A Critical Appreciation

The Selected Works of Arne Naess

                                                                                                                             By David Orton

                                    The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Volumes 1-10
                        Edited by Harold Glasser with assistance from Alan Drengson in cooperation with
                        the author, Springer, The Netherlands, 2005, approx. 3650 pages, hardcover,
                        ISBN: 1-4020-3727-9.
                        (Publication made possible through a grant from the Foundation for Deep Ecology.
                        The individual volumes are not available separately, the whole set must be purchased.
                        The current price for all the volumes from the publisher Springer is US $1,900.)

                “The establishment of a green society presupposes the implementation of the necessary
                changes suggested in the deep ecology formulation.” (Volume Ten, p.574)


            The Selected Works of Arne Naess in ten volumes have recently been published and made
        available to me. I am a supporter and proponent of deep ecology and am interested in theoretical
        (and practical) questions, but I am not into deep ecology hagiography. I found that there is a tone,
        by the academics who have helped put this work together, of being in the presence of sacred texts.
        Mine is a supportive but critical perspective towards this philosophy, which is so important for
        humankind, in trying to work out a new and sustainable relationship with the natural world. This
        appreciation and evaluation of the Selected Works are from a movement and activist perspective.

            Arne Naess (born in 1912) is the Norwegian founder and intellectual father of the deep ecology
        movement. Naess did not “invent” deep ecology, it existed before him as a way for humans to
        approach and coexist with the natural world. But he did give this eco-philosophy a name and an
        overall theoretical framework. Naess himself uses the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent
        Spring, as marking the start of the international movement of deep ecology. This philosophy orients
        many in the green and environmental movements and some deeper electoral greens (for example,
        in the Canadian federal Green Party). Naess began his ecophilosophy writings in the mid 1960s.
        Naess says that after he gives a talk on deep ecology, people often come up to him and say,
        “‘That’s exactly what I have felt for many years but did not find ways to express!’”
        (Volume Ten, pp. 544-545)

            The titles of the various volumes are given below:
        - Volume One, Interpretation and Preciseness: A Contribution to the Theory of
           Communication, 522 pages.
        - Volume Two, Scepticism: Wonder and Joy of a Wandering Seeker, 174 pages.
        - Volume Three, Which World Is the Real One? Inquiry into Comprehensive Systems,
           Cultures, and Philosophies, 172 pages.
        - Volume Four, The Pluralist and Possibilist: Aspects of the Scientific Enterprise, Rich
           Descriptions, Abundant Choices, and Open Futures, 162 pages.
        - Volume Five, Gandhi and Group Conflict: Exploration of Nonviolent Resistance,
           Satyagraha, 188 pages.
        - Volume Six, Freedom, Emotion and Self-Subsistence: The Structure of a Central Part
           of Spinoza’s Ethics, 156 pages.
        - Volume Seven, Communication and Argument: Elements of Applied Semantics, 120 pages.
        - Volume Eight, Common Sense, Knowledge, and Truth: Open Inquiry in a Pluralistic
           World, Selected Papers, 380 pages.
        - Volume Nine, Reason, Democracy, and Science: Understanding Among Conflicting
           Worldviews, Selected Papers, 370 pages.
        - Volume Ten, Deep Ecology of Wisdom: Explorations in Unities of Nature and Cultures,
           Selected Papers, 688 pages.


            I would have liked the volumes to have been selected to focus on his more readable deep ecology
        writings. There is too much of the focus in The Selected Works on the overall philosophical
        unfolding of Naess, going back to published writings of the 1930s. This philosophical work is of
        course distinguished. However, it is often relatively incomprehensible to someone like me, and, in my
        opinion, is of minor interest for deep ecology movement activists.

            For a similar example, contrast the two books by the late Australian deep ecologist Richard Sylvan.
        Contrast Sylvan’s co-authored important and easily readable The Greening of Ethics: From
        Human Chauvinism to Deep-Green Theory, with his incomprehensible book, to the non-
        professional philosopher, Transcendental Metaphysics: From Radical to Deep Plurallism.
        Sylvan, like Naess, has been important for influencing the emerging theoretical tendency of left
        biocentrism - a kind of left wing of the deep ecology movement with which I am involved. It says
        that social justice is a necessary part of creating an ecocentric society, and that it needs to also
        be anti-industrial and anti-capitalist. (For an excellent, brief introduction to the various ethical
        flavours within the Green movement, including left biocentrism, see the 2006 book by British-
        based academic Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction.)

