, I think, the hard core of Bookchin's position. Rather, confidence in anarchism relates to the emergence of the human out of nature. 'Libertarian' is thereby to be defined by reference to his 'description of the ecosystem: the image of unity in diversity, spontaneity, and complementary relationships, free of all hierarchy and domination'.33 There is some truth therefore in Eckersley's suggestion that Bookchin denies any movement from society to nature, but permits movement in the other direction, from nature to society.
Why Bookchin affirms this position is, on one level, clear enough: he wishes to avoid the retrojection ofhierarchy onto nature by a society and the consequent legitimation ofhierarchy in society by means ofappeal to
33. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 352.
that already 'hierarchialised' nature. However, the issue is probably more complex: seeking an objective basis for his naturalistic ethics, he is obliged to protect 'first nature' from any taint of hierarchy. That is, nature must be fundamentally benign. Hence the affirmation by Bookchin of Kropotkin's appeal to metaphors of mutuality to comprehend evolutionary development. And first nature must be protected from any taint in order to defend the anarchist claims of the centrality of community and that human beings are by nature social. Bookchin is obliged to argue in this way, I think, because he finds the warrants supplied by a 'golden thread' defence of anarchist politics too weak and insufficiently ecological. Nor is he prepared to accept what we might call, broadly, cultural resources - including the religions - as one of his ways of building a case for anarchist politics. To make his case for an objective ethics, Bookchin turns instead to an account of evolutionary nature, which he dubs the 'philosophy of social ecology'. To an assessment ofthis philosophical position, I now turn.
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