Some background, to help contextualize this piece for those who might be new to this discussion. This past January, I published a short essay “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism” on the Social Ecology Blog hosted on the Institute for Social Ecology’s website. My intention was not to specifically articulate my own evolving perspective but to try and establish some space for “development, dissent, and dynamism” with respect to the social ecology of Murray Bookchin. For those who might not be aware, Bookchin was a co-founder (with Dan Chodorkoff) and longtime director of the Institute for Social Ecology and his body of work is the clearly recognized basis for the particular notion of “social ecology” that has inspired the Institute for Social Ecology, among various other projects, movements, and organizations including the Communalism Journal that has continued as New Compass Press.
I’m a graduate of the ISE’s MA program in Social Ecology (in association with Prescott College) and current ISE Board member. I have engaged in close study of Bookchin’s work and the history of projects, movements, and organizations rooted in his ideas. As such, I feel a strong need to be respectful and accountable to the generous support, encouragement, and stimulation I’ve received from the ISE community over the past few years. Furthermore, the influence of Bookchin’s work on the development of my own perspective is undeniable.
It is for those reasons that I sought to provoke an open, critical discussion in posing two primary questions:
Which aspects of Bookchin’s social ecology are essential and what elements might, at least for some self-identifying social ecologists, deserve critique and revision?
Can there be social ecologies—that is, varying interpretations, philosophies, and modes of praxis that differ in some ways but remain in solidarity with one another and identified with the social ecology tradition?
By way of inspiring furthering discussion on these points, here’s some brief ideas:
First, we ought to always be striving to create an open and critical culture around a social ecology community or network such that there isn’t a continuation of the nearly exclusive focus on Murray Bookchin or a reproduction of the positioning of a single person (or a few persons with little or no publicly dissenting views) as responsible for defending the “integrity” of social ecology. For social ecology to be dynamic rather than static, public, critical discussion should be encouraged–not ignored, trivialized, or evaded.
Second, I want to say to other people who identify or associate with Bookchin’s social ecology that my intention is to contribute to a critical reconstruction of the social ecology tradition that Bookchin inspired, identifying both the enduringly valuable aspects of his work as well as that which is deserving of critique and transcendence. I believe we will inevitably have substantive disagreements. My feeling is that we agree on much more than we disagree and that I hope that whatever dialogue or debate that comes from this will proceed with a shared acknowledgement and respect of the substantial common ground that does exist.
Third, this whole post is a sketch, written in a couple of hours, by a graduate student who is very much in the midst of intense study and various other personal commitments. As such, I ask that you approach this text with some generosity: please ask for clarification if something is unclear. I’m planning something significantly more specific, well-cited, and so forth for submission to the 2011 ISE Colloquium. I hope that a focus on my particular point of view will not forestall a public dialogue on any aspect of social ecology among any people who identify with Bookchin’s social ecology.
My primary concerns with Bookchin’s work and, thus, the conception of “social ecology” that has animated the ISE, Communalism/New Compass Press, etc. generally stem from his clear and definitive defense of the Enlightenment project and the polemical situation of his work within that tradition. Bookchin’s work demonstrates a polemical unwillingness to recognize the value and, perhaps, inevitability of a variety of epistemologies and cultural value systems (cosmologies, perhaps, is a useful word here?) and instead proclaims his work a part of The Single Enlightened Tradition capable of bringing about The Third Revolution which would usher in Utopia. Accordingly, Bookchin’s vision of The Third Revolution will be brought about by Libertarian Municipalists, who are characterized as Rational Humanist Citizens in opposition to the, generally speaking, incoherence, irrationality, and/or misanthropy (Bookchin’s characterizations) of those who orient by any tradition other than The Single Enlightened Tradition. Similarly, those who fail to orient in the Most (Only?) Enlightened Way–i.e Bookchin’s social ecology–to the The Single Enlightened Tradition (for example, some marxists or anarchists), are also subject to polemic and denigrations.
There are many compelling critiques of notions of the supremacy of the Enlightenment project that have been developed by (in alphabetical order, no intended privileging) anarchists, anti/post-colonialists of varying positionalities including indigenous and other land-based peoples, feminists, radical ecologists, and queer theorists. That list is certainly not exhaustive. Briefly, to take one critique I find especially compelling given my position as a settler in North America, the insistence upon a singular or hegemonic Enlightenment cosmology is indicative of and perpetuates the ongoing colonial violence being experienced by indigenous peoples whose knowledges and practices do not fall within the Enlightenment project. Following the trajectory of Bookchin’s work, those traditional knowledges and practices ought be polemicized against for their “incoherence, irrationality, and/or misanthropy.” Ultimately, for Bookchin, all of Humanity ought Rationally unite under the aegis of “universal humanitas” and adopt The Single Enlightened Tradition as a universal cosmology. Here I believe that Bookchin reproduced the logic of domination he so fully dedicated himself to unravelling throughout his long and prolific life.
Bookchin’s philosophy (“dialectical naturalism”) is, in many ways, an elegant system for deriving a valuable ethics. Bookchin’s politics (“libertarian municipalism”) is, in many ways, a compelling articulation of valuable political praxis. However, these are not and should not be conceived of as the singular basis for bringing about “… the unfolding of a decentralized, truly democratic, non-hierarchical, ecological society.” (from A Statement from the ISE Board) What I am arguing for is a recognition of the value of what some feminists and anti/post-colonialists (among others) sometimes refer to as standpoint theory and situated knowledges. That is, the need for a recognition and appreciation of complexity, difference, and multiplicity commensurate with the unique time/space circumstances each person faces. To head off the likely charges of a “collapse into relativism,” let me emphasize that, in my view, a recognition of standpoint and situated knowledges obliges a similar recognition of the inevitability of complexity, difference, and multiplicity but does not oblige an uncritical acceptance of all cosmologies or forms of political praxis. But rather than reproduce the problematic masculinist “soapbox” polemic culture that Bookchin emerged from and, clearly perpetuated, I would suggest (and, yes, I know this is broad language) principles of solidarity, affinity, and generosity as the basis of the culture of the ISE, in particular, and social ecologies, plural, generally.
In terms of the basis for “solidarity, affinity, and generosity,” following the language articulated by the ISE Board, those who hold a commitment to a “decentralized, truly democratic, non-hierarchical, ecological society” ought be recognized as sharing sufficient affinity to be approached with generosity and in the spirit of solidarity. But I’d suggest that the basis of affinity, solidarity, generosity is enduringly dynamic–it’s emergent and ought be seen as an ongoing collective and processual project of whomever would identify with social ecology. As such, I see Communalists, and those who draw on Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism as a basis for an ethics, as allies, comrades, and friends. I’m curious and excited to continue this dialogue.
112 Replies to “Continuing the dialogue”
Karl, I’m very sorry to have to reiterate this in public, but the following passage is pure caricature, not a fair analysis of Bookchin’s position. I question whether it’s appropriate for this to be posted on the Institute’s website:
You wrote: “[Bookchin] proclaims his work a part of The Single Enlightened Tradition capable of bringing about The Third Revolution which would usher in Utopia. Accordingly, Bookchin’s vision of The Third Revolution will be brought about by Libertarian Municipalists, who are characterized as Rational Humanist Citizens in opposition to the, generally speaking, incoherence, irrationality, and/or misanthropy (Bookchin’s characterizations) of those who orient by any tradition other than The Single Enlightened Tradition.”
Karl, I think you know better.
As the ISE board has stated in our recent post, we view social ecology as a place for open inquiry, and our aim is “to move the ideas of social ecology forward in a dynamic and critical manner.” In Bookchin’s work prior to the mid-1990s he often acknowledged the contributions of indigenous and other non-Western perspectives. His departure from that position was in part a response to the rather pervasive romanticism and irrationality that became increasingly popular in the anti-authoritarian left, and especially in the less politically savvy alternative cultural milieu of the period. He may have over-reacted, but that is not a justification for caricaturing his work in this manner.
Since the 1990s, a number of social ecology graduate students have framed their research in terms of standpoint theory and post-colonialism. This approach is not new to us, and those investigations have always had the full support of the ISE faculty. As I previously stated in a personal email, I do not believe that this rehashing of internal debates from 15 years ago is the best way to continue to advance the work of social ecology.
I am afraid that I fail to understand this post too. Is this is a reply… to me?
I have tried to enter your thicket of “respect” and “dialogue,” and capitalized words here, but I still find little substantial there that merits my attention. Of course, I can well imagine that this “dialogue” could take many entertaining ways, but few that seems worthwhile now—outside of a late-night discussion at a frat bar, duly accompanied with drinks and music: As far as I can judge you still vacillate between banalities and absurdities.
Saying this, however, I only want to challenge this one notion of yours: I am not trivializing your call for a “debate” or its significance, this you manage to do perfectly well yourself. And if this is what you can muster as a “reply,” I am indeed most happy to rest my case.
Ps. And please let this remain just a reply to your post: Don’t highlight it as a “Reply to Karl Hardy” or so, like you did last time, starting a new thread. I have said nothing significant in this exchange that merits particular attention. (But, I must add; neither have you.) I only entered this “dialogue” because Chuck Morse accused me specifically of actively silencing critique of your article (in a post that was later deleted).
Brian, for the basis of my “caricature” please see, for example:
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm
Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism
Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993-1998
Social ecology and Communalism (edited by Eirik Eiglad and released posthumously in 2007)
(each of these are book length works authored by Bookchin)
I very firmly believe that, regardless of Bookchin’s rationale for “departing” from that position, it deserves to be critiqued and transcended not ignored or glossed over in an attempt to divert attention from what you characterize as a “[possible] over-react[ion].”
Brian, do you find find any fault in the above-mentioned books? If so, could you please point me to any public/published critique of such works by social ecology identified persons? If the last 10+ years of Bookchin’s published works are flawed and Bookchin’s work is the inspiration for the ISE and “social ecology” then where are the public/published criticisms from “within” social ecology? Why must these issues be considered “internal”?
I understand and respectfully disagree with your position on these matters.
I’m a little troubled by your post. As far as I can tell, you’re scolding Karl for raising issues that bother you–he should “know better,” you question whether his comments are “appropriate” for the ISE website–but you’re not actually making an argument.
I’m sorry if I misunderstand you, but what part of Karl’s depiction of Bookchin’s ideas do you disagree with? Statements from the ISE board or work done by ISE students are not really pertinent to a discussion of Bookchin’s work. Has Karl misrepresented Bookchin’s ideas? If so, how?
Karl is taking the lead in trying to stimulate a critical discussion of Murray’s work. It seems to me that this should be encouraged and that this is an opportunity to have an important dialogue about what is pertinent in Bookchin’s contributions.
Dear Karl (and fellow bloggers)
I didn’t want to share this with you, Karl, on a public site such as this. But I find that I need to speak my mind here, to clarify some things about SE that I find important and worthy of exploring more clearly.
I seems that you are critiquing a straw MB. As I mentioned to you in a more personal email, the ‘late MB’ (if there was one), was intently concerned with understanding the revolutionary tradition–precisely so that he could understand how to further his ideas of what a revolution (via something like libertarian municipalism) might look like. He spent the last 20 or so years of his life focused on history so that he could better understand the nuanced and complex set of potentialities in which our future floats, suspended.
Had he believed that he’d ‘figured out the magic solution'(an orthodox, monolithic solution) to the revolutionary challenge–had he really believed that anything that lay outside the tradition of the Enlightenment was valueless, why would he have critiqued so intently so many revolutions based on many Enlightenment ideas? Ideas that went so terribly awry? He wanted desperately to understand how, whey, and why the Third Revolution never arrived. MB saw the blazing flaws of many Enlightenment thinkers and revolutionaries (read the Third Revolution in its several volumes and you’ll get the idea) just as he saw the merits of many non-Western thinkers.
MB had meaningful engagements with people and ideas that lay within many indigenous groups around the world. True, in the late 80s, when New Agers began to embarrass everyone by tokenizing and romanticizing such groups, MB in his polemical style publicly, audibly cringed. All of us did. We just didn’t have access (or the guts?) to publish the pages of our disgust. Actually, I did, in the Ecology of Everyday Life as did Peter S. and Janet B. in their monograph, Ecofascism. Ours just didn’t attract so much attention.
Don’t forget that MB knew one thing. To attract attention these days, you have to be LOUD. Otherwise, you get largely ignored. He was a squeaky wheel, screeching out lots of things no one else felt like they wanted to put their heads on the chopping block for.
As I also mentioned in my email to you, we live in a counter-revolutionary period in the U.S. and we are clearly very much in need of a revolution. Why are not new social ecologists such as yourself putting energy into cultivating that trajectory? Why not engage in movement building, elaborating upon the work that MB tried to do in laying out a broad framework for what a political revolution might look like? It is so much easier to throw stones at boats flailing around in the sea than it is to build a new or different boat.
The irony to me is that many young critics of SE are so stuck in the past. Why not just do your work, make your own substantive contribution to the body of ideas that SE is, and call it a day? We all await the contributions of intelligent critical thinkers as yourself. Its that those contributions need to be carefully articulated, appreciating what’s come before, while suggesting what kinds of ideas might move things forward.
This next comment is not just directed at you, Karl. I would love to see any perhaps personal sparring between others on this blog taken to email where disagreements can be worked out in a less public way. It might be good to leave this wonderful blog as a space for those who want to further the legacy left behind by MB, rather than spit out critiques of straw versions of 90s SE–however golden that straw might appear.
I see you as an intelligent and kind person. I am truly confused by what appears to be an insistence on focusing on a few writings eeked out by MB in the last 20 years of his life (Life Style Anarchism, essays on Post-modernism for instance) instead of looking at the full arc of this dead man’s work, particularly on the bulk of the work that appeared during MB’s last 20 years of life–the Third Revolution.
Murray used to say to me that he knew that libertarian municapalism remained in a generalized and nascent form. He refused to make it formulaic as he saw such ‘blue-print’ drafting as being inherently undemocratic. He dreamed of future revolutionaries taking what was potentially constructive about libertarian municipalism and using it to flesh out a true, Third Revolution. He was, if anything, a dialectical man. He had the humility to know that libertarian municipalism was an acorn, so to speak. It is our job, the next generation’s job, to figure out how to make an oak tree grow.
An acorn, anyone?
With deep respect,
Thank you for replying.
First, I’m not sure what you are quoting with ” ‘late MB’” or “‘figured out the magic solution’” — those lines do not appear in anything I have published.
Second, as with my reply to Brian, I ask you to explain how I have caricatured or used a “straw-MB” in light of, for example:
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm
Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism
Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993-1998
Social ecology and Communalism (edited by Eirik Eiglad and released posthumously in 2007)
These represent 4 books (hardly “eeked out”) and cannot and should not be glossed over, excused, or otherwise ignored as part of Bookchin’s body of work. They represent some of his last engagements with (what was then) the contemporary political landscape and, as such, they are seen by many who come to social ecology/ISE/etc. as representative of where social ecology/ISE/etc. is at. Indeed, observing the work of Communalism/New Compass (far more active than the ISE has been in recent years) one cannot avoid this conclusion. Again, where are the public/published critiques of Bookchin from “within” social ecology?
Your point about the Third Revolution volumes deserving substantial attention is well taken but I do not at all believe that those works demonstrate an argument for the value of non-Enlightenment based thought or movements. If Bookchin did indeed (continue to) hold such views it was clearly contrary to his public pronouncements/denouncements and this cannot and should not be glossed over, excused, or otherwise ignored.
I continue to hope that public critique of Bookchin’s work will be recognized as representing the highest compliment that can be offered. In my view, there is no benefit to Bookchin’s legacy, social ecology, or the ISE to suggest that pointing out the problematic aspects of Bookchin’s work and, just as importantly, the problematic CPUSA sensibility or culture that he reproduced, is counter-productive.
Don’t look now, we’re engaged in public dialogue! 🙂
I’m sorry if I misunderstand you, but you seem to counterpose a critical examination of Murray’s work (on the one hand) to building a movement (on the other). I think that’s a mistake: as I see it, looking critically at our forefathers and foremothers is an integral part of building a new revolutionary movement. I think that’s precisely why Murray was so dedicated to doing just that (in the Third Revolution, as elsewhere).
