DEMOCRACY & NATURE, Vol. 4, Nos. 2/3 (issue 11/12) double issue, (1998)

The Rise of New Irrationalism and its Incompatibility with Inclusive Democracy

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Abstract: The double aim of this article is, first, to examine the causes of the rise of ‘new’ irrationalism which is contrasted with the classical irrationalism of the 19th century and, second, to show the incompatibility of all sorts of irrationalism (from religion to esoterism, New Age mysticism and so on) with democracy. Finally, the need to develop a new democratic rationalism and democratic ethics, as opposed to the usual attempts to derive an ‘objective’ ethics from natural or social evolution, is explored.


1. Old and new irrationalism

Rational discourse versus irrational beliefs 

The irrationalism, which has flourished both in the North and the South in the last quarter of this century or so, has taken various forms ranging from the revival, in some cases, of the old religions (Christianity, Islam etc) up to the expansion of various irrational trends (mysticism, spritualism, astrology, esoterism,  neopaganism,  ‘New Age’ etc) which, especially in the West, threaten old religions. We may generally define an irrational belief system as a system whose core beliefs are not derived by rational methods (i.e. reason and/or an appeal to ‘facts’) but by intuition, instinct, feeling, mystical experience, revelation, will etc. As such, these beliefs are therefore outside any rational discourse. This is particularly true for all religions which have always been characterised by the existence of a set of irrational core truths (God, immortal soul, karma and so on) which are usually inscribed in a sacred text like the Gospel, Koran, Veda etc. In this sense, the world of core truths that characterize all religious systems is and has always been not an open system but a world of closure.

Still, the fact that irrational belief systems usually resort to irrational methods to derive their core ‘truths’ does not mean that they never use rational methods. Even religious  systems sometimes use reason in deriving their truths, albeit within strictly defined limits. These limits are laid down by faith in some core irrational truths. In other words, reason is used by religious systems mainly to justify non-core or peripheral beliefs.  Thomas Aquinas, for example, was a rationalist in the sense of believing that the larger part of revealed truth was intelligible to and demonstrable by reason. Still, he also maintained that a number of dogmas which were impenetrable to reason must be accepted on faith alone. Similarly, orthodox Hindus not only give full authority to the Veda but they also hold that human reason errs whenever, on the grounds of perceptual experience, it takes issue with the sacred writings.

In the light of this, It is not therefore surprising that the Pope in his last encyclical,[1] where he considered the relationship of truth, faith and reason, came out in favour of reason (presumably, to attack the irrationalism of New Age which threatens his own and any other established church)! However, his attempt to reconcile faith and reason, which were at odds since the Enlightenment, is clearly formulated within the problematique of Thomas Aquinas.[2]  Thus, although the Pope encourages all philosophers, both Christian and non-Christian, ‘to trust in the power of human reason’ he goes on to declare that we must not ‘abandon the passion for ultimate truth’ since anything which is true , cannot be threatening to faith, because God is truth. As he puts is: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” Faith, for the Pope, stirred reason to reach out and attain what was “beautiful, good and true” and in this way became the advocate of reason.

Of course, the conception of reason to which the Pope refers to has little relation to the Enlightenment’s conception, which was identified with the power by which man understands the universe and improves his/her own condition. In fact, one might argue that the three main Enlightenment pillars were: dedication to reason, the belief in Progress and the search for freedom in political and social institutions. But, here, we have to make an important distinction between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ irrationalism —something that will bring us back to the ‘Age of Reason’, i.e. the Enlightenment and the development of rationalism. This distinction becomes necessary by the fact that the causes of the rise of modern irrationalism, as we shall see in the next section, are specific to our own era and as such differ considerably from the historical causes which have led to the rise of classical irrationalism, which flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as a reaction to classical rationalism.

Rationalism was the philosophical view that regarded reason as the chief source and test of knowledge. In this sense, rationalism has intrinsically been the rival of belief systems claiming esoteric knowledge, whether from mystical experience, revelation, or intuition. For the same reason, rationalism has always been opposed to various irrationalisms that tended to stress the biological, the emotional or volitional, the unconscious, or the existential, at the expense of the rational. In fact, it was in the context of fighting religious irrationalism, which was rampant in Christian West, that the Enlightenment thinkers embarked on the project of establishing a science of history and society, comprising hypotheses and laws of an explanatory power analogous to that attained by theories in the physical sciences. People like Condillac and Condorcet in the 18th century and Henri de Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill, and Henry Thomas Buckle in the 19th century believed that it was feasible to apply scientific procedures to the study of human society. It was in the same context that modern social science was born, either of the ‘orthodox’ type, which  takes the status quo for granted, or of the radical type, which aims at a new society (scientific socialism).

The reaction to the rationalism which characterized the Enlightenment came in the form of the ‘old’ irrationalism, which developed in 19th century Europe. Still, the objective of this ‘old’ irrationalism was not to go back to religious absurdity and truth by revelation. Its declared objective was to enrich man's apprehension of life by expanding it beyond the rational to its fuller dimensions. Irrationalism’s roots were either in metaphysics or in an awareness of the uniqueness of human experience. Its emphasis was on the dimensions of instinct, feeling, and will as over and against reason.

Manifestations of the irrationalist movement could be seen in various areas:

  • In ontology, where irrationalism implied that the world is devoid of rational structure (as rationalists argued), meaning and purpose (as religions, particularly Christianity, maintained).

  • In epistemology, where it meant that reason is inherently defective and incapable of knowing the universe without subjective distortion.

  • In History, where it implied that there is much in the life of the spirit and in human history that could not be dealt with by the rational methods of science.

  • In ethics, where it signified the futility of the attempt to develop any objective standards,

  • In anthropology, where it implied a view of human nature as predominantly irrational and

  • In art and literature, where romanticism (which emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental) was  a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Similarly, the surrealist movement this century represented a reaction against what its members saw as the destruction wrought by the "rationalism" that had guided European culture and politics in the past and  had culminated in the horrors of World War I.  Surrealism was seen by the founders of the movement as a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in "an absolute reality, a surreality”.

As it is obvious from the above list, similar views are expressed on many of the above topics by contemporary  irrationalists. The difference is that today it is not just irrationalists of various sorts who, using a variety of irrational methods, adopt such views. Today, rational methods can be employed, and have been successfully employed, to show that:

  • the world is indeed devoid of any meaning apart from the one that we assign to it, 

  • there can be no science of History, or of society and the economy because there is indeed subjective distortion in interpreting social phenomena,

  • there is no linear or dialectical Progress in History

  • it is impossible to derive any ‘objective’ ethics from natural or social evolution 

  • there is no fixed human nature, rational or irrational

  • it is possible to interpret in a rational way the unconscious and its interaction to the conscious realm of experience

In fact, the very existence of a rational discourse, which can be used to justify the above conclusions today, is what makes the ‘new’ irrationalists even more irrational than the old ones. If, a century ago, it may have been forgivable to examine the limitations of science with the use of non-rational methods it is obviously nonsensical to do the same today, when the rational discourse on the limitations of science (particularly social science) and the rational critique of several core Enlightenment ideas, like that of Progress, is fully developed.

Today, with hindsight, we can pronounce that the project of creating a ‘science’ of society, economy and history, which would command a comparable degree of intersubjectivity to that in natural sciences, was doomed to failure. But, one does not have to use irrational methods anymore to criticize Progress, science and technology. The fact, for instance, that there are no ‘laws of history’ does not have to be shown by viewing History intuitively as an irrational process of organic growth and decay, as Oswald Spengler[3], an old irrationalist, tried to do. Without having to resort to the conformism of post-modernists, radical thinkers like Castoriadis, far from an irrationalist himself, have also shown the impossibility of scientifying or ‘rationalising’ History (”History is essentially creation-creation and destruction.”)[4]

Similarly, as I attempted to show elsewhere,[5] most of what passes today as social science is in fact ideology, i.e. a set of rational interpretations (namely, interpretations derived through reason and/or an appeal to ‘facts’) of society’s or economy’ s structure and dynamics from a particular world view’s point. As such, this study always reflects particular interests. At a high level of abstraction, social ‘science’ reflects either the interests of the ruling elites (orthodox social ‘science’), in which case it takes the present socio-economic system (market economy/liberal ‘democracy’) for granted, or those of the rest of society (radical social ‘science’), in which case it does not.  As I argued there, the very object of study of social ‘sciences’ (society), versus that of natural sciences (nature), precludes the possibility of developing a science of social phenomena which would enjoy a comparable degree of general acceptability to that of the study of natural phenomena. The reason is that it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to separate subject from object of study in the former case compared with the latter. We live in a divided society and therefore the social scientist’s worldview plays a crucial role in the assumptions s/he makes and the conclusions s/he derives. So, it is not just the lack of the possibility of experiment, which differentiates the two types of studies, as it is usually asserted. The crucial difference between social and natural sciences arises from the fact that whereas the tenets of natural sciences are generally accepted by natural scientists at a given time period, the tenets of social sciences are not, since there can never be a single paradigm about social reality, as long as society is  divided. In fact, the very choice of paradigm to be adopted by a social scientist depends on a preconception: whether the present socio-economic system is taken for granted or not.

