Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:12 pm

Ecology in the 20th Century: A History
by Anna Bramwell
Copyright © 1989 by Anna Bramwell




Table of Contents:

• Acknowledgments
• Preface
o Definition of Ecology
o The Ecological Critique
o Ecologists and Greens
o The Ecological Box
o Spirit of Place, Spirit of Race
o Outside the Egg
o Marx as an Ecologist
o Ecology; the Origins of the Word
o Haeckel the Ecologist
o Haeckel; his Background and Ideas
o The Religion of Nature
o Haeckel, Nature and Social Darwinism
o The Politics of Monistic Ecology
o Materialism and Vitalism
o Ethology; Lorenz and his Heirs
o Biological Ecology
o Scarce Resources and Solar Power
o Land, Productivity and the Planners
o Patriots and Peasants
o The Frontier Economy
o Resettling the Planet
o 'All is Energy'
o Energy and Utopian Socialism
o The Benevolent Planners
o Green Shirts
o The Saxon Kinship
o Reconstructing Rural England
o Downland Man
o Fellowship of the North
o Introduction
o The Jefferies Tradition; 'The Sun Sees no Shadows'
o 'The Rhine and its Ancient Tributary Thames'
o 'And Life can Afford to be Wasteful'
o Was There a Generic German Naturism?
o Methodology
o The Era of the Peasant
• The Organic Farming Movement in England
• The Greens in Germany
• The American Movement
• Ecology in Europe
• 'Pagans Against Nukes'
• Notes
• Bibliography
• Index
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:14 pm


Much of the research for this book was carried out while I was a Research Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford. I am grateful to the fellows of Trinity College for their hospitality, and for their interest in my work. In particular, Lord Quinton, then President of Trinity, made many useful suggestions about the manuscript and recommended books. John Wright introduced me to the other green world of the word processor, and was very helpful in making facilities available at a time of domestic crisis, while Michael Inwood kindly answered my questions concerning German philosophy. I am grateful too, to Jan Martin, librarian of Trinity College, for her help.

Of the scholars who discussed modern green thinking with me, I am particularly obliged to Geoffrey Ahern, Mark Almond, Andrew Dobson, John Durant, Rodney Needham, Hagen Schulze, Sir Keith Thomas and Paul Weindling. Stephen Cullen, of Nuffield College, kindly made his unpublished thesis on the ideology of the BUF available to me. For discussions many years ago with the then energy advisor to the Friends of the Earth, John Price and his wife Jani, I am grateful. I benefited inestimably from conversations with Professor Juan Martinez-Alier and Klaus Schhippman at an early stage of my research. They most generously made drafts of their book, published later as Ecological Economics. Energy, Environment and Society (Oxford, 1987), available to me. Neither is in any way responsible for my interpretation of ecologism.

Some of the ideas in this book were presented at seminars at the University of Oxford. I would like to take this opportunity to thank John Gray and Charles Webster, at Ballioland the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine respectively for their hospitality and stimulating comments and also the late Edwin Ardener, through whom I was able to present some of my material to Oxford anthropologists at St John's College, Oxford.

Lord Beloff and John Farquharson kindly spared time to read the manuscript, and made many welcome suggestions and corrections. I am grateful to Alan Crawford for a meticulous criticism of the manuscript. Robert Baldock, my editor at Yale, encouraged the project from its inception.

Some of the ideas in this book appeared in articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement, and in the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. I would like to thank the editors of these journals for permission to reprint some of the material.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:14 pm


This is an examination of the origins of and ideas behind the growth of the ecological movement, from 1880 to the present day. I argue that today's Greens, in Britain, Europe and North America, have emerged from a politically radicalised ecologism, based on the shift from mechanistic to vitalist thought in the late nineteenth century. It was the fusion of resource-scarcity economics with holistic biology that gave force and coherence to ecological ideas. Thus, they depended for their success on the wide dissemination of scientific ideas, as well as on the more obvious aesthetic and moral values. Political ecology therefore implied the existence of an articulate and scientifically aware group of activists.

The following chapters will examine the thinkers who represent most significantly the roots of ecological ideas. They are located in the biological and physical sciences, in geography and land planning, and in some works of literature.

Perhaps unusually for an academic book, I have tried, deliberately, to include my own views in the analysis. It seems to me that it would be unfair to the reader simply to present a selection of writers, without trying to relate them to our present-day condition. However inadequate, the mirror of one mind does at least avoid the pitfalls of generalised or sociological explanation sometimes offered for alternative, naturist, rural and Backto- the-Land movements. The ecological critique and its resultant policies are too important to be thus explained away. Works on political ecology have been written either by sympathisers or by sociologists, and a study which is analytical but which also takes the subject seriously is needed. Although this book examines ecologists with a critical eye, and categorises people, an act which is of itself both distancing and critical, I have avoided sociological modes of explanation. This is an act of exploration, of seeing, more than anything else, and it is a voyage I hope will be of interest and use to the reader as it has been to me.

One final word. I refer in passing in this work to the harmony and beauty of nature. I have taken this as given. No-one brought up in a town, as most are today, will deny the attraction of the countryside, whether or not various policies to protect, preserve or destroy elements in it are found acceptable. I have not formally addressed or endorsed the reality of the claim that rural life is in some way morally superior. I have, however, felt it throughout as an underlying argument, hard to prove, not academically acceptable, yet residing within the assumptions of our culture. I felt it with a particular poignancy, because in the early 1970s I moved into a working, yeoman Herefordshire smallholding, and got to know the former occupants before their death. The experience did not entirely confirm urban romanticism about country life. I learned from them something about the hardships, the bitterness and the loneliness of making a living in this way. But I also learned of the unquantifiable pleasures, and, through knowing the ex-farmers, something of the unique quality of faces untouched by television expressions, or modesty, unselfconsciousness and worth, - virtu. Had I not known these - possibly last - representatives of a dying race, I would not have recognised what it was that so many ecologists were trying to preserve. Paeans of praise for the yeoman spirit fall easily into cliche, and while such people were in evidence, it was hardly necessary to delineate their virtues in detail; it was a common presumption of the culture of the time, and like all such presumptions, it was not - it did not have to be - articulated convincingly. Now that they are largely gone, it is easy to dismiss their image as a fiction. I am fortunate to know that it was not, and although my knowledge is not of a kind that can be conveyed in an academic text, it has been a constant memory and inspiration to me in its creation.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 10:15 pm


CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

This work does not examine real pollution problems, nor does it suggest answers to them. It looks for the roots of political ecology, and traces a school of thought up to the present day.

My theory about ecological ideas falls into three parts. Firstly, their strength is not directly linked with actual problems. The issue I examine here is not the cause of soil infertility or pollution, or suggestions for preserving forests, but why it was only from the mid-nineteenth century on that the European 'thinking classes' worried about such matters. The ecology movement represents a new political consciousness and direction. It has been struggling to see the light of day since the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Like all half-smothered things, it wailed sometimes for mother, sometimes for food, sometimes for companionship. Or, to put it less picturesquely, ecological ideas borrowed different political labels from time to time. Secondly, propounders of ecological ideas came from the educated Western classes; thinkers, intelligentsia, what you will. To make full political ecology possible, many conditions had to be fulfilled, and combined at the right time. That is why I locate the origins of normative ecology in the latter half of the last century. In doing so I must, since people so wilfully refuse to fit into a clear chronological framework, omit interesting individuals; Cobbett and Thoreau come to mind. Thirdly, two key shifts in mentality were needed, in the biological and in the physical sciences. Because these are the crucial roots of ecologism, other subsidiary but important elements of the ecological ethic, such as the animal rights movement and vegetarianism, are omitted from my discussion.

As I concentrate on those phenomena which are involved in my theory, I occasionally include material which may offend purists. Fears about finite resources have spilled over into utopian novels, science fiction and popular fiction. I have drawn on works of this kind where they were relevant to my theme. I have not attempted to quote every reference to the beauties of nature, or to the pleasantness or bestiality of peasants. In order to qualify for inclusion, such works have to be 'ecological' in nature. Even given this limitation there are too many recent science fiction novels to be included. [1] These show how, like a brush fire, the ecological world-view has spread and taken hold.

This book is a political and spiritual history of the tributary streams that now flow together in the ecological movement. The final river is already polluted. It is remote from the purity of its origins. Nonetheless, the creation of a large-scale ecological political movement represents a significant break from the past. The egg is hatched.


The distinctive qualities of ecologism arose in the late nineteenth century, and consisted of two distinct strands. One was an anti-mechanistic, holistic approach to biology, deriving from the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel. The second strand was a new approach to economics called energy economics. This focused on the problem of scarce and non-renewable resources. These two strands fused together in the 1970s. The scientific element in energy economics gave impetus to the biologically based ecological movement, which had lost credibility because of its links with Germany. The two categories, biological and economic, had a certain degree of cross-membership. There was contact between individuals, and forefathers are still cited. It is the combination of the intensely conservative moral and cultural ecological critique with the full apparatus of quantitative argument that has rendered ecologism the powerful force it is today.

The word ecology is widely used today in the normative sense, not in the biological sense. The science of ecology is one that considers energy flows within a closed system. The normative sense of the word has come to mean the belief that severe or drastic change within that system, or indeed any change which can damage any specie within it, or that disturbs the system, is seen as wrong. Thus, ecological ideas have come to be associated with the conservation of specific patterns of energy flows. These patterns can be relatively small in scale, such as a one-acre wetland site; or it can be the weather pattern resulting from the Amazon rain forests, or larger patterns that affect the continuity of human existence.

The place of man within this hierarchy of patterns is no longer seen by ecologists as predominant. A recent theory is that the earth is not just a dead planet which contains a valuable closed system, but is itself alive. According to this belief, 'Gaia', the earth, has its own serene ecological balance, its own will to live. It is capable of preserving its own existence. It can shrug off disturbing intrusions, whether from comets or from man. Like any other species, Gaia has its own natural term. It lives and it will die. [2]

The countries where ecological theories have been most prominent are Britain, Germany and North America. Although the intellectual community responsible for disseminating and provoking these theories included French and Russian scientists and political activists, England and Germany today present the most striking picture of mobilised environmental groups. North America has both inspired radical, alternative ideas and received them again, in somewhat altered form, from Europe.

The persistence of this 'ethnic map' of ecologists, which has been noted by several observers, deserves comment? Britain, Germany and North America all had different rates of industrialisation. In their demography and patterns of land settlement, too, they have little in common. North America in 1890 was a small town continent, as rural as Russia. Germany had many provincial capitals, the largest being Berlin. England alone was heavily urbanised overall. However, all three had a large, educated middle class, possessed of a strong liberal and Protestant culture. These cultural roots will emerge as a constant theme in my exposition.

The historical manifestations are, of course, profoundly different in the different countries under review. In Germany, there existed a dissatisfaction with and uncertainty about German identity. The shifting political and territorial boundaries of the nation led to a search for a more 'authentic', earth-bound identity. The hunt for anti-mechanistic values meant opposition to big institutions and size as an end in itself. German ecologism well predated National Socialism. It formed part of a generic cultural phenomenon that was in part diverted into the Third Reich as an underlying theme. It re-emerged, well after the Second World War, in more obviously left-oriented groups. The insecurity of German national identity had no exact parallel in Britain, but the British political ecologists also demonstrate a sense of a lost folk heritage, as well as a cultural criticism. The North American radical tradition, of which its ecologism is a native development, differs in its optimism. Theories of post-scarcity abundance, and a libertarian anarchic trend, characterise the American commune movement. In all three countries there was a sense of loss of the past, associated with, but not confined to, the passing of the old, rural world. This fused with critiques of orthodox, liberal economics and mechanistic biology to produce the ecologists, and their later flowering, the Greens.


Many aspects of ecological ideas have now impregnated our collective unconscious. Claims which, a few decades ago, would have demanded an analytical response now quickly become cliches, part of our mental furniture. Clearly ecologism met a need.

Ecology was the science which could interpret the fragments of evidence that told us something was wrong with the world - dead birds, oil in the sea, poisoned crops, the population explosion ... What it meant was - everything links up ... Here was a new morality, and a strategy for human survival rolled into one. [4]

This was written in 1972. On the other hand, ecologists claim that the sense of something wrong has resonated over the centuries. How recent is cultural criticism? We find the same kind of criticism in the early nineteenth century. Did it refer to the same kind of wrongness? Or has there been, as I will argue, a change in the way in which we look critically at the world? A sense that something is wrong is not a reliable guide for constructing specific and revolutionary policies. On the other hand, it is an intuition which needs investigation. No matter how many explanations there may be for the location and growth of ecologism, they would in the last resort be irrelevant to the value of their claims.

What are these claims? Man's vision of his place in the world, the question of the objective existence of that world and his relation to it, is fundamental to Western intellectual life, with its awareness of transience, the tension between past and future, being and becoming, ego and other. It affects the largest questions: the source of historical change, the nature of man, the why and how of man's history. It is intimately bound up with the problem of causality, affecting especially the question of the source of innovation and creativity. The validity of objective science, and the possibility of a social science, these all hinge on the stance taken towards man's place in nature.

Further, there are political implications. Over the centuries, Nature has oscillated between being hero and villain. A study of the changing attitudes to nature and environment, and the vision of balance between them known as ecology, shows that the axis man-nature provides a set of political categorizations which are fruitful, useful and relevant to today's political scene. But the picture is not a simple one.

Put baldly, nature-based ideas are seen as legitimising social Darwinist, red-in-tooth-and-claw beliefs. The role of nature in German vitalist philosophy and philosophical anthropology between 1890and 1933has been associated with the growth of National Socialism, while irrationalist and 'cranky' movements have claimed a special relationship with Nature and Mother Earth. Conservative and reactionary movements have often looked back to the peasant-landowner relationship as a source of national strength. However, the essential characteristic of ecology, while it does not fit happily into anyone ideological category, is that it draws many of its conclusions from scientific ways of thinking, and is not conservative.

Political ecology, which began towards the late nineteenth century, started as a progressive, science-based, anti-democratic movement. Kropotkinite anarchists as well as Spencerian individualists, all based their politics on recent theories about biology and physics. Between the wars, a number of positions were associated with ecological ideas, dominated this time by a fear of erosion and famine, and including, in England, the High Tory movement of Hugh Massingham and Lord Lymington. Technophiles and technophobes have always warred within ecologism. Technological optimism was more common in North America, where the late 1960s saw an anarcho-communard green movement. The most successful green movements today, though, are of the radical Left, and there are Greens today who feel unease at some of their ideological forebears.

The complexity is this; it is possible to assert that if man is part of the natural world, subject to the same laws as the animals, then he is, like them, entitled to compete to survive. Because he cannot hope to escape from his animal nature, he is justified in aggression. This is the social Darwinist argument associated by many with a politics based on nature. It assumes that man's survival cannot be taken for granted; he is never secure. The counter-image is that man is so special, so malleable and adaptable in his nature that the laws of the natural world no longer apply to him. Man's intellect and self-awareness, in this mode, meant a qualitative change in his status, and removed him from the biological law of selection and evolution. If his behaviour is not controlled by instinct, then man is adaptable enough to be made over in any image. The model of improvement through social and environmental change is generally a progressive and left-wing model.

However, one can also argue that it is precisely because man partakes of the earthly burden that he should help nurture the earth, rather than despoil it. His 'natural' role is that of a shepherd. Nature embodies stasis and harmony. Man should therefore accept, runs this argument, his limitations, and fit into the given pattern of energy flows. This is, on the whole, the ecological viewpoint, that man is the shepherd of the earth. And an ecological conclusion has been drawn from the premise that man does not have inbuilt limitations. This conservative variant points out that it is precisely man's lack of a fixed genetic inheritance that makes stable institutions essential as a substitute. Because man's culture has to be learnt afresh with each generation, those traditions, such as the family, which embody memory and habit, must be preserved. The belief that man is born without a genetic template for, say, the Church of England, makes continuity in social institutions more important and not less; makes progressive aims more dangerous, precisely because man can be stripped of his non-genetic endowment, his cultural heritage, by well-meaning destruction of existing structures. So man's capacities for improvement and change are finite, and he should beware of attempts to strain the boundaries of what is natural to him.

Thus, it is an over-simplification of ecological politics to think that nature-based thinkers have to be social Darwinist, while believers in man's malleability must reject nature from their analysis. The political stance of ecologists has been more complex, just as other political categories shift and change over time.


The cultural and political criticism known as political ecology involves substantial ethical and moral claims, and proposes drastic and apocalyptic remedies. Today's green parties have carved out a political niche which receives between seven and eleven per cent of national party votes. The European Parliament has a Green section which has more members than has the Communist Party. Green parties have flourished in Northern and Central Europe, in a wedge stretching from Finland to Austria, to Belgium. Britain, too, has a Green Party (formerly the Ecology Party, and the first to be so named, founded in 1973), and there has been growing 'entryism', especially within the Liberal Party and middle-class Labour constituencies. The Conservative Party is under considerable pressure to protect rural values, and the National Front went Green in 1984. Greens have to be moles in Britain, because of the two-and-a-half party system; but even so, in Britain alone some three million people are alleged to be members of environmental and other ecological groups. [6]

The green tendency has aroused unease in some political quarters, dismissal in others. The Right today tends to be pro-American, pro-nuclear power and conservative. It suspects enthusiasm. The hard Left, despite recent efforts to capture green ground for Marxism, has tended to write off ecologists as trivial, irrelevant, or doomed to failure. One social historian describes Richard Jefferies, the nineteenth-century self-educated farmer's son and naturalist, as 'the Tory transcendentalist writer', and sees his ideas as 'a refuge from unpleasant realities'. [7] In one typical structuralist criticism, ruralist ideas are seen as having 'a fatal flaw ... like ecological ideas, they were not made to mobilise the masses'. [8] A fatal flaw indeed, but the evidence seems to be that the masses are being mobilized none the less. When cultural criticisms are combined with political action, it is time to examine the phenomenon seriously. The best way to start is to create a history of ecologism. Surprisingly, this has not yet been done.

For many young, uncommitted observers, the idea that ecologists pre-date the 1970s would come as a surprise. Others, working for environmental causes for decades, see the recent growth of media interest in the Greens with some cynicism, or even irritation. Ecologists themselves locate their roots variously. Some believe there has been an alternative, holistic tradition running through Western culture since the Middle Ages. There is already a substantial literature, dominated by American feminists, which propounds the virtues of an alleged pre-patriarchal, pre-exploitative Golden Age, run by female market gardeners and moon worshippers.

Academic studies usually confine their studies to one country. Armin Mohler, historian of recent German conservatism, thinks the ecological 'package-deal' (Gedankengut) derives from the conservative romantic reaction of the 1920s. He cites Friedrich Georg Junger, brother of the better-known Ernst, as a key figure.9 The historian of geography, David Pepper, finds two main roots of environmentalism in Britain, a scientific root derived from Malthus and Darwin, and an unscientific romantic concept stemming from Matthew Arnold. [10] The American Donald Worster, in the most comprehensive work of its type to date, concentrates on America, and the influences of Thoreau and Emerson. He also finds two strands of ecologism: an Arcadian theme and a more classificatory, dominating attitude. [11] Juan Martinez-Alier's history of energy economics deliberately confines itself to authors who offer specific calculations of calorific values and resources. This naturally excludes biological ecologism, as well as philosophical or mystical ruralism. [12] A standard work on modern British environmentalists, by Jane Lowe and Philip Goyder, notes the parallel developments in North America, Europe, Britain and the White Dominions, but they confine their study to British politics. [13] There is no work which ties together the geographers, land planners and biologists in all three countries, and relates them to the present. Although the present study, too, cannot expect to be comprehensive, it will, I hope, provide a broad framework in which to consider our heritage of ecological ideas.

Almost a third of this book concerns the German connection. In one way this is not surprising. Ecology was formulated in Germany, and many 'alternative' ideas, in the field of medicine, sun-worship, vitamins and homeopathy come from German-speaking countries. During the Third Reich, refugees brought to Britain that tradition of holistic medicine, often bound up with an anti-liberal criticism surprisingly similar to that enunciated by those who remained and were thus associated with the Third Reich. But it is not this connection which will be found in the literature to date. When ecologists sit down and muse about their origins, the scope can be breathtaking but inaccurate. The place of Germany within their framework typifies this, but points to an intriguing problem.14 Nietzsche, for example, is frequently described as an important figure. Why should this be? In reality, he does not conform at all to the model ecologist, nor is he a German Romantic, - he espoused anti-nationalist and rationalist causes for most of his life. But misinterpretations of Nietzsche are an important force. The symbolic misuse of Nietzsche means: - values, extreme individualism, nationalism, the blood, anti-modernism, Dionysian irrationalism and the superman. It is illiberalism based on existentialism. For many ecologists, these ideas are alien. Yet still Nietzsche hovers, worrying but relevant. For he puts man in God's place, with the responsibility as well as the fun that implies. He is a forerunner of vitalism, and these ideas, attacked by the intellectual establishment, do have a perpetual appeal. They fill a lack. Goethe, Nietzsche, Bergson, Driesch and Heidegger together form an anti-analytical, holistic canon, and escapees from the arid desert of linguistic philosophy often find themselves wandering in their epistemological ether.

Although he spoke against science, especially dismal science, Nietzsche picked up a scientific image of his time when he described man as a flame-like being.

Yes! I know from whence I spring, Never sated, like a fire, Glowing, I myself consume. All I seize and touch makes light, All I leave behind me ashes, Surely, flame is what I am. [15]

Man the creator, man the destroyer; man whose touch produced light and death - what clearer image could there be of the exploitative, dominating Promethean? It was a later German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, described by George Steiner as the 'metaphysician of ecologism' who wrote a surprisingly modern-sounding critique of consumerism in 1944; he called on man to be the shepherd of the earth, to accept his humble role as part of the world, to avoid technology, domination and the role of exploiter. 16 Clearly, a philosophical tradition which produces such opposed interpretations of man as the Promethean and the Shepherd is a complex one. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to examine the recent German nature tradition and its various strands, and its experience in tragic practice.

The question of National Socialist absorption of ecological ideas arises here. I touched on it in a previous book, where I pointed to the existence of ecological arguments so similar to today's in the Third Reich and asked whether it was significant or just an embarrassing accident. [17] Although I examined the issue seriously, and offered supporting evidence, still I did not do more there than outline the problem, and urge that it be taken seriously. This is a suitable work in which to re-examine the problem, with all its implications for our view of Nazi ideology, and for the future of support for the Greens. As this is not a specialised book on Nazi history, I will concentrate on two questions; why, as one historian has already asked, the Nazis were the first 'radical environmentalists in charge of a state'; [18] and secondly whether the Nazis succeeded in their attempt to keep the small farmer on the land. This is an ambition of today's Greens, especially those concerned with the Third World. So is autarky, another concern of the German agrarian radicals. It is important to separate the effects of non-specific historical phenomena from the effects of the peasant experiment. I therefore compare various European fascist doctrines, including those of Mosley's fascists in Britain, to see whether the ecological component in Germany can be seen as ethnically specific rather than politically contingent.

Recent years have seen an increasing trend towards the historicisation of National Socialism. Comparative studies have been carried out in fields such as welfare policy, crime, policing and architecture. [19] Various observers, including Thomas Mann, have already pointed to the rural values lying, as a style or rhetorical tendency, behind much of Nazi ideology. [20] There is now concrete evidence to support this intuition. However, there were distinct strands of agrarian ruralism, ecologism and agrarian modernism which need to be differentiated clearly, while it is also important to distinguish between essential and accidental similarities.

Because of the alternative nature of the ecological criticism it has already been subject to a certain degree of polemical criticism which the evidence here may help to fuel. The pacifism and hostility to nuclear power inherent in the Greens renders them the automatic enemy of today's Right. Further, today's Right fears what it perceives as an element of anti-rationalism, together with the inherently destabilising and oppositional nature of ecologists, with their conservative moral values and non-conservative means. The frequent attacks on alternative science, medicine and evolutionary theories launched by luminaries from the scientific establishment clearly display this fear; together with its corollary, that the oppositional, anti-establishment and radical nature of the Greens could lead to revolutionary phenomena. [21] Of its essence, the fear of anti-rational revolution is the fear of a Pol Pot as opposed to a Lenin. A Lenin is seen as working, however destructively, within a recognised and familiar Western framework. The revolt of the peasant, however, is boundless, formless and terrible. Yet ecologism is based on a belief in objective truth and values. Ecologists reject the humanist act of faith for the best of reasons - because their humanism is grounded in what they perceive as immutable natural law. For this reason alone it has been attacked under its guise of social Darwinism as sinisterly anti-progressive. [22] An argument which is used by both establishment- oriented conservatives, together with members of the socialist academic establishment, is that ecologists are a danger because they reject reason and a danger because they believe in reason. This is either deeply wrong or profoundly right. To attack a philosophy because it claims to overthrow progressive aims through its objectivity and closer grasp of reality, and to attack it because it appears to do away with rationality, does seem to mean that there is a confusion somewhere. It may be a valuable pre-paradigm-breaking confusion, or perhaps a sign that existing institutions are under attack, - but certainly it is something that warrants investigation.

