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His power over them lacked all restraint but that evoked by compassion and by the feeling of immortality he derived from the living products of his loins. Whether or not the son be cast in the image of the father, both are nevertheless made in the image of the deity who thereby unites them by covenant and blood. The demanding characteristics of father-love, in contrast to the selfless characteristics of mother-love, represent the male’s resolution of his quarrel with eternity. The Hebrew patriarchs required no heaven or immortal soul, for both of them existed in the physical reality of their sons.

Pleasure, by contrast, is the satisfaction of our desires, of our intellectual, esthetic, sensuous and playful “daydreams.” The social quest for happiness, which so often seems liberating, tends to occur in ways that shrewdly devalue or repress the quest for pleasure. We can see evidence of this regressive development in many radical ideologies that justify toil and need at the expense of artful work and sensuous joy. That these ideologies denounce the quest for fulfillment of the sensuous as “bourgeois individualism” and “libertinism” hardly requires mention. Yet it is precisely in this utopistic quest for pleasure, I believe, that humanity begins to gain its most sparkling glimpse of emancipation.

As a quasi-religious formulator, a primitive cosmologist, he literally creates the ideological mythos that crystallizes incipient power into actual power. He may do this in concert with the elders, enhancing their authority over the young, or with the younger but more prominent warriors, who tend to form military societies of their own. From them, in turn, he receives the support he so direly needs to cushion the ill-effects that follow from his fallibility. That he may compete with these powers and attempt to usurp their authority is irrelevant at this period of development.

Having divested itself of antecedents that once addressed themselves to the different emerging levels of natural history, science now lacks the continuity that relates these levels intelligibly. The former is an intellectual enterprise between scientific contestants and collaborators, not an enterprise that authentically involves the natural world. Every serious critique of reason has focused on its historic instrumentalization into technics — its deployment as a tool or formal device for classification, analysis, and manipulation. To anyone who has even an elementary familiarity with the tribal world, formal reason was simply a subdued presence in a larger sensibility justly called subjectivity.

The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy

In many respects, “civilization” involves a massive enterprise to undo the impact of maternal care, nurture, and modes of thought on the character structure of the offspring. The imagery of growing up has actually come to mean growing away from a maternal, domestic world of mutual support, concern, and love (a venerable and highly workable society in its own right) into one made shapeless, unfeeling, aud harsh. To accommodate humanity to war, exploitation, political obedience, and rule involves the undoing not only of human “first nature” as an animal but also of human “second nature” as a child who lives in dependency and protective custody under the eyes and in the arms of its mother. What we so facilely call “maturity” is not ordinarily an ethically desirable process of growth and humanization. To become an “autonomous,” “perceptive,” “experienced,” and “competent” adult involves terms that historically possess very mixed meanings. These terms become very misleading if they are not explicated in the light of the social, ethical, economic, and psychological goals we have in mind.


A “small,” “soft,” “intermediate,” “convivial,” or “appropriate” technical design will no more transform an authoritarian society into an ecological one than will a reduction in the “realm of necessity,” of the “working week,” enhance or enlarge the “realm of freedom.” It is surprising to learn how technical innovation left vast aspects of social life untouched and often contributed very little to an explanation of major historical developments. Despite the extraordinary technical ensemble it created, the Neolithic Revolution changed relatively little in the societies that fostered it or adopted its technics. Within the same community, hunting coexisted with newly developed systems of horticulture up to the threshold of “civilization,” and often well into antiquity in many areas. Village settlements, often highly mobile in Central Europe, retained strong tribalistic features in the Near East.

Accordingly, I regard this process-oriented view of phenomena as intrinsically ecological in character, and I am very puzzled by the failure of so many dialectically oriented thinkers to see the remarkable compatibility between a dialectical outlook and an ecological one. This book does not march to the drumbeat of logical categories, nor are its arguments marshalled into a stately parade of sharply delineated historical eras. I have not written a history of events, each of which follows the other according to the dictates of a prescribed chronology. Anthropology, history, ideologies, even systems of philosophy and reason, inform this book — and with them, digressions and excurses that I feel throw valuable light on the great movement of natural and human development. The more impatient reader may want to leap over passages and pages that he or she finds too discursive or digressive. But this book focuses on a few general ideas that grow according to the erratic and occasionally wayward logic of the organic rather than the strictly analytic.


By contrast, Inca resources were largely state-owned, and much of the empire’s produce was simply confiscation of food and textile materials and their redistribution from central and local storehouses. The Iroquois worked together freely, more by inclination than by compulsion; the Inca peasantry provided corvee labor to a patently exploitive priesthood and state apparatus under a nearly industrial system of management. I refer not to “Buddhist,” “convivial,” “steady-state” or “Third Wave” economics but to the character of work, technics, and needs that a free society must confront. Having uprooted community and dissolved the traditional revolutionary subject of European society, capitalism has forced us to define the relationship of the ethical life to the material.

Once we grant that the term “technics” must also include political, managerial, and bureaucratic institutions, we are obliged to seek the nontechnical spheres — the social spheres — that have resisted the technical control of social life. More precisely, how can the social sphere absorb the machines that foster the mechanization of society? I have already noted that the great majority of humankind often resisted technical development. Historically, Europeans stood almost alone in their willingness to accept and foster technical innovation uncritically. The historical puzzle of what renders some cultures more amenable to technical developments than others can only be resolved concretely — by exploring various cultures internally and revealing, if possible, the nature of their development. Moreover, human subjectivity itself can be defined as the very history of natural subjectivity, not merely as its product — in much the same sense that Hegel defined philosophy as its own history.

They could be plundered and killed; indeed, it became a discipline among the elect to use them for its own ends. To speak of the Ranters as an organized movement or even as a sect in any organized sense is to understate the highly individualistic focus of their ideas. It could be easily argued that there were almost as many Ranter ideologies as there were Ranters. What stands out clearly amid the medley of their ideas is not only their hedonistic proclivities, which were often expressed with wild abandon, but also their scorn for all authority, both civil and religious. Norman Cohn was to impart an almost legendary quality to the Free Spirit among young countercultural radicals of the 1960s by linking it with the mystical anarchism of Heinrich Suso. This Dominican follower of Eckhart, like the master himself, was a highly educated ascetic, and he wrote vigorous denunciations of the more plebian hedonistic sects of the period.

Naked self-interest established its eminence over public interest; indeed, the destiny of the latter was reduced to that of the former. The objectification of people as mere instruments of production fostered the objectification of nature as mere “natural resources.” From the sixteenth century onward, western thought cast the relationship between the ego and the external world, notably nature, in largely oppositional terms. Progress was identified not with spiritual redemption but with the technical capacity of humanity to bend nature to the service of the marketplace.

We cannot interpret the decline of the Athenian Ecclesia, the ultimate failure of the Parisian sections, and the waning of the New England town meetings as denying the popular assembly’s feasibility for a future society. These forms of direct democracy were riddled by class conflicts and opposing social interests; they were not institutions free of hierarchy, domination, and egotism. What is extraordinary about them is that they functioned at all, not the weary conclusion that they eventually failed. Hence, it is by no means a given that individuality, autonomy, and willfulness must be expressed in domination; they can just as well be expressed in artistic creativity.

The world was perceived as a composite of many different parts, each indispensable to its unity and harmony. Individuality, to the extent that it did not conflict with the community interest on which the survival of all depended, was seen more in terms of interdependence than independence. Variety was prized within the larger tapestry of the community — as a priceless ingredient of communal unity.