This book is a good, short introduction to the ideas of Murray Bookchin. He draws on anarchist and socialist thought to come up with a model of social organisation that will be more fair not only to humans but also to the planet.
Bookchin’s thesis is that capitalism has reached crisis point, both socially and ecologically, and new modes of thought are needed to create a better society in which to live. He derides environmentalists who focus only on conservation or protecting nature in isolation, without addressing social issues. To do so, Bookchin argues, is to miss the root cause of environmental destruction, the brutal imperative of “grow or die” capitalism. He also disagrees with the view of nature as a static, pure, scenic backdrop which man inevitably despoils. Nature is always changing, he says, and creatures are always evolving. Humans have evolved the ability to change nature to suit our wants and needs, but this doesn’t necessarily make us parasites. Technology is not evil or even unnatural. We could use our technology, ingenuity and foresight to better effect, if we lived in a nonhierarchical society in which competition and anatagonism did not dominate.
This is where Bookchin links the ecological and the social. The domination of nature, he says, begins with the domination of human by human. If we don’t address that, then much of the other “environmentalist” activity we indulge in is pointless. Green capitalism, ethical consumption and similar initiatives are simply contradiction in terms.
Until human beings cease to live in societies that are structured around hierarchies as well as economic classes, we shall never be free of domination, however much we try to dispel it with rituals, incantations, ecotheologies, and the adoption of seemingly “natural” lifeways.
Bookchin’s model for a better society is essentially democracy – not the distant, tick-a-box-every-five-years variety we currently delude ourselves with, but real, living democracy, true rule by the people. This has to be local, on a scale at which everyone can get involved and have a say directly, without appointing career politicians to represent them. He argues that politics is not the same as statism. We have come to see the state as the only model for efficient governance, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The root of the word politics is Greek,and originally referred to informed, engaged citizens running their own communities, or poleis. He traces similar examples of functioning local democracy from Greek city states through cities around the world. Municipal organisation is the model to follow, with each local town or city running its own affairs, and coming together with others in federations to make larger decisions. He acknowledges that localised societies have often in the past involved excluding others, whether it was Greek city states excluding slaves or American town hall meetings excluding African-Americans, women, etc. But Bookchin is not advocating a return to the past. He wants to use what we have learnt and create a better society for the future.
I would like to read more of Murray Bookchin’s work. I often find with books of essays that they don’t quite hang together, and this was the case here as well. There is a definite theme throughout the book and the arguments are consistent, but I prefer a single book organised as one argument from beginning to end, rather than separate essays. So I’ll try to pick up another of his books – does anyone have any recommendations?
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