My own hypothesis is that the apparent contradictions of the ecological movement can be resolved by seeing it as forming a new political category in its own right, with a history, right wings and left wings, with leaders, followers and a special epistemological niche all to itself. In this book I seek to provide the evidence to prove this theory.


To explain what I mean by a political theory of ecology I must define an ecologist, and explain his beliefs. Then I must show how he occupies a special political niche, and what are the epistemological consequences of that occupation. One way to do this would be to assume that we are all agreed on who and what were ecologists. No such agreement exists. The history of ecologism is not only in its infancy, but what exists has largely been written by believers. Its historiography is divided into uninvolved histories and very much involved histories. This is not to criticise involvement in itself. A philosophy should affect the life of its time, while a subject is only of interest if it relates to our sense of values, whether aesthetic or political or moral, or all three. However, engagement produces problems for the historian of ideas. It means that some works are considered as subjects for academic dissection, while others are written by co-dissectors. This distinction between comrades and victims does not reflect any difference in quality, but in objective and in self-definition. In defining what an ecologist is, what he thinks is his own history is obviously relevant. Here, then, a specific historiography becomes part of the syndrome it defines.

Ecologism is a political box. It is a new box, into which many distinguished and important thinkers fit who fit only partially into other, better-known boxes. 'Thinkers' they must be, since an acquaintance with scientific ideas, available to specialists in other disciplines but not widely disseminated, is an essential part of ecologism. The box began to attain its current shape and size around 1880in Europe and North America. Self-definition about belonging in this box arose later, in the 1920s. It was not until the early 1970s that the box acquired a proper name, and earlier ecologists saw what they had thought their very own box expropriated. Over the last hundred years the clarity of the box's outlines was obscured by the presence of other, bigger, better- known boxes, some of whose corners were tucked into our ecological box - that is, they shared policies and aims, but temporarily, and variably, since non-ecological boxes fluctuate in their degree of concern for ecologism.

How is one to define a man-made category, and how far back is one to trace its ancestry? At what stage does it cease being pre- or proto-, and become, as it were, sapiens? Conservatism, Socialism and Communism too go back only so far. How far is a matter of dispute, and depends on whether one accepts self-definition by members of these categories. Such self-definition is itself a constantly changing, live political issue. The argument for continuity of ecological opposition is held by many ecologists. They believe that an alternative ecological idea dates back millenia. How is one to judge the validity of such a claim? One may feel that some violence is done to a historically specific concept by linking together disparate cultures and eras, by spotting collectivism among Pythagoreans and laissez-faire ideology among the victims of Diocletian. We realise that each historical epoch is unique, and we do not, therefore, expect to find duplicates of historical phenomena in each period. At the same time, we know that there are human constants and similarities. Much of ecologism lies in looking for these. We know that continuities exist. The historian walks a tight-rope between these two conflicting realities, both of which are true. We step and step not into the same river.

However, change and development there must be. Therefore, new fusions can be created from ancient human instincts and habits. In normal terminology, the political categories mentioned earlier are confined to the recent past. We trace Conservatism and Socialism back certainly to before the exact definitions and party systems as we know them today arose. Not too far back; probably to a few decades at most, a short time before people recognised themselves as being 'it', and we allow for the fact that full-blown 'its' can still change substantially within the usable time-span, as Tories changed to Conservatives, and Marxist Social Democrats changed to liberal Socialists. By analogy, therefore, one would expect the ecologist to emerge shortly before the word became used normatively. As the first normative use of the word that I have found dates to 1915, it seems reasonable to place the creation of the ecological box in about 1880, some thirteen years after the scientific term was first coined. [23]

Conservatism and Socialism have, in general usage, an association with the words which form their root: conserving and sozial. Similarly, ecologism arises from the concept of Oekologie. Ecologism does not involve the web of life alone; it was used originally as co-terminous with ethology, the study of animal behaviour in its environment, and with oekonomie, the concept of 'economical' household management. This implies that the use and conservation of resources is a moral activity as well as an economic one; and a morality closely bound up with the survival of the group.

But, although the terms rest on Greek roots - some ecologists find this link with early classical Greece itself significant - the words refer to a set of biological, physical science and geographical ideas that arose separately around the mid-nineteenth-century. Biological holism showed that man and animals were interdependent in and on a balanced environment. It implied that there was a scientific truth that lay outside man's perceptions, but on which man depended. The physical sciences learned that the dissipation of energy might endanger man's existence, or even that of the planet itself. Geographers examined land settlement and use from the aspect of resources. Land itself became perceived as endangered, and its finiteness, always known as a truism, began to matter.

How and when did ecologism manifest itself? A theory about this is not provable in the scientific sense. The method I propose to follow is to describe, explain and analyse together. I start from the position that we are aware that something exists which is to be examined, using observation, common sense and empathy. The form of the examination will help to define the phenomenon. At this stage I want to sketch out the qualities of an ecologist, and show what the potential political consequences were.

The First World War brought apocalypse to a generation already intellectually alienated. It showed that real disaster, real loss, was possible. In the 1920s ecologists began to define themselves as such. It had taken about that long for the scientific roots of ecologism to merge into a political discipline, to become an ideology.

The existence of this ideology has been obscured because it took on varied political forms. Most controversially, in the 1920s and 1930s, an alternative, anti-capitalist stance meant that the apparently alternative, anti-capitalist 'Third Way' National Socialist and Fascist parties attracted ecologists. After the Second World War the ideal lay dormant for a period. It then revived, still in an alternative anti-capitalist form, with similar ideas, programmes and beliefs, but with a self-defined leftwards tinge. The political shift was partly because the 'soft centre' moved from right to left during this time. It was also because American anarchists and Marxists in the late 1960s took up ecological ideas as part of 'alienation'.

Ecologists themselves are divided between those who believe that ecologism sprung up fully formed in the late 1960s, and those who see an underground, green tradition that always existed in Western history. Some place its origins in early Greek times; some in the Bronze Age. Heidegger believed that society went wrong in the transition from Greek to Latin, so that Greek concepts were translated into Latin but misunderstood. To give an account of beliefs that rationality has always battled with intuition as a source of our civilization would take too long at this stage; I will only say that it is ecologists themselves who argue this. The belief itself is a symptom of being an ecologist, and will be treated here on that level. Similarly, the hunt for a scapegoat who made society go wrong is a symptom of ecologism. Much of the literature consists of accusation and counter-accusation hurled to and from the scapegoats of other ecologists' Manichaean analyses. It is unusual for the historiography to be part of the subject itself.

Ecologists believe in the essential harmony of nature. But it is a harmony to which man may have to be sacrificed. Ecologists are not man-centred or anthropocentric in their loyalties. Therefore, they do not have to see nature's harmony as especially protective towards or favouring mankind. Ecologists believe in an absolute responsibility for one's actions, and for the world in general. There is no God the Shepherd; so man becomes the shepherd. There is a conflict between the desire to accept nature's harmonious order, and a need to avert catastrophe because ecologists are apocalyptical, but know that man has caused the impending apocalypse by his actions. Ecologists are the saved.

As part of their sense of responsibility, ecologists know that there is no free lunch. Everything has a cost; everything a place. The saved are better able to plan man, space and the environment than existing institutions. Bureaucracies are wasteful and slothful, as Kropotkin pointed out; but man's unplanned actions are destructive and can be aesthetically unappealing.

For, although non-anthropocentric, ecologists are not passive in their stance towards the world. They care intensely about how things look, feel and are, and feel a responsibility to indicate the way to the truth. Aesthetic values, then, are vital to ecologism. But not only the sensuous pleasures of nature, the importance of which to ecologists varies from decade to decade and from to country to country. There is hostility to the elaborate, the formal, despite the belief in benevolent planning. The civilization of the latifundia is resented as much as the civilization of megalopolis. The aesthetic values of the ecologists include the spiritual value of the one-to-one contact between man and object; between the history and meaning of a thing and the thing's maker, and the user or purchaser or owner of the thing. Ecologists prefer a direct link between man and object; both the object and the contact with it are then seen as more real. This opposition to 'reification', as the Marxists call it, involves in Marxist terminology the alienation between man and what he makes, and is an attack on the factory system, as well as alienability of land and property. Here, Marx was tapping a pre-capitalist vein of social criticism. But the criticism is deeper and a more spiritual one than Marx makes, and is not confined to the factory system or to capitalist society. The poet Rilke in one of his letters refers to his belief that the thingness of things was dying away, through mass consumerism. If there is to be no interposing mechanism between man and man, man and thing and man and nature, neither must there be any wasteful, artificial state mechanisms, no bureaucracy, no unproductive 'Thing', in Cobbett's words.

Since the ideal moral and aesthetic relationship between man and the world is what is local and intimate, trade is the part of the market economy, or indeed, any economy, that is most alien. Production can be in the form of small-scale craftsmanship, but trade cannot be anything other than a distancing between man and product. Most ecologists are opposed to trade as such, for moral reasons. Given that belief, programmes are erected to show that trade damages buyer and/or seller. But the belief is not dependent upon the rationale.

Some of the apparent contradictions of ecologism can be reconciled by perceiving its underlying moral stance. Ecologists are optimistic, in the sense that there is no original sin and nature is harmonious. However, they are also pessimistic, fearing waste, irreversible decline and the ruin of the environment, because nature is harsh, not man-centred and is unforgiving, as reality is unforgiving. And there is no God of the kind needed to step in and put things right.

Most ecologists are not formally religious. Ecologists who began in irreligious rebellion are sometimes converted to a 'strong' religion, but a pantheistic religious feeling is the norm. Mediaeval Christian mystics are cited; such as Joachim di Fiore and Francis of Assisi. Ecologists often tend towards the Asiatic religions, Buddhism and the Way of Lao-Tzu. Confucius is too worldly. In a post-religious culture, some ecologists who have religious yearnings choose Catholicism, be it Roman or Anglo-. The leftwards politicization of ecologism, together with its alternativeness, has brought in the Quakers. Regeneration of the countryside and Back-to-the-Land were Liberal Quaker causes in late nineteenth- century Britain.

The ecologist believes that nature embodies eternal reality, and also that the scientific method provides a means of uncovering the truth. There is a scepticism about 'traditional' science, but no rejection of objectivity. There are philosophical problems concerned with the fact that man's standpoint does not comprise that of the universe. But even if truth can only be attained incrementally, it is still possible eventually to get there. Any holy lies or golden myths that lurk in the way to the truth are seen as merely lumber.

This rejection of the existing, traditional system, whatever it might be, together with its upholders, does not seem conservative, despite the similarity in some values between the conservative and ecologist. What political beliefs reject the interposing mechanism, of owner or of state? Anarchism, of course, and individualism; a dislike of involvement in party systems, and a rejection of any existing mechanism for mediating and legitimising the claims of interest groups on the production of others. It is an alternative, apolitical stance, but placed here at the service of a larger unit than man, namely the world.

Politics can be defined in many ways. It is the legitimation of structured force, or of a monopoly of force located in one area. It is the description of the processes by which men conduct their affairs. It is the way in which men rule themselves or each other. It is the ordering of disorderly impulses. It is war by any other means. It is a way to distributive justice, the maintenance of the polity. It is the shadow on the cave. Whichever definition you may choose, ecologists go outside the political process. But, like Marxists, whose revolutionary dialectic is equally unpolitical, their non-political nature becomes itself a new political category. Ecologists strain at the bounds of ordinary political discourse, and in doing so extend it.

The categories 'Right' and 'Left', or 'Conservative' and Socialist', have constantly shifted in their attitude to nature, and its acceptance or transcendance, what one might call the naturist axis. In Table 1 I give an example of how the axis Nature/Transcending Nature shifted political contexts at the end of the last century. Similarly, Table 2 shows how apparently straightforward political issues, like equality, have represented different things to ecologists.

Table 1

1860 / Conservatives / Liberals, Socialists
1870 / Individualists (e.g., H. Spencer) / Collectivists (e.g., T.H. Green)
1880 / Socialists (e.g., Duhring) / Marxists (e.g., Engels)
1890 / Scientific biologists (Haeckel, Alfred Wallace) / Scientific Utopians (Shaw, Wells) 1900 / Co-operative Anarchists (Kropotkin) / Individualists (Maine)

Table 2

1890-1960 / Inequality / Equality
1965-80 / Equality / Creative inequality

The need for an unequal, though not necessarily hierarchical society, was earlier derived from nature. Equality as a priority for human survival in a world of finite and shrinking resources is a more recent derivation. Equality used to be the progressive technocratic ideal; but a creative inequality emerges from Jacques Monod and Noam Chomsky's work as 'natural'. I am not arguing that Chomsky is either an ecologist or sympathetic to conservative, hierarchical societies. However, his work on the inbuilt, genetic language programme entails the need to develop it, with the concomitant risk of unequal development. The theoreticians of capitalism, accused for so long of relying on nature to back up their chosen form of society, now reject instinct and other - as they see it - non-rational residues in man. Libertarians such as Ilya Prigogine classify themselves as humanists. Humanism is a typically transcendentalist concept. He argues that the law of the universe, which by definition incorporates man, is one of infinite change and adaptability. He concludes that no static system, such as an eco-system, can exist, and that consequently attempts to adapt man to a static nature are useless. Third-World Marxist intellectuals, perhaps as part of their rejection of Western culture and values, appropriate nature as their own special property, and with it, equality. The left wing of the ecological movement is egalitarian, demanding an equality of sacrifice and withdrawal from the exploitation of nature.

But, is it necessary to dwell on the theoretical political implications of ecologism? After all, the ecological movement does today have a voice and a movement in the shape of the Green Party in England and Germany, and similar parties and groups elsewhere. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Party and ideology are not always the same. Ideologies change as parties acquire or approach power, and as their constituency changes. Party spokesmen may not be the most reliable or truthful sources for information on policies or their implications. It may not matter for the party faithful who their forebears are, or forebears may be useful for conferring legitimacy on difficult or apparently unideological policies. An example here is the use of Disraeli to legitimise interventionist Tory policies in Britain in the 1960s and early 1970s. Of course, it can be argued that without a party and programme ideology and forebears are irrelevant. To those who see politics purely as the mediation of interests by structures my arguments will appear meaningless. Yet, there are parties which depend more than others on ideas, and radical parties in their inception are among them. Any attempt to explain green parties in terms of their sociological component would imply that their ideas were secondary to the real question, 'who whom?' (not that I wish to attribute such a coarse phrase to political scientists). Another objection to identifying party and ideology is that the green parties have already split, and after a mere few years they have no united policy. In Germany the Green Party first lost its more conservative component. More recently it split into fundamentalists and realists. Some 'fundos' have now abandoned party politics altogether. The green voice is fractured along lines of party, country and activity. There is not yet a homogeneous set of spokesmen, although it may develop soon. But in any case ideologists cannot always be relied upon to present their own ideology. They may not understand it; they may be lying or they may have been deceived. They may be more interested in converting than in analysing.

Forebears have been cited by today's Greens, sometimes to explain policies, more often to help express ideas; they are brought forward as if contemporaries, to bear witness. But the forebears are selected carefully. A fear of the past has helped shape the present German green policy. For Greens may be ecologists, but not all ecologists are Greens.

Many of those who espoused ecologism, and who will be discussed here, were originally radicals of various kinds, Marxists, anarchists or National Socialists. (I will argue later that fascism did not have or attract a green component, and am distinguishing here between fascism and national socialism, a distinction not valid in all spheres but important here.) These radicals managed to drop out even from their own radical allegiances. So putting one's individual judgment ahead of party allegiance, even of the most fanatical kind, is another hallmark of the ecologist. As well as being saved, he is a Protestant. As marginalised escapees from Lutheranism, that is not surprising.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:29 pm

CHAPTER TWO: The Manichaean Ecologist

The true ecologist could not have arisen until the middle of the last century. There are two stages to this argument; the first is to demonstrate the essential qualities and ideology of the ecologist, and show that there has been a continuity of form and content of this ideology since then. The second step is to look at earlier variants of naturistic thought, and see what connections and similarities there are to my model.

There are two axes to the historiography. The first is chronological; when did ecologism (and variants, such as environmentalism) start, and how is the image of the ecologist structured? Effectively, the ecologist is defined by many writers in terms of his opposite, the enemy of nature. When the enemy is clearly portrayed, then the naturist emerges as his victim.

In his study of man's picture of his place in nature, the historian of geography, Clarence Glacken, decided to end his study at 1800, because after that date a qualitative change began in man's view of his place in the world. He saw George Perkins Marsh's synthesis, Man and Nature (1864) as expressing the 'new perspective', followed by late nineteenth-century human geographers. 'With the 18th century there ends in Western civilization an epoch in the history of man's relationship to nature. What follows is of an entirely different order, influenced by the theory of evolution, specialization in the attainment of knowledge, acceleration in the transformation of nature.' [1] Glacken argues that the 'utilitarian interpretation of earth and animals persisted' until the mid-nineteenth century. [2]

The conclusion that emerges from historians of science is that earlier epochs all have something in common; they are able to see the earth as man's unique domain precisely because of God's existence. Before, both religious and natural theology were impregnated with the idea of a God-centred world. When science took over the role of religion in the middle of the nineteenth century, the belief that God made the world with a purpose in which man was paramount declined. But if there was no purpose, how was man to live on the earth? The hedonistic answer, to enjoy it as long as possible, was not acceptable. If man had become God, then he had become the shepherd of the earth, the guardian, responsible for the oekonomie of the earth.

One historian of science, Donald Worster, places the origins of the ecological spirit in the eighteenth century, with Gilbert White, the naturalist of Selborne, and John Ray, the biologist, as forebears. He argues that their work emerged from a nature-centred, pastoral natural science qualitatively different from what had gone before. [3] White and Ray, though, do not fit the ecologist typology described earlier, and it appears anachronistic to put White into the ecologist category. Indeed, Worster himself hints as much by indicating that 'the Selborne cult' was used in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries to 'locate a compelling image of an alternative world and an alternative science'. [4]

Lowe and Goyder, in a study oriented towards the structures of political action and mediation, argue convincingly that environmentalism took organised form in the mid-nineteenth century, although they find isolated examples of conservationist sentiment as far back as the Middle Ages, and prophetic pleas for preservation which were far in advance of their time. [5]

They chart three main waves of conservationist sentiment from 1865 onwards. The first was from 1880 to 1900. The second was the inter-war years, and the third period began in the late 1950s. These authors see parallel movements in Canada, the United States (by 1900), Germany, France, Switzerland and Sweden. As they point out, throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century groups and institutions began to safeguard buildings as well as natural areas. They asked why, given that animal protection, nature protection, building preservation and footpath pressure groups were linked, as evidenced by interlocking membership of pressure groups, similar phenomena occurred in different countries? They attribute the environmental protection groups to a new attitude to what was being lost and a new attitude to changes, to a decline in the belief in progress, and a rejection of the ideas of the Enlightenment. [6] But many ecologists themselves believe there has always been a hidden, alternative, green history, that a justified protest against the despoliation of the environment has always existed. They search for the moment when a harmonious, benevolent, nurturing balance vanished, and seek the agent responsible. The rationale behind this search is that man, being one with nature, should sit in his natural niche without ecological destruction. Being, as is tautologically true, one with nature, man yet escapes from nature's laws. Either man, alone among nature's creations, has been created able to escape nature's domination, or some wrong spirit, group or movement has disrupted man's behaviour towards nature. It is not only mutual aggression that concerns the ecologist. It is man's apparently uncontrollable effect on the environment around him, through population growth and consequential growth in resource consumption.

Given the paradox that natural man behaves unnaturally, what went wrong? Various explanations put forward have in common the tendency to point to a guilty party. There are several different guilty parties in common usage. These are Christianity, the Enlightenment (with atheism, scepticism, rationalism and scientism following on), the scientific revolution (incorporating capitalism and utilitarianism), Judaism, (via either the Jewish element in Christianity or via capitalism), Men, the Nazis, the West, and various wrong spirits, such as greed, materialism, acquisitiveness, and not knowing where to stop. The wrong spirit is a twentieth-century explanation, usually confined to the West, and derived from the puritan element in Protestant and dissenting Christianity; therefore it is found mainly in Northern Europe and North America. According to this ethic, 'bad' spirits are located in Western man, who is seen as the unsaved, expansive, nonecological dominator of nature. Only by rejecting the materialist heritage of the West will men be saved.

Like the problem of locating the English Revolution, analysis of the seeds of anti-nature suffers from a bewildering variety of historical locations and cruces. These can only briefly be summarised here.

The belief that Christianity led to an anti-nature position derives from the Old Testament promise that gave man dominion over beasts, sea and land. In an influential article, Lynn White argued that it was anthropocentric Christianity, backed by an apparent mandate from above, that was responsible for man's tendency to exploit nature. [7]

However, it could be argued that the New Testament suggested a humbler acceptance of the world. A self-abnegating humility is implicit in the gospels. For many, man's traditional sense of intuition and balance disappeared with the rationalism and scepticism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Man substituted mental processes for the world of feeling. Man became the centre of the universe, displacing God and his harmonious handiwork. The taboo against exploitation of animals and land was broken. As Enlightenment liberalism is supposed to have paved the way for the untrammelled totalitarian state, so it broke the mould of propriety, of man's proper feeling for nature. Talmon thinks that the eighteenth century idea of the 'natural order' meant an order in which man was sovereign. [8]

The scientific revolution is seen as one result of the decline of mediaeval religious communality, and located in the seventeenth century. According to this viewpoint, the Renaissance destroyed the matriarchal, compassionate, whole harmony of the Middle Ages. The birth of science brought a mechanistic, rapacious, inorganic attitude towards nature. This interpretation links the 'bad' scientific spirit with Men, or the masculine spirit, which this feminist interpretation links, in crude gender orientation, with men. Francis Bacon, especially, is supposed to have lauded the exploitation of the earth, while Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, John Dee, and the mechanistic, individualistic philosophers of industrial capitalism, Locke and Hobbes, legitimized the new masculine domination of female earth. This scientific revolution is sometimes conflated with patriarchal Christianity. Bacon, for example, is accused of viewing nature in a detached way because of the influence of Christianity. [9] But most writers link atheism or at least scepticism, not Christianity, with the scientific revolution. The shift from the Aristotelian rationalism of the Middle Ages to the mysticism of Dee and Newton is ignored by these writers. The influence of Hellenistic anti- Christianity on Bacon and other prominent early modernists is also ignored, probably because the Greek spirit is generally seen as a 'good' spirit by ecologists. The golden mean, the ideal of balance, is an ecological ideal. Glacken stresses Bacon's demand for humility towards nature, because it is God's creation. One should 'approach with humility and veneration ... to study it in purity and integrity'. [10]

So atheism as the guilty party is connected with the Enlightenment and scientific revolution categories. There are elements in gospel Christianity (its Greek element, according to Schopenhauer) which support the morality of acceptance. St Francis of Assisi is presented as an antidote to the Pauline tradition. Rudolf Bahro sees the Franciscan ethic as an 'alternative'. [11] The Christian critics of anti-nature place its spirit in an un trammelled, progressivist rejection of God. Eighteenth-century Tories like Bolingbroke saw the Whig spirit as representing this exploitative potential, and twentieth-century writers like Massingham, G.K. Chesterton and the Oxford Inklings (the group led by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) linked a dark destructive greed with evil. In C.S. Lewis's attack on the Olaf Stapledon, H.G. Wells figure, in That Hideous Strength, he paints a world where rationalism destroys itself, where, by ignoring human (here, God-given) values and instincts, the final product of the atheist scientist is the talking head, the skull in the machine.

