Murray Bookchin would have been a gadfly had he not trilled the notes of beauty and imagination.
The philosopher was raised in a different society. Political discussion was public discussion, frequently done at the feet of the local candy store. If the weather was nice, one could go hear the daily preachings of radicals at street corners. There was hope for revolution in this 1930s New York City village.
These conditions inspired a philosophy that places a great value on the experience of freedom and equality. Bookchin’s own writings followed a trajectory that led him through various marxist and anarchist traditions before his turn to municipalism and, what he called, social ecology.
In these writings one finds a suitable starting point in his opposition to the notion that progress had been made in the contemporary era. Bookchin had witnessed capitalism penetrate beyond work life, into the home and into the person. The ties that had bound together neighbourhoods had mostly disintegrated. Personhood, which could not be generated through material means and which required a missing sense of empowerment, was absent in this consumer society.
Otherwise, the emerging language of “buying” ideas and “investing” in relationships irritated a man who held imagination in high regard. The inescapable language of the marketplace represented the danger of the disappearance of free thought.
Nature would experience progress just as violently, and its exploitation had to be terminated. Yet, surely humans could not end their exploitation of nature before they first ended their exploitation of one another. Therefore, an entirely new course for society needs to be chartered.
Improvements would require the re-implementation of participatory democracy and the concentration of power back to smaller communities, as had proven successful in 19th century USA and 1930’s Spain. Men would be taught how to better treat women, and the races would be reconciled. Private property would be abolished, as it had naturally been in indigenous tribal societies. Necessary work would incorporate an element of play.
Nature would be key in such a world as it emulates and encourages the values of freedom and fluidity necessary to the termination of oppression. Bookchin imagined a beautiful ecological world in which we structure our urban environments so as to incorporate nature. We might picture a stream of water running through a town square and handsome gardens placed freely along houses.
These ideas were taken up near the end of his life by the Kurds in Northern Syria. Bookchin had left behind an empire on paper and their utopian quality did not suggest a lack of sophistication.
If it will be revolution, I certainly hope it is Bookchin’s.
Written by: Samuel Helguero
Photo: By Debbie Bookchin – Own work (Zoomed), CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65309620