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To the Algonquians of the North American forests, beavers lived in clans and lodges of their own, wisely cooperating to promote the well-being of the community. Animals also had their magic, their totem ancestors (the elder brother), and were invigorated by the Manitou, whose spirit nourished the entire cosmos. Accordingly, animals had to be conciliated or else they might refuse to provide humans with skins and meat. The cooperative spirit that formed a basis for the survival of the organic community was an integral part of the outlook of preliterate people toward nature and the interplay between the natural world and the social.

In this sense, neither Aristotle nor Galileo were wrong per se, however much the latter detested the former; they observed different aspects of realities imparted to them by nature and by different levels of natural development. The most incisive critiques of reason — I think particularly of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason — may well have foundered on their failure to keep such distinctions in mind. Both thinkers clearly recognized a crucial ambiguity in reason, and they were unerring in their interpretation of the problems it raised. To speak of reason today is to address a process that has two entirely different orientations. One involves high ideals, binding values, and lofty goals for humanity as a whole that derive from supraindividual, almost transcendental, canons of right and wrong, of virtue and evil. It seems to inhere in objective reality itself — in a sturdy belief in a rational and meaningful universe that is independent of our needs and proclivities as individuals.

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Redemption thus ceases to be the arbitrary whim of a deity; it ceases, in effect, to be exclusively transcendental and becomes anthropological. Augustine’s view of redemption is prospective rather than retrospective; the “golden age” of the pagan now lies in a historically conditioned future, one that is to be attained in a battle with evil, rather than a long-lost natural past. In Augustine’s time, this vision served to diffuse the millenarian hopes of the emerging Christian world for an imminent Second Coming of Christ. But it later haunted the Church like a postponed debt, whose claims must be honored by its clerical creditors sooner or later. Let us not deceive ourselves that Bentham’s methodology or, for that matter, his ethics have dropped below the current ideological horizon. It still rises at dawn and sets at dusk, resplendent with the multitude of colors produced by its polluted atmosphere.

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The distinction between justice and freedom has yet to make its way through the maze of present-day radical ideologies; apart from a few individual theorists, the two ideals are still victims of considerable confusion. The dual functions of pleasure and asceticism — indeed, of desire and need — have yet to be clarified in contemporary radical thought. The distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom for” — that is, between negative and positive freedom — has been carefully analyzed in categories and juridical tenets; but we still await a full discussion of a reconstructive utopianism that can clarify in practice the broader distinctions between authority and an informed spontaneity. The Pastoureaux had their German parallel in the Flagellants — the large bands of self-afflicting penitents who scourged themselves and one another with whips and branches.

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Hobbes, Locke, and Marx were obviously concerned with security and property when they did not discourse on the nature and need of centralized authority. The active revolutionaries of the modern era-Cromwell, Robespierre, Babeuf, Blanqui, and Lenin, to cite the most familiar of the lot — were dogmatic centralists who often moved beyond the limits of liberal republicanism in order to foster highly authoritarian political forms. Except for rejoinders by the anarchists and certain utopian socialists who had emerged from the French Revolution, Christian heretics faded out of the revolutionary tradition into a historical limbo, at least until comparatively recent times. The nation-state was now equated with community; the notion of a representative republic, with the direct democracy of the polis. The very terms of the debate over authority had become so distorted that the debate itself virtually ceased to be intelligible to later generations. But here the Freudian drama completely deceives us — and reveals an extraordinary reactionary content.

If precapitalist history demonstrates anything, it is the dramatic fact that men and women have made extraordinary sacrifices, including giving up life itself, for beliefs that have centered around virtue, justice, and liberty-beliefs that are not easily explicable in terms of their material interests and social status. To say that they were “basically” impelled by “economic factors” of which they were unconscious-by a hidden “economic” dialectic of historyassumes that these economic factors actually prevail when their very existence or authority over human affairs has yet to be proven. Even where economic factors seem to be evident, their significance in guiding human action is often highly obscure. When John Ball or Gerrard Winstanley describe the greed of the ruling classes of their day, one senses that their remarks are guided more by ethical ideals of justice and freedom than by material interest. Can they really work, “human nature” being what it is and “civilization” imprinting its horrendous legacy of domination on the human enterprise?

We would dishonor the countless millions who toiled and perished to provide us with what is worthy in human consociation, not to mention the even larger numbers who were its guileless victims . Were we to honor the maxim, “ashes to ashes,” earth to earth, society would seem to at least be responding to nature’s “law of return.” But society has become so irrational and its diet of slaughter so massive that no law-social or ecological-is honored by any of its enterprises. So let there be no more talk about “civilization” and its “fruits,” or about “conciliation” with nature for the “good” of humanity. Until we rid ourselves of the cafeteria imagery that we must repay nature for its “lunches” and “snacks,” our relationship with the biosphere will still be contractual and bourgeois to its core. We will still be functioning in a sleazy world of “cost-effective trade-offs” and “deals” for nature’s “resources.” Only the most spontaneous desire to be natural-that is, to be fecund, creative, and intrinsically human, can now justify our very right to reenter natural evolution as conscious social beings.

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What must be demonstrated — and not merely on theoretical or statistical grounds alone — is that this affluence can ultimately be made available to all — but should be desirable to none. Technics itself tended to follow an age-old tradition of nestling closely into a local ecosystem, of adapting itself sensitively to local resources and their unique capacity to sustain life. Accordingly, it functioned as a highly specific catalyst between the people of an area and their environment. The rich knowledge of habitat — of region, local flora and fauna, soil conditions, even geology — that enabled people like the Bushmen or San to provision themselves in (as it seemed to Victorian Europe) an utter desert wasteland survived well beyond primordial times into the European Middle Ages. This high sense of the hidden natural wealth of a habitat — a knowledge that has been so completely lost to modern humanity — kept the latent exploitative powers of technics well within the institutional, moral, and mutualistic boundaries of the local community.

Quite often these movements destroyed not only the legal documents that gave the elites title to the authority and property, but also the palaces, villas, furnishings, even the granaries that seemed to embody their power. In this book, I have tried to “turn the world upside down” in a form more theoretical than the efforts of the Diggers, Levellers, Ranters and their contemporary descendants. My efforts will succeed if they demonstrate how profoundly the curse of domination has infused almost every human endeavor since the decline of organic society.

It neither challenged the political order of the time nor acquiesced to it, but merely acknowledged existing realities. This reduction of social thought to political economy proceeded almost unabashedly into the late nineteenth century, clearly reflecting the debasement of all social ties to economic ones. Even before modern science denuded nature of all ethical content, the burgeoning market economy of the late Middle Ages had divested it of all sanctity. The division within the medieval guilds between wealthy members and poor ultimately dispelled all sense of solidarity that had united people beyond a commonality of craft.

Until these transformations occur, however, it is important to know the raw materials from which hierarchical society will raise its moral and social edifice. The primal unity of the early community, both internally and with nature, is weakened merely by the elaboration of the community’s social life — its ecological differentiation. Yet, the growing civil space occupied by the male is still enveloped in a natural matrix of blood-ties, family affinities, and work responsibilities based on a sexual division of labor. Not until distinctly social interests emerge that clash directly with this natural matrix and turn the weaknesses, perhaps the growing tensions, of organic society into outright fractures, will the unity between human and human, and between humanity and nature, finally be broken. Then power will emerge, not simply as a social fact, with all its differentiations, but as a concept — and so will the concept of freedom.