A Deeper Shade of Green
Environmentalism and Political Theory Toward an Ecocentric Approach by Robyn Eckersley 275 pp UCL Press Ltd. 1992THIS BOOK is typical of a new direction in Green thinking, one which rejects Marxism and refuses conservatism, a kind of “new wave” ecologism, which seeks to make ecological thinking up-to-date and socially acceptable to the prosperous classes. In Germany the split between post-Marxist and non-Marxist approaches to being Green is reflected in the political split among Die GrÃ¼nen between what in Germany are known as the realists and the fundamentalists. Essentially, the latter group draw on socialist and mainly Marxian socialist thinking whereby green issues are anti-capitalist issues per se, whilst the former draw on a disparate spectrum of political thought and reject Marxism not only for being unworkable but also for being at fundamental odds with a genuinely ecological perspective. Eckersley belongs unequivocally to the “realists” and large part of his book is taken up with explaining the basis of his rejection of what he calls “eco- socialism” in favour of another buzz word, “eco-centricism”, hence the subtitle of his book. But his approach is not just realist in the sense that it opposes a Marxist approach to environmental problems, it is also strongly influenced by “deep ecology” thought.
Deep ecology, which emerged in the USA in the early seventies, seeks a return not to a post-capitalist society but to a pre-capitalist one. It is arguably the major theoretical driving force of ecological activism today. The expression, first coined by Arne Naess, is intended to contrast with the so called “shallow environmentalism” of those who believe that environmental problems are essentially problems of administration and political will, in other words, that we are not facing an ecological crisis as such, merely problems stemming from maladministration and that ecological problems are essentially political and not, as deep ecology believes, cultural. As Devall and Session argued in Deep Ecology(p 65), “Deep ecology goes beyond a limited piecemeal shallow approach to environmental problems and attempts to articulate a comprehensive religious and philosophical worldview.” The main critique of the world-view of both capitalist and communist societies is that they place man as not only the centre of the world but separate, qualitatively from the rest of the world. In one word, and it is a word which is much studied in this book, their approach is anthropocentric. Eckersley proposes the “ecocentric” approach.
According to Eckersley, the most important difference between the ecocentric approach and others is that the ecocentric attitude rejects anthropocentricism. What the deep ecologist Warwick Fox calls the “anthropocentric fallacy”, namely that man is the measure of all things and that the non-human world only has value in so far as it has value for the human world, is wholeheartedly rejected here. A rejection of anthropo-centricism is the crux of the eco-centric critique of Marxism. Eckersley, elaborating on this critique, argues that Marxism confines its critique of exploitation and struggle for emancipation to the exploitation and emancipation of human beings. Non-human forms of life are not valued by Marxists except in so far as they can teach humans to behave better towards one other. (This is reminiscent of the Christian attitude to animals: they are without soul and therefore doomed to perish, but treating them with consideration is the way to learn charity to our fellows and is therefore a kind of education). The deep ecologist believes that the struggle for emancipation must be taking one step further to include non-human forms of life. The irony is that it sounds very much as though Eckersley, in his deep ecological critique of Marxism, has taken a page out of Marxist teaching to criticise Marxism. Marx argued that the liberal demand for freedom had to be taken one step further by the proletariat to include all classes of man. Eckersley argues that the Marxist demand for human freedom must be taken one step further, beyond mankind. The Marxist warning that a given writer is “bourgeois” and his views distorted by a class perspective becomes the ecocentrist warning that a given writer is anthropocentrist and his views distorted by a speciesist perspective. Animals are the new proletariat.
No Marxist, argues Eckersley, however sympathetic to the ecological movement,can be other than anthropocentric and the gulf between the ecosocialist and the ecocentricist is unbridgeable. Eckersley is here writing in a non-Marxist humanist tradition which rejects the Marxist notion of evolutionary struggle and the survival of the fittest, questioning instead, like Fritjof Capra, the excessive rationalisation of the Western civilized approach to nature with its essential maleness and valuation of worthiness in terms of power, intelligence and successful development. A strong element in the green resistance to progress indeed has been stress on the need to protect Gaya the Earth Goddess and female virtues generally, against masculinity and masculine virtues (“the patriarchy”). Green activists, influenced as they are by deep ecology more than any other single theory, are not at all the crypto-Marxists some conservatives imagine them to be. Even apparently left-wing protest actions such as those at Greenham Common or Newbury contained elements of a Paganism in some respects profoundly conservative, a Paganism anti-Western and anti-Christian but anti- Newtonian and anti-Progress as well. Conservative arguments of one kind or another tend to surface in discussions about green causes (“protection” “respect for what has established itself” opposition to utilitarianism etc) . After all, ecologists, are seeking to conserve, so is ecological activism not tendentionally “conservative”? Eckersley believes not. His argument is that what precedes even conservation as the goal of ecological change is emancipation and emancipation is exactly what political conservatism is not about. Concern with human rights should naturally evolve into concern for animal rights and the key word here is “evolve” because like Capra, Eckersley believes that we all (all species that is) have the potential to evolve, morally as well as biologically. (How non-hominoid species evolve other than pragmatically, is not made clear). Many hierarchies impede the self expression of the species or the group as much as the individual, the thesis runs. Nevertheless Eckersley does criticise writers like Capra for insisting that hierarchy necessarilysuppresses self-expression or self-development. Eckersley does not accept that evolution is only about evolution of the human species. This he believes, constitutes the intolerable arrogance of anthropocentricism. Here we come to his rejection of ecosocialism.
Eckersley always treats the “ecosocialists” with painstaking consideration but he is emphatic that what he calls “socialist, social democratic and liberal welfare theorists” must learn to regard nature not as just a human resource but as something existing in its own right although, he writes, “I must hasten to add that distributional questions remain crucial questions in any ecopolitical inquiry.”
For their part ecosocialists are anxious to make the ecological but unideological activist aware of the danger of slipping into non- ideological nature mysticism by insisting that the ecological crisis is a social and economic crisis which is rooted in capitalist social interaction. An important point which Eckersley argues is that green activists not committed to the destruction of capitalism as the underlying commitmentof their activism are not necessarily naive in the way that the ecosocialists believe. On the contrary, replies Eckersley, it is ecosocialists who are blind to their own subservience to outmoded nineteenth century anthropocentrist ideology.
One of the best known spokesman for the ecosocialist position is Murray Bookchin. Bookchin has written a considerable number of theoretical works over the past thirty years. Eckersley calls Bookchin “one of the early pioneers of Green political theory” but strangely shies away from referring to him as a Marxist or even post-Marxist. Since this book was written, however, Bookchin has given an interview to Ã–koLinX, an ultra-left, self-styled anti-fascist German green publication, whose main role seems to be to help keep right and left green activists at loggerheads with one another, to the sole profit of the forces which all greens should be united in attacking. Significantly, in the interview Bookchin develops a critique of deep ecology and bio-regionalism. Now it is precisely deep ecology and bio-regionalism that are most likely to inspire a conservative or anti-liberal, even anti-humanist, dare we say even racialist, green perspective. There is no lack of dire warnings from the left about the dangers for the uninitiated of bio-regionalism, which by its very name invites the novice to consider the biological implications of the conservation of differences. Deep ecology is so radical in its anti-capitalism that anti-capitalism is more important than anti-fascism and saving the world more important than either, more important than anything else in fact. This is anathema to the “figs” (green on the outside red on the inside) of the ecology movement.
[The remainder of this review by Dominic Campbell is available in the print version of The Scorpion.]