Murray was a deeply Eurocentric thinker. His Eurocentrism is evident in numerous works–e.g., The Third Revolution focuses exclusively on revolutions in Europe and the United States–and in explicit statements. For instance, in History, Civilization, and Progress, he says that the “civilizing process has . . . . reached its greatest universality primarily in Europe.” He published this unambiguously Eurocentric statement twelve years before his death.
Bookchin’s Eurocentrism should not be dismissed as a polemical excess or a personal quirk. He had very thought-out, developed reasons for his Eurocentrism—we may disagree with him and take a different position, but he had reasons for making the arguments that he made. I think they should be treated as what they were: ideas.
I’m a little confused by your statement that Murray “refused to make [libertarian municipalism] formulaic as he saw such ‘blue-print’ drafting as being inherently undemocratic.” This doesn’t make sense to me: he advanced highly programmatic recommendations over and over again in his books and elsewhere. Certainly Janet’s book Libertarian Municipalism was very programmatic too.
In my view, anyone who values Murray’s work needs to support efforts to examine it and ascertain its contemporary relevance.
The “CPUSA sensibility”? Wow
Michael, why don’t you make an argument? Do you disagree with something Karl said? If so, why? Let us know what you think. Snarky four line posts don’t contribute anything. Help us see what we’re missing!
You are right Chuck, my astonishment at Karl’s (and your) posts got the better of me.
I’m just astonished how, with so much is occuring globally and domestically, this is what energy at the ISE is being spend on? Debates from over 20 years ago? Back to Peter Berg’s calling Bookchin a “Stalinist thug” for condemning statements praising the AIDS virus as population control?
I really do hope the ISE can use its energy better than this for actual movement and organizing issues. For those who think social ecology is inadequate to build a movement, that’s perfectly fine, but then why do people who believe this incessantly wish to debate social ecologists who want to do actual constructive work? I can easily see a very useful series of discussions and debates taking place once we have a movement to even discuss with, but can we at least spend some time doing something else right now? Why not a mutally respectful parting of ways between non-social ecologists, anarchists, liberals, and Marxists rather than beating dead horses like you and Hardy are obsessed with doing? And I am not being hyperbolic–oppenents of social ecology on the “anti-authoritarian” side seem absolutely obsessed with repeating the same things that have been said (and frankly refuted) for over 2 decades. Why not simply work on your own projects and allow us the same courtesy?
Also, please note that I have no issues with actual intellectual discussions on social ecology and Bookchin’s legacy (which are not identical). While I may disagree with them on many issues, I’ve found the discussions by Damian White and Michael Albert to be serious discussions of ideas, not gossip and nonsense like I am sorry to say yours and Karl’s posts have become. We are living in dangerous and hopeful times–let’s each do what we can for the movements we are a part of and reconvene when we have some breathing room. I have no clue as to what you and Karl’s political views are but I cannot imagine that, if you still believe in changing the world for the better, there are not better uses of your time as well.
Other than denouncing me, Karl, and the discussion here, do you actually have some idea that you want to add? Do you disagree with something that has been stated or have a new perspective to offer? If so, what is it? Why don’t you enlighten us?
I would only ask that you avoid the invective and snark. It offers nothing. And, if you really think this discussion is a waste of time, then stop participating in it. Nobody is forcing you to visit the blog.
I do not agree with you when you write that Murray Bookchin was a eurocentric thinker. How can a libertarian socialist who spent almost all of the time in his life in the USA be a eurocentric thinker? Libertarian socialism isn’t eurocentric at all and North America isn’t Europe.
I must also say that I learned much from the texts in these books that Karl refers to :
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm
Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism
Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993-1998
Social ecology and Communalism (edited by Eirik Eiglad and released posthumously in 2007)
And so did other libertarian socialists that I know and whose opinions are really valuable.
I would not like it at all if social ecology would become really much like postcolonial theory, multicultural theory and social anthropology.
I would not like it when it would become less interested in things many people know since Darwin and other biologists made Europe and other continents more aware of the things happening in nature.
It has to remain a theory and practice much interested in universalism, dialectical thinking and the creation of a humane, post-scarcity and ecological society. It has to be like libertarian socialism and strive for the creation of a social revolution.
I’m the editor of the Journal of Political Ecology and various other activities – I run a very interdisciplinary Masters, the Master of Environment, at the University of Melbourne.
I got as close to Vermont as Clark U in Worcester MA, while a PhD student. But more important was two years of research in postsocialist Burkina Faso, dryland West Africa, living in a slum in Ouagadougou and towns and villages in the Sahel, assisting with soil and water conservation (these days this would be called ‘building resilient communities’).
The communal spirit I witnessed was extraordinary. However ‘social ecology’ was not consistent with life in rural Burkina where democracy occurs in rather different forms. Decentralization just didn’t work well. I came out of life-changing experiences with a conviction that since people are all different, you can’t shoehorn them into a particular social arrangement.
What we can do (in my case as a teacher) is expose how the world works, and lobby against the more negative forces that we identify.
Our 300 Masters students are certainly not led by any underlying approach to human-environment relations. I deliberately avoid this in core classes, although they are free to choose from 250+ electives. They find out how to tackle environmental problems in their own way. The approach is perhaps Durkheimian – practice forms your belief systems, rather than the reverse. It seems to be working.
I must say I found the Bookchin approach deeply frustrating. He certainly dished it out. So much text deriding other people’s views. Long accounts of problems with postmodernists, socialists and many others. American capitalism does need feisty critique of course.
Rafa, a person is Eurocentric when he or she holds certain ideas about Europe’s role in global history. It does not matter whether that person lives in Brussels, Shanghai, Vermont, or wherever.
Rafa, at no time have I ever or would I ever suggest that there are not worthwhile aspects to the books that I mentioned. I’ve learned from them too. But that does not mean that they are invulnerable to public critique.
But how can a social thinker who was against capitalism, nationalism and religion be Eurocentric while these phenomena play a very important role in Europe for many years now?
Keep cool, Karl.
‘Social Ecology’ represents a way of thinking about humans in nature: it has aspects that are ‘social’, and ‘ecological’. The problem with focusing almost exclusively on local democracy, communalism, and municipalism, and presenting town hall democracy in the villages of Vermont as the model for the rest of the world, is that social ecology is part of civics,government,politics,sociology, and falls neatly into their fields of study.
There are many groups and individuals who are very concerned about what 6.88 billion humans are doing to the world……..destroying species, polluting the atmosphere, poisoning the land, building nuclear stations, digging up the earth for minerals, oils; cutting down forests; buying up land for exploitation,and so on. The significance of a ‘Social Ecology’ is that it draws attention to the role of humans in all this. Global Warming,and the destruction of the biosphere, are not happening by accident. Humans in general, and capitalist elites in particular are busy destroying the earth that is their home. ‘Social Ecology’ is one of the movements that points ‘the finger’ at the consequences of human action, and urges changes that will preserve and conserve.
A Social Ecology that critically analyses ‘humans in nature’ allows politics to join hands with biology, civics with ecology, technology with farming, politics with justice.
go to www,kelvynrichards.com
@Simon, thank you for the comment. I wonder if you would be interested in contributing something short for our blog, regarding your perspective as an educator, political ecologist, etc. and/or your location at the University of Melbourne?
@Rafa, I’m not sure but I think the confusion may be an issue of English-language fluency?
@Kelvyn, I hope that in any future comments you will speak to the discussion being had (in regards to the social ecology of Murray Bookchin and the ISE) rather than using this platform to promote your own website.
Could we maybe agree on the fact that common features of Eurocentric thought include:
•Ignoring or undervaluing non-European societies as inferior to Western;
•Ignoring or undervaluing what Asians or Africans do within their own society or seeing the histories of non-European societies simply in European terms, or as part of “the expansion of Europe” and its civilizing influence.
@Rafa, yes, I think those features are indicative of Eurocentric thought and also of much of what Bookchin published during the last 10+ years of his life.
Did you see the statement (above) that I took from Murray’s History, Civilization, and Progress? He wrote that the “civilizing process has . . . . reached its greatest universality primarily in Europe.” That is an unambiguously Eurocentric statement. Also, in all of Murray’s extensive writings on revolutionary movements, he never wrote about movements outside of Europe or the United States. I can’t recall an instance in which he wrote about Asia—I may be forgetting something—but his interest in African culture and history was always and exclusively anthropological.
There can be no doubt that Murray was a Eurocentric thinker. I think the question, for us, is what to do with that. Some people seem to think that his Eurocentrism was a polemical excess on Murray’s part, but I don’t believe that that’s entirely the case. I think he had reasons for his Eurocentrism–reasons that I disagree with–and I think we should confront them as such.
I am deeply disturbed by the way some folks have been talking down to one another on this thread. I do not purport to be an expert in the field of social ecology, however I fail to see how Karl has done anything but inspire a thoughtful dialogue on concrete matters of Bookchin’s works. He has not attacked Bookchin, but instead looked to critique aspects of his work.
If we did not all respect and agree with at least on some level the principles of social ecology, we would not be attempting to engage in thoughtful debate. It just seems to me that some folks become entirely too defensive when they feel as though Bookchin is being misrepresented or caricatured in any way – instead of recognizing that if we cannot further, expand on, and push for the evolution of social ecology, then we have learned very little from it.
Thanks to everyone for their input so far.
I agree, Samantha. I am also dismayed (but not totally surprised) by the amount of invective hurled at Karl. I think his efforts should be celebrated, not denigrated. I mean, really, why should having a critical discussion of Bookchin’s ideas be so threatening? What is the very worst that could happen? Perhaps we might discover that we have different readings of his work or even that aspects of his work need to be discarded. So what?!?! Would either of those things be soooooooo terrible?! I think not.
Yes,Karl, my philosophy of social ecology is presented and developed on my web site. Therefore,everything I say on the ISE web site is a reflection of my philosophy, in relation to the Bookchin/ISE versions.
Social Ecology is a critical analysis of humans in nature,devising ways of preserving and conserving the environment and the biosphere.
Social Ecology has more to do with environmentalism ,nature, and the implications of climate change, than it has to do with the operation of town hall meetings.
In my view, municipalism and communalism is better dealt with in politics,civics,government, sociology.
ISE needs to take a different direction.
ISE needs to allow activists and thinkers from a wider range of peoples, cultures, organisations, studies, professions, jobs, to enter the debates and offer the benefit of their experiences from all over the world.
Your critique is quite right, and these are questions that need to be raised for SE to move forward and grow. I came to Bookchin’s work through Post-Scarcity Anarchism and was impressed, but later read works like Deep Ecology and Anarchism: A Polemic which left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I sensed hostility where there should not have been any, and witnessed a relapse from gender-neutral language to masculine-based language that surprised me and caused great dismay.
I apologize to all for not placing a name to this, but it is what I must do as of now. I do hope very much that silencing behaviour is not practised as a rule, for open dialogue is quite important to sustaining a movement as well.
@ Chuck : But how can universality be about Eurocentrism? There is a paradox in that.
It ‘s true that Murray Bookchin thought it was important to write in the language of those reading him, to speak to them in a way that they would understand their own histories better (and yes, his audiences were in North America and Europe, I don’t even know if he went to other continents, maybe someone here knows more about that).
He did not like it at all for example that Leftists in the West were much keen on making Mao and Che Guevara idols, while these were also people who had no roots at all in the local environments there for example.
He wrote much about the history of the Left or the social and ecological movements in the West, in places he visited and knew much things about. I can understand this. Once I was studying much Zapatism but to travel to Mexico was too expensive for me, I studied much what it was about but that had some limits because I did not visit Mexico or Latin America. To write about Zapatism was even more hard for me to do because of that.
I must also state and make more clear that this discussion is mostly about Murray Bookchin and Communalism, not about Murray Bookchin. These are two different things to talk about.
To criticize works of Murray Bookchin might be a more easy task for you because he wrote in English and wrote many texts that you were able to read, but we can not see his own writing in his long life as something separate from the texts of other writers in the Left and certainly not other social ecologists, social anarchists, libertarian socialists and… communalists.
Proposal for future development:
if direct democracy is the ideal, the dream, the objective?
and plutocracy is the reality?
the issue for us all committed to social ecology, and for ISE in particular,is how do we move from one to the other? how is it possible to shift the balance of power across the capitalist world? how can the global poor majority be mobilised to negate the dominance of the global wealthy elite? bearing in mind that violence is not a cure!
The process of reason, and the deductions of human liberation and adaptation within and withof the framework and foundation of ecological constraints, contextualizing the ethics of genuine Enlightenment behavior, are not exclusive to Eastern or Western, or Northern or Southern forms of dialogue, and, while other forms and rationalizations of political or apolitical behavior exist and should be considered, that which represents the highest form of freedom, according to the furthest of each one’s acquired knowledge and understanding, should nevertheless continue to inform and motivate the basis of interaction and consolvement, if from and towards a revealed and reconstructed perspective derived from among the correlation of the emergent substructs of each society of itself towards the externalization and maximization of the differentiated choice uncovered within and adapted unto the protected and resurgent array of its own manifested and inter-cooperational social, cultural, educational, governmental, economic, and environmental practices and traditions.
In this sense, the theory of social ecology, alogside and extenuating the proliferation of the libertarian municipalist praxis and ideal, could, and perhaps should, acquire this further nuance of intercultural and international sensibility, if this on a purely aesthetic or implementational level which does not contradict that we should continue to emulate and aspire towards the fulfillment and and furtherance of libertarian ecological responsibilities, for their enduring legacy and the further immediacy and imperative of their wide-spread public awareness, recognition, and development.
No one could publish as much and as ambitiously as Bookchin did, without leaving a heterogeneous legacy. More disturbing, by far, than the inevitable problematic aspects of such a complex legacy, would be an inability on the part of his advocates to appropriately grapple with the challenges therein.
Defenses of Bookchin on the basis of what he was really thinking, or what he was like as a person, or – most absurdly – how old the debate about his Eurocentrism is, aren’t going to settle the debate. If you want to shut Karl up, and move on, then respond with references to the published works of social ecologists that do the actual labor of transcending/negating/upholding Bookchin. Or will the dialectician be denied his Aufheben? Is that how the man will be honored – by pickling his legacy?
If those works of SE critique exist (in print or otherwise public), then why aren’t people referring Karl to them? And if they don’t exist, then social ecology, as a public entity, has not responded to the questions he is raising. Karl is referencing books in print – public and permanent traces left by Bookchin’s work. The issues he raises are obviously widely perceived critiques and questions about social ecology. Karl should definitely not know better than to ask that we engage with them.
I’m approaching social ecology from the direction of someone who, sadly, never met Murray, and who already has an analysis about human-environment relations, and about the connections between justice, freedom, and ecological sustainability. As the justice/sustainability connection becomes more and more a default aspect of contemporary activism, there will be lots more like me. For me (and us, I imagine), the tension between social ecology-as-evolving-praxis and social ecology-as-Bookchinism is very high. One version of SE I would be delighted to consider my intellectual and revolutionary home, and the other I would be utterly, disappointedly, disinterested in.
Simply put, Karl’s questions, and the attitude they reflect, draw me toward SE as a viable vehicle for social transformation. The dismissals of his questions drive me in the opposite direction.
Jesse, I would also appreciate it if you make your sentences shorter. Certainly for those of us who don’t have English as a first language, it would become easier to understand your discourse.
That was an extremely relevant comment, Rafter. In my view, if the Institute for Social Ecology is going to have any future, it must address these difficult questions about Murray’s legacy and it’s relationship to the school. The questions are real and significant and those who scold and insult Karl (or me, for that matter) for raising them should reflect a little about their motives.
Rafa, Eurocentrism *is* about universality. Eurocentrics see Europe as the repository and vehicle of universalism and believe that non-European cultures are, for whatever reason, trapped in their own particularity. Murray was a Eurocentric thinker and I’m not sure how I can prove this other than by quoting from and discussing his work, which I have done. However, I would be interested in hearing your argument, if you have a different reading of his work. Do you think Murray was, say, Afrocentric? Or do you think he was a pluralist? What do you think?
Rafa, I wanted to add something: even though we may disagree in some ways, I really appreciate your comments here. You prompt me to think about things in new ways and I’m grateful for that. I also appreciate that you take the time to articulate yourself in English (your English is excellent, but I know how much work it takes to write in a second language).