Rational ideologies and irrational belief systems 

Still, notwithstanding Bertrand Russell,[6] I think it is wrong to compare a rational ideology like Marxism, with an irrational belief system like Christianity, Buddism, or Islam. In other words, I would not agree with the argument put forward by some writers[7], who, following Russell, argue that modern Western ideologies like Marxism and Liberalism were just variations of the Judeo-Christian conception, in the sense that they all were dogmas based on an unquestionable truth, irrespectively of whether this truth is transcendental, (as in the case of religion), or rational, (which can be ‘proved’ as ‘objective’ by the use of some rational method, eg. positivism or dialectics).

I think that although there are superficial similarities between an irrational belief system like Christianity and a rational ideology like Marxism (church/party, priests/avant guard etc), still, the crucial differences between them cannot be ignored. As I mentioned above, a fundamental characteristic of every irrational belief system is the existence of a set of core beliefs which are derived by non-rational methods (intuition, instinct, feeling etc). The fact that in many irrational belief systems there are also peripheral beliefs which may have been derived through the use of rational methods does not change their fundamentally irrational character. An irrational belief system is therefore irrefutable, since it is based on core beliefs, which are not expressed as rational hypotheses about reality, but as dogmas, intuitions etc, which are outside rational discourse.

On the other hand, a rational ideology is refutable by an appeal to reason and/or the ‘facts’ because not only its peripheral ideas, but also its core ones, have been derived through a rational process. By ‘refutability’ I do not of course mean strict ‘falsifiability’ in the Popperian sense.[8] As I attempted to show elsewhere[9], it is not possible to derive any objective scientific criteria for the verification/falsification of the Marxist hypotheses as scientific hypotheses. But, the same applies to orthodox economic theory and to social 'sciences' in general.  So, when I talk about the refutability of a rational ideology vs. the irrefutability of irrational belief systems what I mean is that the former contains refutable hypotheses, (i.e. hypotheses which although cannot be ‘proven’ or ‘disproven’ by ‘facts’ still are amenable to rational discussion, namely, to discussion which can be informed by reason and evidence) whereas the latter contains a core of irrefutable hypotheses. The Marxist hypothesis, for instance, that as capitalism spreads all over the world it “creates a world after its own image”[10] is refutable and can be discussed rationally; in fact, it has been successfully challenged by radical development theory in the 1960s and the 1970s. On the other hand, there is no way to discuss rationally, for instance, the Christian  belief in the Second Coming, or the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, the deep ecology’s intuition on biocentric equality, or the New Age’s belief in the ‘inner dynamic’ since all these beliefs are not refutable hypotheses derived through rational methods but irrational beliefs derived through intuition etc.

Of course, the refutation of some of the core beliefs of a rational ideology like Marxism does not constitute a refutation of the entire ideology and it is more than likely that it will not 'convert' the fanatic. Still, it may persuade the more sophisticated supporters of the ideology to start questioning some at least of their cheriched beliefs. In fact, core Marxist hypotheses (like some of the Marxist economic 'laws') have been tested by an appeal to reason/facts both by Marxists and non-Marxists and found wanting and this has significantly contributed to the decline of Marxism as an ideology (although some basic Marxist insights are still valid), much before the collapse of actual existing socialism. But, this kind of refutation is absolutely impossible with respect to irrational belief systems. First, because many of these beliefs cannot be refuted by any kind of rational method since they usually consist of non-refutable hypotheses  (metaphysical beliefs, intuitions etc). Second, because even for those of such beliefs for which an appeal to reason and/or ‘facts’ is possible (e.g. various superstitions which we may rationally explain using today’s knowledge), no such an appeal will ever be acceptable by believers, unless they are in the process of abandoning their faith. This is why very few, if any, core religious truths have collapsed (I am not talking about ‘heresies’), despite the huge growth of knowledge, particularly in the last two centuries.

In other words, what matters in distinguishing between rational ideologies and irrational belief systems is the source of ‘truth’. If the source of truth of the core ideas is reason/’facts’, despite the fact that these ideas cannot be shown to be ‘objective’ (in the sense of general acceptability as in natural sciences), then we are talking about a rational (and refutable) ideology. On the other hand, if the source of truth of the core ideas is an irrational method (revelation, intuition etc) then we are talking about an irrational (and irrefutable) belief system. Of course, what  is considered as a rational process of thought, varies in time and space. As Castoriadis[11] puts it “what is different in another society and another epoch is its very ‘rationality’, for it is ‘caught’ each time in another imaginary world”. Still, this does not negate the criterion I used to distinguish between rational and irrational ideas: that in a rational ideology both its core and peripheral ideas are derived through a rational method (albeit spatially and historically constrained), whereas in an irrational belief system some at least of its core ideas are derived through a non-rational method.

The practical implication of the above distinction is that an irrational belief system, although perhaps useful for those that need it (for psychological or social reasons, or because they cannot just accept death as the end of existence, the burden of personal responsibility etc), it surely cannot be the basis for any rational interpretation of reality. For a rational interpretation of reality (always, of course, from a particular world-views’point of view) a rational ideology is needed.

One possible objection to the exclusive use of rational methods in understanding reality is that in the world of art, in particular, intuition as well as other non-rational methods have for long been  used by artists in deriving their own ‘truth’ which, when successful, is identified with universal ‘truth’. However, one must point out here that a work of art is of an entirely different nature than an ideology or an irrational belief system. As even Ernst Fisher, a Marxist, had to recognise in his classic work The Necessity of Art:

True as it is that the essential function of art for a class destined to change the world is not that of making magic but of enlightening and stimulating action, it is equally true that a magical residue in art cannot be entirely eliminated, for without that minute residue of its original nature, art ceases to be art…art is necessary in order that man should be able to recognise and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it.[12]

In other words, given the dual function of art to enlighten but also to make magic, it is obvious that, leaving aside the issue of the artist’s objectives, art is a completely inappropriate tool for a rational interpretation of reality.  The magic element in art, which draws on the artist’s non-rational inspiration, may be compatible with an irrational belief system, but not with a rational ideology. Therefore, for the same reasons for which an irrational belief system is completely inappropriate to give a rational interpretation of reality, art, because of its magical dimension, is correspondingly inappropriate for this purpose, although, of course, nobody could dispute its power to offer important insights about reality..

2. The causes of the rise of new irrationalism

I think that we may classify as follows the factors, which mainly account for the rise of the ‘new’ irrationalism in the last quarter of the twentieth century:

  • The universalisation of the market /growth economy

  • The ecological crisis

  • The collapse of ‘development’ in the South.

In the following sections I will attempt to delineate the influence of these factors on the present flourishing of irrationalism.

The universalisation of the market /growth economy  
After the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ and its own version of the growth economy, the market economy has become universal. This is the system, which was established in Europe two hundred years ago and was transformed, through its own dynamic, into the growth economy[13] of today. The huge postwar expansion of the market economy in the West and its transformation into the present growth economy was crucial with respect to the rise of the new irrationalism. This is because both the consumer society, which developed in the third quarter of this century, as well as the neoliberal internationalized economy, which has emerged in the last quarter of the century, provided fertile soil for the growth of various sorts of irrationalism. In particular, the realization of the social effects of the rise of the consumer society, as well as of the ecological implications of growth, was instrumental in the emergence of the ‘new’ irrationalism.

The first stage in the rise of the new irrationalism is associated with the emergence of the consumer society in the West, which was the direct outcome, but also the principal means of reproduction, of the growth economy. The consumer society implied the creation of a new homogenized culture to match the homogenized character of mass production. This new culture involved the constant creation of new material needs to be met by the over expanding accumulation of new material goods. It was inevitable that the life offered by the consumer society (‘work more to buy more consumer goods’) was bound to be seen at the end as empty. Particularly so by the students who, having the luxury of more free time than the vast majority of the working population, were in a better position to think about the meaning of life in a consumer society. Some of them, realizing that the consumer society was associated with a huge concentration of political and economic power at the hands of small elites, turned to radical politics. Others turned to individualistic solutions in order to cope with the existential problem created by the consumer society. Such ‘solutions’ involved either finding a refuge to drugs (it was in the last 25 years that the massive explosion of drugs occurred) and/or to irrational systems of beliefs, usually imported from the Far East. The very ‘exotic’ character of these irrational systems was instrumental with respect to their success in replacing Christian irrationalism which was effectively dead in the West after the massive blows it has received in the hands of a flourishing technoscience.