             Arne Naess notes in Volume Ten of The Selected Works:
        “The deep ecology movement faces a danger of being too closely associated with the
        small group of deep ecology theorists, thereby obstructing the insight that the
        overwhelming mass of supporters do not publish papers or speak over the radio.
        These supporters form the backbone of the movement. Their commitment manifests
        itself in the direct actions going on all over the world.” (pp. 327-328)
        Unfortunately, it is academic theorists who seem to have put their own priorities on The
        Selected Works.


            Naess, now in his early 90s, obtained his PhD at age 24 and by the age of 27 took the
        Chair of Philosophy at Oslo University in Norway. He has been very influenced in his thinking
        by Spinoza, by Gandhi who concentrated on human beings, and by analytical philosophy.
        He supports what he calls “radical pluralism.” This is all reflected in The Selected Works.

            On Spinoza, with his basic view of “the immanence of God in Nature” (Volume Ten, p.
        383), Naess said: "I know of no philosopher after Spinoza from whom people can learn
         as much of significance for our life and community.” (Volume Nine, p.235) Yet Naess
        points out that Spinoza was not a friend of animals and had no view of animals as part of
        human society. (Volume Ten, p. 631, footnote)

            On Gandhi, Naess sees Gandhian thinking - with its stress on “the oneness and divine
        nature of all beings”, non-violence, being resolute, and having the willingness to compromise
        on non-essentials - as influential for his own work and that of the deep ecology movement.

            The Selected Works contains published and previously unpublished papers by Arne Naess.
        However, a number of the deep ecology related articles are quite well known and have been
        previously published in texts like Deep Ecology for The 21st Century: Readings on The
        Philosophy and Practice of The New Environmentalism. Naess considers all his writings
        “works in progress”, subject to revision, so there are no final drafts. This made putting together
        The Selected Works, with the active participation of Naess, a lengthy affair. There is a 46-
        page “Series Editor’s Introduction” by Harold Glasser, which I found quite helpful. Glasser
        himself notes that “Naess’s prose can be dense and opaque, if not downright confusing.”
        (p. xxix, “Series Editor’s Introduction”, Volume One) What is odd is that this Introduction
        is repeated in each of the ten volumes of The Selected Works, which are not sold separately.
        Six of the volumes in the ten-volume set are less than 200 pages in length. Repeating the
        Introduction must not only have made for extra printing expense, but brings undue prominence
        to the views of Harold Glasser, when the focus should be on Naess himself.

            In Volume Nine, Naess outlines how his enthusiasm for science has disappeared because he
        has come to see what he calls the “dark side” of scientific work. Most activists in the
        environmental and green movements have their own experiences of going up against environmental
        atrocities which are justified in the name of science. Naess outlines 13 major criticisms that have
        been made by others about science, which he believes have some merit, if carefully reformulated.
        These were first published by him in 1975 in the philosophy journal Inquiry. (See Volume Nine,
        pp. 184-186)

            Early Retirement

            Naess retired at age 57, in order to concentrate on deep ecology-inspired work. In the 1930s,
        he built a work and living hut high in the Norwegian mountains (Hallingskarvet Mountain), where
        he wrote many of his articles and books. This “in place” mountain refuge has deeply influenced
        much of his thinking and writing. It also illustrates his field naturalist abilities, which became
        reflected in his writings. Living in place in the Norwegian mountains means for him a concentration
        on “what is essential” and fosters “modesty”, a “disregard of luxury” and “self-sufficiency.”
        (Volume Ten, p. 367) For Naess, “Humanity today suffers from a place-corrosive process.”
        (Ibid., p. 339) Naess is also a mountaineer, with a lot of climbs both in Norway and in other
        countries. In climbing, it was not reaching the top of the mountain that had priority for the group
        involved, but “what ultimately mattered should be the way of life during the expedition.”
        (Ibid.,  p. 370)

            Two Key Volumes

            From an activist perspective, there are two key volumes in The Selected Works. Many pages
        of notes can be made by studying them. The most important and comprehensive is Volume Ten
        (fortunately the largest volume in the set, some 687 pages), called Deep Ecology of Wisdom:
        Explorations in Unities of Nature and Cultures, Selected Papers. Volume Ten was edited
        by North American deep ecology academics Harold Glasser and Alan Drengson, in cooperation
        with Arne Naess himself, with assistance from Bill Devall and George Sessions.  It has a
        comprehensive, useful bibliography going back to the 1930s, of writings by Naess in English.
        Volume Ten will become for deep ecology activists a text of comparable importance, to the
        important 1989 deep ecology “primer” book Ecology, community and lifestyle. This later
        book is not part of the selected works, although some of its content is.