@ Chuck : “I think he had reasons for his Eurocentrism–reasons that I disagree with–and I think we should confront them as such.”
Could you expose them, in a different blog-post or whatever (am I the only one to find this respond-to-blog way of debating a bit… messy ?)
“Perhaps we might discover that we have different readings of his work or even that aspects of his work need to be discarded. So what?!?! Would either of those things be soooooooo terrible?! I think not.”
No it’s not, and lot of people did that in fact. And then they move on, mostly forward than backward. I understand the need to say “what’s the more pertinent in Bookchin’s work today”, “what could be discuss”, etc. But the less the need to say “let’s discard this and that and choose that way”. As I understand it, it is critizing the choice of one way about which some people don’t believe (some other does, both with their reasons) and proposing one another instead — and not with it. We are still in a duality, like if there one only one truth.
@Chaia : Thanks for your posting.
I’m still sad that this debate looks more deconstructive than constructive. I don’t think that was what social ecology needed. It appears like a way of “régler ses comptes” with the past (sorry, don’t know how to say it in english).
I think social ecology needs more practical things, concrete realisations to see what is wrong or what that new polemics.
I’m in Finnish organization called Kommunalistien Liitto (Union of Communalists). We are publishing small magazine, having study groups, spreading, translating and writing propaganda and trying to build communalism in Finland. We are still few people and kinda new group.
To me it’s clear that communalistic practices or methods needs to put in proper context where they can be thought to have potentiality to be advanced. Especially the idea of taking part of existing municipalities obviously needs municipalities to exist in somewhat democratically way. In Finland we, (as ordinary citizens) are allowed of taking part of municipal elections pretty easily. I would think that this is not the case let’s say in China. But to say that this is eurocentric (or maybe Fennocentric!) statement or that communalism is not universally relevant is obscuring the goal of building rational society.
I have only started to read Third Revolution Vol 1 book but there was indeed explained what was criteria for selecting revolutions there. And the criteria was universal potential of those demands of revolting people. African, Asian and also many European revolutions are mostly fights to form a nation-state or something considerable less radical than for example fight for communal land owning or direct democracy.
I wanna quote Bookchin here: “The best way we can help the Third World is by changing the First World” (Toward a post-scarcity society: the American perspective and the SDS). I would say with similar attitude: The best way we can help both rural areas and non-human nature is by changing urban areas. Does that make me a Citycentric now?
@Karl Hardy: I want to know “what some feminists and anti/post-colonialists (among others) sometimes refer to as standpoint theory and situated knowledges”. Some concrete examples of those theories that any of you hold valuable or true but are contradicting with social ecology/dialectical naturalism.
@Vincent, if you want to understand Bookchin’s ideas, you should read Bookchin yourself. However, if you disagree with something I said, or want to correct me on some count, then just say so. I welcome new insights and corrections.
@Mikko, I’m glad that you mentioned Bookchin’s explanation for excluding Third World revolutions from his global study of revolutions. His statements are on page seventeen and eighteen of the first volume of the Third Revolution. I’m not going to quote the entire passage here, but his main argument is that the revolutions in the Third World lacked the emancipatory, universalistic qualities of European revolutions. He states bluntly that the “authentic center of the revolutionary era was Europe” and says that he feels “singularly untroubled” by the “charge that I am ‘Eurocentric.'”
I knew bookchin to be a very kind, generous, and empathetic person, and I never saw him treat a person in a way that struct me as racist. However, his personality is not the issue here, but rather his views. And, indeed, he was Eurocentric and his reading of revolutions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is totally erroneous, one-sided, superficial, and symptomatic of a cultural chauvinism that he should have rejected. His position here is totally indefensible.
I know that Murray’s Eurocentrism may make people associated with the ISE uncomfortable but, whatever, DEAL WITH IT. The historical record is what it is and these issues have to be confronted.
@ Chuck :Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear. I understand Bookchin’s idea on focusing on the Occidental world. Just as Mikko, I’m actually reading The Third Revolution where I’ve found part of his explanation (also elsewhere, but I can’t tell from my memory… And the argument was similar).
What I was asking by “can you expose them” I wanted to say “could you expose on what you disagree with his argument”. It wasn’t to correct you or disagree but to know your point of view/arguments on that question.
(But I have maybe just missed the post where you did explain it, do tell me if it was the case.)
So much for Reason & Rationality if we can’t even debate these issues 😉
Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous to say that Karl is creating strawmen or caricatures of Bookchin when Bookchin did that well enough himself in SAvLA and in large swaths of Re-enchanting Humanity. Sure, you can excuse his polemics within the context (he believed) he was operating in, but it doesn’t erase what was written and what other people read of social ecology. It is problematic in that some “newer” social ecologists have adopted similar rhetorical strategies, divisiveness and simplistic analysis of our contemporary situation. I’m thinking specifically of Michael S., here, and his unconstructive posts and bating.
Also, I find it offensive that Eiglad repeatedly refers to Hardy’s concerns as “absurdities & banalities,” but hardly surprising given his own writings. In particular, I’m thinking of his response to Morse’s “Being a Bookchinite,” which deals with very little of the content of Chuck’s piece and is filled with ad hominem attacks and red herrings.
From my perspective, a pattern of evading any discussion of Bookchin’s work is developing here. Perhaps, Karl hasn’t articulated his criticisms to the point that you would like. But I think ISE folks should at least try to understand what he’s saying.
I have only read a few small parts of The Third Revolution, but I must say that it’s true that we can learn much from history in Europe and the revolutions or revolts that gave a stage to revolutionary mass movements in Spain, the Ukraine, France/Belgium/Netherlands, etcetera. I once read that there also was a left-libertarian mass movement in Argentina a long time ago but I don’t know much about it. I can imagine that the dictatorships in Latin America destroyed much revolutionary potential, just like in Europe but even more in Latin America and for such a long time.
I think that Murray B. was a universalist and that centrism did not go well together with his thinking, not eurocentrism or afrocentrism, not anthropocentrism, ecocentrism or biocentrism.
‘Interesting’ discussion, I think you cannot get anywhere unless you use common terms agreed on their definition. Eurocentrism is a concept developed by Samir Amin. Based on how you use the term here, he and his concept of Eurocentrism are ‘Eurocentrist’ as well. Like Bookchin he is trying to develop universal and rational revolutionary ideas and he hasn’t published any books about indigenous cultures or their struggles either. I don’t think that he has any problems with the ideals of enlightenment. His mother was French and he studied political science in Paris. The concept of periphery is very central in his study of Eurocentrism. I don’t think that you would agree with him on many subjects.
Moreover, I think he would be really upset if he hear that you consider Murray Bookchin as Eurocentrist. I guess he would suggest you to read his writings more carefully.
You can develop a new concept like ‘Westcentrism’ instead of using a concept developed for a totally different purpose. However, you need to elaborate it clearly. Otherwise using vague terms in a discussion is not fruitful at all.
Didn’t Bookchin embrace the Eurocentrism in the interview at the end of Biehl’s book on LM, contrasting it with “cultural relativism?” Also, in History, Civilization, and Progress, Bookchin equates Eurocentrism with “coherence,” something he always used to describe his own work. Finally, Enlightenment thought is clearly Eurocentric and Bookchin saw himself as continuing this tradition. Whether or not he shared the same definition of Eurocentrism with Samir Amin or Rafa Grinfield doesn’t matter–he clearly thought of himself and social ecology as Eurocentric.
I think you should check the references you mentioned again. He has never discussed Eurocentrism at all. I would be curious if you can find any sentence mentioning it.
As I said, Samir Amin is following Enlightenment ideals as well. Your understanding of Eurocentrism is very different than the term used in radical circles. I don’t think it is appropriate to use a term giving it a very different meaning. Furthermore you shouldn’t expect any agreement when you do it.
From History, Civilization, and Progress:
“So far have these tendencies been permitted to proceed that one cannot now mount a critique of incoherence, for example, without exposing oneself to the charge of a having a “predisposition” to “coherence”–or a “Eurocentric” bias.”
So, yes, Bookchin directly addresses Eurocentrism in at least one of the references that I mention and, I would argue, he does so in other ways in the other references that I mention. He essentially mocks the criticism implied by the term Eurocentrism by putting it in quotation marks, basically saying that anything that is “coherent” is said to be Eurocentric. This is part of a dichotomy Bookchin constructs in his later writings where on one side we have coherence, Enlightenment thought, European notions of democracy, dialectical naturalism, etc., and on the other side is post-modernism, incoherence, cultural relativism, and moral relativism. From there, I don’t think it is too much to extrapolate that he was embracing Eurocentrism (his understanding of the term) in the other references I make. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the other references handy.)
Perhaps you don’t agree with how I analyze Bookchin’s use of the term or the dichotomy I believe he constructed–if that’s the case, I’m completely open to criticism. But you are wrong to say that I am giving it my own special definition. Also, I find it curious how you admit there are many definitions yet privilege one person’s definition of the term and a few (mysterious) radical circles’ use of the term.
It is funny. Apparently he is not discussing Eurocentrism there. I don’t know why you interpret that sentence in that way. It is in quotes and he means the term ‘Eurocentrism’ is used against the ones trying to develop coherent ideas criticizing incoherence. I am sure Samir Amin would sign that sentence too. Yes, I think there might be similar sentences in other books as well. I don’t think that it means he supports Eurocentrism. What he was exploring was lifestyle anarchism and the way lifestyle anarchists defense their ideas and how they try to avoid rational discussion etc.
I don’t know your political position. But if you are a lifestyle anarchist, you should try to criticize Bookchin based on his ideas directly rather than how he expressed his critique. It might be very polemical. You may not like it. However, it is not about underlying philosophy.
@Skeptics of Communalism
Do any of you consider the wish for societies throughout the world to develop into a confederated direct democracy with a municipalized economy to be in some way not desirable? If so, then the primary question I have is: if a person desires a non-hierarchical society what alternatives do you support? A mixed economy with a market? Simple commodity production? A representative government?
Are there non-hierarchical alternatives?
@Vincent, OK, I understand your question now and I want to explain my critique of Bookchin’s eurocentrism, but there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Bookchin *was* Eurocentric. I want to address this first.
I think there can be no doubt that Bookchin was Eurocentric. Indeed, this is both explicit and implicit in his work.
Here is a dictionary definition of Eurocentric: “Eurocentric: adjective, focusing on European culture or history to the exclusion of a wider view of the world; implicitly regarding European culture as preeminent.” In the context of social theory, Eurocentrics typically believe that European culture is the primary bearer of truly universal and Enlightened culture.
Murray made explicitly Eurocentric statements in his “History, Civilization, and Progress,” in the Third Revolution, and probably elsewhere. In “History, Civilization, and Progress,” he wrote: that the “civilizing process has . . . . reached its greatest universality primarily in Europe.” In other words, civilization has reached its highest level in Europe. This is an unambiguous statement of a Eurocentric view. Likewise, in the preface to the Third Revolution, he wrote that Third World revolutions lacked the emancipatory, universalistic qualities of European revolutions and stated that the “authentic center of the revolutionary era was Europe” and that he was “singularly untroubled” by the “charge that [he is] ‘Eurocentric.’” He is basically admitting that he is Eurocentric here and stating that he does not care what others think.
His Eurocentrism was also implicit in his work insofar as all of his work focus on Europe and the United States. I don’t remember him ever writing about Asia or Latin America, and his comments on Africa were solely anthropological.
@Rafa, it’s true that Bookchin was a universalist, but he was not a pluralist (which is what you seem to think). I know you want to be provocative, but we will have a more productive discussion after you’ve read Murray’s major works and can support your claims with references to what he actually said.
@Visitor – I am not sure what relevance Samir Amin has. I think of him as a theorist of core/periphery relations, not so much Eurocentrism. Certainly Amin had no influence on Bookchin and the problem (and idea) of Eurocentrism long precedes him.
I think you are going too fast. Before that, there should be an agreement that a common understanding of alternative society and revolution is desirable or not. As much as I see such a desire is considered as “The Single Enlightened Tradition”. If it is desirable you need a rational discussion to develop a common understanding and look for coherence. These are the things we have inherited from enlightenment tradition and taking anything from that tradition is considered as ‘Eurocentrism’.
I am not sure what sort of solution is proposed to solve that dilemna.
Anarchy, in its positive aspects, and as a historical phenomenon, rejects all oppressive features of government and social injustice, while retaining the foundations for the free and productive organization of society, and thus constitutes the rational starting point and ultimate objective of the continuous revolutionary modification of humanity towards the freedom, equality, upliftment, and perseverance of its natural, technological, and ecological potentials.
Those who have inherited the ideology of compliance and rule from above for the common interest or from prejudicial attitudes of cultural superiority have themselves perpetuated counter-productive views of human nature from which our economic, political, educational, and cultural institutions need actively emerge if to realize the future alternatives to wasteful behavior and self-destructive opposition.
The regional and international confederation of municipal democracies and resulting mechanism of established scientific and ethical regulations and enforcement may thus derive from and remain consistent with anarchist principles so far as they are the voluntary expression and spontaneous actualization of humanity’s common and acquired understanding and intention.
Do any of you consider the wish for societies throughout the world to develop into a confederated direct democracy with a municipalized economy to be in some way not desirable?
If the “wish” is for *all* societies societies throughout the world to develop into a confederated direct democracy with a municipalized economy, then my answer is *no* it is not desirable nor is it realizable. If the “wish” is for LM/Communalism to be one strategy, one formulation as part of a multiplicity, for a reconstructive non-hierarchical future then my answer is *yes* it is most certainly desirable. Multiplicity is both inevitable and desirable.
If so, then the primary question I have is: if a person desires a non-hierarchical society what alternatives do you support?
As I wrote in the original article above, I support ideas, projects, movements which are committed to “… the unfolding of a decentralized, truly democratic, non-hierarchical, ecological society” and believe that a multiplicity of such efforts ought be animated by “principles of solidarity, affinity, and generosity.”
Moreover, I also wrote above that “… the basis of affinity, solidarity, generosity is enduringly dynamic–it’s emergent and ought be seen as an ongoing collective and processual project of whomever would identify with social ecology.”
Marcus, do you believe that Communalism is the only way to bring about “… the unfolding of a decentralized, truly democratic, non-hierarchical, ecological society”? If so, please explain why.
These “Eurocentrism” charges seem like those anti-imperialist tendencies that support even anti-humanistic cultural elements in the expense of creating universal culture. I don’t think there is room for this kind of thinking in any left-libertarian ideology. I think forming some culturally relativistic ideology that is named after social ecology is indeed insult to coherence.
@Supporters of plurality of social ecologies: What did you have in mind? “Deep social ecology, “radically dialectical social ecology” or “Taoist social ecology” or something more exotic?
To remove roots that are in democracy, enlightenment, naturalism and dialectic and then try to rebuild social ecology should be considered meaningless effort. We can’t remove Hegel from history of dialectics and we can’t remove Bookchin and those roots from history of social ecology without mystifying the development of those things. It took maybe painfully long for Bookchin to realize that break with anarchism was a must in able to clarify social ecology’s specificity. I hope anarchists realize it as soon as possible that there is no reason to try to “remarry” social ecology with anarchism.
@Karl: How is this masculinist polemic different from polemic that is not defined with any sexual term? What would you suggest to replace this , to use your words, problematic polemic? If we need polemic at all…
The connections between ecology, capitalism, and libertarian confederation, while elaborated extensively by Murray Bookchin himself, from a Marxist Revolutionary and Western Philosophical perspective, are not necessarily unique to him, even among his own tradition, and should open-mindedly be considered part of the One True Revolutionary Cause.
In an alternate universe, this was one of the first responses to Karl’s post:
“Ah yes, this again. Of course Bookchin’s Eurocentrism does not serve the evolution of social ecology, in a world in which the radical left is constantly less likely to tolerate a less-than-robust engagement with Majority World perspectives. As exhausted as I am by this topic, it’s perennial resurfacing is an inevitable consequence of identifying with the legacy of this complex and ambitious theorist. Social ecologists are hardly alone in this, on the left and in the European diaspora!