The first stage in the rise of the ‘new’ irrationalism may therefore be traced back to the aftermath of the emergence of the student movement in the 60’s. However, this stage involved only a relatively small part of the population in the affluent West. It was at the second stage, in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, that irrationalism saw a massive expansion in the West as well as in the East, in the North but also in the South. The second stage is associated with the internationalization of the market economy, which, by the ‘70s, has already become incompatible with the degree of socialist statism in the West. This incompatibility led to the replacement of the socialdemocratic consensus with the neoliberal consensus, a major structural change with important implications at the economic, cultural, ideological and political levels.[14]

At the economic level, the new consensus has led to the creation of massive unemployment and a consequent huge expansion of inequality and poverty not just in the South, as before, but at the very heart of the North as well. The liberalization of capital and commodity markets and the consequent deregulation of labor markets (to make labor more ‘flexible’), together with the abandonment of the government commitment to full employment, were instrumental for the present rise of massive unemployment and underemployment which, according to the latest ILO figures, extends to one billion people, a third of the global workforce.[15] At the social level, the neoliberal consensus was associated with the fear of unemployment and uncertainty concerning the ability to adequately cover basic needs (health, education, and housing). At the cultural level, the liberalization and de-regulation of markets have contributed significantly to the present cultural homogenization, which led to an irrational reaction, in the form of the rise of various fundamentalisms. Finally, at the ideological level, the emergence of the neoliberal consensus was associated with the rise of postmodernism.

As regards postmodernism, in particular, although it raised a number of valid criticisms against the objective rationalism which characterized modernity (for instance, the rejection of the conception of History as linear or dialectical Progress), still, it ended up with a complete relativism which assigned every way of thinking, every tradition, not just equal rights but also equal value[16] (something that not even a relativist like P. Feyerabend accepted[17]). This meant that postmodernism was perfectly compatible with the neoliberal consensus and the marketization of society initiated by it. Thus, as Castoriadis pointed out, postmodernism should be seen as part and parcel of the regressive post-war historical period which, particularly after May 1968, has been characterized by the total eclipse of the autonomy project in the West. During this period, phenomena like the de-politicization and privacy of the individual, as well as the ‘individualization’ of society have become dominant. In this context, there is a general decline of intellectual creativity, with postmodernism being a typical symptom of this declinea phenomenon, which the same author calls “a general retreat into conformism”.[18] As he aptly stresses, “the misery (of postmodernism) is that it simply rationalizes (the prevailing trends) through a high-brow apologetics of conformity and banality”. No wonder that post-modernist “intellectuals” (if the term is applicable to them) “abandon their critical function and enthusiastically adhere to that which is there just because it is there”.[19]

However, I think that postmodernism should also be seen as part of the general crisis of technoscience surfaced about 30 years ago when, on the one hand, the scientific process of creating ‘objective’ truths was challenged[20] and, on the other, the adverse social as well as ecological implications of today’s technology were stressed.[21]  The crisis of science had particularly devastating consequences with respect to the truth-value of the interpretations concerning social and economic phenomena and it is in the context of this crisis that we might try to explain the rise of postmodernism.  The critique of scientism inevitably affected ‘scientific’ socialism as well, which has already been challenged by the New Left in the sixties. However, the decay and eventual collapse of “socialist” statism and the parallel rise of neoliberalism had the effect that the radical critique of `scientific' socialism and of  statism in general did not function as a catalyst for further development of the non-authoritarian left thinking. Instead, the critique of scientism was taken over by post-modernist theoreticians and was developed into a general relativism, which inevitably led to the theorization of conformism and to the abandonment of any effective critique of the status quo.

As science was the main expression of rationalism, the crisis of science which I mentioned above, combined with the crisis of the main Enlightenment ideas and particularly the idea of Progress, led to a general crisis of rationalism. So, postmodernism could be seen as just one side of the general crisis of rationalism, which flourished in the last quarter or so of the twentieth century. The other side of it was a movement of return to various types of irrationalism (traditional religions, Taoism, New Age mysticism etc).

In other words, it was the combination of the uncertainty connected with the rise of unemployment and low paid employment (which marked the emergence of the internationalized neoliberal market economy) together with the uncertainty created  by the parallel crisis of science which, in combination with the accelerating cultural homogenisation could explain the rise of irrationalism in this period.

Thus, millions of people in the ex-First and ex-Second World moved to religious dogma or irrationalism in general. This move reflected the inner need of many people for ‘certain truths’ in the aftermath of the crisis of ‘objective’ rationalism (science) and in particular of ‘scientific’ socialism (belief in historical, social and economic ‘laws’ etc). In all these cases, people, taking for granted that the world has to have a meaning, independent of the one we give to it, began looking for external sources of truth. This led to the revival of traditional religions (‘reborn’ Christians in the USA, neo-orthodox Christians in Greece etc) or to the expansion of other forms of irrationalism (astrology, esoterism, New Age mysticism and so on). No wonder that today the largest percentage of Americans in a decade say they never doubt the existence of God, value daily prayer and believe in miracles![22] Similarly, in Greece the institution which young people trust most is the Greek Orthodox Church whereas trade unions and political parties are at the bottom of the list.[23]

The rise of the New Age movement, which once was a joke but today has become big business, financially but also spiritually, and threatens established churches, perfectly illustrates the crisis of the tecnoscience and rationalism in general. It is clear, for instance, that the initiative behind the latest Papical encyclical I referred to above was to attack New Age. In fact, the Archbshop of Lublin Jozef MiroslaW Zycinski explicitly declared that the Pope was offering an alternative to New Age thinking, though without specifically criticising it in the encyclical. As he put it[24]:

A flight to facile irrationalism is today being put forward in the name of protest against the great ideas developed by the philosophical systems of the past. Naive faith in UFOs, astrology and New Age is meant to replace the great philosophical questions of the past about the meaning of life and value systems

New Age ‘philosophy’ contains both rational and irrational elements in a monstrous ideological ‘soup’ which reflects the degradation of intellectual activity in our era. Examples of rational elements in New Age ‘philosophy’ are its postmodernist critique of objectivity and the use of Jungian psychotherapy, as well as of parts of Western science, like quantum physics, or ecology, which are exploited to show, (in a way full of contradictions and inaccusracies,[25]) the interconnection between all living entities. Examples of irrational elements, which in fact are the dominant ones, are its use of Eastern and non-Christian spirituality, mysticism, emotional healing etc.

The fact that the  New Age movement went from strength to strength over the two stages in the rise of irrationalism I mentioned above could be explained by its intrinsic connection to both the consumer society and the neoliberal internationalised market economy. Thus, as regards the connection of New Age to consumerism, as Madeleine Bunting[26] points out:

The New Age bears many of the characteristics of the consumer capitalist culture which it critiques. What Chopra and Dyer have grown rich on is promising the Western consumers spiritual thrills —peace, love, wisdom— as well as wealth and health for the perfect life.The smash and grab raids on ancient spiritual traditions become a form of spiritual consumerism for workshop junkies.

In other words, New Age ‘philosophy’ was the perfect ideological complement for the consumerist life-style of the thriving middle classes, which desperately needed a spiritual ‘bubble’ to fill the void created by material consumerism. One could therefore say that New Age, objectively,  functions as the ideology of consumer society (in the sense of justifying it).

Also, as regards New Age’s connection to the present neoliberal internationalised market economy, one should not forget that a basic characteristic of New Age ‘philosophy’ is its individualism. Thus, starting from Its fundamental principle  that there is no objective reality, New Agers are led to the conclusion that they should create their own experience of reality in their thoughts. The inevitable outcome is that each New Ager becomes obsessively pre-occupied with changing his/her thoughts, rather than changing the world.[27]  It is the same individualism of New Age which attracts all those, particularly in the middle classes, who wish to find a ‘meaning’ in their empty lifes. In fact, one may argue that even the New Agers’ attraction to ecology (many Western ecologists are also New Agers!) may be explained by the same  motive: to maximise individual happiness which is threatened by the deterioration in the quality of life implied by the continuous expansion of the  growth economy. Still, this does not mean that New Age appeals only to the middle classes, although its class structure seems to be dominated by them, since they are the only ones who can afford, anyway, the expensive New Age workshops, healing courses, holidays[28] etc.

Needless to say that the combination of mysticism and individualism that New Age represents is a fertile ground for the rise of any type of totalitarian regimes, this time, perhaps, of the eco-fascist/spiritualist variety. The conversion of Rudolf Bahro (the ex- radical critic of bureaucratic socialism and green radical) to New Age mysticism is a case in point. Thus, Bahro, starting from what he perceives as a fact, i.e.  that many people in the depth of their hearts are already calling for a “Green Hitler”, he argues for an antidote in terms of a self-transformation with a transpersonal, spiritual or religious dimension rather than in terms of creating a new politics for a true democratic society. No wonder that Bahro’s conclusion is that “we must think of the (ecological) movement as an ellipse whose axis has two poles, Brown and Green” and that he ends up with an appeal to reject the dichotomy between them![29]

The ecological crisis 

Few doubt the extent of the ecological crisis we face today. The upsetting of ecological systems, the widespread pollution, the threat to renewable resources, as well as the world running out of non-renewable resources and, in general, the rapid downgrading of the environment and the quality of life have made the ecological implications of economic growth manifestly apparent in the past 30 years. It was, also, during the same period that what we may call the Growth economy flourished. And by growth economy I mean the system of economic organization which is geared either ‘objectively’ (as in the case of the capitalist market economy) or deliberately (as in the case of the now defunct ‘actually existing socialism’) toward maximizing economic growth.