The ecologist's emphasis on a sense of balance, of acceptance, is linked with a need to accept nature's apparent cruelty. Some writers argue that the life of animals in nature can never be as horrible as when man intervenes: others that the cruelty of the carniverous life applies only to the sick, the weak, and those ready to die. Horror at the carnivore was attributed by Hugh Massingham and Lord Northbourne to a sickly, progressive, urban creed of science, that shrank from a robust understanding and acceptance of life's burdens. The attempt to escape from nature's necessity was, he argued, part of man's futile attempt to forget his own forthcoming and inescapable death. It was part of an atheistic package-deal that wanted eternal progress and expansion.

The belief that 'good' Christianity was Greek- or Buddhist-inspired sometimes led to an anti-semitic picture of a patriarchal, exploitative, materialistic Jewish Christianity. Feuerbach, Marx and Schopenauer all linked capitalism and utilarianism with the Jewish spirit. The existence of Spinoza, the pantheistic Jewish philosopher who was expelled from his synagogue, and whose holism influenced later German philosophers somewhat marred this picture. T.H. Huxley, who was reluctant to accept the anti-vivisectionist argument, nonetheless preferred him to Descartes; he feared the suffering to animals if Descartes's belief that they did not feel pain turned out to be wrong. [12] Spinoza is virtually omitted from Caroline Merchant's study of early modernist philosophy, perhaps because he opposed the Cartesian dualism she claims typifies the period. Buddhism, as the good spirit in this Manichaean framework, remains an inspiration now, but was interpreted in a more war-like spirit before the Second World War. Francis Yeats-Brown, author of The Bengal Lancer and member of Mosley's British Union of Fascists, studied yoga and was a practising Buddhist; however, he opposed pacifism. Buddhism for him offered a noble warrior ethic.

Before organised feminism took up the idea of an underground green matriarchal spirit, the idea that patriarchal societies, (either from the Iron Age or from Roman times onward), had destroyed society's balanced communion with nature (represented either by a Bronze Age Northern Europe or by an idealized Greek city state) was already current. J. Bachofen, a mid-nineteenth-century anthropologist, stated that most pre-historical societies had been matriarchal, and dominated by a mother-goddess figure. [13] The image of the overturned mother goddess joined the image of the dead boy-Christ in the study of comparative religions. Robert Graves' The White Goddess was a more recent example of this tendency. He argued that popular European folklore into Shakespeare's time concealed a coded history of the lost goddess and the oppressed European tribes. The Nazis supported Bachofen and his matriarchy theory. Pro-Nazi anthropologists in the Nordic countries in the 1930ssUfported the culture of the Bronze Age over that of the Iron Age. [14]

For some time this theory encountered patriarchal incredulity. However, with the growth in feminism, a new historiography was rapidly accepted. 'Now', wrote Carolyn Merchant, 'ecology and the women's movement have begun to challenge [their] values.' [15] The challenge moved rapidly from scholarly polemic, as in Carolyn Merchant's book, to rabid polemic like Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology, which argued that American women were all being tortured, and drew comparisons with the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis. [16] (There were bizarre side-effects. The feminist witches of PAN (Pagans Against Nukes) worshipped at the same pagan standing stones as the pagans of the Third Reich. They pointed out that the stones really represented the spirit of women, but that the Nazis had been too partriarchal to understand the truth. [17]) With the publication of Marilyn French's book, Beyond Power. Men, Women and Morals (1985), the belief that women had once presided over a world of compassionate, moon-worshipping, nurturing matriarchs was widely accepted. It is a commonplace of popular literature today.

Henry Adams, who was an energy ecologist perturbed about finite resources, also wrote on the mediaeval cult of the Virgin Mary. He helped to created a favourable picture of the Middle Ages through his works on Mont St Michel and Chartres. He argued that American society had rejected the feminine, womanly aspect of life. [18]

Rudolf Bahro is a feminist Green. He links 'the industrial system, the dynamic of capital, the European cosmology, patriarchy, i.e., the whole mental drive of the spiral of death' in his definition of Exterminism 'the tendency towards mass destruction of all life'. This tendency, although contained in 'the genotype' of human beings can be controlled by overturning our patriarchal civilization and following feminine, or feminist values. [19] In Building the Green Movement he defines the 'patriarchal character' as 'expansive, progressive,' etc., moving 'forward' and 'upward', 'away from the Earth', while 'feminine spirituality' is directed downwards, into the earth. Quoting a fellow Green, Luise Rinser, he argues that the 'condition of salvation' is that 'men should submit to the feminine part of their nature'. [20]

For many, Nazism was the essence of exploitative, nihilistic anti-nature. The feminist interpretation of ecology links the patriarchal spirit with Nazism as its essence. Griffin argues that the Nazis equated the Jew with the feminine (partly because - she thinks - Jews in Germany wore the kaftan, and this was seen as a woman's garment). [21] Klaus Thewelweit studied the memoirs of right-wing German generals, and decided that they ignored women throughout, including their own wives, as an attempt to ignore the feminine in themselves. [22] However psychologically persuasive, the interpretation is not historically convincing. In their propaganda, ironically, the Nazis presented themselves as the victimized, oppressed, ravaged woman figure, one with the forests and with nature, exploited by the demonic, capitalistic spirit. [23]


Geographic determinism has vied for centuries with cultural, religious and racial determinism as an explanatory force. Interpretations of conflicting racial spirits continue today as an explanation of what went wrong. For a long time they replaced the 'geographic march of history', whereby the fresh spring of man was in the East, and the decline of man in the West. [24] Jean Bodin, Hegel, Spengler and even Giraldus Cambrensis believed that civilization moved inexorably from one part of the globe to another, changing as it went. Today's North and South dichotomy expresses the same perversion of early environmentalist theories. Where the 'West' is concerned as villain, this geographical expression usually covers a racial analysis. This is clearly seen when the 'West' or the 'North' is used to cover Australia and New Zealand.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian economist, is one of many today who sees capitalism as the expression of a specifically 'European cosmology' which derives from the 'Indo-European prehistory of Western culture'. [25] Through the Germanic conquest of most of Europe, this patriarchal, expansionist ideology 'made North- Western Europe especially effective for capitalism'. [26] Here, both monks and scientists shared the unfettered freedom of the rich conqueror, the entrepreneurial spirit which led to exploitation and despoliation. This is the death drive, says Bahro, unique until recently to the 'Northern White Empire', but now affecting the Japanese and 'even the Russians'. [27]

When Indo-European history became interpreted as the fight between two forces, patriarchal, Iron Age, anti-nature, versus Bronze Age, matriarchal nature, it was a short step to recreating a racial dichotomy to express the conflict. For Robert Graves and D.H. Lawrence, the Etruscans and other pre-Roman Mediterranean peoples were earth-bound, blood-oriented, small, russet-coloured matriarchal tribes. The Dorians, Achaeans and other Northern tribes who swept down and wiped out the matriarchal tribes were the tall, blonde Aryans. [28] The argument that the blonde Aryan represented culture and civilization through the Greco-Roman world, propagated by Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, is generally rejected today. However, it is not seen as racialist to argue that they represented a negative, destructive patriarchy; which substituted the rule of the sword for that of the corn spirit. The anti-Aryan creed, which was taken up by Celtophiles in the nineteenth and twentieth century, has today mutated into a generalised anti-Western belief. The craving for the Other identity of the Protestant North middleclass (Germany, the Nordic nations, to a lesser extent Switzerland, Austria), which led in the 1920s to a yearning for the non-national pan-Aryan, leads today with equal ease to a longing to merge with the masses of the Far East.

In any case, although the precise location may change, the essence of mechanistic, exploitative anti-nature is usually located by ecologists in the Other. From the time of the rediscovery of the Druids, first the Romans, and then the non-Celtic Europeans began to be seen as guilty. Celts and Celtic propagandists appropriated the natural for themselves, and claimed a special relationship with pre-Christian supernatural forces. [29]


Capitalism, the utilitarian spirit, the teleological spirit (interpreted as the belief that nature was governed by purpose), Christianity, the masculine desire to ravage nature, the scientific attempt to get outside the egg; despite the different agents ascribed to these explanatory theories, they appear to have something in common, for at different times all have been ascribed to connected groups. For example, capitalism has been ascribed to Christianity, but also to atheistic, expansionist scientism.

Even an interest in the natural world, the desire objectively to observe and categorise the world around us, has been attributed to a fundamentally hostile anti-naturism. Some argue that the growth of the natural sciences helped to break an earlier sense of correspondence between man and nature. No matter how affectionately scientists and naturalists regarded nature, the process of catching, killing and labelling was an aggressive and dominating one, based on a feeling of apartness and superiority. Keith Thomas argues that the growth of the natural sciences in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced a separation between ourselves and the world, as observers defined themselves as being apart from the objects they observed.

In place of a natural world redolent with human analogy and symbolic meaning, and sensitive to man's behaviour, they constructed a detached natural scene to be viewed and studied by the observer from the outside, as if peering through a window, in the secure knowledge that the objects of contemplation inhabited a separate realm. [30]

This may seem paradoxical. Why would an interest in nature mean detachment from it? Because the act of objective observation assumes that it is possible to stand away from nature, and study it objectively. The very awareness of nature as an Other signifies man's loss of an organic connection with it.

The assumption that the world can be seen objectively is challenged by Hayek. [31] He claims that scientific and technological education produced the scientistic heresy. [32] According to this, trained scientists believe that the organic and spontaneously creative world of man can be controlled, planned and organised much as man treats the inanimate and animal world. Like Glacken, Hayek places this shift to the belief that man can and should control the earth in the early to mid-nineteenth century, but attributes it to the influence of Comte and Jeremy Bentham. Hayek does not express an opinion about the way in which man treats the natural world. He only argues that the claim to be 'outside the egg', to understand processes and ends better than those living them, is unjustifiable.

However, there was an 'outside the egg' anti-naturism that flourished into the nineteenth century (it continues, of course, to this day, through the new libertarian philosophers and physicists). The onus was on the scientist to prove that biological analogies were relevant to man, and eventually a dissatisfaction with mechanical models produced organic biological thinking, and helped to legitimise true ecologism. Hayek argued that it was methodologically impossible for man, part of the world he studied, to make accurate judgments and predictions about the carrying capacity of the earth. He specifically attacked what he called the 'social energetics' of Wilhelm Ostwald and Lancelot Hogben.

It is certainly an important paradox that some ecologists, despite their concern for what is whole, balanced and sufficient, display the characteristics of the scientific, global planner. This applies especially to economic ecologists, and the contradiction between their 'small is beautiful' values and their belief in global planning is their most striking feature. Despite their awareness of their alienation from nature, their method of returning to the natural world involves mass planning and coercion. One root of this tendency to look for global coercion as a solution lies in the influence of Marx.

The most influential 'outside' philosophy of the mid-nineteenth century was that of Karl Marx. The apparently contradictory claim that Marx was the first ecologist has also been made. By the 1970s not only had Marxists evolved a variant of ecologism but Marx was hailed as the first ecologist.


The main exponents of this view are H.L. Parsons and Marcel Prenant. [33] A comparison of their arguments shows that the basic analysis of Marx's views has not changed much over fifty years. Parsons claims that the relativism of Engels, the dynamic, 'historically specific' development theory of Marx, is a forebear of ecologism; indeed, he calls Marx, not Haeckel, the first ecologist. [34]

He presents Marx as a kind of early Monist, confirming the unity of man and nature through materialistic doctrine. Parsons rests his case on an identification of man's 'dialectical relations with nature' and the man-nature relationship of the ecologist. [35] This does not sound like true ecologism, because in this analysis man's role is too active, but there is a sense in which the dynamic concept of the dialectic can be equated with ecological processes.

What does 'balance' in nature mean? Balance implies symmetry. It implies two or more symmetrical parts, in equilibrium. It also implies stasis; some element of to and fro movement to keep the system balanced, but not more. The wonderful polarity of nature displays symmetry; there is Left, and there is Right. Magnetic fields face North, then they face South. However, there is change in nature, sometimes exogenous, sometimes endogenous. In one model nature moves from one state of equilibrium to another via a state of change or excitation. In the eighteenth century, the problem of change in nature was met by a model that incorporated symmetrical change; nature was a sphere, and the sphere turned. There was a hierarchy within nature, but the hierarchy could be upturned. Natural scientists made this picture more sophisticated by picturing the natural world as a fixed sphere; within its transparent walls lived our known universe, and matter was moved and transmuted from top to bottom, and back to the top again. For example, rain moved down from the skies to land, rising up again as mist. But the overall balance remained.

Although this may at first seem similar to today's picture of a balanced ecology, for example the cycle of energy consumption, the eighteenth-century picture was not a dynamic one. Dynamic nature emerged in the nineteenth century. What Parsons is implying is that the process of clash, change, and new equilibrium that Hegel described in his dialectic parallels the new vision of unidirectional, asymmetrical, stadial change that the physical and human sciences perceived at this time. Progress, surely, implies that you never arrive at a state of equilibrium. The concept is open-ended. The ever-shifting pattern of natural life moves through dissonance to temporary equilibrium back to change (or 'contradiction').

Parsons argues that when Marx describes dialectics, from which I extrapolate here my account of the dialectic resolution of asymmetric phenomena, he is describing nature; more, he means nature whenever he says 'dialectic process.' [36]

Certainly Engels, especially, was interested in the problem of man's relationship with nature. In his Dialectics of Nature he argues that it is man's nature to be able to dominate. But the domination is only apparent. His mastery over nature is accompanied by increasing immiserisation. The unforeseen effects of his actions overwhelm his intentions. Engel's critique is not directed to the tendency to dominate, but to the flaws in the system he produces. These flaws, according to Engels, derive from man's animal nature, which must be overcome. Engels goes on to claim that

Only the conscious organisation of social activity with planned production and distribution can give man his social freedom and liberate him from the remnants of his animality, just as production itself gave him his biological freedom .... From the achievement of this organisation will date a new era of history, when man, and with him all branches of his activity (natural science in particular) will take on such a brilliance that all that has gone before will be thrown into deep shadow. [37]

Prenant, who is concerned here to establish the scientific nature of biological theory, and its importance as a foundation of society, quotes Marx in The German Ideology: 'As long as men exist the history of Nature and the history of men mutually determine each other.' [38] Prenant advances the economically ecological argument that the 'social application' (of biology) 'has ... lagged sadly behind scientific knowledge', and cites deforestation, alcoholism and hunger as evils caused by capitalism, which do not exist in the USSR (this was written in 1938). The sentence from The German Ideology is taken somewhat out of context, since there Marx stresses the non-existence of a pure nature, and the irrelevance of the concept to society. However, by stating that 'Marxism dares and knows how to dominate all known physical and biological laws' Prenant expresses the man-over-nature philosophy behind Marxism. [39] Both mechanists and vitalists are criticized by Engels, for the same reason; they do not appreciate the 'richness and regularity' of the laws which underlie 'Nature, where chance seems to reign'. [40] Bylooking at Prenant's interpretation of Marx's attitude to nature, we can see that in the 1930s Marxism was held by its advocates to represent the triumph of human reason and organisation over nature and necessity, while a distributive utopia was believed to exist in the USSR of the time.

But, assuming Parsons' more recent parallel between dialectic and natural law to be valid, is it enough to make Marx an ecologist? Ecologists are not anthropocentric; Marx is. [41] After all, man is a major agent in his theory of historical development; 'man makes his own history', even with the aid and intrusion of other factors. Marx supported a progressive ideal that rested on Lewis Morgan's stadial theory of civilization. Primitive tribes were backward and barbarous, not admirable. Marx specifically attacked the 'primitive and irrational form of exploitation' practised by French peasants in his '18th Brumaire'. [42] Further, despite Parson's evocation of long walks on Hampstead Heath, it is clear that Marx does not like nature. [43] He agrees with today's ecologist that the countryside falls victim to the town, that capitalism destroys rural life, that capitalist agriculture destroys the peasant. But there is an undoubted note of pleasure in this prophecy. It is not made in any serious value-free spirit. No-one can read Marx's description of the Indian peasant without realising that he despises and yet fears what he describes. [44] The Communist Manifesto calls for the abolition of the countryside rather in the way that Old Testament biblical prophecy promises that there will be no more sea. [45] Marx ably argues the case that pre-capitalist rural life has its own rules and values, that go under when capitalism triumphs; but his expectations of a socialist victory rest on the necessity of capitalism. He does attack capitalism for its success in creating a productive agriculture. ('The cleanly weeded land and the uncleanly human weeds of Lincolnshire are pole and counterpole of capitalistic production.' [46]) It exploits the peasant, and appropriates the peasant's surplus. The capitalist loots the graveyards of Europe to spread phosphate on English fields. But Marx is not claiming that this amounts to over-use of natural resources, nor is he saying that farming without intensive fertiliser-use is better than farming with it. He attacks capitalist success in farming because his theory must attack capitalism, and predicates the success of capitalism, in any sphere, on exploitation. [47] He did not want the peasant world to survive. However admirable the pre-capitalist world might be, where it could be compared with capitalism to the latter's detriment, it could not, by definition, continue into capitalism and beyond, into socialism.

Marx's argument against nature on the grounds of the necessity of historical development is, indeed, overwhelmingly subsumed in his resentment of unaltered nature. Even his covert anti-semitism is mellowed when he contemplated with pleasure the role of the Jew in forwarding capitalism, and thus helping to destroy nature. Like Schopenhauer, Marx argued that the capitalist, and utilitarian spirit was linked with the Jewish spirit. [48] Like Feuerbach, he argued that the Greeks had been pro-nature (Marx's doctoral thesis was on this subject) the Jewish spirit being of a dominating and utilitarian kind. [49]

So to interpret Marx's vision as 'ecological', Parsons has to reinterpret his words. For when it comes to the question of man's survival on the earth, Marx explains that given a choice between nature and man, of course man would come first. No true ecologist would support this belief. Ecologists are not speciesist.

We return again to the multiplicity of cruces offered for the anti-nature revolution; the Iron Age's victory over the Bronze Age; the shift from Greek to Roman concepts, the end of the Middle Ages, the growth of individualism and capitalism in the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century. This difficulty in settling on the exact moment when man went wrong can be interpreted in various ways. It may mean that there was no move away from nature at all, that all these shifts are imaginary. It may mean that there was a series of significant shifts. As with all attempts to use history as polemic, violence is done to the facts, the spirit and the subtleties of past eras by the varied conspiracy theories of the ecologist.

The quest for the origins of what went wrong coincides with the quest for a better way for man to live on the earth. Recently, ecologists have tended to stress an original state of virtue whence these falls took place. Many anthropologists, like earlier prehistorians, have claimed that the non-Westernised tribes who still survive live in a golden age. Agriculture itself is seen as the origin of exploitation. In a recent study of self-sufficiency ideals, Allaby and Bunyard think that agriculture was a luxury not a necessity, arising from well-fed societies. The argument here is that desperately poor societies do not get round to developing agriculture. Lewis Mumford argues that the first ploughing was a religious ceremony, not a practical one, with phallic overtones. [50]

If South American Indian tribes are not only better, but happier, than Western man, with the leisure to sit around gossiping and appreciating life, then this is a strong argument for ecologists against agriculture and in favour of the hunter-gatherer way of life.

However, the hunter-gatherer tribes lacked that crucial component of the ecologist, an articulate intelligenstia. The only lament remaining to us on the transition from one way of life to another is the parable of Cain and Abel. The speech of a nineteenth-century Red Indian chief to an American President on the proposed purchase of Indian land has become a totem for fundamentalist ecologists like Rudolf Bahro (at a recent Schumacher Conference, this speech was cited several times by different speakers). It is indeed a moving speech, that talks of the unquantifiable splendour of nature (it seems to be purely a verbal tradition). Yet the most fundamental change in the earth's environment caused by man took place when small hunter-gatherer tribes began to move over the continents, using slash and burn agriculture as they went. But in any case, when the hunt for the scapegoat lands in the Paleolithic era, it seems fruitless to pursue it further. I will only note that Manichaean world-views tend to produce, eventually, an Inquisitorial reaction from the harassed victim.

It may well be that the source of man's griefs lie in his distant past. Others, apart from ecologists, have argued that some wrong turning, some crime, even, took place millenia ago. [51] Such a search for lost traditions has frequently been intellectually and spiritually fruitful, while radical movements often evoke a lost past to justify revolution. But a specifically ecological lament for a lost past began more recently.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:29 pm

Part 1 of 2


CHAPTER THREE: Biology and Holism

While occupying ourselves with the ideal world in art and poetry ... the real world can be truly known only by experience and pure reason. Truth and poetry are then united in the perfect harmony of monism.

-- Haeckel, The Wonders of Life, p. 157

Ecology is now a political category, like socialism or conservatism. Political categories always have a dual meaning. They can be used to describe parties, policies or governments as they are, or they can describe an ideal type, an ideology. Here, ecology displays an important difference from conventional political categories. The empirical sense of the term ecology derives from the natural sciences. It has not developed from observation or prediction about human societies, but required an ethic which saw man and animal as comparable before ecologists could extend their observations to human society. This is crucial to the political implications of ecologism. [1]

In this chapter I will look at the origin of the word and the political developments associated with its founder. I will also examine the attitudes of the natural sciences before 'ecology' appeared, why it was that holistic biology developed in Germany and not elsewhere, and whether it was true that a Goethean holism was responsible.


In evolving a theory of ecology, the origin of the word is as good a place to start as any. It was used by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in his Generelle Morphologie in 1866. [2] Haeckel's role in the history of ecology is both important and ambiguous. He coined the word, and in the context of nineteenth-century science it expresses the shift to a contextual and holistic biology. He was also a political figure, whose reforms sprang directly from his scientific belief. In this, he was the precursor of a wave of such scientists, fired with the belief that their expertise in their own discipline would enable them to re-order political life.

When Haeckel coined Oekologie he was referring to the web that linked organisms and their surrounding environment. His own definition of the term was was 'the science of relations beteen organisms and their environment'. [3] Ecology looked at organisms in their context; their life-cycle, their environment and their place in the cycle of energy use. Haeckel's use of the term was as a descriptive tool. It is still so used today, for example, in studies of the ecology of plants and streams, or the ecology of plants in a field. [4] Ironically, Haeckel himself did not fully develop his own invention for his own discipline. One author argues that 'he does not display any notable insight into the dynamic principles of ecology'. [5] The full development of plant ecology owed more to plant geographers such as Eugenius Warming, who published on plant communities in 1895.

The scientific mentality of the period was ready for the concept. The idea of geographically as well as biologically inter-related organisms had appeared in different countries and different disciplines at almost the same time. Biologists contemporary with Haeckel whose political and reformist interests resembled his included Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. His 'fundamental biological notions' (1854) included 'General facts, relationships and organic laws concerning organised beings seen either as a whole or via their organs.' [6] An important inclusion in his biological relationships was 'ethological laws relating to instinct, moeurs,' [7] The general facts included the 'successive and current distribution of organised life on the earth's surface'. [8] Nikolai Danilevsky, the famous pan-Slavist, was a geographer and botanist, who, inspired by Saint-Hilaire, made nine major ichthyological expeditions between 1853 and 1885. [9] His political and ecological essays were published in 1890. [10] Anton de Bary's symbiosis concept was also fruitful for ecological science.

Haeckel has been compared to Amerigo Vespucci - he discovered the name of the 'continent' not the thing itself. [11] He was a zoologist who specialised in microscopic and amoebic forms, where the intricate connections of parasite and food were less apparent. But his love of nature and his propagation of the creed of pantheism left a mark on his era. His works were translated into English and had a mass distribution. Their influence on English-speaking countries was enormous. For self-educated working men, his two-shilling works with titles such as The Riddles of the Universe, or The Wonders of Life, published by the Rationalist Press Association, were a life-line to political awareness through scientific knowledge. In this he was on a par with Darwin and Karl Marx.

The resonances of the new term went beyond biology. It carried overtones of the Greek word Oekonomie. As used by Aristotle, this originally meant the proper functioning of a household unit, the oekos. A soundly organised working household was the basis of a viable state. It was as self-sufficient as possible. It husbanded its resources, and avoided waste and disorder - as we still say that something is done with economy. It was not a methodologically individualist concept, but implied a self-contained group; the nation, the tribe, the organism. This connection between the meaning of ecology and of economy was made in 1928 by Walter Johnson, biographer of the great eighteenth-century naturalist Gilbert White of Selborne. [12]

Further, ecology was at first used co-terminously with ethology, the science of animal behaviour. North American scientists like Charles Whitman in the late nineteenth century, followed by Julian Huxley, revolutionised zoology by meticulous observation' of birds in their natural habitat. The idea that animal behaviour could be understood by close observation in the wild found opposition. It was difficult to carry out controlled experiments in these conditions. An imaginative and empathic attitude was needed. When the idea of inbuilt or instinctive behavioural drives emerged, a theory was needed to explain its source. By the First World War, the field was split between vitalists and behaviourists. The split between theories of mechanical causation and vitalists, who postulated a life-force, stimulated Konrad Lorenz (1903- ), originally a behaviourist in sympathy, to study animal psychology in depth. Vitalists believed that the life-force was responsible for inexplicable behavioural factors, such as route-finding in pigeons, care for the young, mating, nest-building and so on. Ethologists searched for precise mechanisms, either in-built or partly learned, that would explain the advanced and complex 'culture' displayed by animals.