So I am surprised, actually, that you haven’t seen the reference list for post-Eurocentric social ecology we put together back in the late 90s. It was being updated regularly for a while, but I haven’t seen it in a few years – does anyone have a link to the last copy? If it doesn’t turn up, check out my piece “Thinking Through Bookchin,” the bibliography will keep you busy for awhile.
So thanks, Karl – if the question is up for you, it’s probably up for many, many others. The last thing we would want to do would be to get defensive, like this was some internal dirty laundry issue! Because as you well know, the pedagogy and politics of the ISE reflect a consistently critical and exploratory engagement with the issues you raise – so we have nothing to fear from these questions, or from critique of our founding theorist. This is part of our work.”
I am trying to understand your argument.
Are you saying that Bookchin is NOT Eurocentric?
Or are you saying that Bookchin IS Eurocentric but you are OK with that?
Or are you just upset that people have raised these issues because they remind you of other issues that upset you?
@ Visitor, you write: “These are the things we have inherited from enlightenment tradition and taking anything from that tradition is considered as ‘Eurocentrism.’”
No one has made the claim that taking something from Europe is necessarily Eurocentric. To be Eurocentric is to hold certain ideas about Europe’s relationship to the rest of the world. Not everyone who takes things from European culture is Eurocentric.
Could it not also be that Murray Bookchin was being critical, yet not terminal, in his renunciation of anarchism before the anarchist “youth” of his day?
I don’t think that any libertarian movement would object that theirs is “one formulation as part of a multiplicity, for a reconstructive non-hierarchical future”. Discussing different possibilities is part of the revolutionary tradition, that Bookchin has always been delighted. If you had read “The Third Revolution”, you must have observed that delight. Building alliances among the movements with different perspectives was part of that tradition too.
The question is, as I asked before, how can we realize a discussion to develop those formulations and build movements and then build alliances. Bookchin was furious for lifestyle anarchists and post-modernists because they reject rational discussion for that purpose and they don’t really offer an alternative either. I am really curious if you are offering an alternative.
I am sure the reason Bookchin didn’t discuss ‘Eurocentrism’ was it was used out of context as it happened here. Focusing on Europe doesn’t mean that that person consider it superior. More than that all cultures have been a synthesis of some other cultures during the history. Therefore many other cultures have been embedded in European culture. Focusing those cultures where they have been manifested doesn’t mean that those cultures have been ignored.
It is interesting that at the end, Bookchin has inspired at least some movements in the South, but I don’t know any lifestyle anarchist movement neither in the South nor in the US or Europe.
Given the above quote, I think you need to substantiate what you mean by “truly democratic.” This is precisely my question, what alternatives does “truly democratic” justifiably apply to other than confederal direct democracy? If it is not realizable do you envision the State as inevitable?
Communalism is the only political ideology that I know of (aside from its variant Inclusive Democracy) that seeks to build a mass movement around the values of given all people collective political and economic control over their own lives while explicitly seeking to abolish the market and the State. That doesn’t mean that I am opposed to a multiplicity of cooperative projects co-existing. I think this is necessary for developing a cooperative culture. Nonetheless, what I think is crucially necessary is to build a mass movement, and Communalism seeks to do this by developing direct democracy as a revolutionary practice.
Again, if not direct democracy, then what? If not a municipalized economy (i.e. a democratic economy) then what? Please do not be vague in your answer.
Visitor, Bookchin did believe that European culture had been—historically speaking—superior. This is evident in the citation I provided above: the “civilizing process has . . . . reached its greatest universality primarily in Europe.” This is a clear statement of Eurocentrism.
@ Chuck : No, I don’t think Bookchin was a pluralist. I have also read enough of Bookchin and about him and I have talked enough with Comunalists and Social Ecologists, libertarian socialists etcetera to have a good opinion about the writings of Murray Bookchin.
I’m also afraid that there are not really new things popping up in this discussion so maybe we should stop it and make comments somewhere else on this blog? Or write some texts about the things we do and like?
@ Marcrus, you write: “Communalism is the only political ideology that I know of (aside from its variant Inclusive Democracy) that seeks to build a mass movement around the values of given all people collective political and economic control over their own lives while explicitly seeking to abolish the market and the State”
Anarchism and various forms of Marxism/socialism also fight for those goals. You may prefer “communalism,” but it is not the only tendency to embrace those ends.
@Mikko, I think you have misunderstood my use of the adjective “masculinist” in the above. I use it in the way I understand some feminists utilize the term when, for example, they are describing aggressive, domineering, or coercive behaviour. In general, I am skeptical of the use of polemic as it de-complexifies and reduces (often into absurd terms) the issues at hand.
@Rafter, if we can imagine that alternate universe, perhaps we can manifest it? Isn’t that the basis for a utopian method? 🙂
@Visitor, you’re incorrect in your assertion that Bookchin did not explicitly argue that his vision ought be seen as the exclusive basis for bringing about Utopia. Bookchin clearly situated his work within the Enlightenment project, a project which is both Eurocentric and totalizing.
Furthermore, I reject your apparent agreement with Bookchin’s rationale for being “furious” (“Bookchin was furious for lifestyle anarchists and post-modernists because they reject rational discussion for that purpose and they don’t really offer an alternative either.”)
If “rationality” is determined by only one participant in a “multi-participant” dialogue there is no dialogue. Bookchin’s “rationality” is totalizing, hegemonic, and coercive. It reproduces the logic of domination.
@Marcus “I think you need to substantiate what you mean by “truly democratic.” This is precisely my question, what alternatives does “truly democratic” justifiably apply to other than confederal direct democracy? If it is not realizable do you envision the State as inevitable?
Communalism is the only political ideology that I know of (aside from its variant Inclusive Democracy) that seeks to build a mass movement around the values of given all people collective political and economic control over their own lives while explicitly seeking to abolish the market and the State. That doesn’t mean that I am opposed to a multiplicity of cooperative projects co-existing. I think this is necessary for developing a cooperative culture. Nonetheless, what I think is crucially necessary is to build a mass movement, and Communalism seeks to do this by developing direct democracy as a revolutionary practice.
Again, if not direct democracy, then what? If not a municipalized economy (i.e. a democratic economy) then what? Please do not be vague in your answer.
@Visitor – “I am really curious if you are offering an alternative.”
What is “truly democratic” is a matter of the self-determination of whatever subjectivities (from the individual to the human collective to the human & other-than-human). I don’t get to determine what is “truly democratic” – this is not an “essential” concept but something that is dynamic, multiple, and subject to context. This doesn’t mean that I can’t express disagreement with others’ conceptions or advocate for my own version of “true democracy” but it obliges a recognition of the value in and inevitability of dynamism, multiplicity, and dissent.
How exactly are you defining “an alternative”/”mass movement”? Why are you defining it so? This is important information.
There are numerous other contemporary and historical ideologies that advocate for “the values of given all people collective political and economic control over their own lives while explicitly seeking to abolish the market and the State” including but not limited to (alphabetical no intended privileging) some anarchist, anti/post-colonialist including those of indigenous and other land-based peoples, feminist, marxist, radical ecologist, and queer-identified frameworks.
Above I advocated “principles of solidarity, affinity, and generosity as the basis of the culture of the ISE, in particular, and social ecologies, plural, generally… I’d suggest that the basis of affinity, solidarity, generosity is enduringly dynamic–it’s emergent and ought be seen as an ongoing collective and processual project of whomever would identify with social ecology.”
I should also say that some traditions that identify as “religious” (including but not limited to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Taoist) would also advocate for “the values of given [sic] all people collective political and economic control over their own lives while explicitly seeking to abolish the market and the State.”
@Karl & Chuck
I am appreciative of other ideologies that you listed, many of which could identify with Communalism without contradiction. However, I think my statement that you’ve both quoted did not achieve the specificity that I had in mind. Which other ideologies seek a general human interests where social decisions, including economic ones, are to be made by citizens regardless of occupation or religion or what not. (I acknowledge that based on some criteria people deemed too young would likely not be allowed to vote.) This is what comes to mind as what distinguishes Communalism from other ideologies. If you are knowledgable of other ideologies that seek as expansive a commitment to democracy then please be more specific as to which ideologies you are referring to, and how they differ substantially from the goals of Communalism.
Karl, I cannot help but consider this vague and evasive. How do you define “truly democratic” institutionally?
An international movement rooted in shared values of opposition to hierarchy and domination and a commitment to confederal direct democracy.
At the time of national founding, those few with a vision of national order could establish themselves without excessive contestation, and, wherever permitting capital to accrue and function independently, entered into a dual condition and relationship with the public trust and institutional authority.
Revenue from national land rights and wealth from prior territorial distinctions could either collaborate or contrast for the directivity and control of public society, reflecting the values and ambitions which the general population has acquired of itself towards the standards and purposes of its national identity.
Given the connectivity of industry and the existing obligations of the State to private capital, each community separately cannot expropriate the corporate outlets without first collectively deciding to transvert the corporate infrastructure to the democratic process.
Meanwhile specific regions, having collectivized themselves, or in the process of collectivization, may choose the manner and extent to integrate with remaining capitalist society and which forms of business or government enterprise to reject and replace withof themselves.
That class of society which occupies administrative functions and facilities without expense and at the expense of one’s society could parallel the independent functioning of those who would claim autonomous identity and complementary governmental capacities and involvement.
With the covert intelligence agencies, legal instruments, banking and insurance, and corporate business interests controlling the value and availability of currency, the people must control these groups directly in order to regulate and distribute this authority evenly among themselves.
Excess currency, deemed unnecesary, could therefore be reduced in its numbers and, proceding from the contextual adjustment of ethical transformation, enable direct acquisition codes to effectively parallel each one’s credited allowances on iventoried supply, in accordance with the capacity, integrative and existing opportunity, and involvement of each one’s minimal productivity requirements.
Collectively demonstrating and re-establishing in the consciousness of the general population the idea and awareness that property and wealth are social creations, and not unalterable or absolute foundations, and which, beyond the means of personal subsistence, are therefore subject of their entirety to democratic controls is a continued precondition of educational and paradigm realignment necessary for the immediate and ultimate empowerment and actualization of the revolutionary process, and to inaugurate the onset of the new working order of civilization and egalitarian society.
Without an isolated group of financiers scheduling the variation of development and production, the general public will necessarily assume these functions of themselves, with the corresponding revaluation of corporate structure and material priorities.
The centralization of industry and business may, at some level, have advanced the efficiency of civilization, prior to and in the absence of the consciousness and initiative of labor towards untlimate reform, while now forcibly abandoning the consociative infrastructure for popular decision-making and municipal and ecological reintegration to universally commence.
Similarly, military installations should remain logistically and functionally transparent and act only according to instructions and protocol developed from and through the united assembly, wherefore the cooperation, conscience, and consent of those enlisted are integral factors in the formulation and implementation of foreign and public policy both towards and of themselves.
Our work, therfore, should be to promote cooperation and understanding, at all levels of society, towards attaining the critical number of active supporters and like-minded communities necessary to affect the redistribution of wealth and power into the full control of an egalitarian, educated, and ecologically responsible population of humanity.
However, I think my statement that you’ve both quoted did not achieve the specificity that I had in mind. Which other ideologies seek a general human interests where social decisions, including economic ones, are to be made by citizens regardless of occupation or religion or what not. (I acknowledge that based on some criteria people deemed too young would likely not be allowed to vote.) This is what comes to mind as what distinguishes Communalism from other ideologies. If you are knowledgable of other ideologies that seek as expansive a commitment to democracy then please be more specific as to which ideologies you are referring to, and how they differ substantially from the goals of Communalism.
The “specificity” that you desire “general human interests…are to made by citizens…” reproduces the logic of domination. Neither Bookchin, you, or me (or anyone else) should be attempting to assign The Primary Subjectivity for all (human and other-than-human) regardless of the intended liberatory ends. Multiplicity, difference, and dynamism are inevitable and valuable. I reject the imperative for all humans to universally identify as revolutionary citizens (Bookchin) anymore than humans ought universally identify as revolutionary workers (Marx). Why must their be a preconceived and singular “revolutionary subject?” What matters are commitments and practices, I think. How to negotiate among different revolutionary/liberatory/utopian subjects? ——-> “…the basis of affinity, solidarity, generosity is enduringly dynamic–it’s emergent and ought be seen as an ongoing collective and processual project…”
Karl, I cannot help but consider this vague and evasive. How do you define “truly democratic” institutionally?
Perhaps you consider this “vague and evasive” because you are looking for The Answer, or The Truly Democratic Institution (Radical Municipality) to utilize as The Singular Goal (Global Confederation of Directly Democratic Municipalities) for The Singular Revolutionary Subject (Rational Humanist Citizens)?
“Truly democratic” is something that is, again, a matter of self-determination and is a dynamic rather than essential concept. Is majority vote (50%+1) “truly democratic” within the bounds of a neighborhood assembly? Why not a supermajority (67%) or consensus (approaching 100%)? Who says? On what grounds? Doesn’t context matter? Doesn’t self-determination matter? A confederal body is one hopeful possibility, one among a multiplicity of possibilities which, in my view, ought recognize their affinity and engage with one another in solidarity and with generosity.
@Karl, that is an excellent post and I believe it closely reflects Bookchin’s feelings when he described freedom as ever-evolving. If freedom is constantly evolving then what humans consider democratic must also evolve. Creating a blueprint for others to follow as democratic is inherently anti-democratic, is it not?
This is part of what I was getting at in that social ecologists must re-evaluate their practice, or at least their strategy for social change, in light of neoliberalism.
You can believe whatever you like. But, I am sorry for telling this, I don’t think that you have seriously read the literature about Eurocentrism. Your comments are really out of context. You should discuss these issues with someone outside of lifestyle anarchist circles. You need to understand why that term has been developed in its historical context and then what it means today. Good luck.
As much as I see your ideas about revolution is too naive. It wouldn’t fit in the real world. With these ideas you would lock your radicalism into reformism. Revolution needs to be organized as widely as possible. An organization requires clear goals, programs and then coordination of efforts. I think you should review your suggestions to see how all those things going to happen in your vision. Multiplicity and spontaneity has never been enough for that purpose.
@Visitor At least your only a visitor. LOL. I find it funny and strange how you try to impose Samir Amin’s definition of Eurocentrism on this discussion. I can’t help but assume you have some sectarian agenda.
Your referring to Karl, Chuck and myself as lifestyle anarchists is amusing on multiple levels including within the context of the discussion and the fact that all of us have been committed to various organizations (yes, with clear goals, programs, and coordinated efforts) over the years and I think all of us recognize the clear limitations of a politics that is intensely personal/istic (if that is what you mean by lifestyle anarchism). I’m not sure any of us have ever been referred to as lifestyle anarchists by anyone that knows us…
Also, I find it funny that you refer to Karl’s ideas of revolution as naive. I actually think Karl has a very complex and thoughtful analysis of revolutionary politics that does not simply promote radicalism for radicalism’s sake, nor does he abide by an overly simplistic revolution-reformism dichotomy. If anyone’s ideas are naive it is your idea that the revolution is simply a matter of organization.
Apologies to Chuck and Karl; I didn’t intend to speak for y’all.
The unified systems approach to the sustainability of humanity’s existence must integrate at once the political dimensions of cultural relations, establishing the basis for cooperability and non-violent interaction, and the environmental variables of production and distribution methodologies, necessitating a universal ethics and symbolic depictation of events capable of harmonizing and mobilizing the energies of compassionate understanding towards the fulfillment and furtherance of the humanitarian and ecological obligations for the equilibrium of civilization and of earth.
Wow, is this the kind of statement social ecologists are prone to make these days? IMHO the latter part of this wants to throw out the enlightenment baby with the bath water of instrumental reason, scientism and the like. Whatever can be said about Bookchin’s failings, I remember his writings as being careful to make critical discriminations in his defence of progress, history, reason etc (coherence, meaning and continuity) even when debating various forms of irrationalism. Thus a quick peruse of the essay you cite leads me to this passage:
It would be wrong to defend Bookchin’s work as holy writ, but as others have said, neither is it right to set up a straw target without appreciating what Chaia refers to as the arc of the man’s work, ie the underlying structure of priorities and argumentation that animated his writing.
