Dialectical Naturalism: An Objective Ethics?

Takis Fotopoulos

However, if the project for a future society cannot be justified on the basis of a teleological conception, either a teleological view of social evolution (as Marxists attempted to do) or a teleological view of natural evolution (as some deep ecologists suggest today), [74] the question remains whether such a project may be justified on the basis of a non‑teleological view of natural and social evolution, which, however, is objectively rational. This is the case of Murray Bookchin's [75] dialectical naturalism, which, although it assumes a directionality towards a democratic ecological society—a society that may never be actualized because of 'fortuitous events'—is an explicitly non‑teleological conception. Thus, as Bookchin stresses:

Dialectical naturalism does not terminate in a Hegelian Absolute at the end of a cosmic developmental path, but rather advances the vision of an ever-increasing wholeness, fullness, and richness of differentiation and subjectivity. [76]

The attempt to establish a directionality towards an ecological society depends on two crucial hypotheses:

(a) That there is a directionality in natural change, which yields a clearly  [328/329] discernible evolutionary development towards more complex forms of life, greater subjectivity and self‑awareness, growing mutuality, i.e. a development towards an 'ever‑greater differentiation or wholeness insofar as potentiality is realized in its full actuality'. [77] Thus, Bookchin, differentiating his process of 'participatory evolution' from the prevalent neo‑Darwinian synthesis, sees 'a natural tendency toward greater complexity and subjectivity in first (biological) nature, arising from the very interactivity of matter, indeed a nisus toward self-consciousness. [78]

(b) That there is a graded evolutionary continuum between our first nature and our second (social and cultural nature, so that 'every social evolution is virtually an extension of natural evolution into a distinctly human realm'. [79] Although, of course, it is explicitly acknowledged that social evolution is profoundly different from organic evolution, still, social change is characterized by a process of progress, defined as 'the self‑directive activity of History and Civilization towards increasing rationality, freedom'. [80] Thus, 'second nature', namely, the evolution of society, 'develops both in continuity with first nature and as its antithesis, until the two are sublated into "free nature", or "nature" rendered self‑conscious, in a rational and ecological society'. [81]

Let us therefore assess in more detail these two hypotheses. As regards, first, the hypothesis about the existence of a rational process of natural evolution, Castoriadis points out that although the fact of evolution itself is incontestable, biologists have never developed a genuine theory of evolution, which means that the neo‑Darwinian synthesis is in fact a theory of species differentiation, not of the evolution of species, and that therefore nothing in this theoretical scheme implies that differentiation occurs in the direction of increasing complexity. [82] However, one may counter‑argue here that the results of recent biological research support the hypothesis of increasing complexity. Thus, modern developments in biophysics, in terms of the self‑organization theory, introduce into biology a type of 'law of increasing complexity' which is consistent with dialectical naturalism. [83]

But, although the hypothesis about a rational process of natural evolution is not groundless, the hypothesis about the existence of a rational process of social evolution is, to my mind, both undesirable and untenable. It is undesirable, not only because it creates unintentional links with heteronomy, but also because it may easily lead to inadvertent affinities with intrinsically anti‑democratic eco-philosophies. And it is untenable because history does not justify the existence of progress towards a free society, in the sense of a form of social organization which secures the  [329/330] highest degree of individual and social autonomy at the political, the economic and the social levels, what we defined in Chapter 5 as an inclusive democracy.

Thus, as regards, first, the undesirability of the social directionality hypothesis, one may point out that the postulate according to which there is a 'rational' order in the world and a corresponding order of human affairs linked to the order of the world not only is essentially linked to heteronomy (because it conceals the fundamental fact that history is creation), but also conceals or eliminates the question of responsibility. [84] Therefore, unless we underplay the significance of the imaginary element in human history, as Marxists do, we have to conclude that it is impossible to establish any sort of social evolution towards a particular form of society:

History does not happen to society: history is the self‑deployment of society. By this affirmation, we contradict the entire spectrum of existing tenets: history as the product of the will of God; history as the result of the action of ('natural' or 'historical') laws; history as a 'subjectless process'; history as a purely random process  . . . we posit history in itself as 'creation and destruction'. [85]

Furthermore, the attempt to establish a directionality in society might easily create undesirable affinities with deep ecology. Although such affinities are utterly repugnant to social ecologists, still, they are implicit in the fact that both deep ecologists and social ecologists adopt a process of evolutionary unfolding and self-realization and ground their ethics in scientific observations about the natural world, in natural 'tendencies' or directionalities. This fact could go a long way to explain the various hybridized approaches developing at the moment among John Clark, an ex‑social ecologist whose anti‑democratic views we considered in Chapter 5, Peter Marshall [86] and others. The inevitable outcome of such affinities is that the debate on what form of society meets the demands for autonomy and ecological balance becomes not a matter of conscious choice, but a matter of interpretation of what natural change really means with respect to society. However, as it is not possible to establish any 'authentic' interpretation about the meaning of natural change, we may easily end up not just with liberatory interpretations, like the ones offered by social ecology, but also with interpretations which are consistent with any form of heteronomy and repression, from eco‑fascism to mysticism and irrationalism.

Second, as regards the untenability of the social directionality hypothesis it should be made clear that society is not 'alien' to a self‑organizing Nature and that Bookchin's contribution in demolishing the nature‑society dualism is of paramount importance. But, although one may have no  [330/331]  reservations in adopting the hypothesis that self‑consciousness and self-reflection have their own history in the natural world and are not sui generis, 'the product of a rupture with the whole of development so unprecedented and unique that it contradicts the gradedness of all phenomena', [87] still, it would be a big jump, to adopt a similar hypothesis about progress towards a free society. In other words, even if one accepts the hypothesis that self‑consciousness and self‑reflection, in very broad terms, are part of a dialectical unfolding in Nature and do not just represent a rupture with the past, this does not imply that there is a similar dialectical unfolding towards a free society, i.e., an inclusive democracy. Such a view is incompatible with historical evidence which clearly shows that the historical attempts at a free society have always been the result of a rupture with the instituted heteronomy which has been dominant in the past, rather than a sort of processual 'product'.

The fact that societies, almost always and everywhere, have lived in a state of instituted heteronomy (namely a state of non‑questioning of existing laws, traditions and beliefs that guarantee the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of elites), with no trace of an 'evolution' towards democratic forms of organization securing individual and social autonomy, clearly vitiates any hypothesis of a directionality towards a free society. In fact, if there is any continuity in history, it is a continuity in heteronomy interrupted by usually sudden and temporary leaps into 'autonomous' forms of organization. Thus, an autonomous form of political organization (direct democracy) has always been the rare exception and even rarer have been the cases of autonomous forms of economic and social organization (economic democracy and ‘democracy in the social realm’). It is only, therefore, with respect to social change in a broad sense, which includes the accumulation of scientific and technological knowledge, as well as improvements with respect to gender relations, human rights, etc., that we may perhaps speak of some sort of progress. However, these changes in no way justify the hypothesis of a directionality towards a free society, an inclusive democracy.

Thus, as regards scientific and technological change, few would argue today, particularly after the experience of this century, that there is some sort of correlation between progress in these fields and the degree of autonomy achieved in society at the political and economic levels. Furthermore, several writers have noted the increasing vulnerability of the human species because of the worldwide reliance on the same technology and the fact that increasing technological complexity is accompanied by an increasing lack of flexibility and adaptive capacity. [88] However, if one accepts the non‑neutrality of technology thesis, [89] one may counter‑argue here that the homogenization of technology is not an 'independent  [331/332]  variable' but just the inevitable outcome of the marketization of the economy.