The realization of the ecological implications of the growth economy has led to the development of various ‘ecological’ approaches attempting to explain the ecological crisis, which were also reflected in various trends within the ecological movement that flourished in the last quarter of this century. I am not going to deal here with the differences between environmentalism and ecologism[30] and, generally, the controversies among green thinkers about what constitutes “ecological” thought. As far as I am concerned, any approach dealing with the environmental implications of the growth component of the market economy can be classified under what we may call the ‘ecological paradigm’.

One way of classifying the ecological approaches is by distinguishing between ecocentric approaches, i.e. approaches which see humans as ‘part of the web of life’ (e.g. the Deep Ecology approach) and anthropocentric approaches, i.e. those which see humans ‘on top of life’ (e.g. eco-socialism). However, I think that this way of classifying ecological approaches is problematic given the interrelationships between the two types of approaches, for instance, in social ecology.

I would therefore prefer to classify the ecological approaches on the basis of whether they explicitly attempt or not a synthesis between, on the one hand, an analysis of the ecological implications of growth and on the other of the classical traditions which dealt with the marketization element of the market economy, i.e. liberalism and socialism.

We may therefore classify under the ‘synthesis approaches’ label the following ecological approaches:

  • the liberal environmentalism[31], approach which is in fact a synthesis of liberal economic theory and environmental analysis,

  • eco-socialism[32], which emphasizes the significance of production relations and production conditions in the analysis of environmental problems and as such represents a synthesis (usually) of Marxist economic theory and environmental analysis and

  • Social ecology[33], which sees the causes of the present ecological crisis in terms of the hierarchical structures of domination and exploitation in capitalist society and as such represents an explicit attempt for a synthesis of libertarian socialism or anarchism with environmental analysis.

As regards the other approaches which do not aim, at least explicitly to a synthesis with other traditions, what we may call the ‘pure’ ecological approaches, the case par excellence is of course the ‘deep ecology’ approach which focuses almost exclusively on the ecological implications of the growth economy. But, the ‘appropriate development’[34] and ‘sustainable development’[35] approaches, may also be classified in this category. 

However, still another way of classifying the ecological approaches which is gaining ground lately, indicating the growth of irrationalism within the ecological movement, is between the ‘instrumental’ or ‘pragmatic’ approaches versus the ‘spiritual’ ones. The former involve an “attitude of ‘instrumental reason’, for which the solutions to environmental problems are ‘technical’,  whereas the latter involve “a recognition that ‘we are part of a larger order’ from which our own life ‘springs and is sustained’ with the consequent imperative that ‘we be open to or in tune with nature’”.[36] As it is obvious from the above classification, in the former belong all those approaches which use rational methods in order to deal with the problem of the ecological crisis and the way to reintegrate society and nature, whereas in the latter belong all sorts of irrational approaches (Christianity[37], Islam, Judaism[38] Indian religious traditions,[39] Taoism,[40] Pantheism,[41] Native American religion[42] etc).

Deep Ecology is by far the most influential irrational approach in the Anglo-saxon world. Although A. Naess, the founding father of this approach, dissociates himself from religious mysticism, some other adherents to this approach do not seem to have similar qualms, as he himself points out.[43] But, even if Deep Ecology does not qualify as religious mysticism, it certainly belongs to the irrational ecological approaches since it clearly meets the criterion I set in the previous section : that some (at least) of its core beliefs are not derived by rational methods. Two of the main exponents of this approach are emphatic about it when they declare that self-realisation and biocentric equality, two core beliefs of Deep Ecology, are “two ultimate norms or intuitions which are not themselves derivable from other norms or intuitions” and, as such, cannot be validated by normal scientific procedures.[44]

The irrationalist character of Deep Ecology however is not, as one may expect, restricted to its methodology, as it is made clear by its concerted attack on rationalism and the Enlightenment. Thus, supporters of this approach argue that the ultimate cause of the ecological crisis should be found in the historical identification, since the Enlightenment, of progress with economic growth. Consequently, the way out of the crisis is to abandon notions of progress so that the present growth economy can be replaced by a “steady-state economy” or even a “declining-state economy[45]. Similarly, others see sustainable development in terms of “a development path towards a stable state”, which necessitates a “stable population”[46] —a clear indication that the deep ecology approach adopts fully the overpopulation myth.

It is obvious that deep ecology sees the causes of the ecological crisis as the direct outcome of an anthropocentric approach to the natural world, which sees human values as the source of all value and aims at the use of nature as an instrument in the satisfaction of human wants. It is, also, clear that the deep ecology approach considers the present non-sustainable development as a cultural rather than as an institutional issue, as a matter of values rather than as the inevitable outcome of the rise of the market economy, with its grow-or-die dynamic, which is to blame for the present growth economy.

All this, despite the fact that it would be hardly justifiable to blame anthropocentrism for the present global ecological damage. Anthropocentrism, after all, was around —especially in the West— long before the process of massive ecological destruction started about two centuries ago. One could therefore argue that it is not anthropocentrism as such that has led to the present crisis but the fact that the market economy and the subsequent growth economy had to be founded on an ideology that justified the human domination of nature en masse.

Finally, it is not the industrial society itself or technology as such that should be blamed for the present ecological crisis, as deep ecologists usually assert. Technology has never been 'neutral' with respect to the logic and the dynamics of the market economy. Still, environmentalists, like for instance the Greenpeace, as well as social democrats and some Marxists explicitly, or usually implicitly, assume that technology is socially neutral and that we only have to use it for the right purposes in order to overcome not just the ecological crisis but the social crisis in general. It is obvious that this approach ignores the social institutioning of science and technology and the fact that the design and particularly the implementation of new techniques is directly related to the social organization in general and the organization of production in particular.[47] Similarly, it is not industrialism in general that created the present eco-damaging form of economic organization but the specific type of industrial society that developed in the last two centuries in the framework of the market/growth economy. Therefore, the ultimate causes of the ecological crisis are the market economy and its offspring, the growth economy and not its symptoms, namely, the present type of technology and industrial society, as irrationalists of various sorts, including Deep Ecologists, assert.

This is the starting point of the Inclusive Democracy approach which is promoted by the journal Democracy and Nature i.e. that the ultimate cause of the present crisis at the ecological level, but also at the economic, the political and the broader social levels, is not, as it is usually asserted, the industrial revolution, or technology, overpopulation, productivism, consumerism, etc. For the Inclusive Democracy approach, all these alleged causes are in fact the symptoms of a much more serious disease, which is, called ‘inequality in the distribution of power’. It is therefore today’s concentration of economic and political power, the former as a result of the rise of the market economy and the subsequent growth economy, and the latter as a result of the parallel rise of the present ‘liberal oligarchy’ (to use the late Castoriadis’ characterization of what passes as democracy today), which is the ultimate cause of the present crisis. A clear example of the importance of concentration of economic power with respect to the ecological crisis is the fact that the poorest one-fifth of the world today are responsible for just 3% of carbon dioxide levels, whereas the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions originate in advanced capitalist countries.[48]

The second main point of the ID approach, which is an obvious implication of the first point, is that, assuming that  the explanation of the crisis in terms of the concentration of power is valid, then, the project for an inclusive democracy[49], which involves the equal distribution of economic, political and social power, is not just a utopia but, perhaps,  the only way out of the present crisis. This means that all current attempts to tackle the ecological crisis, which do not involve a serious effort to attack the present huge concentration of economic and political power, are doomed to failure. But, if we accept this hypothesis about the cause of the ecological crisis, the obvious conclusion is that the only way out of the crisis is the creation of the objective and subjective conditions which will lead to a new society and the initiation of a process of interaction between the two types of conditions. The former conditions involve the establishment of the necessary institutions for the abolition of concentration of power and, by implication, for the re-integration of nature and society. The latter involve the creation of an alternative culture of autonomy within which people adopt the basic principle that we ourselves create our own truths. This implies that the majority of the population should have abandoned all forms of irrationalism before they attempt to establish an inclusive democracy. 

