Social Ecology After Bookchin

A collection of essays critical of Bookchin.

Submitted by kasama_libsoc on February 19, 2020

For close to four decades, Murray Bookchin's eco-anarchist theory of social ecology has inspired philosophers and activists working to link environmental concerns with the desire for a free and egalitarian society. New veins of social ecology are now emerging, both extending and challenging Bookchin's ideas. For this instructive book, Andrew Light has assembled leading theorists to contemplate the next steps in the development of social ecology. Topics covered include reassessing ecological ethics, combining social ecology and feminism, building decentralized communities, evaluating new technology, relating theory to activism, and improving social ecology through interaction with other left traditions.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION: Bookchin as/and Social Ecology, Andrew Light

CHAPTER 1: Negating Bookchin, Joel Kovel
CHAPTER 2: Divining Evolution and Respecting Evolution, Robyn Eckersley
CHAPTER 3: Ethics and Directionality in Nature, Glenn A. Albrecht
CHAPTER 4: Social Ecology and Reproductive Freedom: A Feminist Perspective, Regina Cochrane

CHAPTER 5: Municipal Dreams: A Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin’s Politics, John Clark
CHAPTER 6: Bookchin’s Ecocommunity as Ecotopia: A Constructive Critique, Adolf G. Gundersen
CHAPTER 7: Social Ecology and the Problem of Technology, David Watson
CHAPTER 8: “‘Small’ Is Neither Beautiful nor Ugly; It Is Merely Small”: Technology and the Future of Social Ecology, Eric Stowe Higgs

CHAPTER 9: Ecology and Anthropology in the Work of Murray Bookchin: Problems of Theory and Evidence, Alan P. Rudy
CHAPTER 10: Evolution and Revolution: The Ecological Anarchism of Kropotkin and Bookchin, David Macauley
CHAPTER 11: Reconsidering Bookchin and Marcuse as Environmental Materialists: Toward an Evolving Social Ecology, Andrew Light


Janet Biehl

The title "Social Ecology After Bookchin" suggests that the essays in this book build on the left-libertarian political philosophy that Bookchin formulated under the name social ecology starting in the 1960s, and which has since gained an international reputation. But these essays do no such thing. Most of them are written by critics of social ecology and by those who wish to remake social ecology according to their own political beliefs. Not surprisingly, in this era when the entire political spectrum has shifted to the right, those beliefs are generally more conservative than Bookchin's. For example, where Bookchin's social ecology is explicitly libertarian-communist, antistatist, secular, and social-revolutionary, some of these authors look with favor on economic enterprise, the state, mysticism/spirituality, and reformism. The creation of the book appears to have been motivated by hostility to Bookchin, yet ironically a great part of its sales will probably result from the fact that the title contains the name "Murray Bookchin."

The anthology is part of a Guilford series whose overall editor, James O'Connor, is a Marxist and hence politically antipathetic to Bookchin's left-libertarian ideas. Nor are many of the others invovled in the book social ecologists at all. To be sure, John Clark and David Watson call themselves social ecologists at present, but they are determined to "reformulate" social ecology in the mystical terms they prefer. But others do not even claim to be social ecologists. The editor, Andrew Light, is an avowed democratic socialist, while among the contributors, the "ecocentric" Robyn Eckersley is far closer to deep ecology, and Joel Kovel and (to all appearances) Alan Rudy are Marxists. Tellingly, no one who teaches, alongside Bookchin, at the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont contributed an essay to this book.

Nor do the essays, taken together, constitute a coherent critique of Bookchin's social ecology. Some, for example, criticize him for being a Marxist, while others criticism for his libertarianism. Many of the essays are greatly ad hominem, concerned at least as much with Bookchin's personal manners and habits, and with his supposed (but nonexistent) claim to "possess" social ecology, as they are with the content of his ideas. One essay, by a psychiatrist, even psychoanalyzes Bookchin, concluding that he has a "Messiah complex." This level of discussion could not be much lower.

I live with Bookchin, so I know the following story is true. In 1995-96 when Bookchin learned that this project was under way, he contacted Guilford, asking to be given the opportunity to write an essay in response to the criticisms, for inclusion at the end of the book. (This is a courtesy commonly extended to individuals who are subjects of critical anthologies while they are still alive.) Editor Andrew Light held a referendum among the contributors: Should Bookchin be permitted to respond to them? Their majority reply was no, he should not. What were they afraid of?