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Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology by David Watson

Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology by David Watson

BEYOND BOOKCHIN is the most comprehensive discussion to date of Murray Bookchin's social ecology. 

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BEYOND BOOKCHIN is the most comprehensive discussion to date of Murray Bookchin's social ecology. But David Watson goes far beyond social ecology to explore new paths of thinking about radical politics. His visionary ecology challenges the mystique of progress and proposes a more holistic notion of reason both primal and modern, skeptical and mythopoetic.

An online review;

"David Watson (a.k.a. George Bradford) is a regular contributor to the journal Fifth Estate, variously described as anarchist, anti-authoritarian or primitivist. The journal supports the radical wing of the Green movement, but believes that Murray Bookchin (the founder of social ecology and libertarian municipalism) isn't radical enough. Bookchin apparently had a long-running feud with the magazine, considering it to be "deep ecologist" and too new agey.

"Beyond Bookchin" is Watson's final criticism of Bookchin and his social ecology. However, the author doesn't consider himself a deep ecologist, and have criticized that part of the Green movement as well. In fact, it's not entirely clear what Watson is, although "moderate anarcho-primitivist" might perhaps do the trick (yes, I love to categorize people).

"Beyond Bookchin" argues that Bookchin's ideas are highly contradictory, and that they often veer towards a naïve and uncritical acceptance of technology, modernity and "progress". Watson believes that Bookchin never sufficiently broke with the Marxism of his youth, and that Bookchin's new philosophy was Hegelian and somehow quasi-Marxist. According to the author, Bookchin regarded Stone Age cultures as hopelessly primitive, brutal and authoritarian. Capitalism, while bad in and of itself, nevertheless created the material preconditions to abolish scarcity and usher in a new, libertarian society based on economic abundance. This society would be based on high technology that would run almost by itself thanks to robots and computers. Humans are the highest creatures evolved, and somehow represent the pinnacle of a teleological process towards "subjectivity" encompassing the whole universe. (Bookchin explicitly attacked Stephen Jay Gould's view of randomness in evolution.)

Watson then proceeds to critique Bookchin's opinions. Thus, Watson points out that technology cannot necessarily be taken over by a libertarian society, since technology isn't neutral. Capitalist technology might be of use only to capitalism, and technology may even be an independent force, moulding society in its own image. Bookchin, the author believes, denied this and instead held that technology could be captured and put to better uses by a non-hierarchical society. Yet, Bookchin *did* oppose nuclear power. Why is that technology different from the rest, Watson wonders? Watson's alternative isn't entirely clear, but he certainly comes much closer to the primitivist or "Neo-Luddite" position, which is anti-technological, not simply anti-capitalist. Watson also criticizes Bookchin for his naïve opinion that a complex modern society could be somehow self-managed by libertarian municipal councils (Bookchin's version of workers' councils). Modern society requires a vast and specialized administrative and technical apparatus, which will inevitably act independently of any democratically elected organs, and hence cannot be readily "self-managed" by anyone. Here, the author obviously has a point.

"Beyond Bookchin" defends hunters and gatherers from the charges of Hobbesian brutality and authoritarianism. On this point, it would seem that Bookchin veers to much towards demonization of "primitive" peoples, while Watson instead idealizes them, oblivious to the fact that "primitive" peoples can destroy their environment. Watson even believes that myths and shamanic rituals of "primitive" peoples have something to teach us. Naturally, the author doesn't feel very positive about History, Progress and Civilization.

There is also a chapter mentioning Bookchin's concrete political activities in the US state of Vermont. Unfortunately, this section is rather short. It could have been expanded upon. Apparently, Bookchin believed that left-wing libertarians should attempt to influence traditional New England town meetings. Watson, by contrast, finds these to be too conservative and lily White. He criticizes Bookchin for adapting to Middle American populism (which is often right-wing) and also attacks Bookchin's strange notion that the Athenian polis is some kind of ideal libertarians should strive to emulate.

Finally, the booklet contains a few sections of interest only to other anarchists, including a tiresome polemic concerning an old Fifth Estate cover lampooning Goya.

"Beyond Bookchin" might not be the most graceful read around (Watson admits himself that the booklet is meandering), but it could be of some interest to both admirers and detractors of Murray Bookchin, since it exemplifies a much more radical perspective on Green politics."

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