It is obvious that, within such a problematic, questions raised by religious irrationalists about how to avoid the logical and moral problems which are created in case we assume “that nature is meaningful and it holds a moral message”[50] simply do not arise.  This is because such questions take for granted what is the big issue: whether nature can be assumed either as meaningful or as meaningless. But, no rational argument can be put forward to support the view that it is not we, and no God or anybody else who assign (or do not assign) a meaning to nature and life. In fact, the reason why the various ‘logical and moral problems’, which irrationalists discuss, arise in the first place is the impossibility of deriving a unique interpretation of what the ‘meaning and morality’ of nature is. Every religion or irrational belief system assigns its own meaning to nature and life, pretending that the meaning is given to it ‘from without’ (revelation etc). Similarly, every rational ideology attempts to assign a meaning to nature and life derived ‘from within’ its own interpretation of social or natural evolution (e.g. dialectical materialism or dialectical naturalism).

Alternatively, as the inclusive democracy approach assumes, nature and life do not have any meaning by themselves a meaning which is given by God, or particular interpretations of social and natural development. This means that the suggested ‘solution’ to the problems which are created when we assume a meaningful nature does not in fact solve anything but, instead creates new (irrational) questions about which of the suggested meanings is the ‘correct‘ one. An example of the irrationality involved in any attempt to give a specific meaning to nature and life is given by a recent attempt to solve the logical and moral problems created in case we assume a meaningful nature holding a moral message. As Marangudakis puts it: “ if we wish to render meaning and morality to both (society and nature), and if we wish to unite them into a meaningful and moral equation, we can do so only with the aid of a third party… of an 'illogical' medium such as God.”[51] It is obvious that within this problematique the question does not even arise on how exactly the superiority of one religion’s code of behavior towards nature over another’s can be shown, in a way that will persuade people of different religious denominations, (not to mention all those rational people who do not believe in the existence of God(s) and similar absurdities) to abide by this particular code. Shall we start a new series of crusades to ‘persuade’ people (killing them in the process if they are reluctant to be persuaded) about the ‘truth’ we discovered in our particular brand of God or irrationality?

Similarly,one may raise serious reservations with Marangudakis’ suggestion that:

‘the role of ideology, should not be to impose a model social structure, but to transcend any kind of social structure to match some essential principles of a “good life” (eu zein). If ideology becomes a political program, as is usually the case, it faces the inevitable destiny of the political program itself: History turns it obsolete.”[52]

It is obvious to me that the matching of some essential principles of a “good life” can only be done within a social structure (unless we follow the example of Simon of the Desert or a similar character) and that History will turn political projects aiming at securing the equal distribution of all forms of power obsolete, only when the demand for freedom itself becomes obsolete!

Also, as regards the author’s argument in favor of Greek orthodoxy (which is perhaps the most extreme form of Christian irrationalism, not  bothering to use any reason at all, even to justify non-core beliefs) and Byzantium, it seems really preposterous to suggest[53] that:

“Orthodoxy transcended Byzantium by turning it from the Imperium Romanum into an image of Paradise on Earth. This system, paternalistic as it was, in its best moments guaranteed the autonomy of the rural community, the primacy of the social over the economic, fairness of the market-prices, low taxation, certain political rights to the people to approve or disprove the Emperor and his policies, and the intrinsic equality of all Christians vis-à-vis God and the Law.

However, it is of course well known that the lack of materialistic incentives, the relative autonomy of the rural community, the primacy of the social, fairness of prices etc were characteristics of all European pre-market economy systems and not special characteristics of theocratic Byzantium.[54] As regards, in particular, the political rights conceded by the Emperor to the people and the ‘divine duty’ of the former for just reign, the author obviously forgets that for the population of Greek origin, at least, the Byzantine political status represented a huge retrogression compared to their status in classical Greece. Their transformation from citizens to ‘subjects’ and from freethinking people to orthodox Faithful parroting the Gospels and hymns, (which meant, among other things, the demise of philosophy that flourished in classical Greece), obviously escaped the author’s attention.

Finally, the suggestion that normative consensus could not really be addressed in a secular public space, (since it suggests a moral principle and an agency regulating social behavior something that, supposedly, could only be done effectively in a religious framework),[55] is, in effect, little else but a perfect ideological capitulation to heteronomy. As I will try to show below, it is possible to build a democratic code of ethics, which would secure a ‘normative consensus’ amongst autonomous individuals. This consensus, in contrast to the present consensus which is achieved through fear of God, death etc. and enhances the heteronomous nature of individuals, is achieved through democratic rationalism and confirms the autonomous nature of a democratic society and its citizens.

The collapse of development in the South  

The present flourishing of Islamic fundamentalism in the Islamic world is not a unique phenomenon of the South. As we saw above, similar fundamentalisms prosper, although for different reasons, in the North and, particularly the USA. Nor this is a special phenomenon of the Islamic world. A similar revival of religion, although not as extreme as Islamic fundamentalism, is noted in many parts of the South, (e.g. in Latin America) and encompasses even ‘socialist’’ China.

I think that one way to interpret this phenomenon is to refer to the combined effect of the collapse of the development model, which was imported by the Third World in the post-war period, and the parallel cultural homogenisation that the universalised market/growth economy imposes.  

It is now obvious that the attempt to transplant the market/growth economy of the North to the South was a dismal failure. The grow-or-die dynamic of the market economy was bound, of course,  to lead to its spreading all over the world, after its emergence in Europe, two centuries ago. But, whereas the indigenous market economy in the North led to the creation of a type of growth economy which thrives in the form of a ‘two-thirds society”, the imported market economy in the South led to a much more uneven development than in the North, i.e. to a bad copy  of the latter’s growth economy. So, the South’s present near-catastrophe at the economic, social and ecological levels simply mirrors the multi-dimensional crisis that affects the North today.

The failure of the growth economy in the South becomes obvious if we consider the economic gulf between them, which has continued widening since the market economy of the North was transplanted to the South, initially by the colonization of their economies and lately by their internationalization. About two hundred years ago, when the marketization process was just starting in the North, the average per capita income in the rich countries was only one and a half times higher than that in poor countries[56]. A hundred years later, in 1900, it was six times higher, and by the time of the importation of the growth economy into the South in the early fifties, it was 8.5 times higher. The gulf has increased dramatically since then. Thus, by 1970 the per capita income in the North was 13 times higher than in the South.[57] By 1978, the North’s per capita income was forty times higher than that of the low-income countries in the South (where about 56 percent of the world population lives) and six and a half times higher than the per capita income of the middle-income countries in the South, where the rest of the 30 percent of the global population lives. Finally, by 1993, the per capita income of the North was almost sixty one times higher than that in the low-income countries in the South and over nine times higher than the income of the middle-income countries. As a result of these trends, in the mid-nineties, the North, where only about 14 percent of the world's population live, produces almost 79 percent of the world's output and accounts for 75 percent of the world's exports.[58] No wonder that today one third of the people in the South (1,3 billion people) live below the poverty line and almost half of them are not expected to survive to age 40.[59]

Under these circumstances, the return to tradition and, particularly, to religion seemed very appealing to the impoverished people in the South, whose communities and economic self-reliance were being destroyed by the internationalized market/growth economy. Particularly so, when religion was seen as a moral code preaching equality of all men before God set against the injustices of the market/growth economy.  Similarly, the return to spirituality looked as the only way to match an imported materialism which was associated with a distorted consumer society, i.e. one that was not even capable to deliver the goods to the majority of the population, as in the North.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, the marketization of culture and the recent liberalization and de-regulation of markets has contributed significantly to the present cultural homogenization, with traditional communities and their cultures disappearing all over the world. Thus, today’s cultural imperialism does not even need, as in the past, a gunboat diplomacy to integrate and absorb diverse cultures. The marketization of the communications flow has already established the preconditions for the downgrading of cultural diversity into a kind of superficial differentiation akin to a folklorist type.

The reaction to this ‘cultural homogenization’ has taken the form of the recent emergence of a sort of “cultural” nationalism in many parts of the world. This nationalism expresses a desperate attempt to keep a cultural identity in the face of market homogenization. The return to traditional religions may therefore be seen as a search for identity, as a form of ‘nationalism’[60]. This is the type of nationalism aptly described by George Orwell[61], almost half a century ago, as the habit of identifying oneself with one only ‘nation’ or unit, whether this nation is communism or racism, Zionism or anti-Semitism, Christianity or Islam.

However, the question which arises here is whether cultural nationalism has any real meaning in a world where people have been converted to consumers of a mass culture produced in the advanced capitalist countries  (particularly the USA, whose film/video distribution networks have conquered the world) and in an electronic environment, where 75 percent of the international communications flow is controlled by a small number of multinationals.[62]

Finally, the collapse of the socialist project and the fact that it never materialized its universal promise of equality, let alone freedom, was instrumental to the growth of present irrationalism (usually in the form of revival of religion) in the ex-Second World countries, as well as to those parts of the Third World where the ‘socialist’ version of the growth economy has been replaced recently by various versions of ‘socialist’ market (China,Vietnam etc.)

