Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Schumacher The Reactionary

For those waiting for it, I have not forgotten the next installment of my "Green Sacred Cows" series. This is because setting out to critique E.F. Schumacher I decided to do a full critique of his book "Small Is Beautiful", so the next Green Sacred Cows installment will appear when this is complete. The reasoning behind this is that although his philosophical testament "A Guide For The Perplexed" is quite plainly and obviously (to anyone with even mildly left wing or humanist principals) an objectionable reactionary diatribe, it is not much read amongst Greens and those within the broader environmental movement. Small is Beautiful had a much wider readership and has had a far greater influence on the green movement, and other people's perception of it. However, it is clear even early in the book that the reactionary and superstitious/metaphysical underpinning is the same as the more straighforwardly philosophical book, even though the subject is "economics". It is clear why so many on the left have had such a visceral reaction to greens (only now being gradually overcome by patient ecosocialist work) if many of them had an early exposure to Schumacher as an exemplary green thinker.
Schumacher is of course a key thinker for the green right and the aristocratic/feudalist/theocratic wing of green thought. A reading of him as anti-science and technology is incorrect, though, as his position is far more nuanced on those topics. Nevertheless, there are some appalling quotes to be had from him showing a dismissive and patrician contempt for human progress, which must warm the hearts of that other competing wing of the green movement (who must also be the subject of merciless critique by ecosocialists) the deep ecologists and primitivists. In opposing these people and their ideas ecosocialists are in at least temporary alliance with the light green/centrist wing of the movement. I am happy to say that the centrist Green Peter Sanderson of Earthquake Cove blog is embarking on a critique of Deep Ecology and Primitivism. Unfortunately his fellow blogger Paul Kingsnorth appears to be sinking deeper into the morass of anti-humanism and misanthropy that originates in the reactionary philosophy of the malevolent Arne Naess.

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At 10:07 pm, Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Very good post. It's important to differentiate yourself from the anti-progress crowd.

At 11:01 am, Blogger Paul said...

Very good indeed. Especially excellent to see you using precisely the same language and set of fact-free generalities that our enemies on the neoliberal right use every day. 'Misanthropy', 'anti-progress', 'anti-humanity' ... etc etc. If you can't do better than this, it's going to be very disappointing indeed.

I'll be interested to read the review, as someone who hasn't yet read Schumacher. But I'll be hoping you can define your terms, lay out your arguments clearly and back up prejudices such as those above with some examples and facts.

I'll also be hoping you can explaining what the 'theocratic wing' of the green movement is! I've never come across that one before.

If you can't do any of that, I'll just go and read Spiked. This post sounded like one of theirs anyway.

At 11:43 pm, Blogger greenman said...

Paul, I think you really should read some Schumacher before accusing me of joining in some "neo-liberal" onslaught. You might find that my criticisms are justified! I was keen to assess him fairly given the reverence given to him by some greens. But on close reading even his most popular works seem to be based in his Traditionalist-Catholic and reactionary outlook.

Spiked et al are wrong not becuse they attack reactionary and anti-progressive views in the Green movement, (which do unfortunately exist in some circles) but because they imply that such views are common to all greens, and because they take money from corporate capitalists to fund their events and campaigns.

Open-minded Greens need to be less defensive of the indefensible and more discerning in those parts of the green historical tradition which they support and are prepared to stand by.

I believe that the critique of reactionary and superstitious elements of green thought *by greens themselves* is essential, both for the progress of the movement and for the defeat of decadent pro-corporate ex-leftists like the LM/Spiked/IOI cult.

At 1:39 pm, Blogger Paul said...

But I wasn't talking about Schumacher; I was talking about you. I was asking you to define your terms - otherwise you do end up sounding like Spiked, who chuck generalisations around like confetti, but never define them or offer evidence.

So for starters, how about you try justifying your claim that I am 'sinking into the morass of anti-humanism and misanthropy'. Quite a big accusation that. Does it follow that because I am not an 'eco-socialist' I must hate humanity? If you're going to say things like that about people, you'd better be able to explain yourself

Then you could go on to define what you mean by 'progress': a crucial question. The greens came into being in the first place to challenge current notions of 'progress', yet you seem to accept them unthinkingly.

What is 'progress'? What does it mean to be 'reactionary'? Do you interpret any challenge to industrialism as 'theocratic' or 'romantic'? Or are you just using typically Stalinist language to close down debate? Like ... er, Spiked.

At 10:47 pm, Blogger greenman said...

"The morass" I was speaking of does not refer to your current state of thinking, but rather the currents and positions within green thought that you seem to be applauding of late and saying you are seeing as much more laudable and sensible. I am speaking of the deep ecologist/primitivist/anti-civ circles, some of whom you link from your blog. As for anti-humanist and misanthropic - I have listened to too many of these scumbags spouting in public about how what the world needs is a good pandemic, or how humanity are a "plague" or "fleas" that the natural world needs to shake off. They think they are being clever and "controversial" - rather like their mirror image in Spiked/IOI or the AEI do. If you want to link to these sorts and those who frame their "intellectual" arguments, then that is up to you.
By progress, you are right - a much abused term, used to justify the worst excesses of neo-liberalism and pursuit of profit at all costs - but when I say progressive I speak in two senses, the European left sense of socially liberal (as opposed to some "deep greens" and traditionalists who are given to talking about "natural order" and "traditional social structures" and "tribal wisdom") and techno-progressive (in terms of seeing humankind as a tool making culture - it is in this that humanity has become potentially "nature made conscious" with the potential to break out of the cycle of extinctions - *if* we can become self aware and evolve beyond rampant capitalism)as opposed to technophobic - (i.e. those who locate the malaise in an analysis that implicates cities, machines, technology, civilisation itself as well as rejecting the post-enlightenment development of thought that those such as Schumacher hate as they would prefer a "metaphysical" approach - superstition and tradition.) The preference for tradition over innovation is of course the archetypal reactionary position.
And Spiked are many things, but not Stalinist - they are a horrible mutation of Trotskyism into a dogmatic and aggressive right-libertarianism.
I say again, unless we critique the elements of the green movement that they can call up as "proof" that greens are anti-human pessimists, then we give a massive advantage to them and that which they wittingly or unwittingly serve (corporate neo-liberalism). This is not about closing down debate - it is about opening it up! Apart from a few things like Bookchin's attacks on Deep Ecology and Derek Wall's exposure of Far Right Greenery there is often an embarrased silence when the so-called libertarian right point to anti-humanist and traditionalist ideas on some wings of the green movement. I think you can only combat opposing ideas if you actually confront them and address their criticisms, not pretend that the criticisms are without substance, or engage in ad hominem.
Of course we can point out the corporate funding of contrarians, but we must also be prepared to assess and address the weaknesses on our side - and one of those weaknesses is giving far too much leeway to people with a far-rightist or traditionalist religious conception as the heart of their ideology.


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