And the remedy to Eurocentrism is more than paying some equivalent attention to non-Western societies or embracing alternative epistemologies. It is understanding, as Edward Said knew, that we are dealing here with overlapping and intertwined histories, or as Walter Benjamin knew, that every document to civilisation reveals an associated document to barbarism. It seems to me, Bookchin provided some of the resources for this kind of dialectical understanding in simultaneously talking about community, ecology, traditions and the like while linking these with the achievements of modernity, history and civilisation.
@Visitor, I understand that you’re upset and that you disagree with me, but you haven’t stated how you disagree with me. What have I said that you think is mistaken or misformulated? Please, go ahead, enlighten me. If your comments are interesting, I will be sure to share them with someone outside of lifestyle anarchist circles.
@Gary, I think that’s a pretty fair comment: context is very important. For my sake, I think that Bookchin still has a lot to teach and, inorder to learn his lessons, we need to pay attention to what he actually wrote and said. That’s why it is important to be frank about his Eurocentrism.
I do not believe that the philosophy of history that he advanced late in his life (in “History, Civilization, and Progress”) was at all coherent.
For someone who disdains polemics, you have made a crude attempt at the style yourself.
If all you propose to differ on is the percentage of votes needed to make a decision binding then you aren’t asserting a substantially different position. If, on the other hand, by self-determination you mean that it is ethically acceptable for a society to self-determine that certain adults should not be allowed to participate on an equal plane in deciding policies pertaining to the society that they live in then you are accepting the disempowerment of some people and the privileging of others. If this isn’t your point, then again I don’t see much substantial difference. Whether you oppose the term citizen or not, unless you accept the ethic that power should be distributed equally within society then you are reproducing the logic of domination yourself. I agree fully that people should self-determine what their own policies or laws are. However, I find it ethically wrong for people to be disenfranchised from social decision making.
Hey there, Radio ISE.
First time caller, long time listener.
1) I’d like to first comment that it’s very problematic to have the blog moderator/post writer get publicly reprimanded by two senior ISE board members for initiating a discussion that he was apparently dissuaded from doing so in private correspondences. Though this is most likely not the case, the tone and wording of both responses suggest that Karl’s “errors” aren’t just intellectual, they’re political as well. Not very encouraging for a free flow of ideas.
In the high-pressure, high-stakes world of leftist blogging, tempers are sure to flare. But when one person’s alleged intellectual shortcomings get categorized as deviant behaviors, everyone needs to take a step back. I don’t think it’s reasonable to accuse someone (through crafty inference) of “political/intellectual errors” and not expect a “thoughtcrime” or CPUSA reference in response. If people don’t like where this is going, stop taking it there.
I think a good idea for a future ISE blog discussion would be “How do we avoid ‘the collapse into relativism’ without ‘ossifying into orthodoxy’?”
2) I think we can all agree that Murray Bookchin was, among other things, a writer whose access to ideas and information was constrained by the realities of the place and time he wrote in: publication of historical material, availability in English, access to living participants/survivors, etc. Despite his heroic synthesize of libertarian history, he wrote the bulk of his work before many things that could easily be considered huge events in the modern history of left-libertarian thought. So his writings on Pannekoek are not weighed against the testimonials of “Sin Patrón.” His ideas on communalism, confederated democracy, and appropriate technology evolved in large part without comparison to the shocking similarites to (and real differences from) zapatismo. The same goes for Oaxaca, for grassroots mobilization after Hurricane Katrina, etc.
While this is understandable as far as Bookchin is concerned, for the ISE to remain relevant within left-libertarian political discourse, these new developments, that are seen as milestones in the eyes activists my age, need to be discussed within the SE canon.
3) Without any academic sources to back me up, I’ll baselessly claim a few more things:
a. In the past two decades, there has been a proliferation of scholarship on non-Western libertarian projects and first-time English translations of works belonging to those projects
b. It is easier now than it has ever been for a person to access radical literature in foreign languages and to translate it.
c. The move away from state socialism or military dictatorships in many countries has allowed for unprecedented access to archival material and provided new opportunities for investigative scholarship. Many of the histories libertarian struggle in countries like the Ukraine, Argentina, the Phillipines, and South Africa are now far less actively suppressed by ruling regimes.
d. The conclusion I want to draw from these claims is that there are more things known and more things knowable about South American, Caribbean, African, and Southeast Asian libertarian movements than there were when Bookchin was writing. While this is not Murray’s fault, the holistic worldview advanced by Bookchin suffers in modern day light for the absence of these powerful and undeniable histories in his analysis.
4) We can say what we want about what Murray really meant. We can fling ad hominem insults at one another. But it doesn’t change some serious dilemnas facing social ecology as a political ideology cum institution:
a. At the risk of essentializing, we live in a world where certain poor and indigenous communities (in places like Chiapas and Ecuador) organize collectively and non-hierarchically to resist their victimization through environmental degredation and develop appropriate technologies and sustainable agricultural practices that are situated within politically articulate social and kinship networks. It is highly problematic that we subscribe to a body of thought that more often than not conceives of these developments as products of the Enlightenment tradition. (Note, I do think that elsewhere these developments are situated by Bookchin as being within the realm of human potentiality. Bookchin’s canon is heterogenous, but his scholarship focuses almost solely on the Western Enlightenment tradition. A good idea [@ Karl] would be to encourage sociological and anthropological discussions and investigations of the ways in which other social and political traditions may also lead to ecologicl confederated democracy. This is exactly the kind of project the ISE can send out a Request for Proposals for.)
b. There are situations similar to those mentioned above that take place within the US. An example I have some experience with are the redlining of poor communities into neighborhoods in Los Angeles that surround the main traffic arteries for Port traffic. These communities, and the lungs of their members, act as pollution filters for the millions of tons of NAFTA-enabled particulate emissions from freight trucks. Organizations made up of these community members have popped up to fight on political and social levels against this, and to develop systems of mutual aid, neighborhood-controlled foodsystems, etc. that support them all the while. In many ways, these groups equate sustainability with justice (thanks Rafter). And to me, these ideas are consistent with Social Ecology as praxis. That said, I can only imagine the irreperable and unecessary damage that could be caused to the credibility of Social Ecology if I were to approach them about working with the ISE on the condition that they “cease their intellectually bankrupt and historically inaccurate emphasis on ‘Atzlán’ as a model utopia and to cease from conflating ‘animist’ notions of soil/earth rehabilitation through musical ceremony with the very real practical needs of bioremediation through chemical and agricultural means.” So what if I don’t say this quote? I hand one of the community oganizers my copy of the latest edition of “the Ecology of Freedom” and she can infer this denigration of her beliefs and practices herself.
c. Possibly most importantly: in this day and age, no one, anywhere, ever, under any circumstances, for whatever reason, wants to sit and listen to a white guy tell them about universal truths. Period.
I don’t see the ISE’s blog as such a suitable debating place, when comparing it to previous ISE’s forums where at least under a discussing title you could debate a subject in details.
However, I couldn’t abstain from saying some words about “Eurocentrism” of Bookchin?, as if I respond to a real debate.
Sorry but how could I find something in Bookchin’s political offers (LM) and this offer find a real base in a movement in a “developing” country? Bookchin’s “Communalism Project” was the leading article in a last month’s kurdish Anarchist periodical in Turkey. And under civil disobedience tents writings of Bookchin’s LM and confederalism is a favorite discussion subject. Actually it is not a subject but the main project, however it may naturally be a kind of its version in a certain place.
It seems that drawn ideas from the highest point of developments, (history, civilisation and progress) and yes they mostly happened in Western world, find its concrete reality in movements which are seeking for a grassroot power, democracy and emancipation, wherever they are in the world.
I could certainly say that this blame is abstrac absurdity, as if we are living on Mars. Please open your eyes and look at the world a little more.
My deepest respect,
P.S. sorry but I don’t contunie to “debate” in this place. So you would have every right to chuck my thoughts.
I have the impression that this blog is becoming more and more something that is much about reconciling social ecology with currents like poststructuralism, postcolonialism and postmodernist anarchism. So I don’t understand why it is called “social ecology blog”, it delivers confusion about what social ecology is about. Social ecology is not really reconcilable with these currents. It never was and never will be. And I will surely never be much interested in developing a social postmodernist ecology.
Thanks, Arlen, for that nuanced, critical, and – dare I say? – dialectical commentary. This is what I mean when I say that – as someone approaching social ecology from the outside, and wondering if it is more useful than it is problematic – engagement with Karl’s comments draws more toward, and dismissal of them repels me.
When I see evidence social ecologists actually thinking and arguing dialectically – as opposed to saying the word dialectical occasionally – I think, “ah, here are folks who are equipped to grapple strategically with the tension between milquetoast relativism and vulgar objectivism.
The defensiveness, and all that it implies, that appears in the indignant dismissals of Karl’s post ranges from disheartening to embarrassing. As if the question of relationship between colonial and post-colonial communities weren’t a – if not the – baseline strategic and theoretical issue of this historical moment. As if it was a waste of time to discuss the social ecology’s founding theorist in this light.
And worst of all, as if there was something to fear from critique of Bookchin.
What I deeply appreciate about this dialogue – which I think does still qualify for the term! – is that it has flushed out of the woodwork a bevy of social ecologists (is bevy the right group noun?) who recognize the significance of the questions being asked without difficulty – and who are ready to actually begin answering them, in the spirit in which they were asked. Yes, of course – and what do we do next?
When social ecologists that have a strong and unafraid critique of Bookchin tell me that his work is important – it’s then that I am swayed to do the work of digging deeper. That’s the conversation that I want to be part of. When, by the way it responds to critique, social ecology starts to look like just another splinter group, I doesn’t seem a worthwhile investment at all.
As an old-timer with a 20th century attention span, quite unfamiliar with what Arlen describes as the “high-pressure, high-stakes world of leftist blogging,” I’m truly humbled by the increasingly meaningful and impressive scope of this discussion. Many of the themes that have arisen are clearly central to the continuing development of social ecology, and I’m glad to see more discussion of specific theoretical questions in the posted comments over this past weekend. I hope participants in this discussion will consider submitting writing on these topics to be discussed at this summer’s social ecology colloquium. I know I’m old fashioned, but I think that’s a setting more conducive to collectively thinking through complex theoretical questions than the rather competitive discourse of the blogosphere.
There are just a few threads of the discussion that I’d like to address in summary form here. I hope my lack of immediate attention to all the other important issues is not seen as a dishonor to anyone; like everyone else, my contributions to the ISE (other than a limited amount of project-specific work not directly related to these topics) are offered entirely as a volunteer.
To the extent that Murray Bookchin focused his work on the legacy of the European enlightenment, he was very much a product of his time. Arlen has offered some insightful thoughts about how revolutionary traditions have evolved and expanded in recent decades. In his day, Bookchin came to see his role as one of striving to sustain a revolutionary legacy in the West that was (and still is) very much in danger of being lost. That doesn’t mean that this is the only tradition important to social ecology, even though Murray’s polemics may have suggested this. Indeed during the very period when those polemics were most under discussion, the ISE offered classes highlighting perspectives from the global South. They were taught in the early ’90s by a faculty member from Nigeria, and subsequently by a former graduate student from Sri Lanka). Many of us were also actively involved in local support efforts for the Zapatistas here in Vermont, and continued to support the activities of the Akwesasne Mohawks, whose leading thinkers were regularly featured as lecturers at the ISE, especially in the 1980s.
In Murray’s day, having been educated in the Old Left of the 1930s, the notion of workers as revolutionary subject was a given. He was one of the first thinkers rooted in that tradition to renounce the Old Left’s narrow ‘workerism,’ and both embrace and help guide the evolving world view of the New Left, even at a time when most thinkers of his generation dismissed the New Left as reactionary and even childish. For Murray, to invoke a universalized view of citizenship — where people’s primary identification as both political and social actors was with their community rather than their workplace — was an important step forward, which has (as others have pointed out) been somewhat superseded by other developments and movements around the world.
The ISE has always striven to focus our educational project on a broad scope of approaches to the achievement of a directly democratic, decentralized, ecological society. Murray Bookchin’s theoretical innovations remain at the center of this project, but have never been seen as the totality of it. Ideas in social ecology, as in any other living school of thought, continue to evolve with changing times. I look forward to many more discussions aimed toward that goal.
I’ve resisted posting to this conversation because blogs, in my experience, turn into white, male-dominated soapboxes that move toward irrelevance pretty quickly. In this case, and in many ways, I have not been proved wrong. With that said, I have a few things to contribute.
But first, I’ll provide some context for who I am and what I will say: I live in Oakland, CA., I nanny for a special needs child for employment, and for work, I organize with the Mobilization for Climate Justice West, the Ruckus Society, and actively support local racial and economic justice organizations here in the Bay. I’m a recent graduate student with Prescott and I am a new member to the ISE board.
I’m writing to make a pitch for relevance. I’m in favor of the recent direction this conversation is taking, yet there have only been a few references that directly point to life in the real world. By “real world,” I mean projects that are engaging on the ground and experimenting with these ideas. Thanks to those who have contributed in this way. I encourage more of it.
I also encourage we move away from a “deficit-based” approach to dialogue. This means articulating all and everything that is wrong with an idea, or more absurdly, what’s wrong with a person. This is part of the reason I hate blogs: it seems the most individualistic and cynical post “wins” (while blogs suck for this reason, its really just a symptom of the “Left’s” corrosive and self-defeating tendency). These “wrongs” we’re so good at pointing out then turn into obstacles and reasons for people to not engage or take action to, say, organize an panel, discussion, project, let alone consider what we’re articulating is even relevant to work people are already taking up.
It seems obvious, but we should instead move toward a “asset-based” approach to these conversations, highlighting opportunity to share skills and experience. Here, I’m thinking about having an intergenerational dialogue that is actually constructive.
More or less, if you’re invested in what’s being stated here (i.e. you’ve posted a thought or two, or more) you should be just as invested in moving ideas into action. This, I know, is Karl’s intent. I suggest we start brainstorming the many and different ways we can support this effort.
Hell, if I was him, at this point, I probably wouldn’t want to do more work for this discussion because people have so eagerly focused on deficits.
These are important conversations – we should put our democratic organizing skills into practice.
@ Arlen, thank you for your very thoughtful and reflective post. I think many of your comments are quite insightful although, for now, I just want to say that I also felt troubled by the fact that Brian and Chaia publicly (and apparently privately) reprimanded Karl for raising issues that are somehow supposed to be beyond discussion. It is incidents like these that give the ISE a reputation as a place that is hostile to critical inquiry and debate. For all those who are interested in “social ecology” and Murray’s work, you need to understand that there is no way to escape a critical examination of it. If advocates of social ecology reprimand and attack critics, we can be sure that people will just forget about it. Indeed, few people read Murray’s work now and even less will do so if his champions try to silence critics. Criticism needs to be welcomed and encouraged, not resisted.
@ Brian, I really appreciated your latest comment and thought that you added a lot of valuable pieces to the discussion. I want to respond in a number of ways.
First, while I recognize it is not an either/or circumstance, I want to make a plug for the relative merit of these blog-based discussions as opposed to the colloquia. Though the colloquia are doubtlessly invaluable (I haven’t been for many years), the discussion there is limited to the small number of people who can attend whereas the blog is available to anyone with an Internet connection and discussion can play out over weeks or months, not just a weekend. Again, I don’t mean to pit one forum against the other, but I think it represents a very positive opportunity.
Second, you make a distinction in your post between social ecology as Murray conceived of it and social ecology at the ISE. This makes sense to me, but it is somewhat problematic that the nature of that difference has never been stated clearly. If the ISE uses a different variant of “social ecology” as its foundation, then I think its really important that the contours of that variant are spelled out somewhere. I have no idea whose task that might be, but I think it’s an important one.
Third, I think it’s true, to some extent, that Murray’s relationship to the European Enlightenment (and eurocentrism) reflected the political culture in which he was formed, but I also think it’s important to say that most of his intellectual career unfolded in the context of major national liberation and anti-colonial movements, massive rebellions against white supremacy in the United States, and a major redefinition of race. I don’t think this contradicts what you said, but I believe it’s also an important part of the context. Certainly Murray would have had a lot of resources at his disposal had he wanted to explore a different relation to these questions.