As regards the alleged improvements in gender, race, ethnic relations, human rights in general, they hardly justify the hypothesis of directionality towards a free society, in the sense of an inclusive democracy. The improvements in social relations and structures have not been matched by a corresponding progress in political and economic relations and structures towards political and economic democracy. The widening and deepening of women's rights, minorities' rights, etc., may have improved the social position of the members of the respective communities. But, from the democratic viewpoint, this process simply has led to the expansion of the ruling political and economic elites to include representatives of these communities. Furthermore, these improvements do not imply any significant changes with respect to democracy in the workplace, the education place, etc. Even as regards the human rights record one may raise serious doubts about the progress achieved. Torture, for instance, after tapering off with the Enlightenment in Europe in the seventeenth century to the extent that it had almost disappeared, came back with a vengeance this century. According to a very recent report, torture practised by governments around the world increased dramatically this century, especially in Europe, to the extent that the twentieth century may become known as the torturer's century'. [90]

At the cultural level, as Polanyi [91] has persuasively shown, the establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values. This process, as we have seen in Chapter 3, was accelerated in the twentieth century with the spreading of the market economy and the implied growth economy all over the world and the inevitable elimination of all cultures not based on the system of the market economy. As a result, today, there is an intensive process of cultural homogenization at work, which not only rules out any directionality towards more complexity, but in effect is making culture simpler, with cities becoming more and more alike, people all over the world listening to the same music, watching the same soap operas on TV, buying the same brands of consumer goods, etc.

Finally, as regards ethical progress, i.e. the evolution towards moral 'improvement' (in terms of mutuality, solidarity, etc.), it is indicative that even social democrats like Habermas and Bobbio, who have an obvious vested political interest in the idea of progress and social evolution, do admit that it is not possible to assert the existence of ethical progress, despite the acknowledged rapid technological progress of the last 100 years or so. Thus, Habermas, countering the pessimism of the Frankfurt School about progress, argues that the error in the Marxist and other optimistic  [332/333]  theories of social evolution lies in the presumption that progress on the system's level (which attends to the material reproduction of society) would automatically entail an improvement on the level of moral‑practical conscience. [92] So, one may argue that the unmistakable trend, at least in the past two to three centuries, has been for growing selfishness and growing competition, rather than for enhanced mutuality and solidarity. Similarly, it is at least doubtful whether there has been an ethical progress in terms of environmental values. [93]

But let us look in more detail at the historical appearance of the autonomy tradition and assess the case of evolution towards a free society. Following Castoriadis's [94] periodization, the autonomy project emerged in classical Athens, where, for the first time in human history, the institution of society was questioned both at the institutional and the imaginary level. This was in contrast to the state of heteronomy, which characterized all societies up to then and almost all societies since then, where 'a society, despite the fact that it is always a self‑creation which creates its own institutions, still, in order to protect these institutions it imagines and legislates that they are not a human creation but an extra‑social creation: a creation of God, or of the laws of Nature, History or Reason, which therefore we can not change'. [95] The autonomy project, which reached its peak in classical Athens, was eclipsed for almost 15 centuries, a period during which heteronomy was dominant.

The autonomy project reappeared again in the twelfth century AD, in the medieval free cities of Europe, but soon came into conflict with the new statist forms of heteronomy which, in the end, destroyed the attempts at local self‑government and federalism. [96] In the period 1750‑1950, a fierce political, social and ideological conflict developed between the two traditions. The heteronomy tradition is expressed by the spreading of the market economy and of new social forms of hierarchical organization. These forms embodied a new 'social imaginary signification' (adopted by the socialist movement): the boundless spreading of 'rational domination', which identifies progress with the development of productive forces and the idea of dominating Nature. During the same period, the autonomy project, under the influence of the Enlightenment's ideas, was radicalized at the intellectual, social and political levels (e.g. Parisian Sections of tile early 1790s, collectives in the Spanish Civil War, etc.)