3. The incompatibility of irrationalism and inclusive democracy

Autonomy/Heteronomy and closure
Castoriadis, who attempted an interpretation of philosophy and democracy on the basis of the central concept of individual and social autonomy, effectively showed the fundamental incompatibility between the project of autonomy and what I called above ‘new’ irrationalism. Social autonomy for  Castoriadis means that society not only posits its own laws but also recognizes itself as the source of its norms. Similarly, individual autonomy means to make one’s own laws, again, knowing that one is doing so and in full awareness of one’s desires and true wants. In this sense, autonomy signifies the unlimited self-questioning about the law and its foundations, as well as the capacity to make, to do and to institute. This conception of autonomy is therefore contrasted to the Kantian definition of it as “a fictively autarchic subject’s conformity to a ‘Law of Reason’”, which, as Castoriadis points out, is a definition derived “in complete mis-recognition of the social-historical conditions for, and the social-historical dimension of, the project of autonomy”.[63]

The first implication one may derive from the Castoriadian definition of autonomy is that individual autonomy is impossible without social autonomy and vice versa. Furthermore, individual autonomy is only possible when the social individuals take a direct part in the formation and implementation of the social laws which condition their activity: “the autonomy of individuals has as a context the equal participation of all in power, without which there is obviously no freedom, just as there is no equality without freedom”.[64] This presupposes that social organization is based on direct democracy and not on today’s form of representative ‘democracy’  which masquerades itself as democracy.

The second implication is that the project of autonomy historically emerges in classical Greece because it is there that humans, for the first time in History, created the institutions, principally direct democracy and philosophy, which made the questioning of instituted tradition possible. This is so, because the fundamental condition for autonomy is the possibility of questioning tradition, something which by definition excludes all societies founded on ‘sacred truths’ (e.g. Byzantine and feudal theocracies in Eastern and Western Europe respectively, fundamentalist regimes today etc.) or even on any kind of a closed theoretical system (e.g. Stalinist regimes). It was only at the end of the Dark Ages, after an eclipse lasting many centuries, that the project of autonomy re-appears in Western Europe, when the emerging new cities take the form of political communities aspiring to self-governmentsomething quite similar to the Greek polis.

It is therefore obvious that the Castoriadian demarcation criterion between autonomous and heteronomous societies is not based on whether they themselves create, or not, their own institutions. Every society is self-instituting, in other words, society’s creative ability, what he called the social imaginary, creates the social imaginary significations that determine society’s values and, consequently, the institutions, which embody them: ideology, religion, and tools, power relations and structures, language. Instead, the demarcation criterion is based on whether a society imagines, or not, that its institutions are human creations, which do not originate in God’s will or, alternatively, in the actualization of unfolding human potentialities, defined according to a particular interpretation of natural or social history (natural or historical ‘laws’). Historical societies, apart from a few exceptions, have always resorted to such ‘given’ truths to protect their institutions and make them respectable; this is also where the ‘need’ for an ‘objective’ ethics originated.

For Castoriadis, therefore, a society is autonomous when it is fully aware that there is no exogenous or transcendental source for its institutions and laws and, of course, no life after death. In this problematique, History is an imaginary creation, the domain in which there unfolds the creativity of all people, whereas democracy itself and, of course, philosophy, are not products of some historical evolution but, instead, are creations, which represent a break with instituted tradition. Democracy, as a process of social self-institution, implies a society, which is open ideologically, namely, which is not grounded on any closed system of beliefs, dogmas or ideas. “Democracy,” as Castoriadis puts it, “is the project of breaking the closure at the collective level.”[65]

The case par excellence of heteronomy in thought is, of course, religion. Even logical positivists,[66] not a particularly radical group of people, had to admit  that atheism, along with theism and agnosticism, is simply an ungenuine position because the concept of God is unverifiable and as such nonsense.  Others reject belief in God because the concept of God is either meaningless, contradictory, incomprehensible, incoherent and unintelligible (e.g “God is an infinite, eternal creator of the universe”), or sometimes masking an atheistic substance (“God is just another name for love” etc). It is this vagueness of believers in defining God that perhaps prompted Chomsky[67] to declare that I can’t say whether "God or gods" exist because I do not know what "God or Gods" arepeople seem to mean many different things with these terms”. However one may argue that this is a weak stand against religion. Particularly so, today, at a time when irrational beliefs of all sorts are flourishing. I think that irrespective of how God is defined, one may still reject every conception of it, if this conception is not derived by rational methods, or, at least, if the statement about the existence of God is not accompanied by a statement of what count as evidence of God’s existence. In other words, any conception of God derived by intuition, instinct, feeling, will etc. is rejectable because of the way it is derived, irrespective of its content.   

Furthermore, one may point out here that the argument usually used by irrationalists of various sorts that both the rejection and the acceptance of God are equally matters of faith, since both are 'unprovable', is an irrational sophistry. This is because it is only rational for one to expect that the burden of proof about the existence of things that cannot be proven by an appeal to our senses should be borne by those claiming their existence and not by those who claim their non-existence! The fact that, as History has shown, things and powers that in the past were thought to be non‑existent today are considered to be common place, as a result of the growth in human knowledge, further reinforces this argument about the burden of proof. It is obvious that if  something is claimed to exist there are two logical possibilities: either it does really exist, in which case demonstrating its existence is just a matter of time (and religions had plenty of time in the thousands of years of their history to show the existence of God with no success), or it does not really exist, in which case it will never be possible to show its existence. Therefore, atheists should never be rationally expected to show the non-existence of God and this is why atheism is not a matter of faith, in the same way as theism is.

From this viewpoint it is indicative that, even in classical Athens, 2,500 years ago, a clear distinction was made between religion and democracy. As Hansen points out, “there is no doubt that religion figured prominently in the life of a Greek polis just as in an Italian citta or a German Reichsstadt, but in none of them did the state have its root or center in religion”.[68] Similarly, Castoriadis stresses that all the laws approved by the ecclesia started with the clause “έδοξε τη Βουλή και τω Δήμω”  (i.e. this is the opinion of Demos) with no reference to God. This is in sharp contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition, where, as the same author points out, the source of the laws in the Old Testament is divine: Jehovah gives the laws to Moses.[69] The practical implication is that whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition imposes an ‘exogenous’ moral code to individuals, constraining severely their freedom to discuss rationally their attitudes to various issues with moral implications (e.g. on abortion), this was not the case with the ancient Greek religion where ‘hubris does not simply presuppose freedom, it presupposes the absence of fixed norms’[70]. So, although Bookchin is right in stating that “the city’s festivals intermingled secular with religious themes, just as trade fairs in Mayan city-states accompanied religious fairs”,[71] it is important not to forget the fact, which Hannah Arendt stressed (quoting Herodotus), that whereas in other religions God is transcendent, beyond time and life and the universe, the Greek gods are anthropophyeis, i.e. have the same nature, not simply the same shape, as man.[72] If therefore one takes into account the Greeks’ absence of belief in supernatural God, their lack of belief in fixed and revealed truths and the consequent absence of given moral codes, one may assume that Greeks were, in a sense, atheists[73].

In this problematique, it is simply wrong to argue that “the early Greeks (and the Romans) had been a free, virtuous and noble people because they respected the centrality of myth and intuition in the ordering of human society”[74] In fact, it was not the Greeks’ respect for the centrality of the myth and intuition that made them free. It was their firm belief in their own ability for rational decision-making rather than a belief in supposedly externally given codes of behavior, which made them truly autonomous individuals. They obviously had their myths but, as we saw above, democratic decision–taking had nothing to do with these myths. Furthermore, as Castoriadis[75] points out, “the emergence of autonomy in Greece was conditioned by the nonunitary Greek view of the world (i.e. a view that there is no total and ‘rational’ order in the world and a corresponding order of human affairs) that is expressed from the beginning in the Greek ‘myths’”.

But, let us consider in more detail the issue of the compatibility of a democratic society with heteronomy in thought; first, in connection with the inclusive democracy approach and then with reference to socialism and anarchism.

Irrationalism, ‘objective’ rationalism and the Inclusive Democracy approach 

The thesis supported by the inclusive democracy approach is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between democracy, (which is premised on the constant questioning of any given truth), and :

  1. religious and spiritualistic traditions, i.e. irrational belief systems which take for granted certain ‘truths’ derived through irrational methods

  2. closed systems of ideas, i.e. rational ideologies, which take for granted certain ‘truths’ derived through rational methods, within the framework of ‘objective’ rationalism.

In other words, the choice of  freedom in the form of individual and collective autonomy implies that the institution of society can not be based on any kind of irrational belief system (faith in God, mystical beliefs, etc.). Likewise, it cannot be based on any kind of ‘objective truths’ about social evolution grounded on social or natural ‘laws’. This means that the democratic institution of society presupposes that the dominant social paradigm cannot be founded on some form of irrationalism, or even a form of ‘objective’ rationalism (e.g. ‘dialectical materialism’, ‘dialectical naturalism’ etc.). This is so because any system of religious or mystical beliefs, but also any closed system of ideas, by definition, excludes the questioning of some core beliefs or ideas and, therefore, is incompatible with citizens setting their own laws and making their own ‘truths’ about their society.