Finally, I also want to touch on something that has only a tangential relation to your comment. You wrote: “Bookchin came to see his role as one of striving to sustain a revolutionary legacy in the West that was (and still is) very much in danger of being lost.” Above, Chaia wrote: “we live in a counter-revolutionary period in the U.S.”
I often heard Murray say (and write) that we live in “counterrevolutionary times” or a “reactionary era” in which the spirit of revolution is at risk. I suspect he had been making that same claim since the 1980s. While there may have been some truth to that claim at times, I do not think that it is true now. Without going into too much detail, we should bear in mind that we are in the midst of major popular uprisings throughout the Arab world, the anti-globalization movement marked the emergence of tremendous anti-capitalist energies, and anti-authoritarians (of various tendencies) are now discussing ideas and politics with a level of depth and complexity that would have been unthinkable when I first got involved in the early 80s. Indeed, Murray played a role in some of these developments.
Sometimes I think the claims that we “live in a reactionary era” are used to excuse Murray’s relative marginality—i.e., “it’s not that Murray’s ideas have problems, it’s that the times are counterrevolutionary”–but, in any case, I do not think that we can justifiably claim that we live in a reactionary era. Indeed, I think there is a tremendous amount of potential for radical movements now. What we need to do is get our shit together and find a way to discuss and work our way through all the issue that we face in building a new revolutionary vision and movement for the twenty-first century.
@Hey Hillary, I just saw your post. Welcome to the discussion.
Colonialism is a thing of the past, there is something resembling it now that we can call neo-colonialism but I have been against both of these phenomena since I know the meaning of both terms. When I got to know these terms? That was a long time ago and I did not need any postcolonialist theory to take that stance against colonial, neo-colonial and all classist or racist views. And I have been thinking about eurocentrism for years now as something that is quite connected to racism and certainly capitalism.
Chuck, I’ve been clear in numerous conversations with Karl that nothing in social ecology is “beyond discussion.” I don’t think he and I disagree on our ultimate goals. It’s more a question of which discussions we choose to prioritize. Let’s focus on the most substantive issues here, as I tried to do in my post this morning. Following Hilary’s point, let’s also see if we can focus more on how our ideas can impact the world in which most of our neighbors and movement allies (actual and potential) actually live.
@ Chuck: thanks for the welcome, but it wasn’t a token of participation. Seriously, what ideas do you have/how can you contribute to concretizing these discussion/exploring relevance?
This of course extends to everyone.
Hilary, I didn’t suggest that your comment was a “token of participation.” I didn’t have time to reply earlier so, instead, opted simply to welcome you.
I thought you raised some valuable issues and, as I have more time now, I’ll share a few thoughts.
I want to first say that I was a little troubled by how you began your comment. You wrote: “I’ve resisted posting to this conversation because blogs, in my experience, turn into white, male-dominated soapboxes that move toward irrelevance pretty quickly. In this case, and in many ways, I have not been proved wrong.”)
This comment seemed to reflect exactly the “deficit-based” approach to dialogue that you described so well. Of course, you are entitled to dislike who is posting here and find the discussion irrelevant, but please respect that the people active in this dialogue clearly believe it to be valuable.
You ask: “Seriously, what ideas do you have/how can you contribute to concretizing these discussion/exploring relevance?” Um, seriously, I think I have contributed a lot to the discussion. Of course, you are entitled to find my contributions irrelevant and, if that’s the case, what can I say?
You are eager for us to put “ideas into action” and “our democratic organizing skills into practice.” Ok, great, but some of us (like me) think that there are problems with the ideas themselves and, as a result, it is hard to put them into practice. These why some of us (like me) value the discussion of these ideas. Perhaps you have all the big questions figured out and know all the answers. If that’s the case, lucky you. Personally, I am not quite so self-assured and need to spend some time thinking through the bigger issues. If you find that irrelevant, well, I respect that; but please respect in turn that not all of us are in the same place as you and some of us may need to work our way through these issues.
For the record. I was not interested in posting anything ‘for’ or ‘against’ Karl’s posts. I was asked by Karl and others, to please post something regarding this exchange. So I did.
I actually hate blogs. So often, ‘discussions’ become confused pile ups in which some people (many of whom have the economic, child-free, or gender (etc.) privilege of time to post endlessly) are afforded the opportunity to weigh in heavily on blog-chats such as this. If there are to be blog discussions, I wish entries could be concise and less contentious in tone.
Some reasons why few ‘inside of the ISE’ critique Bookchin? Here are a few that come to mind.
1. Few folks at the ISE publish anything directly about social ecology, period. This has been true before and after MB’s death. Writers associated with the ISE tend to write directly about their own areas of activism, expertise, and interest (i.e., climate change, GMOs, agariculture and the like).
2. There is little ‘internal’critical SE theory’ because few (any?) ISE former faculty and ISE associates, tend to write much critical theory in general. When was the last time ANYONE from the ISE wrote anything theoretically critical about anyone’s political theory? I took a stab a bit with my book as did Peter S. and Janet B. already ten years ago or more. For whatever reason, few folks at the ISE write and when they do, the writing tends to be topical (applying SE theory to understanding causes of climate change and agricultural problems etc). Dan has just published a wonderful fictional piece related to SE that I look forward to reading. I have a book coming out on French Farmers fighting industrial agriculture. People are free to write about what moves them.
3. The third reason is, I think, that for some of us ‘old timers’ (can’t believe I’m freaking in the ‘old’ category), debates about Eurocentrism and anarchism are simply not compelling anymore. I cannot speak for all of us, but I taught endless lectures, gave endless talks about the ‘Eurocentrism issue’ during the 90s and into the 2000s at the ISE and elsewhere. I got burned out. Yeah. I should have written down some of my lectures. Maybe some day I will. My head is just somewhere else now. For newcomers, GO FOR IT! No one is chastising anyone for going there. I responded to Karl on here because he asked me to. I didn’t mean to write in a mean or disrespectful way.
I hate email. A cold and too immediate medium. No or little proof-reading. Too much shooting from the hip.
Let’s all take this thing down a notch. Instead of meta-critiquing, how about a good old critique of Murray’s Eurocentrism for someone who actually wants to take the time to write a good nuanced one.
I’m all ears. Or eyes. Or whatever.
I think that concept ‘ecology’ should be rooted in science and if only for that reason social ecology must be secular. I think it was dialectical process of reason that helped to separate faith from knowledge, supernatural from natural. Attempts to remove those differences with “counter-dialectical” should be considered as reactionary. If we don’t want to return to the Pleistocene why should we try to return to time before The Apple was bitten?
If there is someone who seriously wants to throw religious or supernatural beliefs in social ecology, fine. Maybe it is indifferent if we try to build citizen assemblies or we just pray and seek for Nirvana. This might remove dichotomy between faith and reason and if we blur our mind we might see they are equally good praxis for building rational society. Or Godly society!
@Chuck Morse: Public support for populist right wing and racism and nationalism, capitalism’s growth to even more cancerous, ever-growing trend to retreat from public and political sphere to private realm, accelerating rate of destruction of biosphere, growing mistrust in science per se and so on. Those speak for reactionary. The light of hope that those things you mentioned provide are indeed positive but in general, the chasm between utopia and reality is growing wider and wider.
Polemics as a weapon for providing clarity is getting more and more important. Right wing populists and capitalism are (in my view) abusing concepts like direct democracy, local governing, organic farming, renewable energy etc. in their use. How to make it clear that those concepts are in dangerous soil if it is not libertarian, ecological and democratic? Polemics anyone? Or should we sit down and debate with, let’s say Muammar Gaddafi or Silvio Berlusconi? Are we so pacified nowadays that even raising one’s voice is considered as violence? Silent treatment poisons human relationship, silent politics is born dead. To bash, provocate, agitate, convince, coerce, verbally abuse, mock, ridicule, manifest etc. Have those terms lost their specific meaning? It seems that for example agitation is treated almost same as bashing or verbal abuse. I see it as evil simplification.
@Brian Tokar: Maybe this is not best place to express this but I wish it could be possible to participate virtually in some debate or lecture that you are having with in ISE. Is it possible or desirable in behalf of ISE to arrange that kind of option? Like Chuck said many of us are not capable of coming there physically.
@Arlen: If you haven’t seen it yet, you (and everyone else too) might be interested in to check Sveinung Legard’s article about participatory budgeting (in Brazil). You can read it here: http://socialecologylondon.wordpress.com/2007/06/25/democratizing-the-municipalitythe-promise-of-participatory-budgeting-by-sveinung-legard/
It’s problematic if you can’t introduce your views to the group you are working with. We should be open and transparent with our agenda and actions. However it is unnecessary set those kinds of conditions for any kind of co-operation.
@Chuck and @Matt
I have just tried to give a perspective from the global South. I am not upset because you are stuck in a few sentence and not seeing the whole work of Murray Bookchin. But, I am upset because I can’t help you. Let me try to explain the last time.
For us Eurocentrism is an ideological tool to legitimize colonialism. I wish I could quote Edward Said for that, but unfortunately I don’t have English version. You can check ‘Culture and Imperialism’. We don’t categorically consider all Marxist’s as Eurocentrist because Marx was Eurocentrist or all anarchists as Eurocentrist because early anarchists were Eurocentrist. We look at the alternative they offer for capitalism and make judgements based on that. What you are doing is trivializing an important concept in our discussions in the global South for the sake of your “intellectual” discussions. Your arguments are not relevant here. I guess our reality is very different than yours. As I suggested before, you can create a new concept, elaborate it and use it for your narrow understanding of “Eurocentrism”. I wouldn’t object it and I might be supporting your arguments. But, please respect the work of others who elaborated Eurocentrism as it is used in radical organizations today.
When I said “a revolutionary movement”, I meant a political organization capable to lead a third revolution with thousands of members agreed on a clear program. I know that it is a bottleneck for white young anarchists in the uS to talk about such an organization because you have never had one. I am afraid that the reactionary period in the US will be too long that you will have a gap and not able to carry the experiences of 1968 generation to new generations. I don’t know how you can overcome that bottleneck. But, I think the reason you are stuck with that sort of fruitless discussions is the lack of that kind of experience.
@Visitor, I didn’t realize that you are a spokesperson for the “Global South.” I am glad you informed me of this, but you should understand that even though you apparently represent billions of people across the planet that doesn’t necessarily mean that your arguments are correct or even coherent.
Indeed, I’m having a little trouble understanding what you’re saying. You seem to argue that we can determine whether or not a thinker is Eurocentric by looking at how people use that thinker. So, for example, it would be wrong to argue that Marx is Eurocentric because (for example) Chinese Communists drew on his work in their anti-colonial efforts. Is that your argument? If so, I understand your point, but I don’t think it makes sense. We need to distinguish between what a thinker said and what people do with his or her work. These are different things. So, Marx *was* a Eurocentric thinker and Chinese Communists *did* use his work. Those two things can be (and were) true at the same time (and, in fact, produced all sorts of fascinating historical reflections . . . Arif Dirlik wrote a great book on this specifically).
@Chaia and others, I think it would be great to organize some systematic discussion of Eurocentrism in Murray’s work. Of course, this could take place in a lot of ways, but I really hope that at least part of it would be online. Like Mikko, I am unable to travel to Vermont to participate in a colloquium (transportation expenses alone could easily cost $1000 for me).
I also think it would be good to link this discussion to the absence of any serious analysis of racism in Murray’s work. I do think these things are connected on some level and they are pretty important issues in my view. It’s hard to talk about the twentieth century in any serious way, much less come up with an alternative, without having a grasp of the role of racism.
For my sake, I want to say that politically and philosophically I am in favor of universals and do not in any way fault Murray for defending a universalist perspective or for making it the center of his work in so many respects. I’m also a strong supporter of the link that he forged between revolutions and universals. I firmly believe that it is through revolution that we will be able to access and enjoy things such as freedom, justice, and equality.
I disagree with his universalism insofar as I disagree with the terms with which he formulated it and his philosophy of history as articulated in “History, Civilization, and Progress.” I think the distinction that he made between history and events there was basically nonsensical. I also disagree with his analysis of revolutions outside of Europe and North America. I think his perspective on these revolutions was unduly cynical and basically shortsighted.
So, evidently there are a lot of different perspectives on Murray’s work. I hope that is something that we can celebrate and use as a foundation for productive discussions about building a revolutionary alternative for the twenty-first century.
I think that this long discussion could have new interesting input if we (or many of us) would read “Postmodernism and the Left”, a text written a long time ago by Barbara Epstein. Here is a link to it : http://ww3.wpunj.edu/newpol/issue22/epstei22.htm
I suggest that we also make a new topic on this blog about it and that we can then give our comments on the text of Epstein, and discuss about the things we like in it or don’t like in it.
Just an FYI–we are looking at re-designing the ISE website to allow for discussion forums which should hopefully allow for easier, more accessible navigation of the various threads of discussion. It seems as this may a good complement to the blog feature. Suggestions for how best to go about this are welcome–Thanks.
When people talk about MB’s Eurocentrism isn’t this just his acknowledgment that when looking at the history of human civilisation, modernity reached its most developed form in the West – science, medicine, communication, technological development, on the one hand, and notions of freedom, individuality, rationality, on the other? The other part of the story that I think MB and others made clear was to say this has been built on the back of exploitation, ecological destruction, denigration of other world views, value systems etc. Dialectical thinking clearly involves the capacity to hold both these ideas at the same time as the first step to redefining and reconfiguring these achievements.
This means that human achievements like those of the enlightenment (which Karl denigrates and trashes) are the products of overlapping and intertwined histories of all people on this planet, built on the back of those who have laboured and directly contributed to (like those in 18th century Haiti who rose up and struggled against Europe). You can criticise MB for not paying enough attention to those outside the West or for not paying enough attention to the issue of race or to women or to any number of issues, but there is a higher bar to be met if you are going to say his thought is sexist or racist or, as you do say, Eurocentric.
I appreciate your comment very much, Gary, but I would argue that your reading of Bookchin may be a little too generous.
First, while you’re right to say that a dialectical perspective should be able to entertain and relate opposites, and Bookchin did advance such a dialectical perspective in the Ecology of Freedom–he spoke about the interrelationship of the “tradition of freedom” and “legacy of domination”–that complexity disappeared from his later writings on history. In “History, Civilization, and Progress,” he essentially defined history as everything that is good and rational and everything else–domination, coercion, etc–as an inexplicable “event.” He abandoned the view that the experience of domination provides some part of the platform upon which we can build a free society. By radically splitting off freedom and domination from one another, he dissolved the dialectical tension that you describe. In the absence of a more nuanced perspective, particularly one that connects European achievements to the history of colonialism and racism, Bookchin’s valorization of Europe becomes totally one sided and somewhat chauvinistic.
Second, Bookchin’s Eurocentrism relates specifically to his appraisal of the fate and contributions of European revolutionary movements. He believed that revolutionaries would realize the Enlightenment project and, in his account of the revolutionary tradition, argued that Asian, Latin American, and African revolutionary movements had not contributed to our sense of human potentialities or universals. For him, Europe really was the center of the revolutionary tradition. I simply disagree with him here.
(This is kind of an aside, but it may be worth noting that Bookchin was not Eurocentric in the Ecology of Freedom (1st edition). That emerged later.)
I don’t know if the kind of technological development we had in the West always was that good for spreading modernity. What to think of nuclear weapons or the kind of technological development Nazi Germany had for example? Wasn’t all of that linked to some barbaric circumstances?
But I do know that MB spent much time in criticizing racist elements in (deep) ecology and emphasizing the fact that social hierarchies were a real problem, and not only were much responsible for the emergence of the ecological crisis but also for many problems in the Western society.
Rafa, I think you’re correct to emphasize Murray’s critique of domination generally and polemics against racism in the ecology movement. His polemics against racist deep ecologists were very powerful and really transformed the discussion in the environmental movement at the time.
And at the end of his life MB criticized much the role of the racist “philosopher” Martin Heidegger in making postmodernism more influential. He also warned us much for the reactionary influences in anarchoprimitivism and with this did everything in his power to make sure that the libertarian left would not become influenced by the parochial ideas that were much in vogue in circles of the New Right, the ecological Right, National anarchism, etcetera.
Chuck, I’ve just re-read ‘History, Civilisation and Progress’, so maybe I’ll push you on this a little on this before resuming my status as occasional and interested lurker. While it’s possible I’m being a little generous, maybe you’re taking the opposite tack and approaching the article with something like ideology critique rather than engaging it in terms of its motivations, context and structure of argument.