            Reading Volume Ten, one is continually reminded of the “wisdom” of Naess and how he forces
        us to look at situations and language is a deeper way. For example, consider “intrinsic value”,
        which is the key building stone in point one of the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform:
        “According to point 1, there is a value that is the same for every human being, namely
        intrinsic value. This is squarely an antifascist position. It is incompatible with fascist
        racism and fascist nationalism, and also with the special ethical status accorded the
        (supreme) Leader.” (p. 95)

            Volume Five (188 pages), the second key volume, is devoted to Gandhi. This volume is called
        Gandhi and Group Conflict: Explorations of Nonviolent Resistance, Satyagraha. There
        I found out that the key concept for Naess, Self-realization, is taken directly from Gandhi. Also,
        for Gandhi, cowardice, as Naess points out in quoting him, was considered a greater threat than
        violence: “‘I believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I
        would advise violence.’” (Volume Five, p. 111) For Gandhi, as for Naess, that people have
        self-respect is a precondition for non-violent social mobilization. This means that one of the
        responsibilities of an organizer is to bring about programs which foster self-respect.

            Volume Five shows how Gandhi has influenced Naess’s views, on the way green and
        environmental activists should conduct themselves in field campaigns. From my perspective,
        this advice is sometimes mistaken, as he advocates maximizing contact with our opponents in
        ecological and other struggles. A social harmony model of social change is put forward. In this
        metaphysical view of the world, for Naess there are no enemies or Earth destroyers. This
        seems to me in opposition to the social conflict change model, more appropriate in my view,
        put forward by fellow Norwegian Sigmund Kvaloy, who was influenced by Gandhi but also
        by Marx. Personally, I believe, as does any supporter of deep ecology, in the oneness of all life,
        as put forward by Gandhi and Naess. But there are still enemies - opponents in our ecological
        and social struggles - from whom we should keep our distance, as we combat their Earth and
        socially destructive policies. There is a side of Naess, of turning the other cheek, often justified
        as deriving from Gandhi, which can be quite disconcerting and off-putting for someone like
        myself:  “I always had excellent relations with the police, being arrested several times.
        I said, ‘I’m sorry I have to do this. I’m sorry, I have to lie down.’” (Volume Nine, p. 330)

            Green Politics

            Volumes Ten and Five will be important for those who support green politics. Green societies
        must resolve not only ecological problems, but also social justice and peace problems. Changing
        attitudes towards nature in the industrialized countries like Canada is fundamental, for the deep
        ecology movement to attain sustainability. However, all countries are “developing” in ecologically
        unsustainable ways. More global trade, and the increased mobility of goods and people, mean
        that ecological problems will increase.

            For Naess, green politics means the elimination of class difference, globally, nationally, and locally.
        For him, “The direction is revolutionary, the steps are reformatory.” (Volume Ten, p. 216) He
        notes that, within green parties, being clear about the differences between fundamentalist and
        pragmatist positions will minimize internal strife. Also, he states that compromises will need to be
        made: “Fundamentalists take a hard stand on ecological issues; pragmatists are willing to
        consider compromises for social justice’s sake, for example.” (Volume Ten, p. 197)

            Being a deep ecology so-called fundamentalist myself, I am willing to compromise on non-essentials,
        but not on matters of principle, such as whether or not the Canadian Green Party should support
        Canadian troops as part of a military occupation of Afghanistan. There are some contrasting positions,
        between which bridges cannot be built. As fellow Norwegian Sigmund Kvaloy has noted, polarization
        is often good, it being a way to bring about deeper discussions and reveal where people actually
        stand on matters of substance.

            Another important quote for supporters of green electoral politics: “It is essential for supporters
        of green politics to maintain and show that they cannot be placed on the line between red and
        blue.” (Volume Ten, p. 203)

            Greens who are supporters of deep ecology must be open to the lessons that can be learned from
        social ecology and ecofeminism. Naess says: “I think that the deep ecology approach includes
        what we think is important in the social ecology movements, and also important things in
        ecofeminism. We are so grateful to work with these ideas. Deep ecology supporters must
        acknowledge that we sometimes have a one-sided view.” (Volume Nine, p. 319)