Tradition is the primary example of exogenous thinking and unless people are prepared in a democracy to question any kind of tradition, including any spiritual and religious beliefs, then this is not a democracy. This is because the fundamental element of freedom, defined as autonomy, is the creation of our own truth. The practice of individual and collective autonomy presupposes autonomy in thought, in other words, the constant questioning of institutions and truths, something that social individuals can only achieve through direct democracy, that is, through a process of continuing questioning of any institution, tradition or ‘truth’. In a democracy, there are simply no given truths. This could also explain why in classical Greece, as it was mentioned in the last section, it was not just democracy that flourished, but, also, philosophy, in the sense of questioning any ‘truths’ given by custom, tradition or previous thought. In fact, questioning was the common root of both philosophy and democracy. While popular assemblies, as a form of decision taking, existed both before and after the Athenian ecclesia (usually having their roots in tribal assemblies), still, the differentiating characteristic of the Athenian ecclesia is the fact that it was not grounded on religion or tradition but on citizens’ doxa (opinion).

Democracy is utterly incompatible with irrational systems as we defined them above which claim esoteric knowledge from mystical experience, intuition, revelation etc. This is so because the common characteristic that the various forms of irrationalism share is that they all lie outside the field of logon didonai (rendering account and reason), which, as Castoriadis puts it, "in itself entails the recognition of the value of autonomy in the sphere of thinking”[76] that is synonymous with reason itself. By the same token, the fact that autonomy is not an `individual' affair and it is 'decisively conditioned by the institution of society'[77] implies that a democratic society can only be realized through the autonomous activity of the people, within a process of creating social institutions, which make autonomous thinking possible, and not through some kind of spiritual process of `self-realization', as deep ecologists,[78] for instance, suggest. In fact, such a process of self-realization could only enhance privacy and the withdrawal from the social process that institutes society. A hierarchical society based on the domination of human over human could perfectly survive the self-transformation (usually of its middle classes) in the form of Mahayana Buddhism's enlightenment, or reborn Christianism. It is not accidental, anyway, that self-transformation in the past decade of millions of Americans and West Europeans along these lines was fully compatible with one of the most vicious attacks by the ruling elites that took the form of neoliberal policies (Reaganomics, Thatcherism, etc.).

The reason why supporters of the democracy project have to take an uncompromising attitude against all these irrational belief systems is that they enslave people to heteronomous ways of thinking and heteronomously derived values. As human beings, we share together in various degrees and ways the same feelings experiences etc. This is because we share a fundamental characteristic, as a result of the fact that we are genetically at the top of the intellectual scale: imagination, which is the source of all creativity.  In other words, the various irrational belief systems (religion, spirituality, mysticism, esoterism etc) are products of human imagination and do not exist independently of it. This is the fundamental difference between irrationalists of various kinds and rational autonomous human beings. The former believe in the existence of a separate ontological field from the one we can sense and reason about, which exists independently of our imagination, whereas the latter believe that this separate field is, in fact, a product of our imagination.

However, it is not only irrational systems like religions, which imply heteronomy. As I attempted to show elsewhere[79], the hypothesis about the existence of historical (economic) ‘laws’ which determine social evolution, as dialectical materialists assert, or, of natural ‘laws’ which establish a rational process of social evolution, as dialectical naturalists maintain, is both untenable and undesirable. It is untenable, because, among other reasons, History does not justify the existence of Progress towards a free society. It is undesirable, because the postulate according to which there is a 'rational' order in the world, and a corresponding order of human affairs linked to the order of the world, is not only essentially linked to heteronomy (because it conceals the fundamental fact that History is creation), but it also conceals or eliminates the question of responsibility.[80] Therefore, unless we underplay the significance of the imaginary element in human History, as Marxists do, we have to conclude that it is impossible to establish any sort of social evolution towards a particular form of society. As Castoriadis stresses:

History does not happen to society: history is the self-deployment of society. By this affirmation, we contradict the entire spectrum of existing tenets: history as the product of the will of God; history as the result of the action of ('natural' or 'historical') laws; history as a 'subjectless process'; history as a purely random process ... we posit history in itself as creation and destruction'[81].

Furthermore, the attempt to establish directionality in society might easily lead to inadvertent affinities with intrinsically anti-democratic irrational systems, like deep ecology.  Although such affinities are utterly repugnant to social ecologists, still, they are implicit in the fact that both deep ecologists and social ecologists adopt a process of evolutionary unfolding and self-realization, grounding their ethics in scientific observations about the natural world, in natural 'tendencies' or directionalities. This fact could go a long way to explain the various hybridized approaches, which have recently developed among libertarian writers like John Clark, Peter Marshall[82] and others. The inevitable outcome of such affinities is that the debate on what form of society meets the demands for autonomy and ecological balance becomes not a matter of conscious choice, but a matter of interpretation of what natural change really means with respect to society. However, as it is not possible to establish any 'authentic' interpretation about the meaning of natural change, we may easily end up not just with liberatory interpretations, like the ones offered by social ecology, but also with interpretations which are consistent with any form of heteronomy and repression, from ecofascism to mysticism and irrationalism.

Of course, all this does not mean that believers in closed ‘objectively’ rational systems, or even in irrational systems, do not have a place in a democratic society. What it does mean is that a democratic society’s majority cannot consist of believers in irrational belief systems, otherwise the dominant social paradigm will not be the democratic one. In other words, everybody can take part in a democratic society as long as s/he abides by the democratic principle and does not try to impose by force his/her views on the majority, in exactly the same way as it happens even in today’s liberal oligarchies of the West. The point, therefore, is not whether everyone is entitled to have his/her own beliefs, which should be taken for granted. The point is: does it matter whether these beliefs come from an individual's self-reflection or whether, instead, they come exogenously to the individual, as part of a religious or spiritual package? The answer to this question should be positive because whereas in the former case (which may also include the case of ‘objective’ rationalism) beliefs can potentially change through rational discussionand this is the essence of democracy in the latter case there is no such possibility because these beliefs are based on 'sacred' laws etc. Holders of such beliefs cannot be engaged in rational discussion and communication on matters where there is a potential conflict with their beliefs.

The reason, anyway, why people with diverse religious and spiritual beliefs can live today together in Western societies is because, as a result of the Enlightenment, there was a historic separation of state from the church. But, this separation has ‘worked’ so far, exactly because Western societies have never been true democracies. In other words, because they have been political systems where the various elites could impose their will through legislation, mass media manipulation and, in the last resort, through state violence, even if it was coming in conflict with the religious or spiritual beliefs of many people in society. But, in a true democracy, where everybody takes a real part in decision taking, it is crucial that everything is discussed and that there are no given truths that have to remain intact. Obviously, no democracy can exist and reproduce itself if it consists of diverse sets of people with significantly different value systems, arising from a variety of belief systems, which they consider unalterable.

However, the fact that democracy is incompatible with ‘objective’ rationalism does not mean that we have to resort to relativism. Democracy is equally incompatible with relativism (in the sense that all traditions, as in this case the autonomy and heteronomy ones, have equal truth-values).[83] Thus, although one may accept the post-modernist view that history cannot be seen as a linear (Kant et al.) or dialectical (Hegel, Marx) process of Progress that embodies reason, this does not imply that we should assign equal value to all historical forms of social organization: from classical Athens, the Swiss cantons and the Parisian Sections, to the present `democratic' regimes. In other words, one cannot assign equal value to the autonomy and the heteronomy traditions, as the adoption of the latter precludes democratic relativism, (i.e., that all traditions, theories, ideas, etc., are debated and decided upon by all citizens) itself. It is only in this way that one may avoid the pitfalls of scientism/objectivism, without falling into the post-modernist trap of a general relativism.

In conclusion, according to the Inclusive Democracy approach, dogmas and closed systems of ideas cannot constitute parts of the dominant social paradigm in a democratic society, although, of course, individuals can have whatever beliefs they wish, as long as they are committed to uphold the democratic principle, namely the principle according to which society is autonomous, institutionalized as inclusive democracy. So, the democratic principle can only be grounded on a rational choice, on our own conscious and self-reflective choice between the two main historical traditions: the tradition of heteronomy, which has been historically dominant, and the tradition of autonomy.  In other words, the democratic principle can only be based on the fundamental choice that any individual has to make between, on the one hand, authentic freedom and, on the other, the pseudo-freedom offered by today's liberal oligarchy (which passes for democracy), and the market economy (which is advertised as a form of economic democracy).  As such, the project of autonomy and democracy is universal.  It would therefore be preposterous to characterize the project for an inclusive democracy Euro-centric, on the grounds that democracy was born in Europe, at the very moment when the pseudo-freedom, in the form of representative "democracy' and the market economy, is today omnipresent.  The assertions therefore of some spiritualists (Indian aboriginals et al) and some feminists that the autonomy project is only a 'product of western culture" seem absurd.  Obviously, what matters is not the origin of the project but whether it expresses a universal human value.  Freedom itself.