It is obviously a polemic written in a particular intellectual context, one strongly influenced by various anti-enlightenment positions, that denied even a semblance of continuity, progress and meaning in history. If I understand it, the article seeks to argue that what gives capital “H” History meaning and coherence are the potentialities for freedom, found, for example, in the struggle and experience of what he refers to as the “great emancipatory movements for popular freedom in all their many forms that occurred over the ages.” (my emphasis). It seems that the article’s focus is actually at a kind of supra-historical level in the movement from first to second nature, in the actualization of potentialities that MB grounds in nature’s diversity etc. It’s at this level that he extracts the basis of ethics, hope and struggle in the face of some pretty bleak historical evidence that might lead people to despair at mere contingency, chaos, “the human condition” etc.
I’ve never been quite sure of the argument about the movement from first to second nature, but I’m sympathetic with the impulse to seek some “principle of hope”. For what it’s worth, I don’t look to ground that impulse in something like the structure of nature (I just don’t have that kind of scientific and anthropological understanding) but prefer to stay within the realm of human history (I’m guessing this places me askew from a social ecological way of looking at these things). I agree with you – there is a tendency here to see negatives of history as mere contingency; he brackets them in the realm of small “h” history. However, because of the meta-historical level at which this argument operates — seeking the basis of universal impulses to freedom, ethics etc (ie the realm of the ‘good’) — i don’t think this is incompatible with a dialectical understanding of the current epoch say in all its positives and negatives. Indeed, MB obviously spent his whole life criticising capitalism, writing about exploitation and ecological destruction etc; criticism of the West — it’s social organisation, the structure of its cities etc, — at a certain level, is writ large across all his work.
Acting as devil’s advocate here 🙂 — mightn’t it follow that the geographical location of the impulse to freedom, rational thought etc is also contingent (part of small “h” history). It’s part of the potentiality of the whole of humanity, as MB makes clear, an articulation of the wider impulse. There is maybe a polemical excess in that sentence about Europe you quote and we might now look at Europe as part of a world system of struggle and response, but I don’t think he is saying that the European example is something which others should model themselves on, slavishly adopt somehow or is the measure of all that is good.
Thanks for your sensitive reading of “”History, Civilization, and Progress.” I appreciate that very much and hope you’ll stick around and continue to participate in the dialogue as much as possible.
I wanted to say a few things in reply.
First, for the sake of clarity, I want to say that I think that Murray’s Eurocentrism was purely retrospective: that is, he argued that European culture *had* been the primary vehicle and bearer of universal values but not that it would necessarily play that role in the future.
Second, I am a little confused about your argument. If i understand you correctly, you’re saying that Bookchin is making a meta-historical argument about history? Is that right? If so, I’m not sure that I understand what that means. It seems to me that if one is making an argument about history then you are . . . making an argument about history (not a meta or micro argument). Right? What am I missing here?
Third, I think the problems that led Bookchin to excessively identify history with progress and rationality is also evident in his discussion of humans. Consider this sentence from the essay in question: “human beings are too intelligent not to live in a rational society.” This means, given that we don’t live in a rational society, that we are not in fact human beings, but rather something less than that . . . .
While I appreciate his attempt to defend progress and rationality etc, his tactic led him not only to strip all the ugliness out of history, but also to redefine us as a species! I don’t think that is very tenable at all. I admire Bookchin for attempting to respond to the challenge raised by postmodernists and various critics of the Enlightenment, but I don’t think his strategy was very coherent.
To me, this isn’t just an issue of learning to have “diversity” in where we as social ecologists, radicals, etc. draw our historical inspiration from. I’m also concerned that this discussion has seen Enlightenment/”anti-enlightenment” dichotomies brought up that are at best unhelpful. To me, I don’t perceive the “real” central fight here to be simply about pluralism, or about learning from post-colonial theory to create some kind of “syncretic” form of social ecology. While I do think that there is a need to honor and include a larger swathe of histories within the human emancipatory project, there are some other fundamental issues that need to be addressed too. Any anti-authoritarian project worth its salt has to examine and grapple with the way race and racism are reproduced (unintentionally or otherwise) within “radical” discourses. As suggested by many on this thread, this may involve re-examining our “traditions” for the ways they contradict, reproduce, or otherwise interact with the history of race and racism.
Since the Enlightenment (and its primacy in the human emancipatory project) seems to be the topic through which we are drawing out our individually nuanced stances on racism, post-colonial theory, the Bookchinian legacy, etc., I would like to add something.
(Disclaimer: virtually all of the original thought that follows comes from a history of philosophy called “The Racial Contract,” written by Charles W. Mills. Citations can be found below. Unless in “quotes”, these are my words.)
The Enlightenment in Europe overlapped with the emergence of Capitalism and eventually industrial Capitalism in Europe (roughly 1650 to 1800). This European capitalism developed (“dialectically” oooh aaaah) with a colonial project, a competition between major European capitalist powers to dominate trade routes, ports, and exert political, ideological, physical, etc. control over dominated peoples and places. AT THIS TIME the “white race” and the entire racializing project developed as a philosophical corollary to the physical subordination of other humans by colonial powers.
Quick Recap: Enlightenment developed concurrently with birth of European capitalism and notions of individual liberties, etc. that themselves emerged from a context of relative surplus achieved through colonial exploitation that itself was sustained by an emergent racializing project.
Okay then. We’ve got this political tradition (the Enlightenment) and it’s developing within a historical context (wars of colonial expansion and the birth of modern racism). The Enlightenment tradition was certainly carried by millions of unnamed women and men who fought and died in the streets and the fields to break bonds of papal, ecclesiastic, monarchic hierarchies. But, for our purposes here, I want to focus on the work of some key Enlightenment figures. How did they feel about the colonial/racial project that facilitated the capital accumulation on which their (the writers’) societies flourished? By “they,” I mean Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant.
So let’s start off with Hobbes, the grumple-puss himself. Who in his own writing yields that the only existing “state of nature/war” he can refer to is among “the savage people in many places in America” . He, btw, is not referring to the Pilgrims. However, Hobbes contends that even Europeans would descend into such a state without a Sovereign.
In Locke we also see the indigenous peoples of America used as a counterpoint to the “Industrious and Rational”. In America, one finds only “wild woods and uncultivated waste…left to Nature” . This is the philosophical foundation for the “expropriation contract”: the notion that aboriginal economies did not improve the land and could be regarded as non-existent.
At the same time that Locke wrote in opposition to hereditary slavery and the enslavement of women and children (this is often interpreted as his opposition to Chattel Slavery), he physically supported Chattel Slavery by 1)helping to draft the Slave Constitution of Carolina and 2)investing in the slave-trading Royal Africa Company 
Rousseau, possibly credited with coining the term the “noble savage” himself uses the distinction of “non-white” savages on page 145 of his Discourse on Equality. And so that there’s no confusion about his aim to discredit the “savagery” of nonwhite colonized peoples; he writes, 200 years after the first European contact with the Aztec and the Inca, that “one of the best reasons why Europe, if not the earliest to be civilized, has been at least more continuously and better civilized than other parts of the world, is perhaps that it is at once the richest in iron and the most fertile in wheat”.  Meanwhile “Both metallurgy and agriculture where unknown to the savages of America, who have therefore remained savages.”  This gets extra sad when you reflect that according to Rousseau: for us to become fully human, we must leave the state of nature. By this logic, the technic-less peoples of the Americas were not fully human when the Europeans made contact with them. 🙁
And finally, “Immanuel Kant (author of the 1775 essay, “the Different Races of Mankind”) produced the most profound raciological though of the eighteenth century” . Kant’s essay discusses “the immutability and permanence of race.”
Kant taught Anthropology and Physical Geography for decades while he wrote and theorized on the nature of personhood. One essay composed during this time is “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime.” He writes “So fundamental is the difference between (the black and white) races of man…it appears as great in regard to mental capacities as in color.” 
German anthropologist Wilhelm Mülhmann claimed in 1967 that Kant is “the founder of the modern concept of race.” 
The Enlightenment project was not conceived of as a “universalist” project that somehow fell short of its aims under the pressures of class-based and race-based domination; nor is it just the State’s fault (that jerk). The philosophical architects we reference within the Enlightenment tradition were themselves complicit (if not active) and aware of the systems of domination they were participating in. One of the most common critiques put forth by post-colonial and anti-racist thinkers is the fact that the notion of a “universal” and a “body public”–the “we” that sets the stage for the emancipatory project later developed–emerged at the SAME TIME as our current structure, which codes people as unpersons and aliens, was being laid down. These two seemingly contradictory tendencies were embodied by Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. It is “us” that seems to have a hard time coping with the strange bedfellows political freedom and racial hierarchy have traditionally made.
Note, the “we” here means “white people,” the only category of human historically capable of making universal statements–if only because of their historic power to dictate personhood and non-personhood. I am not saying everyone on this forum is a white guy, I’m simply being rhetorical.
If Social Ecology is to survive the 21st century, it must pass through this reality and transcend these traditions. Holding fast to heroic “universalisms” and sticking our noses up at “post-modernists,” “post-colonialists”, “relativists” and any other “undesireable” may help us keep the Trotskyists and Lifestyle Anarchists at bay for the time being. But this behavior may also look–to some–like a bunch of stubborn white refusing to look at some uncomfortable truths.
I think it is our duty as Social Ecologist, or radicals, or just plain fans of Bookchin to face these uncomfortable truths and include them into a coherent worldview. I can think of no greater “relativism” than to attack the brutal history of authoritarian Marxism despite its emancipatory promises only to then uncritically exalt traditions rooted in or benefiting from racial privilege and domination on the basis that they provide an emancipatory framework.
We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don’t think we should. But, come on people! Can we all agree there’s a BABY SUBMERGED IN WATER!>!>!? This requires our attention.
Thanks for reading.
Hobbes, Leviathan, p.89
Locke, Second Treatise, Ch.5 “On Property”
Locke, Second Treatise, Ch.16 “On Conquest”
Welchman, Jennifer. “Locke on Slavery and Inalienable Rights.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25 (1995): 67-81.
Mills, Charles. The Racial Contract. Ch. 2 “Details”
Rousseau, Discourse on Equality. p 116
Rousseau, Discourse on Equality. p 116
Count, Earl W. This is Race: An Anthology Selected from the International Literature on the Races of Mankind. (1950). page 704
Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime. trans. John T. Goldthwait. (1950) p.111-113.
Poliakov, Leon. “Racism from the Enlightenment to the Age of Imperialism”. Racism and Colonialism. ed. Robert Ross. (1982). p 59.
Thanks Arlen, I look forward to reading ‘The Racial Contract’ soon. Another book that folks may be interested in is ‘The Origins of Racism in the West’. This collection of essays investigates the development of racism from antiquity up through the middle ages.
I apologize for not replying more comprehensively to the various points/threads of discussion that have been and are now being discussed…
I want to say that I very much appreciate both the quality and quantity of discussion. It surely demonstrates significant interest in discussing these topics as well as the ongoing relevance of the ISE and Bookchin’s work.
With very few exceptions, the comments have been respectful and, in my opinion, constructive even when disagreements have been broached. As I stated in a previous comment, we are looking into creating a discussion board and/or some other platform more conducive that a string of comments (95+ as of this writing). Suggestions for this are very welcome. Thank you to those who have already offered ideas and leads for technical solutions.
**Also, as always, submissions to the Social Ecology Blog are welcomed and encouraged** admin @ social-ecology.org
Many of the comments on this thread could easily be re-framed as blog posts in and of themselves–please consider this option!
I only have a moment right now, but I wanted to thank you for your super thoughtful post. I really appreciate it and I strongly agree with you when you write: “I think it is our duty as Social Ecologist, or radicals, or just plain fans of Bookchin to face these uncomfortable truths and include them into a coherent worldview.” Absolutely!
I don’t know what the right forum is (or could be), but I hope we can continue to discuss these issues in a sustained, serious way.
Thanks for the book recommendation, Marcus.
Well, MB liked reason much and just wanted a New Enlightenment. He defended much of science against metaphysics and mysticism, and certainly wasn’t idealizing the old Enlightenment. In ‘The Ecology of Freedom. The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy’ Bookchin wrote :
In our reaction to the Enlightenment thought we must rescue reason without becoming “rationalistic,” without reducing reason to mere technique. (page 160, edition of 2005)
Advancing some reason against myth was important for the Enlightenment thinkers, no? I may not like all of the things the Enlightenment thinkers did but at least they liberated us long ago a bit from the dark ages of patriarchal and racist religion being so much influential.
I think one of the problem many thinkers experience is lack of understanding of dialectical reasoning. If a thinker doesn’t have a comprehension of dialectical thinking, s/he might easily misunderstand what a dialectical thinker express.
A simple example for that is the relation between an acorn and an oak tree. A dialectical thinker sees an oak tree in an acorn as a potentiality and s/he doesn’t separate them, but another thinker might be separating them maybe considering only acorn as it is or a rotten one that hasn’t realized its potentialities.
For Bookchin early Enlightenment thinkers were vanguards of rational thinkers started a tradition against metaphysics, mysticism and religious dogma. They need to be understood with those conditions humanity desperately needed to overcome such an oppression and darkness –like an acorn need to grow in soil without sunshine. Their success opened a path to develop later universalism of revolutionary thinkers. But of course even universal ideas of those revolutionaries, Marx, Kropotkin or others were limited as it will always be limited until those religious or secular dogmas totally disappear and the whole humanity finds a way to overcome that duality (maybe in next century).
Therefore it is recognition of where the ideas of freedom, equality and justice come from. A dialectical thinker doesn’t analyse a phenomenon as a static entity and her/his analysis should be understood with a perspective of the dynamic of potentialities.
I think the article about postmodernism, you have sent the link for, is really important even though it is an old one. It should be discussed to see whether there is an agreement on that. Then maybe you can find a good article about postmodernism and identity politics. As much as I see it is a popular subject in the US and postmodernism is injected into identity politics in many different forms.
Chuck, I might be coming up against the limits of my own understanding and power to explain, but anyway … Bookchin’s argument obviously pivots around a defence of capital H History, capital P Progress and capital C Civilization in a provocation to the strains of postmodernism that were prominent at the time (the intellectual terrain is different now so can see how the emphasis feels wrong in retrospect). He argues what gives these categories coherence as categories are universals such as the rational, the good, the ethical etc.
He is careful to say “History in the sense that I am describing it”. I read History as it is used in the article not as referring to, or not only as referring to, history in the sense of the history of Europe or the history of capitalism or the history of the Enlightenment etc. I read it as History as the emergence of our very species from the natural world. It takes place at an entirely larger frame where it may make sense to look for universals like the good or the rational or however else you want to invest meaning into our species being.
You said he defined history as everything as good and rational and everything else as “event”. This seems to me like a gross simplification. The essential point is that he looks to the good and the rational as giving coherence to our species being and History (in the sense of the History of our species being) as reflecting this. Whatever evils occur along the way he regards as contingent (belonging to small “h” history) and not of consequence to who we essentially are, which is a different to saying they don’t matter to our understanding of particular historical periods involving imperialism and the like.
There is one sentence of consequence that contains the word “Europe” that you pick out from this 13 page article. I think the main importance of this reference to the argument as being rhetorical effect and provocation (given that everyone then and since was busy deconstructing Europe and all it represents). I’m saying that within this article the European location also belongs to small h history and question its importance to an argument that takes place at an entirely larger frame.
As I’ve said, I’m not sure what I think of Bookchin’s more general approach — focusing on the movement from first to second nature — but the main issue here is Bookchin’s apparent Eurocentrism. Here’s my concession to you: If he is in fact collapsing these two levels of historical argument as you seem to think then I agree that would be a problem. But let’s at least start from an fair and accurate understanding of what is being argued.
Not sure if this discussion has any puff left but would be interested in hearing (perhaps in a separate post) from those who identify as social ecologists and would want defend the broader argument about the move from first to second nature from which you ground a set of universals. I might find myself on the side of the critics in that discussion as long as it didn’t mean the abandonment of the unfinished enlightenment project, humanism, historical process, rationality etc.