'Biological' ethology was the science of character based on the study of animals. It overlapped in meaning and area of study with Haeckel's ecology. [13] It extended the web of relationships from the physical sphere, energy and resources cycled between sun, water, plants and animals. It showed that habitat and animals, group and individual, instinctive drives and learned adaptations, had to be seen together and in context, if animals, and by implication man, were to be understood.


If Haeckel failed fully to develop this key concept, then it is obviously necessary to justify his inclusion as a founding father; the invention of the word itself could be a trivial connection. Indeed, in creating a new box in which to fit apparently disparate thinkers, the methodology presents a problem. Why should one particular man matter?

Intellectual history always runs the risk of degenerating into a mere list of quotations or an exploration of bizarre side-alleys. But Haeckel, though, little known as he is to-day, matters in several ways beyond the invention of ecology, which by itself would not necessarily be crucial. His political influence was considerable, through the Monist League, which he founded late in life, and through his pupils, who included prominent reformers and political agitators, as well as scientists. His political legacy will be discussed later, but Haeckel, in his republican atheism and his nature-worship directly influenced D.H. Lawrence. Through Lawrence, Haeckel's ideas influenced several early founders of the Soil Association as well as vitalist nature-lovers in Britain. His theory of recapitulation provided further direct inspiration for the 1920s Back-to-the-Land movements inspired by neo-Lamarckian environmental ideas. Many who were interested in biology found in him scientific backing for the prevailing sense in turn-of-the-century Europe of dissatisfaction and alienation. He offered an alternative which was programme, hard evidence and religious wisdom rolled into one creed. He created the biological root of today's ecologism, which was to stimulate philosophical anthropology as well as ethologists. Finally, he was a North German nationalist, of Protestant origin, thus fitting the ethnic and religious characteristics which I outlined in the last chapter. Let me at this point recapitulate the main points of my earlier definition of ecologism.

The specific characteristics of political ecology are that it is a normative philosophy, that it is a total world-view which does not allow for piece-meal reform, that it believes truth to be attainable, and its attainability to be desirable; it fears the dissipation of energy and resources, and is not anthropocentric. Man's existence should not be considered primary for a moral stance towards nature. As second-order characteristics, ecologists want to reform man, society and their relation to the world. The reform is motivated by their scientific knowledge (or theories) about man and the world and their fundamental reverence before the beauty and order of nature. They fear the loss of soil fertility, due to erosion or pollution.

Although Haeckel did not express fears about pollution and soil erosion, and was not an energy ecologist (although one of his chief followers, Wilhelm Ostwald, was an important one) none the less he was an ecologist in three important ways. Firstly, he saw the universe as a unified and balanced organism. Space and organic beings were made of the same atoms. Hence his Monism, whether defined as all-matter or all-spirit. He also believed that man and animals had the same moral and natural status, so was not man-centred. Thirdly, he preached the doctrine that nature was the source of truth and wise guidance about man's life. Human society should be re-organized along the lines suggested by scientific observation of the natural world. Through his influence, he enabled ecologism to become a viable political creed.


As a student, Haeckel was devoutly religious. His social attitudes were progressive; he disliked strong class barriers, and till his death he remained a believer in progress, thinking that science and truth would always prevail. He criticised university learning for what he saw as its hidebound nature, and opposed the practice of duelling, still fashionable among German students. He was a meritocrat. Like many upwardly-mobile middle-class German intellectuals, he was involved in the expansionist, nationalist Pan-German League. Later, however, he joined the German Peace Movement. He failed to join fellow-academics and intellectuals in the near-universal celebration of the outbreak of the First World War. [14] Nobel Prize winning chemist, Wilhelm Ostwald, Haeckel's most important successor as Monist, was also a pacifist. Unlike Haeckel, he continued to be one even during the First World War. Haeckel lost his religious faith in his early twenties. It was replaced by what he was to call Monism, the belief that 'the real world, the object of science, can be truly known only by experience and pure reason'. [15] Haeckel believed in a holistic world-view, that is, he rejected the concept of a mind-body split. He contrasted Goethe and his (alleged) pantheism with Kant, but hoped that the traditions deriving from their two views might eventually live in harmony. This unlikely event was to come about through the unifying quality of Monist doctrine. Monism's opposition to dualism was that mind and matter were one, because the universe existed on only one level. No non-physical spirit or force could exist. Towards the end of his life, Haeckel decided that while all was one, the one could just as well be spirit as matter. This did not prevent him being attacked in English religious and spiritualist journals as the most dangerous atheist of all time. The tendency to an all-spirit view was there as early as 1884, when he defined Monism as 'one spirit in all things ... one common fundamental law', and argued that one could not 'draw a sharp distinction between the two great divisions of nature'. He rejected creeds that distinguished between the natural and the spiritual sphere. All were one, whether 'mechanical or pantheistic'. He claimed various heretics and atheists as scientific forebears. As well as Goethe, there were Lucretius, Bruno and Spinoza. He argued that they had all shown 'the oneness of the cosmos, the indissoluble connection between energy and matter ... mind and embodiment. .. God and the world'. In 1905 he quoted Goethe on 'God-Nature'. Thus, the spiritual element in Monism was always potentially there. [16]

Even in his Confession of Faith of a Man of Science he was thinking as an ecologist. He pointed out that the energy level in the universe was constant. According to the first law of the conservation of matter this implied that matter and energy were both constant, and were the same thing. There was no such thing as empty space; it was filled by the ether and by atoms. This constant level of matter was the fabric of the universe, and had to be the stuff of the mind as well. There was no room for an extraneous element. Nothing came out of the universe: nothing came in.

Haeckel also thought that animals should be seen as equal to man: at least, to some men. The 'first beginnings of reason' could be discerned in 'the most highly developed vertebrates', together with 'the first traces of religious and ethical conduct ... the social virtues ... consciousness, sense of duty and conscience'. [17] He saw the higher vertebrates as equal to 'primitive man', and like him they had no 'higher degree of consciousness and reason'. [18]

Haeckel argued that although matter itself was immortal, because of the law of conservation of energy, there was no after-life and no soul. He paid lip service in his middle years to what he described as a 'younger Christianity', that is, less custom-bound and petrified; he was also interested in Buddhism. [19] In this, he expressed what was to be a continual theme among ecologists and those interested in animal rights. The appeal to ecologists of a religion that gave equal status to all species is obvious.

Later in life, he attacked Christianity for putting man above animals and nature. 'It has contributed not only to an extremely injurious isolation from our glorious mother 'nature', but also to a regrettable contempt of all other organisms.' [20] If there was no mind, where did values and emotions come from? Haeckel argued that it was rational to worship Nature and live by Nature's laws. Man was isolated from the world. This was wrong, and, more especially, it was unscientific. Man had forgotten his social rules; egoism to preserve the self; altruism to preserve the family and society. Monistic sexual ethics were more natural than Christian puritanism, which was anti-family and anti-sex - though Haeckel was careful to distance himself from dangerous Socialist ideas about free love. He believed that it was reason that led to an appreciation of the beautiful, the true and the good. Emotions he thought irrelevant to his analysis. [21] This was odd in view of his emotional nature-worship.


The extraordinary influence of Haeckel and his successors can be attributed, in part, to the quasi-religious appeal, the incipient pantheism of his picture. But there is a deeper appeal; the return to a god-impregnated nature, which had been banished from the North by Christianity. This void, apparently not felt by other Europeans, could now be filled, and filled by a convincing science-oriented ethic, that did not depend on received myths.

Christianity is considered by historians of science to have been traditionally anti-nature. Since it is split into sects, arguments have arisen as to whether Catholicism or Protestantism is the most hostile. [22] I referred in the last chapter to the examination of alleged Greek, Buddhist or Jewish strands in Christianity as explanations. Worster describes Christianity as a pro-scientific creed, that places the earth in a profane domain, where it can be utilised for man's ends. [23] Glacken interprets Christianity as the shepherding creed; nurturing the earth as a reflection of God's being. [24] Now that ecology has become more widely discussed, a number of Christian ecological apologists have emerged, who offer re-interpretations of the Genesis story, and the Franciscan tradition as evidence. [25]

Over Christianity's two thousand years, it has undergone many metamorphoses, and has varied in different countries and cultures. Its monastic heritage has stimulated and preserved as well as hampered free enquiry. The Protestant ethic also contains opposing strands. The scientists concerned with ecology, whether biological or economic, came mostly from Britain, Germany and North America, areas with a Protestant tradition. This suggests that there was some lack felt in the religion of Protestant countries that was not felt elsewhere. It might be a reappearance of ancient resentment at the cutting down of the sacred groves 'or it might be the loss of the mother spirit' that led to the search for the life-force that infused nature.

This rebellion was not new. The eighteenth century had begun with a belief in an 'integrated order', which functioned like a harmonious, orderly machine, and was designed by God. [26] There was a vitalist reaction. The concept of a 'Soul of the World' and 'the Spirit of Nature' was used by Henry More and John Ray. In 1749, Linnaeus (1707-78), the great Swedish naturalist, described the 'Economy of Nature', using 'economy', in the way described earlier.

Linnaeus's nature presided over a fixed cycle of water moving through the system; water rose up from the earth, and returned as rain and snow. While nature was benevolent, her regime was fixed. Hierarchy and rules were inevitable. Within the cycle of the natural economy, each species had its place. [27] So naturalists in the eighteenth century were vitalists. They had a vision of a stable, circular-flow world. It was fixed and hierarchical, but elements within it were cyclically mobile. By the early nineteenth century, unilinear progress had burst the bubble.

The vision of the suspended, self-contained sphere, working with dazzling efficiency but unchanged over time, was destroyed by the atheism, the evolutionary and geological science of the early nineteenth century. But the ethics of natural theology were replaced by the ethics of natural law. The expansion and confidence of the great era of Victorian science destroyed the idea that all was fixed. But progress was a new law. Order, Right, Duty, - these were still the desirable ends, and without a fixed natural order and an omnipresent Creator, scientific principles could be used to create a utopia. This shift of vision was not yet ecological. The natural scientists T.H. Huxley, Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and the early Geddes, put man first. Huxley, Spencer and Galton all saw the dynamics of natural development as potentially valuable to man's wellbeing; while Galton wanted to establish a scientific priesthood. Darwin showed 'how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations', but did not draw man-oriented conclusions from his work; indeed, he avoided including man in his scheme for as long as he could. [28]

However, Huxley did draw such conclusions. He interpreted the Origin of Species as

Harmonious order governing eternally continuous progress, the web and woof of matter and force interweaving by slow degrees, without a broken thread, that veil which lies between us and the infinite - that Universe which alone we know or can know; such is the picture which science draws of the world. [29]

The metaphor of the veil returns constantly during this century. In Schiller's series of 'veil' poems, the image was of a veiled nature. When rash man tried to life the veil, he died. The interpretation which emerges from this marvellous series (which, it should be stressed, can only be a coarse rendering of a subtle work of art) is that the lone voyage of self-discovery by the free spirit leads to suffering and death. But by Huxley's day, the veil was our ignorance of nature, which could and should be pierced. The naturalist Hutton talked of the 'veil of Nature'. [30] Natural law had replaced God, so nature's laws must become known so that man could follow them. The new pantheism had a somewhat dominating Nature as its centre, a Nature expected to educate and guide humanity.

This optimism became harder to maintain as people realised the implications of the second law of thermo-dynamics, that energy was always dissipating. Clearly, a world where waste and decay and irreversible decline were the law could not be a world of progress. It was a world centred on death.

The religion of nature was salvaged by the new vitalism. Will, spirit, the life-force, all were renewed by neo-Lamarckian concepts. Haeckel himself was a neo-Lamarckian. Several scientists believed that there was an immortal germ-plasm. Dr Alexis Carrel, a tissue-transplant specialist, believed he had kept noncancerous cells alive for several decades. His book Man the Unknown expressed a religious faith in the unity of man and nature. Like Haeckel, he was an inspiration to the inter-war ecologists in Britain. In fact, he was a personal friend and acquaintance of many. Dr Paul Carus was polymathic editor of the Chicago Monist, an influential journal of general science unconnected with Haeckel. Carus argued for a consistent 'unitary world conception' and an unflinching search for nature's rules for man. The objectivity of morals and ethics was a common belief for Monists. Carus argued that the criterion of a valid ethical system was its objective reality, - truth was the criterion of ethics. [31]

The clear distinction between the ecological scientists and the man-oriented ones is shown by comparing Haeckel with T.H. Huxley. Huxley, like Haeckel, was a republican and an atheist, who studied natural law for human guidance. But, far from believing that man should live more closely to natural laws, he believed that man's civilization could only be maintained by . artificial and deliberate means. He used the analogy of the gardener, who weeds and tends to preserve the garden. He concluded that civilization should be maintained, despite its 'artificiality'. It was the good way for man to live. He was anthropocentric, and adopted a mechanical model of nature. Haeckel, though, deduced from cell-theory that 'all matter was sensate'. [32]

It would be over-simplifying matters to place Huxley at one end of a pole, and Haeckel at the other. Both had faith in the wisdom and benevolence of nature's laws. Huxley's vision of Darwinian evolution is a moving evocation of natural order. It is a vision, however, that assumes that man is the centre and aim of this beneficence. Huxley's attitude to animals is another divide. Haeckel, as mentioned earlier, gave animals the same status as man. Huxley saw Descartes's picture of unfeeling, nonvolitional animals as strengthened by the results of modern work on reflexes, brain and spine, although he did not advocate full-scale vivisection because of the terrible pain that would be caused to animals if Descartes was wrong. [33] Lacking proof that some vital life-force existed, and rejecting the notion that the universe was all spirit, he decided for an advanced version of the mechanical model.


Haeckel is sometimes seen as a conservative figure, and Bolsche was described as a reactionary by Martinez-Alier. [34] It is part of my argument that those who want to reform society according to nature are neither left nor right but ecologically-minded.

Nineteenth-century ecologists believed in progress (a belief that began to decline during the twentieth century), and in the power of man's will to change himself, so long as his will was used as a 'good' will, that is, in accordance with nature's laws. The American Monist argued for man's power to reshape himself.

The new factor introduced with man is a voluntary cooperation in the process of evolution, a conscious upward striving towards a higher condition, a pressing forward toward an ideal. Man, contrary to all else in nature is transformed, not in shape by external environment, but in character by his own ideals. [35]

This capacity, unique to man, came from man's awareness of his relation to the infinite, and the attempt to realise the divine ideal in human character. Man was part of nature, and nature was beauty and order. For Haeckel, nature meant the spirit of freedom. He saw the natural order as progressive and optimistic. He was probably the first naturalist to derive human morality from animal instincts. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' and 'love thy neighbour as thyself' he described as 'ethical instinct ... derived from our animal ancestors'. [36] Human societies had to survive, that was their function, as with animal societies. The instinctive rules and codes evolved by both, Haeckel argued, were the same. This led him to a belief in cooperation and altruism. He criticized Nietzsche and the individualistic anarchist Max Stirner for substituting a religion of strength for universal charity; for, added Haeckel significantly, this was a 'biological error'. [37] The same belief in biological fitness led him to argue for eugenics ('racial hygiene' is the literal translation from the German) and for euthanasia. Yet, like Prince Kropotkin in Mutual Aid, he derived 'sympathy and altruism' from 'natural principles'. [38]

Our general impression of social Darwinism does not include the belief expressed by Haeckel that 'Love is the supreme moral law of rational religion.' [39] But Haeckel's nature was benevolent. And if it was benevolent, then contradictions and divisions had to be 'unnatural'. Haeckel went out of his way to oppose the Christian belief in inevitable sorrow and grief.

Monism teaches us that we are ... children of the earth who, for one or two or three generations, have the good fortune to enjoy [its] treasures ... to drink to the inexhaustible fountain of its beauty, and to trace out the marvellous play of its forces. [40]

He put his faith in education, which would reveal the wonder and beauty of life, and Monism, which emphasised its poetry. Social Darwinism is sometimes seen as a mechanism to legitimise the power-holding classes, and certainly social Darwinists opposed class warfare. However, Darwinian and neo-Lamarckian reforms were demanded by natural scientists and social reformers who did not perceive themselves as part of the ruling elite. They saw the rulers of society as irrational, reactionary, hide-bound and war-mongering. Their own loyalties were to their beliefs and consciences, not to institutions.

Despite its apparently innocuous emphasis on the beauties and wonders of Nature and Truth, Monism was potentially a subversive creed; not only because of its rejection of organised religion, but because of its rejection of social traditions. This point is sometimes submerged by the apparently rigid and conservative image of the organic, cell-state. Haeckel, like Herbert Spencer and biologist Virchow, of the Progressive Party, deduced the ideal state from an organic analogy. Like the brain and nervous system, the ideal state would be centralised. This was not because, as conservatives would argue, hierarchy had virtues in itself, but because nature's work showed it to be the most harmonious and efficient means of ensuring survival. Haeckel's ideal state was not coercive, but he combined his belief in co-operation with a belief in duty. He was the first biologist to argue that duty was a biological impulse.41 All living organisms, amoeba, apes, primitive and cultivated man, were bound by a law of care for the family and collective and the desire to survive.

Existing human society should be rejected because it lagged behind scientific advances. If the laws of biology were followed, the result would be a humane, efficient, peaceful state. As we saw earlier, that radical social change should be implemented according to nature's laws is a typical ecologists' view.

As I shall argue later that German National Socialism had a strong ecological element, it might be a good moment here to discuss the charge, levied in 1971 in an influential book by Daniel Gasman, that Haeckel inspired Hitler and Nazi ideology. The charge is based on the assumption that Haeckel was a Darwinian, and ignores the fact that he was a neo-Lamarckian. Haeckel is supposed to be a volkisch thinker, although this is quite untrue, and the work, which has combed the most obscure and little-read books by Haeckel, is forced to rely on an unsubstantiated journalist's report in 1918 as evidence. Haeckel is supposed to share an anti-Enlightenment bias with Hitler. Yet the Enlightenment in no way rejected a politics based on nature and biology; on the contrary, Kant himself accepted Linnaeus's classification of animals and applied it to man, recognising distinct races of man, whereas the volkisch Herder rejected it, and argued that man was one race, separated for a few hundred years. Then the chain of evidence is weak. Hitler may have read Haeckel, but there is no evidence that he did, although we have abundant evidence about his reading in general, including lists of books borrowed from libraries. There is no direct contact traceable in the way there is for D.H. Lawrence. Hitler was not sympathetic to the 'green' wing of his party. Haeckel's creed was pacifist by inclination, while Hitler's was not. Haeckel was a nationalist for progressive reasons; the centralized state would, he thought, sweep away the conservative, particularist, Catholic and reactionary remnants of militarist states. The Third Reich did not support Darwinian evolutionary theories, and Hitler is supposed, by Rauschning, to have referred to Bolsche as an urban absurdity. [42]
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:30 pm

Part 2 of 2


We have now examined Haeckel's biology, his Monism and his belief in a positive progressive nature. This section will examine his politics and his political heritage, and argue that it is in accord with the typology of political ecology discussed earlier.

It was not until 1905 that Haeckel became chairman of the Monist League, but it had always been inspired by his ideas. Monism and Haeckel's writings were from their inception attacked by Christian and conservative groups in Germany and England. They were widely disseminated through almost universal literacy and cheap printing. One popular magazine, Gartenlaube, with some five million readers, carried chatty notes on natural science. The liberal impulses stifled in the German empire found expression through natural science, and its tone was anti-establishment. Several of its best-known exponents were forty-eighters, that is, banned after the revolutions of 1848. Although Monists have been described as right-wing because most were eugenically-minded, their political affiliation was for the most part firmly on the left. Karl Vogt, who taught biology to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, among others, was a left-wing socialist materialist, and with Moleschott was forced to lecture in Switzerland. Indeed, one of Dostoievsky's most horrible terrorists read the works of Karl Vogt. The editor of a popular science journal was another old forty-eighter, and his magazine was banned in Prussia for years. The works of Darwin himself had been banned by one conservative journal in Germany, and were welcomed by liberals. [43]

But the easiest way to discover the League's political slant is to examine its membership. Many belonged to the German Social Democratic Party. They included ex-Marxist and eugenicist Ludwig Woltmann, who became a popularizer of Gobineau, and the Swiss August Fore!, who taught Ploetz and other eugenic communards, and who was drowned with Ludwig of Bavaria. One of Wilhelm Bolsche's early novels describes a young man, a left-wing activist, tempted by a utopian and spiritual paradise, but who rejects it in favour of a working-class fiancee and the class struggle. Haeckel and Darwin were on August Bebel's reading list in prison, as with most enlightened and progressive souls. Darwinian biologists were often internationalist and pacifist, whereas volkisch German nationalists were anti-Darwinian. Chamberlain himself was on the point of completing his Vogt-inspired doctorate in biology when he was converted to neovitalism. Forel during the First World War protested to Haeckel about pro-war poems in the Monists' journal. But he also wanted modern science to list races in order of their potential service to mankind.44 There was a move by Monists to merge with the Social Democratic Party. Carl von Ossietsky and Magnus Hirschfeld, both prominent left-wingers, were Monists. [45] Wilhelm Ostwald thought that all Monists must be oriented against conservatism, orthodoxy and ultramontanism. Few Monists became Marxists, because class conflict was seen by them as wasteful and pointless. Ostwald's Natural Philosophy ended with a call to class co-operation based on the gradual disappearance of all groups but the skilled worker. One day all would be technocrats. [46] Haeckel's followers in the Monist League belonged to the optimistic, progressive, scientific Left. The university-educated ecosocialists active in today's German Green Party derive from this tradition.

Haeckel's enormous popularity was partly due to his biographer, the man who played Boswell to his Johnson, Wilhelm Bolsche. They both appealed to a generation of republican, socialist atheists, who were anxious to believe what was in effect a new religion. Haeckel's emphasis on what was both wondrous and rational was persuasive. This humanism seems a world away from the other, better-known German tradition of idealism and relativism, of Engels and Dilthey. But in its belief in the human will, together with the vision of society as an organic whole, it lent scientific validity to relativism. The political relevance for Germany was to be far in the future, decades after the collapse of the Third Reich, when the educated middle-classes began to support the Greens.

Haeckel and the Monists did not support democracy, partly because they did not trust untrained scientists to understand man and society. In this they resembled the Fabians, the scientific social reformers of the same period. The nuclear physicist Frederick Soddy, Bertrand Russell and H.G. Wells all wrote with scorn of the pettiness of politics, the superior capacities of the scientific mind. They rejected the notion of political science and philosophy, because society was too important to be left to the compromise, bargaining and jockeying for power that characterised the political process. Comte had influenced many. He thought that committees of trained experts were more competent to govern than elected representatives (not to think of pre-democratic modes of government). Experts were apolitical and meritocratic. The art of politics would be replaced by a knowledge of man. Anthropology would render the pettiness and self-seeking of politicians unnecessary. This rejection of traditional politics is typical of the world-view of today's ecologists.

Thus, Haeckel's link with ecology is not confined to the verbal accident of inventing the term. Ecology, as a conceptual tool, was a term that contained the kernel of its normative usage from the beginning. Its founder became heavily involved in politics. Both his politics and his scientific work touched on concerns fundamental to today's ecologists. They did not touch on all; on the other hand, his immediate followers extended Haeckel's interests to cover soil erosion and resource conservation. Haeckel's most important legacy was his worship of Nature, the belief that man and nature were one, and that to damage one was to damage the other. He offered scientific 'proof' that harmony and benevolence were intrinsic to the world, and that man must fit into its framework, while cherishing and caring for nature's wonders.

In many ways, he was more entitled to be regarded as the direct founder of the movement than the holistic biologists who form the subject of the next section. Their scientific contribution is, however, more relevant to man's behaviour and social organisation.