Finally, in the present era (1950 onwards), both traditions have entered a period of serious crisis. Thus, although the spreading of the market economy's rational domination is accelerating, the system itself is in a deep crisis, a crisis not in the Marxist sense of the capitalist relations of production hindering the further development of forces of production, but in the sense, as we have seen in previous chapters, first, of the market  [333/334]  economy's dismal failure to create a successful growth economy in the South (where the vast majority of the earth's population lives); and second, of the growing ecological destruction that not only degrades the quality of life but threatens life itself on the planet. Paradoxically, at the same time, the autonomy tradition, after its brief explosion in the late 1960s, is also in a state of 'total eclipse', a fact illustrated by the lack of social, political and ideological conflicts.

The issue that arises therefore is whether changes in the historical forms of social organization reveal some kind of directionality towards a free society, which would represent the graded actualization of unfolding human potentialities (in the dialectical sense of the word) for freedom (as dialectical naturalism maintains), or whether, instead, they do not reveal any form of directionality, since the form society takes each time just represents social creations conditioned (but not determined) by time and space constraints, as well as by institutional and cultural factors. The former view sees history as a process of progress, the unfolding of reason, and assumes that there is an evolution going on towards autonomous or democratic forms of political, economic and social organization, a view which, to my mind, is not supported by history. The latter view sees the autonomous society as a rupture, a break in the historical continuity that the heteronomous society has historically established.

Of course, 'autonomy/heteronomy' is not an ironclad distinction. Autonomous and heteronomous forms of social organization historically interact with each other, and elements of both may coexist within the boundaries of the same society. For instance, as we have seen in Chapter 5, the Athenian democracy was a form of society that embodied strong elements of autonomy (direct democracy—as regards free citizens) and heteronomy (economic inequality, gender inequality, slavery—as regards the rest). Furthermore, in today's sophisticated heteronomous societies, there are several elements of autonomy, remnants, usually, of past conflicts between the autonomy and the heteronomy tradition. Taking, therefore, for granted the interaction between autonomy and heteronomy, in other words, explicitly assuming that the two traditions change themselves and, to some extent, each other over time, the real issues are, first, whether the two traditions are qualitatively different and, second, assuming they are, whether any evolutionary pattern may be established towards the autonomous form of social organization.

As regards the first question, I think few would disagree with the thesis that autonomy and heteronomy are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different. Historically, the autonomy and heteronomy traditions are expressed in various forms of social organization: the former in the form of the Athenian democracy, the Swiss cantons, the French revolutionary  [334/335]  sections, to mention just a few examples; and the latter, in the form of absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies, parliamentary 'democracies' and state socialism. The common characteristic of autonomous forms of social organization is that they are all based on the fundamental principle of the equality in the distribution of power, whereas the opposite is true for all heteronomous forms. It is therefore obvious that the differences between the various types of heteronomous (as well as types of autonomous) forms of social organization are quantitative, whereas the differences between the autonomous and heteronomous forms themselves are qualitative. Autonomy and heteronomy are two fundamentally different traditions expressing completely different 'paradigms' about social living; they are incommensurable. The question therefore here is whether, as the famous Hegelian 'law' maintains, quantitative differences beyond a certain point are transformed into qualitative changes, or whether, instead, there is no possibility of establishing any sort of evolutionary process between the autonomy and the heteronomy traditions.

This brings us to the second question I raised above. According to dialectical naturalism, 'between [autonomy and heteronomy] is a dialectic that has to be unraveled in all its complexity, involving interrelationships as well as antagonisms', [97] whereas, according to the view presented here, despite the development within each tradition and the possible interaction, still, no development between them may be established. For instance, one may support the case that although constitutional monarchy did express a more sophisticated form of heteronomy than absolute monarchy and, by the same token, parliamentary 'democracy' does represent the most sophisticated form of oligarchy in history, still, the differences between the political regimes involved refer to the size and the composition of the ruling elites, not to the fundamental distinction itself between ruling elites and the rest of the population—a distinction that excludes the vast majority of the population from any effective political decision‑taking. Similarly, the Parisian Sections of the early 1790s, [98] where women had an equal share in the distribution of political power, did express a more complete form of democracy than the Athenian assemblies. Finally, the Spanish collectives in the Civil War, [99] which contained a significant element of economic democracy, did express a more complete form of autonomy than both the Athenian and the Parisian assemblies.