I think your comments on this essay are very sensitive and insightful, although I’m not sure if I’m persuaded by your defense of Bookchin’s argument here.
I don’t think that Bookchin distinguished between history on a meta level and, for example, history as it is taught in history classes. As a dialectical thinker, I believe that Bookchin believed that *everything* was historical and historical in exactly the same way (subject to the same laws of development, identity, change, etc).
I think you’re right to say that Bookchin’s comments about Eurocentrism were polemical. Definitely, but I’m not sure if that’s a good defense. I mean, if he wasn’t Eurocentric, then why make these claims about Europe? Just to infuriate his supposed critics? Well, OK, but using historical discourse for such purposes seems just as cynical as attempts to divest history of meaning altogether.
You write: “The essential point is that he looks to the good and the rational as giving coherence to our species being and . . . . [w]hatever evils occur along the way he regards as contingent (belonging to small “h” history) and not of consequence to who we essentially are.”
I think that’s a very fair reading of his argument, but I disagree with this view and think it reflects his excessive identification of humanity with the good and rational. This causes numerous problems: for instance, if we (like Bookchin) regard patriarchy as irrational, then we would also have to regard the millennia-long history of patriarchy as “not of consequence to who we essentially are.” Do you see the problem there? This defense of history requires a disavowal of so much of our human experience.
In any case, I really appreciate your commentary.
Another historical perspective on Europe.
I am not sure that it is appropriate to describe Bookchin as ‘Eurocentric’. He may have been born in the USA, but as Jews, his family had escaped from a Europe that was rampant with anti-Semitism in Russia, Prussia, Poland, Germany. From 1921 onwards the rise of National Socialism in opposition to Soviet Socialism led to the mass extermination of peoples that were considered as inferior aliens by the Nazis.
The so called ‘enlightenment’ concerned the academic elite of France, Britain, and the Holy Roman Empire, including Newton, Descartes, Voltaire, Kant, who were busy releasing themselves from the constraints of the Catholic, or Anglican, or Puritan or Islamic churches, and outlining a universe that was physical, not metaphysical; where the sun was the centre, not the earth; and could be explained by mathematics.
But the ‘enlightenment’ had little effect on the politicians. Europe was the site of continuous wars up to the present time. In 1800, there was no Europe as we know it now. There were the Empires of Great Britain; Napoleonic France; the Holy Roman Empire, including the Hapsburg Empire, and the German empire of Prussia and Poland; the Russian Empire; the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, and across North Africa. These empires were ruled by political and religious elites, who lived in luxury and regarded their citizens as subject to their whims. Absolute poverty was the norm. At the same time there were many city-states, such as Milan, Venice, Rome, the cantons of Switzerland, and the kingdoms of Saxony, Bavaria, Bohemia, Silesia, Hesse, Lichtenstein, among many others in Germany, all of whom were busy fighting each other. The notion that smaller is better, more peaceful, and friendly has been totally disproved in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire across a thousand years.
It is well to remember that matters were not much better in the land of the free! I have been watching the History Channel programmes about the American War of Independence from Britain. It is made clear that the leaders of the War were Euro-American elites, farmers and entrepreneurs who were the largest slave holders in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and active in the transport of slaves by the East India Companies, and Royal African Company [all supported by the Royals of Great Britain]. When they talked about the rights of man, and independence, and freedom of citizens, they were not talking about their slaves nor the Indian tribes in the surrounding territories. The United States of America was founded by white elitists on a base of slavery and racism. One has to consider the white elitists as the scourge of human societies across the world.
In Europe, by 1900, there were still the Empires of Britain; the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Russian Empire; the Ottoman Empire. There was little unity. The empires, and their estates, were disrupted by language, religion, historic loyalties.
In 1914, the First World War started, following an assassination in Serbia by the Black Hand gang. The assassination contravened treaty obligations between Serbia, Austria, Hungary, and sparked the war. It marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and the Ottoman Empire, which was relegated to Turkey; and the Russian Empire.
1920 saw the emergence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1930 saw the rise of the National Socialists in Germany,[Hitler] and Fascists in Italy,[Mussolini] and Spain [Franco]. It is worth noting that they gained power by democratic vote.
1919 onwards there was rampant anti-semitism in Russia and Germany leading to the mass migration of Jews, and their mass extermination in the Holocaust by the Nazi government, 1939 to 1945.
1939 the start of the 2nd World War: whereby Nazi Germany and Austria, with Fascist Italy, attack Poland, France, the USSR, GB.
It is not surprising that the formation of the EU was a conscious effort to bring historical enemies to the negotiation table and to break the cycle of conflict.
1770 to 2000 was a period of constant wars between the city states, countries and kingdoms of Europe. It should not be seen as a model for international relations.
It may have started with the Enlightenment, and the liberation of science and mathematics, but it led to the discovery of the atomic structure of matter and the creation of atomic bombs, and the destruction of millions of people by mechanical means.
This period of history is marked by the mass destruction of people: at first, hand to hand, and then by machine. It is characterized by great differences between the rich and the poor, and the extermination of people who are considered undesirable by the elites.
The establishment of democracies, along with the freedom and independence of peoples, are all fantasies being worked out through the games the elites play! These elites may not be as obvious as they once were. They use their wealth in investment funds to finance modern day capitalism. They all come out of the woodwork to attend Royal events like the wedding of Prince William and Kate on April 29.
I want to pick up a theme that was introduced by Simon concerning the situations in many poor countries in Africa and South America.
From the earliest times, the recognition that human safety depends on collaboration has been a motivating factor for the formation of village communities, cities, and nation-states. At present, the social ecology movement, in the USA and in Norway, and Finland demand that direct, participatory democracy, with the citizens working together for the benefits of the municipality and the local environment, is the sole hallmark of a social ecological approach.
I wish to propose that the current World Development Report, published by the World Bank group in April 2011, has offered evidence that indicates that this direct democracy model is not relevant for many communities and countries in other parts of the world. Whereas the direct democracy model assumes that the communities are at peace, are secure and law abiding, willing to debate and negotiate, are not in conflict, nor fragile, and not violent nor criminal, the World Development teams observed that in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence, insecurity has become the primary development challenge of our time.
They reported that at least one-and-a-half billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict, or large-scale, organized criminal violence. The World Development teams visited twenty low- and middle income countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. They concluded that :
No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet to achieve a single United Nations Millennium Development Goal (UN MDG);
New threats—organized crime and trafficking, civil unrest due to global economic shocks, terrorism—have supplemented continued preoccupations with conventional war between and within countries;
Violence and conflict have not been banished: one in four people on the planet, more than
1.5 billion, live in fragile and conflict-affected states or in countries with very high levels of criminal violence.
Many countries and sub-national areas now face cycles of repeated violence, weak governance, and instability. These conflicts often are not one-off events, but are ongoing and repeated: 90 percent of the last decade’s civil wars occurred in countries that had already had a civil war in the last 30 years. New forms of conflict and violence threaten development: many countries that have successfully negotiated political and peace agreements after violent political conflicts, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and South Africa, now face high levels of violent crime, constraining their development. People in fragile and conflict-affected states are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as those in other developing countries, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school, twice as likely to see their children die before age five, and more than twice as likely to lack clean water.
In highly violent societies, many people experience the death of a son or daughter before their time: when children are late coming home, a parent has good reason to fear for their lives and physical safety. Everyday experiences, such as going to school, to work, or to market, become occasions for fear. People hesitate to build houses or invest in small businesses because these can be destroyed in a moment.
The direct impact of violence falls primarily on young males—the majority of fighting forces and gang members— but women and children often suffer disproportionately from the indirect effects. Men make up 96 percent of detainees and 90 percent of the missing; women and children are close to 80 percent of refugees and those internally displaced.
And violence begets violence: male children who witness abuses have a higher tendency to perpetrate violence later in life.
Drug and human trafficking, money laundering, illegal exploitation of natural resources and wildlife, counterfeiting, and violations of intellectual property rights are lucrative criminal activities, which facilitate the penetration by organized crime of the already vulnerable sociopolitical, judicial, and security structures in developing countries.
In Central America, for example, several countries that regained political stability two decades ago are now facing the decay of the state, whose institutions lack the strength to face this onslaught. Transnational organized crime has converted some Caribbean countries into corridors for the movement of illegal drugs and persons toward Europe and North America. Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, continue to be the main global cocaine producers, while Mexico is facing an unprecedented wave of violence given its border with the largest immigrant, drug consumption, and arms producing market of the USA. West Africa has become the newest passage of drugs coming from South America and destined for Europe. Several African countries suffer the illegal exploitation of their natural resources, while Asia is a hub for tons of opiates originating from Afghanistan. The unprecedented progression of organized crime could spell the collapse of many weak states as their institutions fall prey to the associated violence. The precarious economic development observed in many regions of the world provides a stimulus for consolidating these illegal activities, which will continue to thrive as a consequence of the impunity they encounter in developing countries.
Drugs provide the money that enables organized criminals to corrupt and manipulate even the most powerful societies—to the ultimate detriment of the urban poor, who provide most of the criminals’ foot-soldiers and who find themselves trapped in environments traumatized by criminal violence. The most vulnerable groups in society are frequently most affected by violence. Tied to their homes or places of work, the vulnerable have little of the protection that money or well-placed contacts afford. Poor child nutrition for those displaced or unable to earn incomes due to violence has lasting effects, impairing physical and cognitive functioning. Violence destroys school infrastructure, displaces teachers, and interrupts schooling, often for an entire generation of poor children.
War, looting, and crime destroy the household assets of the poor, and fear of violent
attacks prevents them from tilling their fields or traveling to schools, clinics, workplaces,
People in fragile and conflict-affected states are more likely to be impoverished, to miss out on schooling, and to lack access to basic health services. Children born in a fragile or conflict-affected state are twice as likely to be undernourished and nearly twice as likely to lack access to improved water; those of primary-school age are three times as likely not to be enrolled in school; and they are nearly twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday. Over the last two decades, infant mortality has been falling in nearly all countries, but the reduction in infant mortality in fragile and conflict-affected countries has lagged behind .
As the world takes stock of progress on the MDGs, it is apparent that the gap between violence-prone countries and other developing countries is widening. Organized crime networks engage in a wide variety of illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, people, and small arms and light weapons; financial crimes; and money laundering. These illicit activities require the absence of the rule of law and, therefore, often thrive in countries affected by other forms of violence. According to various studies, organized crime generates annual revenues ranging from US$120 billion to as high as US$330 billion, with drug trafficking the most profitable. Other estimates suggest that the world’s shadow economy, including organized crime, could be as high as 10 percent of GDP globally: that is, up to $6 trillion.
The World Development Report proposes that: we need to adopt a layered approach. Some problems can be addressed at the country level, but others need to be addressed at a regional level, such as developing markets that integrate insecure areas and pooling resources for building capacity. Some actions are needed at a global level, such as building new capacities to support justice reform and the creation of jobs; forging partnerships between producer and consumer countries to stem illegal trafficking;
and acting to reduce the stresses caused by food price volatility. It may seem incomprehensible how prosperity in high-income countries and a sophisticated global economy can coexist with extreme violence and misery in other parts of the globe. The pirates operating off the coast of Somalia who prey on the shipping through the Gulf of Aden illustrate the paradox of the existing global system. How is it that the combined prosperity and capability of the world’s modern nation-states cannot prevent a problem from antiquity? How is it that almost a decade after renewed international engagement with Afghanistan, the prospects of peace seem distant? How is it that entire urban communities can be terrorized by drug traffickers? How is it that countries in the Middle East and North Africa could face explosions of popular grievances despite, in some cases, sustained high growth and improvement in social indicators?
The central message of the Report is that strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide citizen security, justice, and jobs is crucial to break cycles of violence. Institutional legitimacy is the key to stability. When state institutions do not adequately protect citizens, guard against corruption, or provide access to justice; when markets do not provide job opportunities; or when communities have lost social cohesion—the likelihood of violent conflict increases. The role of the State is to protect citizens, combat corruption, establish the rule of law, and prevent violent conflicts.
[Go to http://www.worldbank.org]
Do you expect World Bank supporting direct democracy? Of course they are looking for “layered approach” of “governance”, which means an authoritarian government controlled by international institutions.
I understand that some other people disappointed by Bookchin’s revolutionary approach because it doesn’t fit into current capitalist market system and “decentralization” under the control of centralized states. If you think that criminal problems can only be solved by targeting the root causes, I don’t think that you can see direct democracy irrelevant. Direct democracy is the way to build alternative communities to tackle all sorts of problems in “low- and middle income countries”. There are already examples and I think there will be more examples in near future.
The significance of the World Development Report is that it reminds us graphically that many communities are not living in peace and happiness,carrying out negotiations with each other about the best ways to organise their neighbourhood, but are living in poverty, fear, violence committed by their government, or by the army,by drug dealers, criminal gangs, or by the military gangs who come to steal, kill, rape. They are not talking about a handful of people. They are identifying 1.5 billion people across the world.
The process of direct democracy may be regarded as an ideal, towards which we should be working. We should not assume that it is a reality for the rest of the world, just because I/we/you/others live in a village or a neighbourhood cooperating, collaborating, negotiating, making decisions about our lifes in peace and love.
As social ecologists we should be more concerned about how to remove threats so that communities can live in peace. What do you do about the drug dealers, the paramilitaries, the tribal militia? For example, most of the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland have agreed to live together at peace. But the paramilitaries and terrorists continue to shoot, bomb, burn! What is to be done? In the Democratic Republic of Congo the tribal military gangs come into villages, gang rape all citizens,shoot, bomb and burn, steal valuable minerals like diamonds, silver. What is to be done?
The ecological and humanitarian investment in the developing world, and with the future efforts of the developed world itself, rather than the former economic and political incentives, will enable sustainable development options to promote global stability and to prevent and correct for the proportionate environmental degradation which had and could otherwise have occurred under the constraints of impoverishment and world market competition.
Obtaining an equitable perspective over international rights and responsibilities derives naturally from the concern for the expression of equality among one’s nation and community, enabling each group the opportunity and capacity for informed decisions and fair relations in and of the mechanisms of trade, economic stabilization, and political activity.
Realizing a standard for the quality of life inclusive of egalitarian, health, and sustainability objectives and criteria of a corresponding economic system capable of rationalizing and attaining equilibrium in terms of the aggregate value of the products and services introduced will require the education and orientation of all cultures towards the values and priorities of the highest of humanity’s understanding and concern for the survivability of each people and the foundations for the perseverance of reality itself.
I don’t think that direct democracy is not achievable during period of violance or under government threat. Athenians didn’t give up from democracy during war years (either against Spartanians or Persians). As much as I know the most active period of New England town meetings were the years of independence war.
More recent example is Zapatistas. They have built autonomous municipalities based on direct democracy while they were heavily threatened by the government and the military. The same process is happening in Northern Kurdistan to achieve democratic confederalism based on direct democracy.
As social problems become more urgent, people tend to organize more and demand more participation and democracy.
I agree. It is often the case that communities under threat come together and organise: be they Kurds in Turkey, or Kurds in Bradford or London. But their direct democracy operates under threat, and on the assumption that they will be left alone. To my mind the WDR reminded us that there are many communities that are so vulnerable and abused and assaulted that they have become unable to plan their community lifes. They are not ‘left alone’ long enough to organise. Such communities are also subject to invasion by land-grabbers from Syria,Saudi Arabia, Korea, or miners from China, Australia, or loggers from Sweden or Russia. The weaker the social structures, the more vulnerable the communities.The more important it is for them to ‘organise’. But sometimes they need help from others.
I agree that we have to think about the ‘quality of life’ of different communities across the world, and not assume that they live as we do in the US or UK or EU.
If we are to create and foster a world free of all international and regional injustice and hostility, with the resulting and contingent environmental cost and degradation, then each group will need to realize and trust that adequate ethical, equitable, and sustainable economic development strategies – and corresponding and conducive political frameworks and methodologies – are both possible and desirable, and that, with the gathering support and solidarity of each area and population demographic unto and of itself, the new spirit and consensus of the international community are actively and collectively mobilizing towards the accomplishment and protection of the reality of this potential for all peoples of the Earth, across and among all formerly separative and insular nationalities and cultures.