One of the missing links of nineteenth-century biology was the gap where the soul or spirit had previously lived. Scientific materialism was the first answer. The world was all one; man was part of the world. There was no tangible soul, therefore all was matter. Monism, the unitary man-nature philosophy propagated by Haeckel, opposed the dualism between man and soul, body versus spirit, emotion versus reason, that had been so strong a part of Western and Christian philosophy. The revolt against scientific materialism, which appeared earlier in Germany than elsewhere, was, however, characterised by the same rationality and optimism. The vitalists argued that it was the wonders of science themselves which showed that anything was possible. The greatest wonder of all was organised and complex life, which could not be satisfactorily explained by materialism. Vitalists were agnostics; pending scientific proof of a life-force, of, in effect, a God, they predicated its existence. This attitude makes more sense if one remembers that during the nineteenth century a mental posture of considerable credulity was needed to believe the bizarre discoveries of the natural scientists. Schopenhauer thought that different laws governed different 'provinces of nature'. Where gravitation and similar laws had been valid for what he called 'the province of the mechanical', new laws were needed for 'chemistry, electricity, magnetism and crystallisation'. [47] If marvels like invisible bacteria and hypnotism could affect body and psyche, or elements in an immortal germ-plasm determine one's character, what hidden powers could not be omnipresent? The very fact that science had uncovered such miracles meant that the boundaries between possible and impossible - even or perhaps especially for the trained scientific mind - became fainter.

Here, too, Haeckel's role was crucial. Monism began as a materialistic creed. Before Haeckel's death, it had moved to a vitalist position, where all was one, but all was spirit. Haeckel's last work was God-Nature, published in 1914. One of Haeckel's students was Hans Driesch, Professor of Philosophy at Heidelberg. He also lectured at Scottish and English universities up to 1913. In 1907and 1908he gave the Gifford Lectures, on natural philosophy and evolution. Driesch was the most important neovitalist of his day, described by his English translator as having many admirers in England and Germany. His pupils included Ernst Junger and Ortega y Gasset, both radical nationalist conservatives. As late as 1970 he was cited as an inspiration by members and supporters of the Soil Association, along with Bergson. [48] He postulated the existence of what he called a 'dynamic teleology' behind organic life. Inorganic objects were governed by a 'static teleology'. Teleology simply meant inherently purposeful. His distinction between dynamic and static argued that the vital force operated at a more intense level with animals, but that the same principle was at work through everything in the universe. Life was governed by will and purpose; the higher the life-form, the higher the level of purpose within it. Driesch thought that the only way to explain the marvels of human consciousness and animal life was that some thing or being had intended it so to be. This purpose he called the life-force. Driesch distinguished his neo-vitalism from the earlier nineteenth-century vitalism. Darwin's demonstration of evolution had made earlier vitalism untenable, but had not explained the increasing specialisation and complexity of life forms. If amoeba could survive as they were, why shoud they mutate or develop eventually into human beings? He freely admitted that there was still no proof of the existence of a life-force; however, he saw the mechanical, accidental causation of life and evolution as an obviously untenable hypothesis.

Driesch's The Philosophy of the Organic was published in 1909. Vitalism retreated into philosophy, and lost its status in mainstream science. It remained as a vigorous sub-culture, finding expression in existentialism, as well as in popular science after the Second World War. What made life distinct, if anything, remained a vexed question, one illustrated by Karl Popper's dispute with Schrodinger, the physicist. Schrodinger argued in What is Life (1967) that life was qualitatively different from the non-living. He thought that the difference was shown by life's capacity to contradict the second law of thermo-dynamics; life resisted entropy. He defined living organisms as those that 'feed on negative entropy'. [49] Life could organise its own energy production and consumption. It could 'suck orderliness from its environment'. [50] Popper denied that there was any such difference between life and non-living organisms. To him, 'every oil-fired boiler and every self-winding watch may be said' to do the same thing. [51]

Popper apparently missed Schrodinger's point. Man shovelled coal into the steam engine and it moved. But what moved man? That which lived could feed, convert and use energy sources to create a structured life form without external intervention. It could reproduce itself. Through collecting and using energy, focused and usable energy was created by the organism. A steam engine could not do that. Popper's dismissal of Schrodinger's definition hints at a deep antipathy towards what can be seen as an anti-materialist argument.

The religious and spiritual overtones of the 'life-force' seemed to make it unacceptable generally to the irritable materialism of accepted scientific discourse. In the natural sciences, genetics was to offer a physical explanation of national selection, while behaviourism promised an explanation of animal behaviour that ignored self-generating activity.


Scientific holism was not dead, however. In 1909 a German physiologist, Jacob von Uekhull, first used the term Umwelt. By this word, used today as 'environment' in German, he meant 'the subjective or phenomenal world of the individual'. [52] The concept of interaction between observer and observed continued into the 1920s, when the success of Gestalt philosophy added to the force of non-behaviourist types of explanation. It was an attempt to merge different ways of studying perception. It showed that animal and human visual perception fastened on specific elements in a picture or scene, and completed the picture from non-observed assumptions. The gap between man and animal was further weakened by the development of ethology. Kohler's chimpanzee studies suggested that animals thought. They even had the equivalent of the Eureka exclamation, which Kohler charmingly calls the 'Aha' expression. This appeared when a problem was solved. [53]

The split between mechanical causation and vitalism had stimulated attempts by ethologists at experimental validation of both hypotheses. Ethologists searched for precise mechanisms, both in-built and learned, to explain instinct. Without the concept of ecology, the relation between organisms and environment, ethologists would not have been inspired to see the animal in its natural habitat, and, true to our ethnic map, ethology flourished in England, America, France, Holland and Austria. One gifted Afrikaner, Eugene Marais, studied in such hostile isolation, far from the mainstream of academic life, that he finally committed suicide.

The idea that animal behaviour can best be understood by examining it in its 'natural' surroundings seems obvious today, but its exponents were fighting the laboratory paradigm, which denied feeling, spirit and individualism to the animal kingdom. Such ideas were dismissed as anthropomorphism. The zoo was the source of many animal studies. It was paradoxical that environmentalists failed to ask themselves whether an animal stripped of its intended environmental stimuli would be typical, whether a beast in prison was the proper subject for analysis. Although ethologists were to be criticized for extrapolating from animal to human, behavioural psychologists did so too. Again, was the laboratory experiment the correct way to understand the complex and subtle interactions of animals and men?

For obvious reasons, it was hard to study birds in imprisonment or in laboratories. Perhaps for this reason, it was birds who were first studied in the wild. The most famous ethologist in this tradition was to be the Austrian naturalist Konrad Lorenz. Brought up by the Danube, he observed birds in their habitat from childhood. He first became famous outside Germany with his book King Solomon's Ring. This anecdotal account of animal behaviour conveyed the endearing picture of a Dr Dolittle, and the German title of the book, 'He talked to the Animals.' emphasised this. But Lorenz also offered convincing explanations of its causes. The theory of instinctive drives might be complex. But anyone who had ever observed their own cat could understand the concept of displacement activity. In place of the behaviourists' passive animal, born with a blank mind, to be affected by electric shocks, bright lights, bells and food withdrawal Lorenz suggested a set of inborn templates, designed to guide behaviour along a certain line. The development could be thwarted or altered, but the pressure on the animal to perform certain actions would produce observable phenomena as a result. However, animals could learn from and respond to changes in their environment. Lorenz had begun as a behaviourist, who followed the mechanical explanation, namely that animal behaviour had reducible physical causes. He was also inspired by the excitement and romance of biology, as interpreted by Wilhelm Bolsche's books, such as Love-Life in Nature. [54] Because Bolsche was a devout Haeckelian, it was Haeckelian neo-Lamarckian evolution that appeared in his picture of nature, not Darwin's more mechanical process. Although Sir Charles Elton's famous text Animal Ecology was first published in 1927, Lorenz appears not to have come across it. Elton was always aware of the parallels between man and animals in their interaction with their environment, and for this reason was active in establishing the Nature Conservancy Council. [55]

Lorenz's ethology contained normative elements from the start. Animal and environment were seen as a unit. The feedback between specie and habitat was part of the study. On the other hand, it was not determinist. Each animal was an individual. Animals learned, changed and loved, like humans. Some paired for life; some flirted and got divorced. They felt surprise, jealousy and pain.

The idea of explaining human behaviour by comparisons with animals had not been taken seriously before. Such comparisons had been largely polemical or ironical. Now the comparison could be made on the basis of the new science, and it appeared to prove that the gap between species was not as great as had been thought. The door was open for scientific anti-anthropomorphism, leading to 'anti-speciesism', the belief that it was wrong to distinguish between the moral or even legal standing of different species.

Lorenz first entered political controversy with his book On Aggression. This argued that all animals displayed signs of something like aggression, but which had a purpose for their survival. The most striking was that animals would defend their territory and their kin-group. Animals defending someone else's territory tended to lose the fight; one could almost say that they knew they were in the wrong. Lorenz accounted for the untrammelled nature of human aggression by arguing that it was precisely because man was a fundamentally peaceful being, who had not developed innate mechanisms for controlling aggressive behaviour. He instanced wolves, who would stop attacking as soon as the victim made a surrender gesture. Man, like the turtledove, had no inbuilt stopping instinct. The exploratory, inquisitive drive was another 'animal' trait in man, responsible for much of his cultural achievements.

Lorenz believed, like T.H. Huxley, that if man's animal nature were recognised, it would be easier to solve his political and social problems. His book was an impassioned call to avoid war. It was, however, taken as a justification of violence. The argument that man had innate tendencies was seen as determinism. He was interpreted as arguing that man was innately violent. [56]

The debate between nature and nurture concerned genes and the possibility of genetic transmission of behaviour patterns. Many historians of science saw an implicit racialism in the sociobiological position. However, it is clear that genetic programming would presuppose a universal, species-oriented approach to human behaviour. If humanity had genes for any specific quality, all humans would have them. But resistance to the idea that the human species, like animals, owe their mind and emotions to physical factors, was powerful. When one of Lorenz's students, Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, claimed to have found a universal body-language of expression and gesture, it was countered by the behaviourist psychologists' claim that frowns, smiles, etc., were firstly non-universal expressions, and secondly if they were 'universal' it was because such expressions came most easily to the human musculature. A baby learned to express surprise by raising its eyebrows because a baby surprised by something would naturally look up at it. Eibl-Eibesfeldt countered that this hardly accounted for the universal baby habit of pouting, stamping its feet and banging its firsts when angry. He produced photos of Amazon Indian girl children pouting and turning away when their shells were taken by little boys. Not only sex, motherhood and violence, but the very nuances of social behaviour were, argued human ethologists, genetically programmed for mankind. [57]

Many conservatives found these conclusions disturbing. What use were traditions and institutions, those guardians of the collective memory, if human qualities were programmed? Because ethology seemed to work with the lowest common denominator of behaviour it was seen as anti-culture, claiming that man was only his propensity to mate, nest and hunt. Lorenz saw the wonders of human culture as a direct result of his animal qualities. In his 1973 work on the theory of knowledge, developed from his years of meditating on Kant while a prisoner-of-war, he cited Toynbee's theory of history as the first example of history which examined cultures as organisms. [58] Lorenz described culture as a historically unique process; like a species, it developed independently. Its evolution was not controlled by man's will, or by his power of abstract thought. Lorenz concluded that 'the cognitive function of culture, the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge, emerges through processes that are parallel to those which occur in phylogenetic development'. [59] Lorenz now seemed to be accepting man's uniqueness. At some time in his development, man had experienced a 'creative flash' that had produced self-aware intelligence and consciousness. [60] But man's capacity to create a culture was still natural, built in by nature. And if man could understand his own nature, then, for the first time, the forces that 'have destroyed all earlier civilizations' could be warded off. [61] 'A reflecting self-investigation of a culture has never yet come into being on this planet, just as objectivating science did not exist before the time of Galileo.' [62] Without specifically articulating his debt, Lorenz, like the holistic and vitalist philosophers before him, referred to Goethe's inspiration, - combined with error, through not understanding that 'the creative force is life itself', not 'the reflection of some preestablished harmony'. Lorenz claimed that Chomsky, who had shown that the grammar of language and thought was innate, and found in identical form in all humanity, owed a debt to Wilhelm von Humboldt, who had expounded this in 1827. As Lorenz admired Chomsky and his work, this was not intended as an attack. It was a reference to the German tradition, so alien to Lockean liberalism, of holistic universality. [63]

The development of human ethology has proceeded since the Second World War. The belief that man's thoughts, beliefs and ideas are unconnected with his physical animality will possibly seem one day as bizarre as biblical anti-Darwinian arguments seem to biologists today. But critics are right to stress the connection with older strands of German philosophy. For though with pouting children and monogamous geese we may seem to have travelled some way from the roots of ecology, important links emerge.

The first is the anti-anthropomorphic stance. The ecological vision of man as an animal no longer depended on a moral position. Ecological values were backed up by a new science.

Ethology did not deny man's special nature, his capacity to be self-aware and change his environment. Neither did it abandon man as the evil spirit. It offered solutions to the eternal problem of how man should live in the world. One might adduce as evidence connecting Lorenz with ecology his statement that he supported Rachel Carson's work, and considered himself, in the political sense, an ecologist. [64] But that by itself would underrate his importance.

It is in his solutions to man's separate and unique position on earth that Lorenz approaches most closely to our quest. The same philosophical questions that preoccupy ecologists appear in Lorenz's work. Even the problem of entropy, of the dissipation of energy versus the increasing complexity of life, appears in his meditations.

The most amazing function of the life process is that it seems to develop from the simplest to the highest However, none of the laws of physics, even the second law of thermodynamics, is broken by this. All life processes are sustained by the flow of energy being dissipated ... in the universe ... Life feeds on negative entropy. [65]

Lorenz gave as examples of positive feedback, the snowball and the flame, which by devouring, increased. But was man doomed to behave like a flame, magnificent, but leaving only ashes behind him, as in Nietzsche's ironical poem? Lorenz thought not. Man, unlike flame, could avoid such uncontrolled growth, because nature herself in effect separated man from animals in kind as well as in degree through his cultural traditions. His explanatory, open nature, which was itself his genetic heritage, meant that he could understand and control himself. At this higher level of integration, man would co-operate with and understand natural processes. His very alienation from the earth fitted him, it seemed, to become the shepherd of the earth that Heidegger had demanded he become.


This chapter has traced elements in German biology that bear on the development of ecological ideas. The explicit anti-anthropomorphism of Haeckel and his vision of energy flows were developed and expanded by ethologists, including Lorenz. Although the vitalism of Driesch was left behind by mainstream science, some of its questions stimulated holistic thinking in later decades.

Vitalism between the wars also affected the scientific picture of the earth itself, as well as man's life upon it. As a historian of geography has noted, the biological vitalism of Bergson and Driesch, as well as holistic philosophy, produced not merely an organic analogy, but a system in which 'the earth was a functionally related, mutually interdependent complex which ... remained in an equilibrium condition'. [67]

Theories of the earth as organism had a long history. The mid-eighteenth century as well as the landscape Romantics of the nineteenth century offered a rhetoric of the living earth. The geographers Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter described the earth as a functioning organism. The biological analogy fitted Friedrich Ratzel's belief that man and land had an indissoluble, mystic bond. The geopolitics of Halford Mackinder, enthusiastically adopted in Germany, argued that geographical factors inexorably affected man's social, political and economic conditions. In 1905, A.J. Herbertson described the earth as a 'macroorganism the soil itself the flesh, the vegetation, its epidermal covering and the water its circulating life-blood'. [68] Herbertson, however, presented this picture as 'comparison' only. What gave the metaphor a scientific basis was the argument against entropy and the development of systems theory. If the earth was sustaining an equilibrium of energy, then it was interacting with its source of energy, and responding to its energy loss. Kenneth Boulding, originator in the 1960s of the famous 'Spaceship Earth' phrase, saw systems theory as the dynamic behind ecological ideas, because it offered a theory as to how complex biological organisms worked. Boulding by 1941 had evolved an ecological-economic theory which used his earlier work on population dynamics. He was a founder member of the Behavioural Sciences Centre, Stanford, together with biologists and physicists. Paul Ehrlich wrote of the self-organising earth, and used systems theory to explain it. [69]

In the 1920s, British geographers explained the geological pattern of a region as being equivalent to man's 'germ-plasm', while 'the cultural landscape reflects the activities of a living, throbbing individual'. [70] In 1920s Germany similar arguments were heard.

Eduard Suess's (1831-1914) nineteenth-century coinage, the 'biosphere', was revived in the 1920sby a Russian biologist, who was also active as a geochemist, mineralogist and natural philosopher. Vladimir l. Vernadsky published La Biosphere in 1926, introducing the new theories of energy and chemistry. P. Theilhard de Chardin coined the term 'noosphere' after meeting Vernadsky in Paris. [71]

The force behind vitalist theories had been the perception that energy did not only dissipate, but could, under certain circumstances, appear to synthesise. There was a stubborn belief that, in biological terms man could be considered as displaying 'life against entropy'. The geographer Bernard Brunhes thought that while the physical sciences showed a world wearing out, the life sciences showed a world steadily improving, growing perfect. [72] Cultural conservatives like Henry Adams had a more pessimistic approach. While believing that man's history consisted of the search to use and control energy, and that knowledge was increasing exponentially, Adams saw man as subject to entropy. For an organism, entropy resulted in death. [73]

The fusion of biological vitalism and organic geology seems to have been a prerequisite for the global vision of ecologists today. Optimists and humanists supported the idea that the life-force opposed entropy. The apparently paradoxical presence of optimism and humanism among today's ecologists can be traced to this intuition.

The question of man-animal equivalence had a dynamic whose consequences were neither predicted nor accepted by most ethologists. Equivalent rights and status, it was argued recently, belong to the animal world, the plant world, and even, recently, the inanimate world. [74] The last of these claims is the most startling, but it conveys one of the most important parts of the ecological vision. It is clear that rights in this context is a misuse of the idea, which strictly speaking relates to a judicial-political status, not a moral claim to consideration.

And it is possible to argue that distress over man's dominant-manipulative relationships with animals and inanimate objects simply sidesteps the responsibility of worrying about real and difficult political issues. However, this is to miss the point of the non-political nature of the claim that we should treat all objects in the world with a reserved and discreet love. The call to deny all dominant or potentially dominant relationships - including affection - is as dramatic and novel a moral ideal as earlier was chastity. While the ideal of chastity has never been obeyed in its entirety, it has over the past two thousand years inescapably affected our morals, social ideals and culture.

The belief that any alteration of another's being is wrong, even if inspired by care and affection, mayor may not be true; but an awareness of the potentially sadistic aspect of being object to subject, once stated, lingers. The tension between status and friendship, paternalism and power, the mutation of cruelty we call affectionate teasing, is in our biological fabric, is involved in our attitudes to children, siblings, equals, sexual partners and the old. To cease from dominant-inspired relationships would be as violent a social and familial change as the attempt to refrain from sexual congress was at the turn of the first century A.D.; yet once a moral ideal has been proposed - and believed - it creates its own reality, its own validity. That is the hallmark of a religious revival, and it is an element in ecological thinking that became first possible then acceptable through the new discipline of ethology.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

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Part 1 of 2

CHAPTER FOUR: Energy Economics

Nature possesses properties and forces whose discovery and right use appear to be among man's highest tasks, because they have the power to make his labour more fruitful.

-- Von Thunen, The Isolated State, pp. 245-7


Ecological economists are claimed by some writers to be the first real ecologists. Certainly the call to conserve scarce resources is today perhaps the strongest green argument. Economists have begun to look at the problem not only of allocation of resources but also of inter-generational allocation of resources. The existence of fixed, non-renewable resources was first seen as a problem when the implications of the theory of dissipation of energy (the second law of thermo-dynamics) were understood. [1] The universe was now seen as a closed system: nothing came in, nothing came out. Therefore, the energy that was dissipated, changing its form from usable to unusable energy, could never be replaced. If finite energy resources were not conserved, the result would be waste and loss; eventually, famine and disaster. Wilhelm Ostwald expressed this view when he wrote in 1911 that 'the free energy accessible can only decrease, but not increase'. [2 ]Today, this mental picture is everyone's common sense view. However, it depended on a complex scientific argument, and it was not until the theory was grasped by natural scientists working outside physics that it was seen as presenting a danger to human society. This shift of vision paralleled the disappearance of Say's Law as a serious economic concept. [3] In physics as in economics, the self-contained, closed system was no longer viable without a stringent programme to prevent a leakage of energy.

The intellectuals who wrote about this problem were usually trained natural scientists. They tended to switch disciplines and pursue reform in areas remote from their original field, but which seemed to present the same kind of problems. Some were also interested in biological ecology, and were mentioned in the last chapter: others were human geographers, architects, economists or chemists. This disparate group included left-anarchists and Marxists, but tended not to be 'party men' of any orientation. What they had in common was their independence of establishment thinking, and a somewhat bloody-minded persistence in alternative ideas. They were not so much motivated by the emotional identification of nature and beauty found in the biologists discussed earlier, nor by the Romantic or sensuous response to landscape found in the United States and England; rather it was a vision of future collapse of human societies, and a sense of injustice over what they saw as inequitable distribution of energy resources. They drew from nature recommendations for egalitarian co-operation. Kropotkin 'urged people to uncover the laws of the environment and to act in accordance with them'; he argued that intervention should be based on a 'respect for and understanding of the natural world'. [4]

Although for the most part they held socialist and egalitarian principles, the disciples of energy economics never quite made the socialist text-books, perhaps because their works did not express the humanitarian impulse that characterized nineteenthcentury bourgeois socialism, but a science-based fear for the future of human survival. Like those of all movements fed by fears of apocalypse, their solutions were draconian. They included restructuring society into a system which controlled resource allocation and resource use, in order that the burden of shortage be equally shared. As the one major source of renewable, 'free' energy is human labour, suggestions for reform usually included the compulsory direction of human labour, which would be managed by a committee of wise scientists. Where Back-to-the-Land settlement plans or plans to establish communes were the hall-mark of the small-scale, anarchist dream, of Right or Left: the scientific plan was global. Both involved a eugenic ideal. Selective breeding was the key to future progress for the Platonic socialism of J.D. Bernal and Hermann Muller. [5]


Some energy ecologists had a positive attitude to the possibilities of technology, but as the nineteenth century used coal, clearly a non-renewable resource, the technology suitable for a planned energy intensive eco-system would have to be of a kind as yet unknown. Existing ways of producing energy from water and windmills were seldom seen as serious alternatives to coal-produced steam. Several early science fiction or fantasy novels were written by this group, suggesting new ways of managing society, with a view to conserving finite resources. The content of some of these works reveal the ways in which scientists were thinking. One science fiction novel by a professor of chemistry, A.J. Stewart, described a world in which a man-made bacteria escapes and kills all grass. A millionaire with vision establishes a secure bacteria-free zone based around Glasgow - at that time teeming with resources, skilled manpower, coal and successful industry, - in which he stockpiles food. He recruits up to a million healthy, hard-working, socially responsible inhabitants, and organizes their labour 'properly' and productively, to find food and energy substitutes. When the loading capacity of the area is reached, no one is allowed in from outside. Internal strikes are crushed ruthlessly. Eventually the world outside collapses, and the perfect social system created by the benevolent but social Darwinist visionary inside the Glasgow commune can expand into the outside world. [6] This was an early example of survivalist futurism: a variant of the pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality which is more common in today's ecological commune movement than in the early twentieth century.

The fear of land shortage, of a failure to produce enough food to feed the population, haunted energy ecologists. An entire discipline grew up based on the problem of intensive food production. Studies in the mid-nineteenth century showed that in terms of energy units used, peasant productivity was greater than that of large, capitalist farms. Belgian and Dutch writers studied Flemish peasants to learn from their frugality, endless hard work and patriarchal morality. Productivity per hectare became the standard, as opposed to productivity of labour, capital or technology: -land was visibly a fixed resource, whereas population sizes were not. Not only was maximising production from land the logical response to a fear of food and fertility shortage, but independence from trade and capitalistic market relations would free what socialist economists regarded as wasted resources for more useful tasks. The deep distrust of the speculator, the middleman, or the trader, made autarky desirable. Peasants were seen as the source not only of social cohesion and conservative values but of ecologically sound agricultural improvement. They were seen as less likely to exploit the soil than capitalist or mercantilist farmers, more likely to conserve soil fertility for future generations.