Also, although it is recognized that the break with the heteronomy tradition takes place in a specific time and place and that therefore history, tradition, and culture certainly condition the form that society takes, institutional and historical factors never determine when and where this break will take place, or even the specific form the autonomous organization of society will take. An autonomous form of social organization has  [335/336]  always been a creation expressing a break with past development. The rare historical cases of relatively free forms of social organization came about as a result of the fact that at certain historical moments, for reasons that only partly refer to the concrete historical circumstances, social imaginary significations; expressing the autonomy project had become hegemonic and led to a rupture of the dominant social paradigm of heteronomy. [100] That such ruptures do not fit in any unfolding dialectical pattern of history, and cannot even be considered as 'reactions' to heteronomous forms of organization, becomes obvious by the fact that repeatedly in history similar, if not identical, institutional and historical circumstances led to very different forms of social organization. As a rule, they led to heteronomous forms of social organization and only very exceptionally to attempts at autonomy.

The classical Athenian democracy is a characteristic example. There is no doubt that the movement from tribal blood ties to civic ties represents a form of development. The question is whether this development is a development within the heteronomous tradition or, alternatively, one between the two traditions. I would argue that although elements of autonomous organization may be found in tribal societies (e.g. tribal assemblies), still, the movement from tribes to cities represents a development predominantly within the heteronomous form of social organization and only in one exceptional case (Athenian democracy) towards a new form of autonomous organization. This fact, in turn, illustrates the significance of the imaginary or creative element in history, rather than of any kind of an evolutionary pattern in political organization. As Castoriadis puts it:

Democracy and philosophy are not the outcome of natural or spontaneous tendencies of society and history. They are themselves creations and they entail a radical break with the previously instituted state of affairs. Both are aspects of the project of autonomy . . . the Greeks [discovered] in the sixth and fifth centuries that institutions and representations belong to nomos and not to physis, that they are human creations and not 'God‑given' or 'nature-given'. [101]

A view of history based on an evolutionary pattern could not explain why a similar movement from tribes to cities in many parts of the world, even in classical Greece itself, has led on the one hand to the classical Athenian democracy and on the other to a variety of oligarchic, if not despotic, forms of political organization. Of course, few would deny that specific 'objective' factors (geography, climate, etc.) may have played a significant, but never a decisive, role on each historical occasion. What is disputable is whether there has been a long‑term pattern of social evolu[336/337]tion that led to classical Athenian democracy—an experiment that, in its full democratic form, was not repeated elsewhere at the time and which re‑emerged hundreds of years later.

Parliamentary 'democracy' is another example. As we have seen in Chapter 5, parliamentary democracy is not a form of political democracy; as it has developed in the West, it may better be described as a form of liberal oligarchy. Furthermore, parliamentary democracy can in no way be seen as a stage in the development of democracy. This is obvious not only from the fact that direct democracy historically preceded parliamentary 'democracy' but also because, as the experience of the past two centuries or so has shown, parliamentary democracy, if it evolves into something, evolves into a further concentration of political power in the hands of professional politicians' elites, at national or supra‑national levels. Social development, in terms of political organization, is not 'cumulative', i.e. one leading from various forms of 'democracy' which reflect quantitative differences (constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, etc.), towards direct democracy—which is clearly a qualitative change.

By the same token, the market economy is neither a relative (even a poor one) to economic democracy, nor does it constitute a kind of stage in the development of economic democracy. Instead, as I tried to show in Chapter 1, today's market economy represents a definite step backwards in comparison to the socially controlled economies of the medieval free cities. Furthermore, if the market economy evolves into something it evolves towards further concentration of economic power, and there is no prospect whatsoever that a market economy will ever lead, through cumulative quantitative changes, to the qualitative change of economic democracy.

