A book review by David Orton                       

    Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach
   by Robyn Eckersley, State University of New York Press, 1992,
  274 pages, softcover, ISBN 0-7914-1014-5.

            This book is based on the PhD thesis of Robyn Eckersley, an Australian academic, and someone who has
        contributed to the ecophilosophy debate in various academic and movement publications. The book addresses
        the fusion of deep ecology and left green or socialist thinking, and has been written by a person supporting these
        two general perspectives. With Eckersley’s book we look for a radical theoretical fusion of ecocentric and
        social justice, rooted in social practice.

            Such a book has been widely anticipated among those who strive for a deep ecology theoretical perspective
        and who consider themselves part of a left tendency in the environmental and green movements. From my
        viewpoint, deep ecological theorists like the Australian Richard Sylvan, or Americans such as Andrew
        McLaughlin and David Johns, or Andrew Dobson from England, would be examples of this left tendency.

            That left-deep ecologists exist, has often been overlooked in the polarized mud-slinging that has occurred
        between ecology and deep ecology, since Murray Bookchin launched his trigger broadside, “Social Ecology
        Versus ‘Deep Ecology’”
, back in 1987.

            Eckersley correctly states: “In terms of fundamental priorities, an ecocentric approach regards the
        question of our proper place in the rest of nature as logically prior to the question of what are the
        most appropriate social and political arrangements for human communities.”

            There is a certain academic authoritativeness (arrogance?) in this book. Classificatory distinctions and
        interpretations are presented as the view. Theory is, however, discussed as an end in itself. There is little
        evaluation of the various streams of thought, e.g. animal liberation, social ecology and ecoanarchism, Marxism,
        ecosocialism, and bioregionalism, from a practical perspective, although they are often insightfully analysed.

            This author describes herself as “moderately left-of-center.” It flags a sense of really being in the mainstream.
        Thus for example, we are told there is a “rule of law”, we live in a “democratic society”, that she is a “democratic
        socialist” (a Cold War anti-communist slogan), etc.

            There is no alternative vision presented, but given the task at hand, quite a shameful mild reshuffling of existing
        institutional arrangements. Green economic models, as an example, are not open for discussion. The debate has
        apparently ended. The ‘green’ economic model presented is a “scaled-down, green market economy”, keeping
        price mechanisms and private profit, subject to intervention by the State.

            What we are presented with is “market socialism”, and the use of the state in a traditional interventionist, social
        democratic sense. We are told this is the view of “green economists.” Yet the fundamental, still unresolved
        question, is whether capitalist economics based on unending growth and consumerism, however modified to factor
        in ecological costs, is compatible with preserving the earth. If it is not, then the call for market socialism is a call to
        ecological suicide for the planet.

            As well as this book showing the limitations of a social democratic understanding of capitalism, from a deep
        ecology perspective Eckersley has been closely associated with the thinking of the Australian academic Warwick
        Fox. The transpersonal ecology thing of Fox, plus some of his analytical categories, e.g.: “autopoetic intrinsic value
        theory” as a “variety” of ecocentrism, are unfortunately reflected in this book. (I also do not agree with
        Eckersley’s contention, that ecofeminism, with its human-centered focus, is another “variety” of ecocentrism).
        The contradictions of transpersonal ecology - an individually-focussed psychology as seen from the left, which is
        also curiously human-centered - are not acknowledged.

            Transpersonal ecology, concentrates not upon the eight-point “A Platform for Deep Ecology”, drawn up by
        Arne Naess and George Sessions, which has been described as the heart of deep ecology. Instead, transpersonal
        ecology, stressing an individual not a collective approach, concentrates upon the important concept of
        Self-realization. In stressing this particular concept, ethics ends up becoming a state of being, as opposed to a code
        of conduct. Self-realization is defined by Fox in his book as a sense of self which has extended “beyond one’s
        egoic, biographical, or personal sense of self.”

            Self-realization, the idea perhaps conveyed in Aldo Leopold’s phrase “Thinking like a mountain”, is not the
        primary focus of deep ecology. For example, it is not mentioned in the eight-point Platform. I believe that while
        Self-realization is important for any deep ecology supporter, transpersonal ecology leads in a New Age direction
        of focusing on inner contemplation, and away from involvement in changing the world. Eckersley denies the
        New Age linkage in a footnote. It is quite amazing and significant, that she does not state the eight-point Platform
        in her book. Yet it is the Platform which increasingly becomes a basis for unity among environmental and green
        activists, who support a biocentric or ecocentric perspective.

            This is a scholarly book and there is much to learn from Eckersley’s historical and contemporary review. But
        she is not a radical, the praxis is minimal, and the ecopolitical task this book sets out for itself, remains unfulfilled.

            (This review was published in the British journal Green Line, issue No. 107, May 1993.)

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