The belief that small farms could be more efficient than large contradicted liberal economic beliefs in the economies of scale and the virtues of capital investment. It also contradicted Marxist and Social Democratic prophecies that small-scale farming was doomed to give way to large farms because economies of scale made the latter more efficient. Effective pressure, indeed, was put on British governments throughout the twentieth century by Fabian planners and Quaker economists, such as Astor, Rowntree and Lamartine Yates, to support large farms on the grounds of superior efficiency and social tidiness. The collectivist Zeitgeist of the 1930s and 1940s found these arguments appealing. But market-oriented peasant farming on the continent proved surprisingly adaptable and efficient in its own terms. [7] German peasant advocates argued that if all inputs were correctly costed, and energy costs, import costs for machinery (or the raw materials needed to make it), fertiliser and fodder added to the net costs of agricultural production, then the virtually self-sufficient peasant was more productive in terms of the social and economic costs of the resources involved than was the large landowner, who could afford to buy in artificial fertiliser and machinery and hire labour. Autarky was impossible without self-sufficiency in food production, and autarky was in some cases part of the opposition to trade and mercantilism held by socialist and anarchist reformers.

While agrarian economists differed as to the value of machinery on small-holdings (of course, nineteenth-century steam tractors were unsuitable for small farms, and disproportionately damaged the soil), it was agreed that land under peasant cultivation benefited from the intimate care and knowledge of the peasant. Peasants were prepared to work for a real return on their labour so low that no capitalist farmer would accept it. 'It is the small cultivator only who, spade in hand, can fertilise the waste and perform prodigies ... His day's work he counts for nothing', was the hard-headed sentiment of the time, an argument encountered today. [8] Apart from Kropotkin's arguments, kept alive by the anarchist movement, this awareness of the economic argument for self-sufficiency seems to have been lost, subsumed in a belief in a late nineteenth-century 'drive back to nature', caused simply by a 'reaction to the growing industrialization of the age'. [9]


The urge for a more equitable distribution of production appealed to early variants of Distributism. One writer argued that in capitalist agriculture, a produce of one thousand units would be distributed thus;

One landlord 200 parts One tenant 100 parts 14 labourers 700 parts (50 each)

Whereas if the same area of land was worked by sixteen small owners, each receiving 60 parts of the total produce, the extremes of poverty and opulence, 'the parents of vice in private and revolution in public life' would be avoided. [10] The Flemish peasant let nothing go to waste: human sewage, animal manures, river mud and bones for phosphate. [11]

This analysis was more serious and more economically radical than the glorification of the simple peasant practised by Rousseau (who apparently based his assessment of the economic superiority of the independent Swiss peasant on erroneous observation).  [12] The gut reaction to praising peasants was that it was a crack-pot notion, practised by cranks and sentimentalists. But when economists and social scientists produced acceptable models of improved welfare via peasant productivity, the debate was lifted onto a more convincing level. And in this instance peasant societies were proving surprisingly durable. In the flat alluvial plains of Northern Europe, the late nineteenth century saw a real growth of peasant productivity in Flanders, Denmark and North and North-East Germany. In Denmark, small farm agriculture was capital intensive. In Germany it was labour intensive, and in Flanders both. But in all three countries, innovation and response to market conditions was needed as well as the bitter stubbornness needed to work heavy soil with hand tools most months of the year. This theme of the forward-looking peasant, as opposed to the reactionary landowner, was to be prominent in Northern European peasant ideology. Knut Hamsun's picture of Isak, the Norwegian frontiersman, shows him as 'A ghost risen out of the past to point the future, a man from the earliest days of cultivation ... and withal a man of the day. ' [13] De la Vigne Eckmannsdorf, a Silesian landowner and supporter of Walther Darre, the radical Nazi Minister of Agriculture, saw the role of the peasant as the core of a new culture, a new world, untainted with the vices and errors of the old, but retaining the folk wisdom of the past. [14] The peasant's role was to reclaim new ground and to make poor and difficult land fertile. To some agrarian ideologues, peasant production meant more self-sufficiency and less reliance on paper money and trade, but to others, it meant a greater reliance on market mechanisms and more flexibility of land use and crop rotation.

The first writer to argue the relative merits of small farms and latifundia from the production point of view seems to have been a German diplomat based in St Petersburg, Count Bernhardi, who published a study of their comparative advantages in 1849. This work was re-published in 1925 in Germany, during a revival of this debate. Possibly this isolated and early example of such a study was stimulated by Russian populism. Indeed, the Russian mir, and its perpetuation in the Russian agricultural reforms of the 1860s, with its collectivist morality, was praised by Prussian landowners. Several doctoral theses on the subject of comparative productivity of small and large farms appeared in Germany between 1890 and 1900, and most of the them opted for peasant production as economically superior. [15]

In England, experience with the intractable peasant problems of Ireland and India had helped to dilute laissez-faire with a hapless imperial paternalism. All the political parties toyed with smallholding programmes. [16] Nor was it only the Tory tradition that wanted to protect the yeoman against the Whig landowner. Despite the continental belief, prevalent to this day, that free trade meant an anti-peasant policy, and that the repeal of the Corn Laws introduced an era of utter desolation to English farming, many staunch free trade liberals also supported the vision of a smallholder economy. Richard Cobden, free-trader and Manchester economist, argued for the forty-shilling freeholder. Liberal thought supported the responsible individual, and claimed that food production overall would rise, not decrease, through encouraging yeoman farmers. Not only visionary politicians but practical liberal theoreticians supported the yeoman. Herbert Spencer thought that land reform was a necessary reform on which to base a free and efficient society. John Stuart Mill 'devoted five chapters of his Principles (1848)to peasant tenures, and sang a paean to small ownership' whilst he also supported an emigration scheme to settle Britons in the colonies, with the proviso that it be eventually self-financing. [17] Despite the popular support for such a movement, Lloyd George, once in power, failed to implement it, except for the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of 1907, which he believed could have little effect. Lloyd George's own programme was allegedly liberal, but incorporated many of the etatist features, such as state-aided afforestation, state development funds, and a government-backed 'central, rational and concerted effort', of the later British Union of Fascists programme. [18]

The anti-state, anti-organization nature of the peasant-yeoman life and spirit made it attractive to anarchists as well as to laissez-faire liberals and liberal nationalists. Prince Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, had written a master plan for the economic development of Siberia while on military service as a youth. It disappeared permanently into his General's filing cabinet, but the practice was useful for his later anarchist programme. He was offered the secretaryship of the Russian Geographical Society in 1871, but turned it down to pursue his political aims. [19] His practical training and experience produced plans for reform that were less utopian and messianic than earlier anarchists', such as Fourier, and for this reason more influential. In Mutual Aid as a Law of Nature and a Factor of Evolution (London, 1902) he drew attention to examples of co-operation and altruism among animal societies, suggesting that a law of mutual aid was as important as the law of competition. Nature proved that human altruism was 'natural'. [20] One author comments that 'Kropotkin laid the conceptual foundation for a radical theory of human ecology. He viewed nature and people in nature as organic, interrelated wholes.' [21] He wrote in Fields, Factories, and Workshops Tomorrow (London, 1899), that per hectare productivity was the crucial factor, and that improved technology combined with peasant ownership of land would bring about increased food production. Kropotkin placed his land reform and productivity proposals in the context of the small, independent artisan and worker, and supported the small business if it could be decentralised. He argued that small industrial production had continued under capitalism, in Britain as well as in France and Germany, where guild and corporate protection for the artisan was greater, and claimed, correctly, that the German SPD expectation that small businesses would be unable to compete with large conglomerates had been disproved. Each new technological advance, each large firm, spawned thousands of small firms who supplied often hand-made parts and spares. 'Small Industries and Industrial Villages', as one of his chapter titles ran, were the productive areas of the future. Man would return to the land in fruitful and co-operative harmony, not as primitive ruralist, but as educated artisans. Not only would yeomen understand technology but, as Kropotkin rightly pointed out, engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs themselves initiated technology which, in a healthy society, came 'from below'. This was a further argument in favour of small, decentralised, independent schooling, an anarchist demand then long before the days of Ivan Illich, and part of the Schumacher Society programme today. [22]

This book, with its wealth of up-to-date statistics and its sober argument, influenced Tolstoy, Gandhi and Mao Tse-Tung. At a lower level, it inspired the wartime Penguin guide, Your Smallholding. Lewis Mumford praised Kropotkin's grasp of the implications for decentralisation of the (then) modern technology. Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow (London, 1902) used Kropotkin's figures. The socialist Robert Blatchford's Britain for the British (London, 1920) suggested that if Kropotkin's statistics were correct Britain could feed herself. If the soil was cultivated as intensively as in Belgium, there would be enough food for thirty-seven million inhabitants. [23]


Continental liberalism tended to become polarised between Left and Right as soon as it appeared. However, during the nineteenth century, the expanding settlement of North America helped to perpetuate the liberal-oriented yeoman cult, with its implications of independent freedom. Thomas Jefferson had written that the most stable and prosperous republic was that formed by prosperous farmers. Jefferson was elected honorary President of the Bavarian Peasant's League in 1810. Inspiration between the USA and Europe flowed the other way, too. John Quincy Adams (later President of the United States), despite his sarcasm about bug-ridden, smelly peasants in Bohemia, was impressed by Silesia's experimental farming methods and pedigree cattle when he journeyed to North-East Germany to learn from its farming and manufacturing techniques. [24] The frontier economy became a potent symbol of freedom and independence for an increasingly radical European farming population. As expansion to the American West began, the vision of free land for the pioneer created a new school of political economists. Its first major exponent combined liberal economics, including a belief in free trade, with the aim of supporting an agricultural economy based on the free, non-rent-paying farmer.

Johann von Thunen (1785-1850) was an economist and geographer who owned an estate near Rostock. He wrote The Isolated State in 1820, and revised it several times up to 1840. This book, still well-known to geographers and those interested in geo-politics, presents a theoretical model of ideally efficient land use, based on the picture of an 'isolated state', set in a flat plain. Von Thunen was also the founder of neo-marginalist economics, but was overshadowed by the better-known Carl Menger and W. Stanley Jevons. But in his economic modelling, von Thunen took pains to differentiate clearly between factual and counter-factual postulates, and stress the need for a relativist approach: all theories should comprehend and assimilate truths which contradicted one's own cherished ideals. 'Without abstracting from reality, we can attain no scientific knowledge', he explained. None the less, 'in the real world, the steady state cannot exist'. [25] Von Thunen was concerned at the poverty and landlessness among the overtaxed agricultural labourer. He worked on a theory that would maximise human freedom of action, whilst maximising wellbeing among this most crucial of classes, the farmer. Although reviled by some Marxist economists as the founder of what they saw as ahistorical, inhumane marginalist economics, von Thunen cared enough about his labourers to leave his estate to them. He was claimed by both the National Socialists and the post- Second World War East German communist intellectuals as the 'first German socialist'. [26]

Von Thunen foreshadowed later, fully-fledged ecologists in three ways: first, he extrapolated from his picture of the natural laws of the scientific world a political prescription which had to be followed to prevent disaster; second, he saw the rural sector as the key determinant of moral, economic and social life; and third, he pursued a (somewhat incremental) search for truth through deductive reasoning. [27]

Von Thunen set out to discover what, given the model state, the pattern of agricultural cultivation would be, and also which part of the farm's return determines cultivation. He concluded that the unique quality possessed by the agricultural sector was that capital formation was determined by agricultural settlement on the margin. His model was based on the family farm, run by an individual who, during one lifetime, should produce sufficient capital to provide for his old age. Typically for a classical economist, he envisaged capital in a literal form, as corn, walls and roads, to be converted by the prosperous farmer into interest-bearing funds.

Thus he combined a picture of a non-feudal and non-capitalist smallholder economy with a world of capitalistically fluid relationships. Mobility of labour and fluidity of capital were essential for the improvement of the labourer's standard of living, and the increase of the national wealth. How to ensure that the labourer could be mobile, without losing the link between man and soil?

Von Thunen argued that the expansion of cultivated land was a sign of national wealth, and free trade was needed to ensure the most efficient (and hence most profitable) use of land resources. The economic use of land was a long-term aim, because of the gradual and conservative development of farming patterns. [28] However, over time, demographic movements would respond to rates of wages and interest, and affect farming patterns. On the frontiers of the State, transport costs would increase and rent fall. The frontier wage for the labourer and capitalist was the 'natural wage' earned on non-rent-paying land, that level of renumeration below which he could not provide for his old age. The special role played by the frontier wage was that it was a wage where none of the surplus went on rent, but was kept by the worker: and lent out to others, who in turn would clear fresh ground, living off this capital, until the ground was productive. Von Thunen formulated the proportion of wages to be paid to a new group of frontiersmen as 'the geometrical mean of the essential subsistence needs of the worker, measured in grain or money, and his product. This wage will maximise everybody's income.' The resultant formula was inscribed on his tombstone. [29]

However, this benevolent condition did not currently exist in Europe, where according to Von Thunen the broad pattern of landholding was to hold from a landlord, whether the state, the church or the private landlord, and labourers could not reject low wages in favour of new, uncultivated land. He contrasted the situation in Mecklenburg with that in North America, with unlimited fertile land. He advocated mass emigration of agricultural labourers to the USA, but pending that time, thought that a similar 'frontier' could be created in European conditions by adopting free trade. What was needed for the frontier wage was not so much unlimited land, as a sufficient diversity of conditions of cultivation. Then changing conditions would produce a 'frontier' somewhere or other at anyone time. The existence of the non-rent- bearing wage would help to keep up wages in the non-frontier sector, and, by analogy, this process would apply worldwide, while the artistic and intellectual attractions of the city would exert a counter-pull to the high-wage margin, and prevent overcrowding at the frontier.

This astonishing call for a fluid, dynamic state of human development predated libertarian ecologism by over a century, but uses a symbiotic argument. Free trade and free thought need not be the enemies of rural values, but enable them to be brought to their fullest use. The division between capitalist and landowner disappears - every farmer becomes his own capitalist - and no barrier is placed before the inevitable change of technology and society. Man could not prevent such change, which was part of his adaptation to nature, but could avoid stasis. 'Nature reveals her secrets only slowly; and since every great discovery brings changes, perhaps even total changes, to the life of society, it follows that in the process of reaching the goal, industrial activity is itself subject to change.' [30] The implications of this liberal economic philosophy for agrarian reform were temporarily submerged by the state socialism of later agrarian philosophers, such as Karl Johann von Rodbertus-Jagetzow, who inspired protectionists Adolf Wagner and Gustav Ruhland. Rodbertus, a Liberal in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, and first exponent of the theory of surplus value, thought the desire for private property in land would disappear given proper ethical education. Both the anticapitalist paternalist Rodbertus and the freedom-loving von Thunen were attacking the landowning basis of the Prussian state, though from analytically opposite angles. Both had followers in the twentieth century who read into them the belief that agriculture was the primary economic sector for moral as well as for structural reasons, and used their arguments for a more 'economic' use of resources. The German economic historian Richard Ehrenberg helped launch the Thunen-Archiv in 1906with a call for the state to control the use of natural resources. [31]


That apparently most positivistic of sciences, geography, produced numerous social reformers apart from Kropotkin. It was a short step from describing land use and structure to recommending specific reforms. Geo-politics, the deterministic discipline invented by Halford Mackinder and taken up by Karl Haushofer, kept to defining the source of imperial power. Another geographer and anthropologist was Friedrich Ratzel, who, in 1880 invented the term human geography, considered by one historian of geography to have been inspired by the historical relativism of Dilthey. [32]

The fear of soil erosion and loss of mineral resources led to the concept of Raubwirtschaft, which translates as something like 'exploitative economy'. Scientists in the nineteenth century, including Liebig the chemist, Surell the forestry expert and George Perkins Marsh, whose Man and Nature (New York, 1864) examined man's impact on the natural environment, had already pointed to deforestation and other destructive results of human action. [33] Elisee Reclus (1830-1905), the French anarchist and geographer, wrote a nineteen-volume work on world geography in between plotting terrorism at the First and Second International. He was described as 'wonderfully tolerant' to 'nearly everyone on the far left of the political spectrum'. [34] He argued in 1877 that man's effect on his environment had been almost exclusively destructive. Reclus, son of a French Protestant pastor and educated partly in Germany, was influenced by Fourier, Ruskin and Comte, as well as inspired by Carl Ritter's geography lectures, and the utopian and millenarian background of his theological training. He wrote an early work on 'nature sentiment', and had a small farm in Colombia, an experiment which failed. [35]

For a scientist to examine the changing structure and face of a landscape with regret for man's involvement was a new phenomenon. One French naturalist, de Triboulet, listed the number of species which had disappeared under man's rule. Sometimes such environmental destruction was attributed to primitive tribal behaviour: for Ratzel, it was nomadism, an implicit criticism of non-Western lifestyles, and especially what was seen as the Arab destruction of the once flourishing Roman Mediterranean. The decline of Rome was attributed to the disappearance of the peasantry and a loss of soil fertility. It was used to point out the dangers of a loss of peasantry and fertility for the uncaring contemporary European empires. Others thought that Western culture was implicitly exploitative. A Franco-Russian scholar, Eduard Petrie, wrote in 1883 that the Western-style colonization planned by Russia in Siberia would destroy not only the physical environment but the culture and spirit - ethnocide - of the primitive tribes there. The belief in stadial development and inevitable progress which had propped up so much scientific endeavour since Lewis Morgan was rejected by these ecological geographers. Another Russian geographer, Alexander Voeikof, wrote critically of the impact of man's activities on his environment (1901) while Eduard Hahn thought that the self-sufficient agriculture of the Incas was superior to the Western, captialist agriculture of his day. The expansion of the global trade economy meant not only the loss of non-renewable resources but the destruction of the pastoral peoples. [36]

Raubwirtschaft found little echo in England or America. But the dust-bowl experience meant that the specific fear of erosion was exported back to Europe. One German explorer, with the unGerman name of Colin Ross, a poet and soldier of the First World War, described the exploration and conquest of the United States and its abandoned mid-West farms in the early 1930s. William Morris Davis attacked the destruction of nature in 1899, while the dangers of deforestation were emphasised by Nathaniel Southgate Shaler in his 1896article, 'The Economic Aspects of Soil Erosion'. [37]

One of the first writers to connect the destructive effects of human action with the possibility of unbalancing a biological equilibrium was the German geologist Ernst Fischer, killed in the First World War. He tried to quantify existing mineral and animal resources, and concluded that economic growth must outgrow natural resources and produce pollution. Even small alterations to the ecological balance would have an enormous effect. He traced the growth of organic life from the rocks to the water to the biosphere and thence to the zoosphere; the most complex level of interaction, where equilibrium was most fragile. The theory of thermo-dynamics inspired an American bio-chemist, Lawrence Henderson (1913), to look at the long-term inevitability of loss of energy resources. [38]

The household model of the economy had given way to the dynamics of neo-classical economics and marginal theory. Only in the biological sciences, or in the ideas of those trained as biologists, did the term 'economy of nature' seem to retain the old implications. This led to trained biologists taking their global vision of balanced interaction into other fields. One man earlier influenced by Comte and Fourier was Nikolai Danilevsky (1822- 1885), the nineteenth-century inspirer of pan-Slavism. A believer in organic cycles of history, Danilevsky conforms to the picture of a political ecologist. Like the later Ostwald, he categorised societies according to their level of scientific knowledge, and claimed that human society had always been inherently scientific rather than barbarous or superstitious. Man had always looked for the true laws of nature, and once empirical science had emerged, in about 1800, according to Danilevsky, the potential for technological and social change was unlimited. He foresaw the use of electricity for communications and flying vehicles, while at the same time he defined history as a quest for human communion with nature. He was a scientific optimist, who rejected the idea of a struggle with nature.

In nature itself, the struggle of elemental forces is only apparent, and every set of contradictions is resolved into a harmony of a higher sort ... The result of the contradictions found in nature is their unification into a harmonious third phenomenon ... called cooperation or love ... Man does not struggle with nature, but adjusts himself to her; he does not free himself from her power but, learning her laws more and more deeply, finds them identical with the laws of his own nature ... In submitting himself to the laws of nature, he acts only in accordance with his own aspirations. [39]

He was associated with statistics as well as biology and wanted to reform Russia according to modern scientific principles, the principles of a purposeful nature. However, to him these principles were already embodied in Russian rural life, needing only to be encouraged and trained by educated and scientific helpers. He supported Fourier's phalange, the association of communal villages, especially Fourier's belief that man was intended for variety in his work patterns. Danilevsky's interest in both statistics and geography led him to study the patterns of inherited diseases in man as well as the distribution of plant and fish life. He wrote a two-volume criticism of Darwin and the theory of gradual evolution. He preferred a theory of evolution by 'jumps'.

Like the Monists and most of the energy ecologists discussed here he was a socialist, but, influenced by Slav cultural-racialism, not a reforming one. He predicted a revolution in Russia that would presage an efficient, modern, authoritarian state. Danilevsky was variously described by different authors as liberal, totalitarian, messianic and racialist. Socialists who are anarchically oriented, authoritarian and supporters of Russian (or other) peasant life do not fit in with orthodox political classifications. The prevalence of such thinkers among those trained as biologists is further evidence that here we are dealing with a special category, one found in societies and states as different as Russia and Scotland, but based on an international European scientific community. [40]

Another member of this community was Patrick Geddes (1854- 1932), town planner and supporter of Back-to-the-Land decentralization. He was also a member of the Kibbo Kift Kin. A biologist who studied under T.H. Huxley, he became interested in the statistical classification of human and animal populations. He saw society as living within fixed physical limits. Energy came in and was modified by the organism and its activities, both physiological and economic. Energy then escaped from the system. He hoped to produce a grand chart of matter-energy conversion among human and animal societies, and evolved a classification of societies based on their type of energy use. But unlike Wilhelm Ostwald, who thought that efficiency in energy use was an index of the status and progress of a civilization, Geddes hoped that society would switch to a 'biological' use of energy. He saw village societies as the natural human social unit. [41]

Geddes' forebears included Reclus, (to whom he became close in Reclus' last years), Kropotkin and George Perkins Marsh. He ardently believed in Marsh's theory of deforestation as a contributory factor to the decline of past civilization. Geddes read Comte, Ruskin and Spencer. From Ruskin he took his criticism of capitalist values and neo-classical economics: from Comte, his belief in the benevolent powers of the apolitical, disinterested planner. Spencer's essentially libertarian approach led him to support the decentralized village. He moved to Montpellier after the First World War, and tried to make it the centre of a new village revival. He wanted to start a rural university. Marxism and Fabian socialism he described as too urban, 'mechanistic and pecuniary by turns'. [42] After a visit to India in 1914, Geddes supported the British presence in India on the grounds that the British were best suited to managing the forests and reclaiming the land. He felt the same way about the French presence in Algeria. He argued that their sensible and productive land use justified their colonial policy. He foresaw, indeed, the antipeasant policies of post-colonialist governments. Geddes supported the garden city movement, and influenced the town planning movement through his lectures and books. [43]

Geddes expressed his Back-to-the-Land belief most clearly in two articles written in 1927 and 1929 respectively. In 'The Village World; Actual and Possible', he praised the efforts of Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal and 'AE' (George Russell) in Ireland to revive rural comunities. He thought that material and cultural renewal of villages was needed, calling it 'Village Eutopia'. The drift to the land could only be halted by re-afforestation and the cultural and intellectual programmes he supported at Montpellier. In 'Rural and Urban Thought; a Contribution to the Theory of Progress and Decay', he complained that the 'biological and evolutionary' sciences had not been given a chance to improve the world. His own invention, the Regional Survey, had not been applied seriously. 44 Geddes did not say exactly how it had failed, or how it should be put into effect. This vagueness about details seems typical of the ecological reformer.

To be a town planner was not, of course, necessarily to be an ecologist. Geddes, though, was seen as evolving a science of human ecology. [45] He believed that a viable sociology could only be created on the basis of biological knowledge. He divided civilizations into phases of technology, of which what he called the 'biotechnic' was the most advanced. Mumford interpreted him to mean that in a biotechnic civilization, 'The biological sciences will be freely applied to technology, and ... technology itself will be oriented toward the culture of life.' [46] One historian of Geddes' ideas puzzled over why his dynamic, holistic, vitalist and unitary town planning had not triumphed. He concluded that it was because Geddes failed to explain his ideas in a sufficiently coherent way. [47] The fact was, however, that dynamic, holistic, vitalist and unitary ideas could not easily be implemented by committees of town planners, however benevolent. Planning itself meant either a coercive approach to human activities, in that the plan involved people doing what they would otherwise not have done, or a miraculous piece of positivistic prophecy, in which case it was entirely redundant. To admire the mediaeval town did not mean that its virtues could easily be reproduced. 'Dynamic planning', indeed, was a contradiction in terms. That Geddes' pre-First World War belief in town planning, based on an admiration for the city fathers of Renaissance Florence and for the vitalism of Bergson, should have been perverted into the rigidities and corruptions of the later town and country planning acts, was unsurprising. This contradiction is present in all libertarian socialism, but becomes more noticeable in the work of those who had made specific recommendations for changing the physical and social infrastructure. The more specific the proposal, the more evidently it demanded 'from above' action of a kind which could only be taken by the state. Geddes' support for the small scale community, for the burgher 'folk' was echoed by many twentieth-century ecologists, but the inherent problem of reform from below by action from above was ignored by reformers whose politics ranged from far left to far right.