Finally, the various attempts at 'democracy in the social realm', particularly workplace democracy (workers' councils, soviets), and for democracy in educational institutions have always been associated with historical ‘moments’ of insurrection and as soon as 'order' has been restored, either by the institutionalization of a 'revolutionary' new regime of heteronomy (e.g., the Soviet Union) or the continuation of the old one, the democratic forms have been replaced by forms of pseudo‑democracy at the workplace, the university, etc.

So, it is not possible to derive any sort of evolutionary process towards a free society, what we called an inclusive democracy. The historical attempts to establish autonomous forms of political, social and economic democracy, although, of course, they did not appear ab novo, cannot be fitted into any grand evolutionary process. This is clearly indicated by the fact that such attempts took place in specific times and places and as a break with past development, rather than in several societies at the same stage of  [337/338]  development and as a continuation of it. Therefore, although the ideals of freedom may have expanded over time, the last 25 years or so notwithstanding, this expansion has not been matched by a corresponding evolution towards an autonomous society, in the sense of greater participation of citizens in decision-taking. In fact, the undermining of communities, which was intensified by the emergence of the market economy 200 years ago and has been accelerated by the development of the present internationalized market economy, as well as the growing privacy and self-interest of individuals encouraged by the consumer society, are clear indications of a trend towards more heteronomous forms of society rather than the other way round. Therefore, if we accept the view that I tried to develop in Chapter 1, i.e. that the present internationalized market economy marks a new, higher phase in the marketization process, then all the signs are that we have entered a new period where the '40 per cent' societies of the North will be based on sophisticated forms of heteronomy, whereas the miserable societies of the South will rely on various forms of brutal authoritarianism.

So, one may assume that if inclusive democracy ever replaces the present heteronomous forms of political and economic organization, this will represent not the actualization of unfolding potentialities for freedom but simply the conscious choice among two social possibilities, which schematically may be described as the possibility for autonomy versus the possibility for heteronomy. In other words, to my mind, the dialectical idea of unfolding objective potentialities, i.e. of real latent possibilities which may (or may not) be actualized, is not applicable at all in the case of social change. To talk about any particular being that, in developing itself, actualizes what at first was only a latent possibility and in this way attains its own truth, we have to assume that there is a specific possibility in the first place and not a choice of different possibilities. Therefore, whereas it is true that an acorn has the potentiality to become an oak tree and a human embryo to become a fully mature and creative adult, we cannot extend the analogy to human society and assume that the potentiality of society to become free ‘is equivalent’ [102] to these natural potentialities. The obvious difference between the potentialities of acorns and human embryos to become oak trees and adults, respectively, and those of society to become free is that the former represent single possibilities whereas the latter is just one possibility out of two broad possibilities: for autonomy or heteronomy. In other words, if we take into account that 'the very history of the Greco‑Western world can be viewed as the history of the struggle between autonomy and heteronomy', [103] it is obvious that the heteronomous forms of society which have dominated history cannot just be considered as 'fortuitous events', similar to those that may not allow an  [338/339]  acorn to become an oak tree. So, to assume that the possibility for autonomy is an unfolding and therefore rational potentiality (in the dialectical sense of the word) and conversely to assume away the possibility for heteronomy as just a capacity for irrationality [104] may easily be seen as a deliberate objectivization of one possibility at the expense of the other, in order to conceal our choice for the autonomy tradition under the cover of dialectical 'objectivity'.

From this viewpoint, one may have serious reservations with respect to the classical Marxist and anarchist views adopting the idea of dialectical progress in history. Thus, it should not be forgotten that the adoption of the idea of progress implies also the endorsement of such conclusions as the Marxist one about the 'progressive' role of colonialism, [105] or the corresponding anarchist one that the state is a 'socially necessary evil'. [106] However, if we adopt the view that there is no unilinear or dialectical process of progress nor a corresponding evolutionary process towards forms of social organization grounded on autonomy and we assume, instead, that the historical attempts at democracy represent a break with the past, then, forms of social organization like colonialism and the state can be seen as just 'social evils', with nothing 'necessary' about them, either as regards their emergence in the past, or the form that social change has taken since, or will take in the future.