            The Canadian federal Green Party, which is currently the fourth largest political party in Canada,
        polling over four per cent of the vote in two recent federal elections, has claimed that it supports
        deep ecology, as in the 2004 Election Platform (although the dominant ecological flavour within the
        party is light green). Light greens are supporters of what Naess calls shallow ecology: “The
        supporters of shallow ecology think that reforming human relations toward nature can be
        done within the existing structure of society. They propose to make small changes here and
        there within the institutions; they suggest technical development to reduce pollution. They
        don’t get down to the basics because they think that business can continue as usual.”
        (Volume Ten, p. 16)

            The light green approach can be seen in the 2006 federal Election Platform of the Green Party
        of Canada. This Platform did not convey the depth of the crisis facing industrial capitalist society
        and the basic ecological unsustainability of capitalism, based as it is on increasing growth and
        consumerism. It also did not convey the kind of measures necessary to orient to a truly sustainable
        path. The 2006 Platform did not mention deep ecology and was quite human-centered; it did not
        call for population reduction and a reduction in material living standard; it supported carbon
        emissions trading; and it put forward “tax shifting” as an allegedly painless eco-capitalist path
        forward. But the Green Party does have a spokesperson for deep ecology in its shadow cabinet
        (myself). From my perspective, as opposed to other bourgeois parties, voting for any deep green
        party should mean voting for humans to make peace with Nature before it is too late. It should
        mean voting for the trees, for the birds and for the other animals. It should mean voting for the
        rivers and mountains, and for clean air and for clean water.

            Biocentrism and Ecocentrism, a Contradiction?

            Naess would perhaps call this a pseudo-disagreement and not a real disagreement. Naess
        dealt with this point in a 1987 Schumacher lecture: “In the biocentric movement we are
        biocentric or ecocentric. For us it is the ecosphere, the whole planet, Gaia, that is the
        basic unit, and every living being has an intrinsic value.” (Volume Ten, p. 18)

            In another statement, he illustrates how he uses “bio” or “life”: “I use the term life in a
        broad sense common in everyday speech, and may therefore speak of landscapes and
        larger systems of the ecosphere as ‘living’ - ultimately speaking of the life of the planet.
        The biospheric point of view ... is not a narrower point of view than the ecospheric
        because bios is used in a broad sense.” (Volume Ten, p.618, footnote)

            Within the deep ecology movement, the terms biocentrism and ecocentrism are used
        interchangeably, as also within the theoretical tendency of left biocentrism. In the green and
        environmental movements, biocentric is the more frequently used term by those who orient to
        deep ecology, yet the slogan Earth First! is very widely supported and the term ecocentrism
        also has currency.


            I should note that my copy of The Selected Works of Arne Naess was most generously
        donated to me by the Foundation of Deep Ecology. This appreciation is unsolicited and written
        to make the availability of these volumes better known to the green and environmental
        communities, who are influenced or sympathetic to the deep ecology philosophy. The project to
        produce The Selected Works was initiated in 1994 and took about ten years, to come to a
        publishing fruition. Despite the criticisms that can be made, I personally would like to thank all
        those who worked to make these volumes available to all of us.

            On another occasion I intend to update, in light of The Selected Works, the
        “Discontinuities of Left Biocentrism with Deep Ecology” outlined in a preliminary manner
        in the 1998 Green Web Bulletin #63, My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part 1 - The Theory

            For myself, there are some theoretical disagreements with deep ecology as outlined by Naess,
        which can be raised by those otherwise in general support of this philosophy. For example, I
        disagree with his view in Volume Ten that the concept of sustainable development should “be
        greeted with joy and expectation”(p. 575) by the deep ecology movement, and with Naess’s
        general ambiguity regarding the sustainable development attack on the “limits to growth”
        perspective. The practical advice on how to conduct actual campaigns in the ecology, peace and
        social justice movements, for which Naess claims a Gandhian influence, seems to me quite often
        off-base and undermining if one took the advice to heart. Yet I remain an overall admirer and
        supporter of Arne Naess and the deep ecology philosophy which he inspired, to provide a
        philosophical soul and theoretical orientation for green ecopolitics.

            We want, as greens influenced by deep ecology, to de-develop industrial capitalist societies.
        We want to bring about a new relationship to the Natural world which is not human-centered,
        but all-species centered, and which is also socially just for the human species. To contribute to
        this, I would urge the Foundation for Deep Ecology, or whoever is responsible, to make volumes
        Ten and Five available to be purchased on their own. This would help the radical environmental
        and green movements influenced by deep ecology.

                                                                                                                    April 2006

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