Geddes' stand at the Town Planning Exhibition of 1910, crammed with a 'hotch-potch' of postcards, 'crude old woodcuts', newspaper cuttings and diagrams, was rendered 'wonderful' by his personality and powers of exposition. [48] There is something touching about the Scottish individualist, who thought that the green leaf was the foundation of all life, and which compares with the German green anarchist Graser, whose visiting card was a blade of grass, and who lived in a cave, to save energy. [49] His flailing attacks on 'war-lords, greedy politicians and slothful bureaucrats', and his claim that they resulted from the loss of rural ideals and work-ways, convey an intemperate vagueness, rather than the kindred spirit of Goethe, to whom he was compared at the time. He complained that in Western culture, 'agriculture and engineering' were cut off from 'religion and culture'. [50]

Geddes was interested in man, his biological nature and his use of energy. In this he combined two separate inspirations for the ecological world-view. Biological ecologists had not previously criticised human over-use of finite resources. If ecological equilibrium was part of nature, so was man. Biological ecologists tended to respond to the problem of man's destructive or negative influence on other species and on nature with appeals to man to evolve a sensitive and appreciative response to the natural world. Economic ecologists responded differently. They too, like Haeckel, Spencer and Virchow, used organic analogies. However, the answer of the finite resource economists was the purposive organism. Human capacity for chaos and destruction needed tighter, though more subtle, social control. The World State would be like a hive community, run by boards of experts. The geographical element in ecologism led to an emphasis on land use and regional structures. The idea of a large-scale organised planning of human homes and industries took root in the early twentieth century. It expressed a cultural criticism of what was seen as existing waste and untidiness. But it also implied an optimistic belief in the power of human planning to create a society where human values and capacities would be enriched and liberated.

These human values were seen as essentially rural ones. In Germany the belief in modern, rural simplicity became entwined with an aesthetic criticism of wasteful, reactionary, illogical architecture. It combined with a reaction against the grand - the urban - the powerful. The truthful, honest approach to society and its artefacts was by its nature oriented away from the past. The past was seen as a series of myths. Civilization as it was known expressed a malevolent obfuscation of real values. Modernists could talk of

A century cold as steel and glass ... the great creative brain ... the new style of the twentieth century which, because it is a genuine style as opposed to a passing fashion, is totalitarian ... the glass walls ... the steel frame is hard ... a world of science and technique, of speed and danger, of hard struggles. [51]

This Ernst Junger-like paean of praise to what David Watkin aptly calls 'the collectivist outlook and its affinities with Bolshevism and National Socialism' attracted support from those who revolted from Megalopolis. [52] German Modernists supported decentralization; some a Back-to-the-Land movement. Nikolaus Pevsner approved of the Boy Scouts. [53] English Modernists had stronger anti-urban elements. The architectural historian, William Lethaby was a romantic populist, and exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He praised the (alleged) collectivist harmony of the Middle Ages. He announced that 'the best forms of civilization' were 'simple housekeeping in the country, with tea in the garden; boy-scouting and tennis in flannels': along with the 'beauty of efficiency' possessed by a naval squadron. [54] Modernism followed Ruskin and Morris in believing that the physical artefacts of man's domestic life, the style of the houses he inhabited, helped mould his spiritual and social life.

From planning houses and villages to planning regions was a reasonable step: to the planning of a nation's space another. Lewis Mumford was a disciple of Geddes. He was a regional planner under Roosevelt, and supporter of a Ruskinite communistic planners' paradise, inspired by mediaeval communalism. He was cosponsor and author with Herbert Agar of a call for a world government in 1940. [55] Mumford's aim was no less than to reorder the earth's population, in a more resource-efficient and also more beautiful way.

One of the major tasks of the twentieth century is the resettlement of the planet. The past three centuries have been centuries of random exploration ... spontaneous and guided by insufficient knowledge; and much of the work of settlement remains to be done over again ... Population that spread with no more social direction than the surface tension which gives definition to an ink blot, must be re-grouped and nucleated in a fashion that will make possible a co-operative, civilized life. Industries ... must now flow out into new centres ... conscious scientific intelligence must determine the new loci of industrial advantage.  [56] [My italics]

There is no evidence from Mumford's illustrated books that the architecture and planning he approved of had anything to do with the mediaeval world, as they consist of Le Corbusier-like terraces, of the kind being pulled down all over the Western world today as unbearable for human beings to live in.

He defined Geddes' 'bio-technic' stage as one where the key inventions, aeroplanes, contraceptives, the cinema, were derived from 'a study of living organisms', and in which knowledge of the biological sciences would enable full - and, of course, benevolent - control to be exercised over man's life and artefacts. [57]

The positivist rebuttal of this programme, that man cannot be improved by an improved environment, is unconvincing. Naturally, people are affected by their surroundings. However, their surroundings are the creation of their own time and culture; the problem is, rather, who is better able to create the environment than those living within it? Has the attempt to alter natural patterns of land use by planning helped or hindered? Was it inevitable that twentieth-century architecture and town planning should have taken its disastrous course, or was this due to the malevolent cultural spirit of so-called Modernism? One historian of art, Giles Auty, sees 'Modernism' as 'the unofficial art' of the post-Second World War Western world, an excuse for 'cultural meddling'. [58] The fact that Le Corbusier's architectural utopias were disastrous does not mean that the Ruskinian and Morris-influenced garden cities would be disastrous too. What does seem to have failed is the artificial transplantation of urban dwellers to rural areas, but even this failure was a slow one. The ecological rural dwellers of today are less arrogant than those of the past, who thought that the objective social science was a reality. They ask only the freedom to be unaffected by bizarre and failed experimentation. The paradox is that political ecology has maintained the belief that man is capable of benevolent interference in man.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Tue Jan 23, 2018 12:01 am

Part 2 of 2


Another British economic ecologist who was inspired by calculations about the carrying capacity of the earth was Frederick Soddy (1877-1956), who worked on radioactive disintegration with Rutherford, and won a Nobel Prize in 1921. Among other achievements, Soddy predicted the discovery of the isotope. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1910, and a Professor at Oxford in 1919. [59]

Soddy was another disciple of Ruskin. He believed that positive science was a myth, and wanted scientists to be 'responsible'. At first he hoped that atomic physics would prove an economic blessing through its energy-producing potential. Later he foresaw the atom bomb, and was attacked by colleagues as a crank for this reason.

Ruskin's influence turned Soddy to considering orthodox economics, by which he seems to have meant classical and neo-classical liberalism, a category in which he included Marx. Soddy was right to see Marx as a classical economist, as Marx's economic model as laid out in Capital assumes the perfect market and perfect information characteristics of the classical school - although it is not for this aspect of his model that he is remembered. He quoted approvingly Marx's appropriation of William Petty's Physiocratic description of material wealth, that 'labour is its father and the earth its mother'. But it was the 'determinist or ... lithe ultra-materialistic'", aspect of Marx that he opposed. [60]

Soddy argued that the economist should be trying to answer the question, 'How do men live?' The answer to this question was that energy was the fundamental 'means of production'. The language of the economist, with its terms like capital, rent and interest, obscured this basic truth, with disastrous results. Capital did not 'grow': rather, as stored wealth, it was subject to the laws of entropy, and withered away. Still less did it produce interest or rent. A sack of corn was capital: but its store of energy gained from the sun diminished unless used. [61] He roundly declared that it was the power source, not the capitalist, engineer, mechanic or manager, who made things work. And all energy came from the sun. Coal, wood, food and human energy depended on sunlight.

This idea had of course been expressed by other scientists, including Ostwald, whose comments about the sun as the source of energy have been taken out of context and presented as evidence that he was a sun-worshipping, occultist crank. Soddy was familiar with Ostwald's work but seems to have come to the same conclusions about energy use independently. [62] Furthermore, he was not content with creating a theory of the growth of civilization based on energy use, or of imperial decline based on deforestation. He wanted to tackle what he saw as a simple error in human thought and organization that had led to waste and poverty. He spent the last forty years of his life in trying to reform this error. The great discoveries of the first and second laws of thermo-dynamics had passed by the closed minds of economists. It was necessary for the trained scientific mind to step in and correct them. By an intellectual confidence trick, economists had persuaded governments and people that there were laws of debt, interest and capital. But assets were 'real' only if they helped to tap energy sources. Soddy thought that the fallacy of orthodox economics led to wars as well as to poverty.

He demanded a reform of the banking system. Debt, for him, and the way in which it was created, was the main enemy. The belief in the 'spontaneous increment of debt' was 'an absurd human convention', whereas the 'spontaneous decrement of wealth' was a real natural law. [63] Compound interest, especially, was madness, leading to ruin and usury. In Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt he repeated his argument that economics should be founded in thermo-dynamics, and that energy, based on the sun, was the paramount factor. The private banking system created money, which it lent out at interest. There was no requirement that banks should keep reserves equal to the credit they created. Credit creation was done by fiat, and meant a free benefit for bankers at the cost of the community as a whole. Soddy demanded that banks should switch to 100 per cent reserve requirements, and that the State should issue all money. (Presumably Soddy meant credit, as the issue of notes and coins was already a quango monopoly.) Credit would be issued according to a national price index, kept by a National Statistics Council. During a boom, taxes would be raised or gilts sold, and during a depression, taxes would be lowered, according to the level of the index over time. Finally, there should be no gold standard, and all exchange rates between nations should float freely. [64] The inflationary implications of the Social Credit national dividend were carefully avoided, in theory at least, by this plan for a fine-tuned credit creation run by a council of wise men.

The demand for a state-controlled creation of credit was similar to the demand by other monetary reformers in the 1920s, including Silvio Gesell and Gottfried Feder. Soddy's rationale differed in its techicalities and emphasis on energy from that of Major Douglas, founder of Social Credit. Douglas believed in the creative power of credit, as long as it was issued by non-malevolent agencies. The picture of a flawed circular flow, with purchasing power (Douglas) or energy (Soddy) 'leaking out', was very similar, and some of the reforms suggested were the same. Loss of faith in Say's Law, the classical economic model in which factors of production must always equal factors of consumption, paralleled the loss of faith in the cycle of constant energy. Just as usable energy levels were constantly being depleted, so usable credit was constantly being devalued by interest and usury. Soddy, though, opposed Douglas and Grage's proposal to widen share ownership and a stake in the economy by creating a kind of national 'company'. They believed that the wealth and prosperity now enjoyed by a handful of people could be widened to the community at large, in the form of a national dividend. But Soddy saw wealth as strictly finite, limited, essentially, by the amount of available, and in the last analysis, in however long a term, solar energy. [65] So dividends, however distributed, were a confidence trick.

Soddy can be defined as an ecologist in the way he perceived agriculture as the 'key industry', and the cycle sun-soil-food as 'the internal energy of life'. Soddy did not influence the land use economists and reformers referred to above, nor did the anarchists adopt his ideas. Because Soddy's anti-banking feelings led him into attacks on Jewish bankers, he may have become an embarrassment to other monetary reformers, as the 1930s saw the rise of Nazism. He also wrote about the dangers to the white race from a future shortage of energy. In this he reproduced the 'endemic Euro-centrism and anti-semitism' of his time and place, and it would probably be wrong to attribute too great a share to them in his thinking. [66] In the early 1920s his ideas did interest a surprising group of people, Montagu Fordham, the Guild Socialists and Social Creditors, John Hargrave, Rolf Gardiner and later Hugh Massingham. This diverse group was to support Nordicism, Tory anti-semitism and eugenics. But although quoted by these ecologists as a source of ideas, Soddy never seems to have acquired a school or a party. He remained a difficult, 'alternative' figure, who praised Marx, but opposed Soviet Communism and Soviet possession of the atom bomb.

Soddy's energy vision may at first seem a surprisingly materialistic one. What could be more physical than energy and matter? Indeed, Soddy called his own economic theory 'Cartesian Economics'. The title implied a mechanistic, anti-vitalist view of life untypical of the scientists considered so far. But Soddy refused to join in the materialist versus spiritualist controversy. He described scientific discoveries and philosophical speculation as stretching out to infinity along two special axes: in the middle ground lay the 'problems of life', among them economics. The laws of human nature were not the laws of nature. In this assertion too Soddy differed from ecologists. 'Life, or animate mechanism' was 'a dualism', both halves of which were equally essential to man's life. [67] The special aspect of human nature was that man possessed a powerful aesthetic drive. Orthodox economics failed to allow for it in suitably Ruskin-like terms. [68] Soddy's adoption of Ruskin's aesthetics was accompanied by a faith in scientists amounting almost to arrogance.

The laws of energy ... might furnish a common scientific starting point from which all men concerned with the public rather than with their own private interests might start to rebuild the world more in conformity with the great intellectual achievements which have distinguished the present age. The first step towards such a scientific Utopia would be the due delimitation of the rights of the community's creditors - the curbing of the demon of debt which masquerades among the ignorant as wealth. [69]


In the late nineteenth century reformers emerged who wanted to reorganize economic theory to take account of energy values. In 1880, a Ukrainian socialist and landowner, Serge Podolinsky, wrote to Marx and Engels. He earnestly requested them to study the theory of value in terms of its energy, rather than its labour content. Engels told Marx that Podolinsky seemed to be merely regurgitating Ricardo's ideas, and the point of the suggestion was missed. This is surprising, as Marx was usually in the forefront of the scientific thinking of his time. He was inspired by stadial and progressive theories of civilization, Darwin and natural selection and scientific racialism. He also sympathised with the precapitalist criticism of money: that unlike land as a source of wealth, the mobility of financial wealth made it inherently irresponsible.

However, he seemed to lack the tinkering, technological, experimental mentality of the engineer, and substituted a purely heuristic approach. He was aware of the existence of the problem - how should man live on the earth? - but preferred a millenarian approach to the answer, placing an undefined utopia in an undefined future of plenty. [70] Several of his sympathisers and followers, though, continued to direct their focus to the energy problem.

Josef Popper-Lynkeus (1838-1921) came from the same small Bohemian town as Karl Popper's family, and was possibly a distant relation. His works were found in any educated middle class Viennese socialist home, along with those of Marx, Kautsky, Darwin and Weininger. Indeed, when Karl Popper was asked to give the William James lectures at Harvard in 1949, he thought he had been taken for Popper-Lynkeus and invited by mistake. [71] Josef Popper was an inventor, a pacifist, an atheist and a philosopher, and addressed an unconvincing Rawlsian critique to hierarchical and Darwinian theories: that the theorists would not have adopted their ideas if they had believed that they might themselves end up in a weak position, or be eliminated by natural selection. In 1912 he published Die allgemeine Nahrpflicht, which suggested a form of civilian conscription. Men would labour for twelve years, women for seven, to provide the basic subsistence minimum to be distributed to all. 'Extra' resources and labour would be directed to a second economic sector, the market economy, although each businessman would be able to hire only a limited number of employees. The conscription period was calculated according to Popper-Lynkeus's idea of the productive capacity of Germany's economy and agriculture. Karl Popper categorised this suggestion for slave labour merely as 'piece-meal social engineering', which suggests the fundamentally socialist slant of his views, formed as they were in pre-First World War Vienna. Popper-Lynkeus wanted to diminish the use of exhaustible resources, and substitute wind and water power, as well as human energy, as far as possible, to achieve a 'viable' or static economy, which would not have growth as an aim. He was more pessimistic than Kropotkin about the possibility of increasing food and renewable energy products (Kropotkin had suggested intensive greenhouse potato production) and criticised Kropotkin's technophile proposals on the grounds that more energy units would be required to increase production than would be produced for use. The Friends of the Earth opposed capital intensive dairy farming for the same reason in 1974: they argued that the amount of finite energy units required to build a milking parlour would not 'pay' for itself in increased finite energy units. In his egalitarianism, and desire to spread the burden of the (alleged) scarcity of resources, Popper- Lynkeus anticipated the red-green 'entryism' of the late 1970s, rather than the optimistic post-scarcity anarchism of Bookchin. [72] When the Green Party recently suggested a 'Social Wage', Popper- Lynkeus was given as a progenitor of this idea. [73]

For his figures on energy use, Popper-Lynkeus used work by Karl Ballod-Atlanticus, (1864-1933) a more technophile writer of science-fiction. His Der Zukunftstaat (The Future State) appeared in 1898, inspired by Francis Bacon's New Atlantis and Plato's Republic. It was revised and re-published in 1927. Ballod, another 'scientific utopian', admired both Henry Ford and Marx, and wanted to show how a technocratic socialist state could function. Ballod, who was German, shared the German preoccupation with food production per hectare. He suggested that land be divided into farms averaging 500 hectares, each worked by several families. Each farm would support a local community as well as its farmers. One may ask how this pattern would differ from normal market agriculture: the novelty seems to be that Ballod wanted land distribution and farming to be based on a computation of soil fertility and fertiliser requirements, and aimed to retain, if not increase, current levels of soil fertility. Cities would be no larger than 100,000. Their sewage would be returned to the farms to be used as fertiliser. In his revised version he argued that all firms should be publicly owned and run, on a state, province and communal-level, by a highly paid technocratic elite. Ballod was Eurocentric, as is shown by his suggestion that Europe's energy balance should be made good by importing vegetable oil from outside Europe. This would be used to power tractors, which in turn would enable land to grow food for humans, not horses. [74]

Ballod's novel heavily influenced Bogdanov, and through him Lenin. Possibly, Lenin's collectivisation schemes were partly inspired by Ballad's anodyne-sounding calculations. Ballod, like most urban utopians, saw the farmer as merely the passive vessel for reform. Early anarchists had planned their anarchist communism around the belief that Pseasants would bring free food to the wayside and leave it there. [75] Chayanov, the Russian agronomist who became Minister of Agriculture under Lenin, also wrote a science-fiction novel in which self-sufficient peasants would fly into cities to attend concerts, and then return home to milk the cows. Against what must have been the evidence of his own eyes, Chayanov pictured the Russian peasant as uninterested in money and unmotivated by market forces. [76] While peasants and farmers are generally dissatisfied with the profit on their crops, whatever, it is, this does not signify a distaste for vulgar cash, so much as a sense that a money return for their produce is not an equivalent exchange of value for value.

Despite his interest in technology, Ballod opposed the private car, which he believed would use up available oil within a few decades. The complete rejection of market forces as a motivation for human conduct went along with a blank rejection of individualism. However, it did not entail a lack of aesthetics. Ballod set aside one hundred thousand workers in his ideal state to make pianos! Ballod died before Hitler's motorways and before his ideal Erbhof, the peasant farm of 7.5 to 125 hectares, was implemented. He would have disliked both, yet the presumption of land scarcity and need for peasant technology had stimulated Nazi thinking on agrarian problems. There was a department for wind energy production in the Third Reich which was studying windmill technology till the end of the war, while methane gas plants were seen as an energy source of the future. [77] Ballod's belief in a technocratic elite was also weirdly fulfilled under Hitler. In agriculture, farm advisors were used at local and provincial level. In other sectors, the engineering and scientific developments were taken over by a cadre of inspired, often SS-run middle management. Ballod's interest in synthetic rubber and synthetic fabric also foreshadowed the characteristic ersatz production of the Third Reich.


By the Second World War, ideals of planning were widely accepted in government circles in Britain as well as in North America. The urban messiahs of the day were to triumph in both countries, but the aim of land-based ecological planning was promulgated in research institutes. One curious by-product of war-time planning and controls was a sense of omnipotence, the spirit that inspired the United Nations and other supra-national bodies.

Sir George Stapledon (1882-1960), whose achievements as a plant biologist revolutionised farming practices all over the world, and who left an unpublished book on human ecology behind him, was among those who meditated on the future of man and the earth during the war. His conclusions were remarkably similar to those of today's ecologists. Like them, he was anxious 'to husband the bounty of nature' and care for posterity. [78] He used the findings of biological ecology to argue that man must be in balance with his environment. A world dominated by machines and a polluted environment damaged man. [79] His 1935 book, The Land, Today and Tomorrow, had argued for state intervention in agricultural production and marketing, for intensive farming based on rotation of arable and grass crops, for prevention of erosion and healthy soil from fertile land. In 1943 he called for a 'British land improvement commission' to centralise the 'splendid' work of the War Agricultural Committees. One body would oversee forestry, national parks, reclamation of hill land, and have powers of compulsory land requisition. [80]

Stapledon, himself a scientist, combined his love for the land and admiration for robust English yeoman with a large faith in scientific knowledge. Of course, given an educated population motivated by good-will, ability and honesty, his scheme for an enlightened state planning authority might have worked. Like other 'High Tories', though, he failed to understand the urban bias of the 'New Jerusalemers'. He worked towards a global planning authority which he thought could be run by the same type of man who had run the Indian Civil Service; incorruptible, paternalistic, wise. To his question,

[What do we desire to do with ourselves on this planet, and how do we wish to develop ourselves and the resources of our planet? These are the great questions. How best to distribute ourselves over the vast surfaces of the globe and how to utilize the bounty of nature to the best advantage of every man ... [81][/quote]

he gave the answer that bio-regions must be created. [82] Monoculture in agriculture and industry should be avoided. Decentralisation, 'planned and regulated', he stressed, would

bring together in close harmony people who are employed in widely-different pursuits and ... permit of the maximum possible of interchange between the employment of individuals and particularly of different individuals in one and the same family (all living in the same home) in rural and in industrial enterprises. [83]

Stapledon's programme must have seemed over-ambitious to many readers at the time.

We must first look to the possibilities and potentialities of every country of the world with a view, as far as may be possible, to the arrangement within each of a just balance between agriculture and industry and between different industries ... The various limiting factors to achieving balance in every case demand an immense amount of unbiased research conducted from an entirely new point of view. [84]

This belief was, in theory at least, to find its instrument in the human ecology and land planning section of the United Nations. However, its work was overwhelmed by the devotion to third world developments, big projects, and modernisation, financed by grants and loans from the World Bank. The governments of newly independent countries wanted large dams not small windmills; they wanted to develop wild areas, not preserve them. None the less, Stapledon's ideals remained a factor both in supranational planning bodies, and in land planning faculties in many universities today.

5tapledon shared his belief in global re-development with Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford. Although 5tapledon was a biologist, he was not inspired by the cell-state organic analogy used by Mumford, who praised what he saw as the organic, collective harmony of the Middle Ages, and believed that a new world order would reproduce the efficient and harmonious working of the human body. The world planning authority envisaged by 5tapledon would not interfere with local customs and styles of government. 5tapledon was specific about the value of the British Empire in this task, and Britain's experience in settling the colonies and the White Dominions. The Nation was a fine thing; but 'to achieve world harmony and world efficiency is a still greater work of art and a work of time - a work of art in time painted against the background of space.' [85] The divisions between Mumford and Stapledon, - one, after all, a Communist sympathiser, the other a patriotic British imperialist - are here less noticeable than the similarities. Both assumed that a complete re-organisation of the planet's resources, human and non-human, was possible and desirable. Both assumed the expertise and goodwill and honesty of the educated classes. Both were optimistic about popular response to this programme of relocation and change. Both saw the use of physical resources, the avoidance of erosion, as crucial.