One might conclude therefore that the logic of society's development does not show that it is constituted to become autonomous, in the sense of the actualization of a latent potentiality for freedom. But, if the hypothesis of directionality in social change and of a rational historical process is untenable, then the question arises whether it is still possible to develop an 'objective' ethics which assesses forms of social organization as 'good' or 'bad' on the basis of the degree according to which they represent the actualization of the latent potentialities for freedom. The obvious criticism, which is implied by the above analysis, is that any attempt to develop an objective ethics based on the assumption of a process of social evolution is little more than an effort to mask a conscious choice among the autonomy and the heteronomy tradition, the democratic and the non-democratic society.

Therefore, although Murray Bookchin is, of course, right in insisting that in developing a democratic ethics we should adopt a non‑hierarchical interpretation of nature, [107] it should not be forgotten that this is just one possible form of interpretation of Nature that we consciously have chosen because it is compatible with our choice for autonomy in the first place. This is obviously very different from assuming that a non‑hierarchical interpretation of nature is an 'objective' one and that, as a consequence, a democratic society will be the product of a cumulative development, a  [339/340]  rational process of realization of the potentiality for freedom. To my mind, social ecology's attempt to develop an objective ethics not only undermines its democratic credentials but also gives an easy target to statists and irrationalists of various sorts, as is indicated by the fact that most attacks against social ecology focus on its philosophy. [108]

A democratic society will simply be a social creation, which can only be grounded on our own conscious selection of those forms of social organization which are conducive to individual and social autonomy. An important side effect of this approach is that it avoids falling into the trap of grounding the free society on 'certain' truths at the very moment when most certainties, not only in social sciences but even in natural sciences, are collapsing.

However, the fact that a democratic society represents a conscious choice does not mean that this is just an arbitrary choice. This is clearly implied by the very fact that the autonomy project turns up in history again and again, particularly in periods of crisis of the heteronomous society. Furthermore, the fact that heteronomous society has been the dominant form of social organization in the past is not indicative of its intrinsic superiority over an autonomous society. Heteronomous societies have always been created and maintained by privileged elites, which aimed at the institutionalization of inequality in the distribution of power, through violence (military, economic) and/or indirect forms of control (religion, ideology, mass media).

Finally, the grounding of a free society on a conscious choice does not deprive us of an ethical criterion with which to assess the various forms of social organization. In fact, the degree to which a form of social organization secures an equal distribution of political, economic and social power is a powerful criterion with which to assess it. But this is a criterion chosen by us and not implied by some sort of evolutionary process. In other words, it is a criterion which is consistent with the view that I will develop in the next section, that the project for a democratic society can neither be grounded on scientism and objectivism nor on utopianism and irrationalism.


74.  See, for instance, Albert Bergesen, 'Deep ecology and moral community' in Rethinking Materialism, Robert Wuthnow (ed.) (New York: Erdmanns, 1995).

75.  See M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology.

76.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 20.

77.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 17.

78.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 31.

79.  M. Bookchin, Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989), p. 25.

80.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. xii.

81.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. xi.

82.  C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, pp. 268‑9.

83.  See, e.g. Stuart A. Kaufmann, The Origins of Order: Self‑organization and Selection in Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).  [353/354]

84.  C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, pp. 104‑5.

85.  C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 34.

86.  Peter Marshall, Nature’s Web (London: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 426.

87.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 79.

88.  See for instance, John M. Gowdy, 'Progress and environmental sustainability', Environmental Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring 1994).

89.  For the non‑neutrality of technology, see Frances Stewart, Technology and Underdevelopment (London: Macmillan, 1978).

90.  Amnesty International, A Glimpse of Hell (London: Cassell/Amnesty International UK, 1996).

91.  Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), Chs 14‑15.

92.  Konstantinos Kavoulakos, 'The relationship of realism and utopianism in the theories of democracy of Jürgen Habermas and Cornelius Castoriadis', Society and Nature, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1994), p. 74. See also N. Bobbio, 'Science, power and freedom', Eleftherotypia, 18 Sept. 1995.