This faith in planning and the planners existed across the political spectrum, and, although inspired by the propagators of the white empires (especially in Britain and the United States) was also fuelled by Communist utopianism. The hostility to individualism and especially what was seen as the exploitative and greedy individual businessman, was almost ubiquitous. [86]

The energy ecologists provided bases for calculating the future of human societies. They have often been overtaken by events, of course, but were founded on convincing-sounding computations of the carrying capacity of the earth, and the need to retain the fertility of the soil. Most were Euro-centric, but some were as globally aware and anti-West as ecologists today. They varied in their specific values. Some were libertarian socialists inspired by Morris or Ruskin, who liked villages and peasants, while others were egalitarian socialists inspired by Marx, who wanted to exploit them. The American geographers described earlier were often Thoreauvian woodsmen. However, they shared a faith in reform based on scientific calculations and in their own visions of loss and disaster. Nearly all had read Comte, and rejected existing political institutions and traditions for Comtean reasons, that is, that the government of men by men should be replaced by the government of men by rational, apolitical institutions. Some wanted to remodel human society according to biological laws, but most did not, opposing social Darwinism through egalitarian and internationalist dogma rather than reason. When the oil crisis threatened the West in the early '70s, the same arguments about finite resources reappeared, and the same plans to re-structure society so that the most economical use could be made of land and energy.
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Re: Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwell

Postby admin » Tue Jan 23, 2018 12:02 am

CHAPTER FIVE: Communes and Communards

Utopian plans for communes are as old as utopias, and owe much to the same sense that society could be made to work more efficiently and delightfully. [1] Of course, not all communes are just ecologically oriented. Religious, anarchist, communard, socialist and racialist motives all exist, and sometimes fuse. The self-sufficiency element has obvious links with ecological autarky though, as has the desire to work the soil without artificial pesticides and fertilisers. While there is a substantial literature on communes in the nineteenth and twentieth century, they are seldom differentiated, the subject lying still in a magical twilight between history, polemic and journalism. It is one of the most important aspects of ecologism, though, because it touches most of us. It is an area where almost everyone at one time or another has longed to live a purer, more real and freer life, to go back to the land.

Colonies in the New World were the chiliastic answer to moral and economic problems. The line between the planned experiment, which we mean by 'commune', and the process of demographic expansion is not always easy to draw. Coleridge and Southey dreamed of servantless freedom by the banks of the Susquehannah. Their wives mused on the fact that they would have to do the housework.

The cultural criticism that marks ecologists, together with the belief in self-sufficiency and improved land use, leads to communes as a practical method of improvement. A commune implies a rural setting. The Quakers and other dissenters maintained their faith in an urban setting, and a parallel hierarchy of education and business activity emerged. During the nineteenth century, religious communities were established in the North American countryside which tried to minimise links with the outside world. However, the Oneida commune and other religious experiments survived by becoming profitable trading groups and losing their controversial experimental elements. Other religious minority groups, such as the Amish and the Doukhoubours, survived because they were transplanted as homogeneous groups from their country of origin, and owed their survival potential to tribal as well as religious bonds, rather than novel experiments. [2]

The twentieth century saw a growth in the commune movement, inspired by anarchist, radical, religious, revolutionary and ecological ideals. However, in England there were estimated to be some one hundred working communes only in 1970; in the United States and Mexico, however, the figure for rural communes alone was two thousand. [3]

The failure rate this century in non-religious communes has been high. This can be attributed to enhanced demands for technology from the communard, with less prospect of self-sufficiency; to some basic flaw in the concept of free association, or to financial strain induced by high rates and property costs. The urge to communicate one's belief, to affect society, does not always co-exist with self-sufficiency in a remote Welsh smallholding, without typewriter or electricity. The Mexican commune that combined dance theatre with summer farming seems a form of transhumance, a reversion to pastoral life, rather than real self-sufficiency. The evangelical nature of the ecologist makes complete withdrawal difficult.

The need for cheap land means that North America has always been the obvious place for starting a commune. Also the United States had a tradition of practical closeness to the land, even before the opening of the West in the mid-nineteenth century. Thoreau described in Walden not only the beneficent effects of woodland life, but how to live well off society's leavings and discards.  [4] Bricks, doors, windows, glass, all could be 're-cycled'. The idyll of the Red Indian and his ability to live off and with the land was another constant theme. When the 'deep ecologists' recently praised the speech of a Red Indian chief this was the latest example in a long line of romanticising the pastoral North American tribesman. [5] Britain's Boy Scout movement developed from Ernest Thompson Seton and his Woodcraft Indians, a movement intended, inter alia, to train city youth in Red Indian techniques. This was partly survivalist; and the summer camps to which American children are still sent owe much to the ideal of independence and self-help of the last century. However, what gives Seton's activities its characteristically ecological scientific rationale was the belief that boys went through the stages of civilization as they grew up, and that the 'cave-man', primitive hunter-gatherer stage had to be developed, not repressed.

American libertarian traditions combined sun-worship, nudism, health-and-nature cures, with self-sufficiency. Benjamin Tucker, editor of Liberty from 1885, supported rural decentralization and settlement. There is a strangely modern air about two Seton-inspired science fiction novels written in 1902 and 1904 by the anarchist J. William Lloyd. Above his desk hung pictures of Darwin, Thoreau, Morris and Whitman. The author of a study on him comments that this was a strange combination, but the reader of this book will by now immediately recognise its protoecological nature. [6] The hero of Lloyd's novel The Natural Man. A Romance of the Golden Age lives off the land. His group call themselves the 'Simplicists', or the 'Tribe'. They wear Red Indian clothes, and one member, - a German immigrant, significantly enough - goes naked in the woods and talks to animals. He is a spiritualist. They swing from tree branches but read Greek and Latin. They are healthy, happy, intimate with nature and free. Animals are killed only when hunger makes it necessary. In a key passage, the hero argues that 'the entire population of the planet could support itself in this pastoral way from poor soil', and that land belongs to 'those who used it and while using it.' [7] He quotes Whitman, Thoreau and Emerson, and expresses a Monist view of the world; 'the whole universe was One great Life' in constant evolution. The Tribe recycles its sewage, and takes care not to pollute streams. They avoid waste. In the second novel, man the tool-making animal triumphs over man the naturist, - the development and conflict of personality is very well done - and the hero excuses the shift to a planned, collectivist, technocracy by arguing that the brain is natural too. What is natural is to express; the repressed is what is unnatural.

America provides other threads of continuity which lead to today's ecologists. While the 'counter-culture' of the 1960s claimed to be unique, observers saw threatening historical precedents in the 'frighteningly alien' eruption of Nazi youth. [8] A more accurate precedent would have been the pre-Nazi German youth communes and Messianic and artistic communes of the 1920s. But in any case a 'distinctive tradition of cultural radicalism' had existed for a hundred and fifty years; not only had Utopian communities been founded by native Americans and recent European immigrants, but a strain of Asiatic mysticism and occultism among communards had an equally long history. [9] The nineteenth-century Indian Sri Ramakrishna was just one of a line of Eastern gurus: in his case Whitman and even Emma Goldman, Russian- born anarchist leader, were admirers, while Thoreau was affected by 'mystical literature from India'. [10]

Another reason for the symbolic as well as the practical significance of North America for experimental groups was that radical beliefs seemed inherent in her culture. Early radicals supported the liberal Anglo-Saxon rights of Tom Paine. Social theories were founded on a belief in a conflict-free harmony of real interests. Inward, other-worldly, pacifist movements, stimulated by idealised versions of Asiatic religions, found fertile soil here. The existence of this tradition was obscured by those German and Russian anarchist and communist immigrants who were urban and union-based after 1880. It mutated into the drug culture of the 1960s. Perhaps not many readers of Louisa May Alcott realise that she grew up in a commune, somewhat similar to, but less successful than, that described in the sequel to Little Women, Little Men. When George Orwell describes the lyrical innocence of mid-nineteenth- century Eastern America, it is this combination of space, rural freedom but taut social and religious discipline that we remember, exactly the kind of breeding ground for social experiments inspired by a love of nature. [11]

Land reform, the movement led by Henry George, called for the nationalisation of rent, so that land could be distributed equally to the people. George's Progress and Poverty was inspired by overcrowding in the immigrant slums of New York, and was not meant especially to apply to rural land, which was still available for American settlers. George prefaced his work with a paean of praise for the successes of progress and capitalism. A stranger on earth would ask himself, he wrote, how it was that such wonders could exist as telegraph and steamship, sewing machine and gas-lights. Given such plenty, what had gone wrong? He concluded that land was misused because of monopoly ownership of a scarce resource. [12] Georgite movements sprang up in Europe, especially Britain and Germany. In both countries they concentrated on urban land, and led to local government reform in Britain and the decentralisaton of industry in both countries after the First World War. Herbert Spencer thought a just society could only begin if land was first re-distributed. Alfred Wallace, the biologist, adopted a socialist Georgism. He was also a follower of Theosophy. [13] The Land Restoration League was Georgite. Single tax colonies inspired by George were founded in Australia and Mexico as well as the United States, where one Georgite was fond of quoting the Bhagavad-Gita. [14] But for many of George's followers, it was by no means self-evident that the country was preferable to the town. Towns were cleaner. They had mudless roads, pavements, sewage, lighting and shops. There were hospitals, doctors and transport, education and harbours. The tension between rural populist Georgites and the local government and urban reformers of the middle classes persisted until the First World War.

The apparent contradiction between ideals of rural life and optimism expresses too the Hayekian paradox of the American commune ideal. On the one hand there is an intentional effort at cultural rebirth, on the other hand a belief in the spontaneity of cultural creation which cannot cry halt to technical progress. Both anarchism and religious mysticism inspired American communes, and after 1880, when anarchist movements became more urbanised and revolutionary, only a few Back-to-the-Land groups survived, until a new ecologically conscious generation began again in the 1960s. Both anarchist and religous groups were based on optimistic assumptions. The mystics saw the Divine in each human being, needing only to be awakened. The anarchists believed that no conflict need exist between rational men. [15]

Rejection of the town and progress was not inherent in the commune ideal. It carne, not from studies of lead poisoning or cholera, but largely from the works of Ruskin. I referred earlier to the specifically aesthetic nature of the ecologist. The Art Nouveau movement in Northern Spain was influenced by Ruskin and Morris. Ruskin was too unscientific, too religiously moral in his political prescriptions to qualify as an ecologist, but his influence on the political ideals of British ecologism can scarcely be overestimated. He wanted the public sphere to be beautiful: the private one to be spartan. He appropriated all the values of purity and visual harmony for the cause of social reform. He gloried in the idea of manual labour, and even persuaded Oxford undergraduates to build a road one summer. He started the St George's Guild, which financed small farms and village settlements, as well as rural industries - as long as thel did not involve such industrial artefacts as sewing machines. [16]

We saw how Ruskin's rhetoric inspired in Soddy a dislike of and rejection of unrooted money. Ruskin's ideal Platonic society, the rulers guided by the public weal, co-operation and harmony among the ruled, appealed to the Comtean scientific mind. He called for aesthetic integrity, for the artistic morality of truth. Despite Ruskin's praise of Italian cities and Renaissance civilization, it was the pro-rural vision not the city-state one that was absorbed; his attack on the waste and ugliness of industrialization rather than the call to beautify cities.

Unlike the later Henry Williamson, Ruskin was not personally involved in the farm settlements but he gave practical support to them in others, and continually expounded the value of the simple rural life. Ruskin influenced William Morris, a more gifted and competent craftsman, who developed a peculiarly English brand of rural folk socialism. His rhetoric of class hatred went unnoticed by many, because Morris, like Ruskin, was inspired by the ideal of Englishness, the heritage of beauty expressed in wellwrought things; the gardens, embroidery, stone-work, music and art of the long-silenced, oppressed native English. Celts and Saxons had long vied as the under-dogs of European history, both seen as in possession of natural harmony. It was easy to perceive and demonstrate that harmony in the English village and English countryside. Both were living works of art. Ruskin and his followers were too blinded by their vision fully to realise that their survival depended on economically successful agriculture as well as the spirit of place and people.

Morris, though also not an ecologist, (the young Morris was inspired by Richard Jefferies, but became a revolutionary Marxist at the age of fifty) was moved by the longing to use resources properly, economically and beautifully. [17] There was a darkness behind his optimism, what Armytage perceptively described as the fear of the destructive power of time. 'Save the grief that remembers the past,' Morris wrote, 'And the fear that the future sees.' [18] The poem prefigures the darkness, the fear of irrevocable loss that characterises the ecologist.

Morris disliked the notion of the state-commune, developed by Edward Bellamy from Ruskin, and preferred semi-agricultural communes instead. In the 1890s, colonies and private smallholding associations sprang up everywhere. Often located in Southern England and near to towns, they were intensively farmed market gardens. Rider Haggard, the best-selling author and landowner, was also a farmer. He took on several run-down Norfolk farms at a time of falling grain prices and worked them himself. He campaigned for agricultural protection, compulsory life insurance and old age pensions, and better wages for agricultural labourers. When he mentioned that his Norfolk farm was short of labour, hundreds of impractical applications reached him from townsmen. He commented ironically that Carlyle's and Ruskin's works should be banned, because they inspired people to throw up their secure jobs and go farming. [19] Some four hundred smallholding colonies were started during this time. The Ruskin movement produced Guild Socialism which originally had a rural bias, and opposed 'big business'.

Ruskin and Morris had wanted to rescue the submerged ten per cent, while Huxley represented the scientists who demanded a 'socialist autocracy', the compulsory distribution of food to prevent inequality of suffering. Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid to refute Spencer's competitive evolutionism. He opposed Huxley's 'scarcism' with what the called 'The Coming Reign of Plenty', which would be characterised by optimistic and benevolent bounty.

Distributism, the creed publicised by G.K. Chesterton, was one inter-war rural land planning solution to what were perceived as the evils of urban life and plutocratic capitalism. Chesterton took over his brother's defunct Distributist journal in 1925. Contributors were Catholic or High Anglican; many were socialists who had become admirers of the Middle Ages, others were Tories opposed to industrialisation. The Distributist League supported small-scale private property and small business, not because it was small, but because such ownership was immediately relevant to and under the control of the individual. One Distributist and friend of Hilaire Belloc was Father Vincent McNabb, who wanted a religious movement 'seeking not wealth but God [to] pioneer the movement from town to land'. [20] Belloc observed that it was the artist, writer or potter, like Eric Gill, who could opt out, while industrial workers could not. [21]

Chesterton wrote an introduction to Cobbett's Rural "Economy which praised him as an independent yeoman spirit. His yeoman ethic was a thorn in the side of progressive Socialists like Orwell, who repeatedly accused Chesterton and his allies of being on the wrong side of history, against the inevitable march of progress. [22] Chesterton's idea of Back-to-the-Land was rather different from Ruskin's. There was no co-operative sandal-making, no free education and primitive crafts. Chesterton described his idea of decentralization as a 'sortie from a besieged city, sword in hand'. [23] His unhappy prediction of the inexorable victory of mediocre urbanism in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, was accompanied by claims that the towns would collapse of their own accord as the financial and political plutocracy collapsed.

Tolstoyan pacifism and naturism also stimulated the commune ideal. There were 60,000 British pacifists in the Second World War. A number were brought up in Christian pacifist communes. The pacifist religious ideal inspired writer John Middleton Murry as well as Eric Gill. John Brewer Paton, a Congregationalist, founded the English Land Colonization Society in 1892. Tolstoy inspired Hugh Massingham, while D.H. Lawrence planned communes through most of his life. (Some years after his death a site in North America was found for a Lawrencian commune, but the war intervened.) [24] Artists who tried to make a living from chicken farms in Cornwall became a cliche in popular British literature between the wars - one of their number was usually murdered. The character-improving effects of the farm colony were shown by the Salvation Army, who established groups for down-and-outs, recidivist convicts and trainee emigrants before the First World War. [25]

In Germany land was scarce, and in East Prussia entailed estates, re-established after 1851, made land purchase difficult. The emigration of agricultural labourers since 1820 had worried volkisch nationalists and tax commissioners alike. To reverse this process was the aim of the Prussian Settlement Commission in 1880. At first, German idealists inspired by Georgite ideals went abroad; their communes were in North and South America. Alfred Ploetz, who supported eugenics and temperance, and was a doctor of medicine, part of the circle of socialist reformers forced out of Germany by Bismarck's anti-socialist laws, emigrated to Minnesota with his wife to start a eugenic and vegetarian commune. The native Minnesotans, of German stock, spoke an earlier German dialect, and resented the Ploetzes as urban newcomers, with 'foreign' accents and bizarre ideas. Eventually they returned to Switzerland. [26]

The kibbutz ideal in Israel was rooted in the German nature tradition as well as Russian populism, although the left-wing Ruthenian and Ukrainian nationalists exiled in Vienna who praised the old Cossack tribal unit, possibly also helped to inspire it. Theodore Hertzka, a follower of Henry George, started a commune called Freiland, - and many Georgite communes had the same symbolic name. Michael Flursheim and Adolf Damaschke were ardent exponents of decanting town dwellers back on the land. The commune movement at this time attracted those interested in the 'social problem'; that is, urban unemployment and poverty, slums, the declining birth rate and so on. Bernhard Forster, Nietzsche's brother-in-law, and later an ardent Nazi, started a commune in Paraguay, where there was already a large German population. Africa was the favoured home for many commune plans. [27] But besides eugenics and temperance ideals, religious mysticism played a large part in the German commune movement. One such group, the Bruderhof, started by the secretary of the Student Christian Movement, derived its ideals from Fichte, Goethe, Boehme (the Bohemian mystic) and Tolstoy. After the Nazi takeover in 1933 they gradually trickled out to England, and by 1937 the Cotswold Bruderhof had been established. It was so successful that another was built in 1938. Under threat of internment, its members left for Paraguay during the war, and by 1960 'Bruderhof' groups were flourishing in Connecticut, Germany, Paraguay and England. [28]

Within Germany, the aesthetic movement was submerged by 'Life Reform' groups which practised organic farming, vegetarianism and nudism. As with the Youth Movement, the communards represented every extreme of the political spectrum. One writer divided them into eight kinds; communistic, feminist, volkisch, anarcho-religious, evangelical, Quaker, Anthroposophical (followers of Rudolf Steiner) and Jewish. Colonies of agricultural labourers were also a specific answer to the problem of landless refugees from ethnic German settlements. The anti-Polish, volkisch Artamanen (Guardians of the Soil) dreamed of re-settling 'the German East'. Constantly harassed by police, with no status as German nationals after the Aliens Act of 1921, they existed on hand-outs of clothes and food, and worked on farms in eastern Germany without payment. They encapsulate the mixed political parentage of nationalist youth communes in the 1920s. They combined quotes from Tolstoy and Gandhi with the swastika banner inscribed 'To the Eastland will We Go', and a rejection of the West and its civilization. However, they formed barely a tenth of the total membership of the youth movement. These existentialist and revolutionary groups were also licensed and limited companies, - as it were the Direct Action Terrorist Squad Public Company Limited by Guarantee- and had to keep accounts. Their activities and numbers can therefore be checked. The small size of the groups is a good corrective to their all-embracing rhetoric: they were not typical. [29]

Gandhi inspired less exotic groups, such as Willy Ackermann's bio-dynamic commune near Hamburg in 1930. Here the land was farmed without machinery, and they built their own huts. This small commune deserves some attention, since it survived the Nazi period and is still going strong. The most long-lasting communes appear to be the religious communities in North America, and the organic farming, Anthroposophist groups in Germany. Both worked in a disciplined fashion, with strong leadership and strict financial accounting.

One commune which fuses religion and ecology was the Findhorn community in Scotland. Like the mystic communities of North America, it was established to nurture 'the Divine within men', but also to wait for the 'New Age', the new culture that would be born when men realised their place in nature. Members of Findhorn had to work in harmony with the elemental world, that is nature spirits, and also guardian angel-type figures. There was an angel for each physical phenomenon, including winds. The belief that a hidden spirit world shadowed each physical entity, that angels were not confined to man but were common to all living things, is similar to the popular 'morpho-genesis' of Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake took up the problem of the apparent transmission of cultural knowledge, and argued that once something existed on the earth, whether a pattern of behaviour or a new form of crystal, a spirit existed that held the ideal form of that object or pattern. Thus, techniques like bicycle riding became easier over generations, because an ideal pattern of bicycle riding existed, and was accessible to the collective unconscious. [30] The Findhorn commune claimed that pollution would destroy that other, spirit world, and that the world we know would become a desert, an ecological disaster, for if man 'violates God's law, man may be seen by nature spirits as a parasite,' and withdraw the life force from the planet. [31] The Findhorn experiment has lasted some eighteen years, and impresses visitors with the fertile growth on a windy Scottish island.

The strain of technical optimism that characterised the anarchist communes of the late nineteenth century returned in American ecological communes after 1960. Independent libertarianism, survivalism and anarchic radicalism: laissez-faire and LSD: all merged with an ardent idealism about the land. [32] 'It may take a thousand years before we know the spirit of place which animates this continent', commented one ecologist communard in 1968. [33]

Given the tradition in the United States of interest in agrarian communes, it would have been unsurprising if Roosevelt's New Deal had followed Germany in trying to resettle the unemployed on the land. But despite the bias towards land planning among his staff, and the existence of Lebensraum in plenty, only some four thousand settlements were created in his time. However, the British experience with state-funded smallholdings was eyed with interest. [34] As unemployment became more and more a problem of the ethnic minorities, Back-to-the-Land was quietly shelved as even a theoretical solution. Black communes followed the same pattern of radical mysticism as white, but were urban. One of the oddest existed in Chicago during the Second World War, publishing a journal called World Philosophy. It featured a swastika on the front cover, whether in tribute to the Buddhist inspiration, or a reference to their occult interests is not known. [35] But such groups were rare, and the ethnic pattern of the communes remained largely of European origin. In photo features of hippy communes in the 1970s, the camera portrayed row after row of blonde, thin, hairy heads; small, tow-headed children were rocked by their mothers. It was for all the world like the opening up of the West. According to studies made of communes, the ethnic homogeneity of the long-lasting commune is partly because members are volunteers, self-selected, and partly because of the middle-class, educated nature of most communards. Not only do they have to have a family background comfortable enough to be worth escaping, but it has to have an element of old affluence in it to turn the children to the spartan aesthetics of ecological communes.

The commune movement linked with the ecological movement in more ways than the obvious ones of caring about pollution and self-sufficiency. They shared an anarchist heritage, a belief in individual values, and a tendency to spiritualism. It at first seems strange that the rationalist urge which led American youth to construct solar power pumps and equal-temparature domes might be directly linked with a belief in occult or mystical phenomena. Yet the evidence seems there. One New Mexico commune established in the early 1970s, of the authoritarian ecological type, followed bio-dynamic organic gardening techniques: the works of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer were on the shelves. Other books included Stanislavsky, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Ardrey, Lewis Mumford, and works on Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Even more significantly, the group went out of its way not to acquire knowledge or techniques from orthodox sources, such as libraries, universities or newspapers. They preferred to experiment for themselves, to hypothesise, to follow rumour. A general incredulity and scepticism about the 'normal' world was combined with an eager credulity about their own. [36]

This conforms to the theory of one sociologist that an interest in occultism, popular science and 'Danikenism' results from the failure of either religion or received science to offer a coherent fact-and-ethic mythos. Religion lost its faith, and science doubted its facts. Ethno-centric religion had been lost to the European peoples since Christianity, it was part of the stolen folk heritage. [37] The result was that a generation brought up in the optimistic liberal heritage of the United States, together with the faith in reason of the educated middle class, found that no coherent, credible world-view was available. In the words quoted in the introduction, something felt wrong with the world, and ecology explained everything. It brought everything together; the dishonesty and irresponsibility of government; the corruption and short-sightedness of business and industry. The post-war faith in the American mission to help the Third World progress mutated easily enough into the mission to protect its forests and soil. The same proseletysing force lay behind both. However, this could only be morally acceptable if ecologists in the United States could live in a less resource-heavy way. As Webber points out, the growth of more egalitarian class structures under American capitalism removed much of the critical bite from socialism, while at the same time socialism went mainstream. This left anarchic do-gooders in a quandary; they had to do good by example, to find the divine within themselves before emerging for their mission. [38]

Empirical studies show that this has not happened yet. Communes are generally not independent. Self-sufficiency even in vegetable growing is rare. Parental contributions and welfare payments are the norm: sometimes a generous patron or idealistic reformer underwrites the project. Increasingly, the mission of the commune provides not only the impetus but the salaries. Part-time lecturing, journalism and other propaganda helps to pay for the videos and clothes dryers. It would be unfair to claim that as the ferocity of ecological propaganda increases so does the irresponsibility of its exponents. And it would be a pity if the golden dream of the free man on his own soil were to wither into a mere intellectual fashion. The American continent has the land available for voluntary social experiments, and it might yet be that some leap emerges, or that real developments in economic resource use are discovered. The fact that the longest-lived communes are religious ones (including Anthroposophy here as a religion) suggests that the development will be in this direction.
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