93.  See J. Gowdy, 'Progress and environmental sustainability'.

94.  See C. Castoriadis, 'The era of generalized conformism'.

95.  Cornelius Castoriadis, 'The West and the Third World', lecture in Heraklion (Crete), March 1991, in The Broken World, Cornelius Castoriadis (Athens: Upsilon Books, 1992), p. 79.

96.  For a classic description of the medieval free cities, see Pëtr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (London, 1902) CBS. V & V.

97.  Murray Bookchin, personal communication to author (24/2/1994).

98.  Murray Bookchin, From Urbanization to Cities (London: Cassell, 1995), pp. 111‑16.

99.  See Sam Dolgoff (ed.) The Anarchist Collectives: Workers' Self‑management in the Spanish Revolution 1936‑39 (New York: Free Life Editions, 1974).

100.  This should not be misunderstood, as some deep ecologists do at the moment, to mean that society will change just by changing our values, or 'imaginary significations' at the individual level. The change in values has a social significance, as far as radical social transformation is concerned, if it is the outcome of a collective struggle, as part of a comprehensive political programme that explicitly questions the institutional framework and the dominant social paradigm.

101.  C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, pp. 36‑8.

102.  'What is potential in an acorn that yields an oak tree or in a human embryo that yields a mature, creative adult is equivalent to what is potential in nature that yields society and what is potential in society that yields freedom, selfhood, and consciousness', Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987), p. 13.

103.  C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 88.

104.  M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, pp. 157‑70.

105.  See, e.g., Shlomo Avineri (ed.) Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization (New York: Anchor Books, 1969), p. 13; and Anthony Brewer, Marxist Theories of Imperialism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 18.

106.  See G.P. Maximoff (ed.) The Political Philosophy of Bakunin (New York: The Free Press, 1953), p. 145. See also M. Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. xvi.  [354/355]

107.  M. Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1991), p. 274.

108.  See, for instance, the criticisms raised against dialectical naturalism by eco-socialists such as David Pepper (David Pepper, Eco‑Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 165); and Andrew Light (Andrew Light, 'Rereading Bookchin and Marcuse as environmental materialists', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, No. 3 (March 1993), and Andrew Light, 'Which side are you on? A rejoinder to Murray Bookchin', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, No. 14 (June 1993)). See also the criticisms raised by deep ecologists like Robyn Eckersley (Robyn Eckersley, 'Divining evolution: the ecological ethics of Murray Bookchin', Environmental Ethics, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer 1989)).

SOURCE: Fotopoulos, Takis. Towards An Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project (London; New York: Cassell, 1997), chapter 8, "How Do We Justify the Project for an Inclusive Democracy?" (pp. 305-356), section [2] "The myth of objectivity: dialectical 'objectivity'", subsection "Dialectical Naturalism: An Objective Ethics?", pp. 328-340, 353-355.

The sections and subsections of chapter 8 are:

[1] The myth of objectivity: orthodox 'objectivity'
          Rationalism versus empiricism/positivism
          Falsification and scientific research programmes (SRP)
          Objectivity versus intersubjectivity
[2] The myth of objectivity: dialectical 'objectivity'
          The dialectical conception of objectivity
          Marxist 'objectivity' and dialectics
          Dialectical naturalism: an objective ethics?
[3] Beyond 'objectivism', irrationalism and relativism
          What is the foundation of freedom and democracy?
          Neither 'scientism' nor 'utopianism'
          Neither general relativism nor irrationalism
          Conclusion: towards a democratic rationalism

This school of thought is expounded also in the online journal Democracy & Nature (The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy) [variant title, Society and Nature], vols. 1-9 (1992-2003), succeeded by The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy (Vol. 1 - , October 2004 - ). Much of chapter 8 is recapitulated and extended in:

Other articles of philosophical interest by the same author:

Some articles of philosophical interest by other authors:

Note also this radio interview:

Bibliography on Alternatives to Capitalism / American Ennui compiled by Daniel S. Mesnik

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

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