The ambivalence of socialism towards Irrationalism  

But, if the incompatibility of the democratic project with irrationalism in general and religion in particular is clear the same cannot be said about the incompatibility of the socialist project with religion and irrationalism. Some socialists were surprised when at the beginning of the year the Pope was seen by millions of viewers all over the world lecturing Fodel Castro on the importance of religion. However, Castro’s attitude was neither new nor just imposed on him by political expediency. As early as 1985, in an interview to a supporter of the liberation theology movement, Castro was maintaining that there is no incompatibility between Christianism and Marxism since both fight for the end of exploitation, equality and brotherhood. It is also illuminating that Castro, commenting on Marx’s well known motto “religion is the opium of the people”,[84] stressed that “religion may be either opium or a wonderful therapy depending on whether it is used for the defence of the oppressors or the oppressed”.[85] In fact, Castro was right. To my mind, there is no fundamental incompatibility between religion and the socialist project, particularly if the latter is taken to mean simply equality and social justice. The Latin American movement of liberation theology for instance (which sought to apply religious faith by aiding the poor and the oppressed through heightening awareness of the socio-economic structures that caused social inequities and active participation in changing those structures) was not far from a traditional socialist movement.

As far as Marxists is concerned, religion is rejected not because it is the highest form of heteronomy but because it is ‘a form of human self-alienation’[86] a ‘social product’[87], ‘a product and reflection of the economic yoke in society’[88]. The obvious implication, spelled out in Capital[89] is that religions will vanish when capitalist relations of production disappear:

The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to nature. The life process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan.

It is not therefore surprising that Lenin’s demands on this matter did not extend beyond the complete separation of the church from the state and that he viewed religion as a private affair (although not as regards the party and the state).[90] Neither it is surprising that Marxists did not consider as a fundamental precondition for the building of a new society the creation of the  conditions for autonomy, not just at the institutional level (change in production relations), but also at the subjective level (autonomy in thought). And it is not surprising, because Marxism itself was a closed system, a form of ‘objective’ rationalism, in other words a form of (rational) heteronomy. No wonder that after 70 years of ‘socialism’, numerous violent attacks against churches and religious people etc, religion not only had not retreated in the Soviet Union but, as soon as the regime collapsed, it came back in force!

At this point, one would expect a religious person to jump in the discussion and declare that human beings have an inner need to believe in Gods etc, as their History up to now has shown. However, the historical predominance of institutional heteronomy[91] and the corresponding historical prevalence of heteronomy in thought, as expressed by the dominant social paradigm, are not unconnected phenomena. The fact that, whenever the socialization process was broken in History and autonomous forms of social organization were established (classical Athens, Spanish civil war etc) religion was also challenged, is highly indicative. In fact, one may argue that the two forms of heteronomy (institutional heteronomy and dominant social paradigm) are not just interconnected in the form of a crude causality relationship (the mode of production implies a corresponding ideological superstructure), as many Marxists argue, but are identical. Thus, as Castoriadis puts it:

Religion and the heteronomous institution of society are of identical essence. Both intend the same thing and do so by the same means. They do not intend merely the organization of society. They aim at giving one and the same signification to being, to the world, and to society. They have to mask the Chaos and in particular the Chaos that is society itself[92] …In situating the origin of the institution obligatorily in the same place as its own origin-external to society-religion has always been central expression, essential vehicle, and ultimate guarantor of the heteronomy of society[93]

However, this is not the way that supporters of objective ‘rationalism’, including Marxists, see religion and irrationalism in general. For them, irrationalism and religion have to be rejected not as forms of heteronomy, but as the wrong forms of heteronomy. It is not therefore surprising that even anarchist theoreticians, who support a form of ‘objective’ rationalism, condemn the new irrationalism not on account of its heteronomous nature but on account of its content as  ‘anti-humanist’ or ‘misanthropic’.[94] 

The descent of modern anarchism towards irrationalism 

Coming to anarchism’s stand on religion and irrationalism in general, one may notice the existence of contradictory trends within anarchist thought and a deplorable trend today towards irrationalism, particularly in the Anglo-saxon world.

Bakunin is perhaps the anarchist whose stand against religion was closest to the democracy/autonomy project. This becomes obvious by extracts like the following ones:

The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual[95]…The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason…it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice.[96]

However, although most classical anarchists were against religion, many of them believed in ‘objective’ rationalism and in the idea of deriving an ‘objective ethics’ from the laws of nature, the most notable case of course being that of Kropotkin. Furthermore, today’s anarchists, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, turn not just to ‘objective’ rationalism but, even worse, to irrationalism itself, abandoning rationalism altogether. Thus, several modern libertarians characterize some European Christian movements or mystery Eastern religions as democratic, betraying a confusion between democracy as a set of procedures and democracy as a regime[97]. For instance, George Woodcock’s references to “mystery religions that emerged from the East,” or to the Christian Catharist movement of the eleventh century, are completely irrelevant to the democratic tradition.[98] Similarly, Peter Marshall, in his history of anarchism, focuses on those philosophical currents, which emphasized natural law (Cynics, Stoics, etc.) and completely understates the significance of the Polis as a form of social self-instituting and equal sharing of power among citizens.[99] No wonder that the same author, as well as many anarchists today, stress the significance of mysticist and spiritualist ‘philosophical’ currents of the East (Taoism, Buddhism, etc.).

This, despite the fact that, as Bookchin, Castoriadis and others have stressed, such currents have nothing to do with democracy and collective freedom, let alone philosophy, which always consisted in the questioning of any type of law (natural or man-made) rather than in interpreting the teachings of the masters. The irrelevance of these currents to philosophy becomes obvious by the fact that in the non-democratic societies of the East, where the spiritualist ‘philosophies’ have flourished, the attachment to tradition meant that “new ideas were often offered as the rediscovery, or the correct interpretation, of earlier lore ... the focus was on how to perfect a given system, not how to justify any system by the pure dictates of reason.”[100]

It is therefore hardly surprising that in a recent special issue on religion of the anarchist journal The Raven an anarchist writer maintains that:

Beliefs about the nature of the universe, of life on this planet, of this species, of purpose and values and morality, and so on, may be independent of beliefs about the desirability and possibility of liberty in human society. It is quite possible to believe at the same time that there is a spiritual authority and that there should not be a political authority.[101] 

It is obvious that the question of the interconnection, if not identity, between the heteronomy in thought and the heteronomous society did not even occur to the author of the above extract. No wonder that a prominent subject of discussion of this year’s (October 1998) annual anarchist bookfair was “Anarchism and Religion: an impossible combination?” where, according to the program, the Dutch anarchist Bas Moreel was going to lead a discussion on “the often-unrecognised  connections between anarchism and some varieties of religious thought and practice, looking closely at the example of the anarchist Catholic Workers’ movement”.

A similar attitude is adopted by many contemporary anarchists another indication of the degradation of the anarchist movement today who extol the virtues of Taoism, Buddhism and various other irrational systems and attack, directly or indirectly, the democratic project, if not rationalism itself. Ironically, (although not surprisingly, given the ‘objective’ rationalism of social ecology), several of these anarchists tend to find many similarities between the latter and deep ecology, as I mentioned above, and some even try to achieve a synthesis between the two, to the inevitable dismay of Murray Bookchin, the father of social ecology. One may mention here the new generation of contemporary anarchists, which, apart from Peter Marshall[102] mentioned above, includes such writers as John Clark[103] (an ex-social ecologist), Suzan Brown,[104] Thomas Martin[105] and others.

A survey of the writings of modern anarchists, including the ones mentioned, makes it clear that not only they have not grasped the fact that democracy is not a form of state or a rule[106], but they are not even in a position to realize the interconnection, if not identity,  between heteronomy in thought and social heteronomy. As a result, they turn to various forms of irrationalism and individualism, or what Bookchin calls ‘Life-style anarchism’[107]. It is indeed ironic that, at the very moment when, in the aftermath of the collapse of socialist statism, anarchism was presented with its historical chance to flourish theoretically and politically, contemporary anarchists turn to irrationalism and individualism condemning hereby the movement to either irrelevance and oblivion, or worse, to becoming an integral part of the neoliberal consensus.

But, let us take in more detail Thomas Martin’s interesting attempt to develop what he calls a post-Western synthesis, (i.e. a convergence of anarchism with ecology, feminism and other movements), which is indicative of the trends prevailing in contemporary Anglo-Saxon anarchism. Martin, in an insightful analysis of Georges Sorel’s work, declares that there are three major contributions that this work can make to his post-Western synthesis: the critique of rationalism, the theory on the value and purpose of myth, and the defense of violence

As regards Sorel’s first contribution, Martin argues in favour of re-organizing anarchism on a non-rational or even irrational basis[108]. Thus, as he stresses:

Sorel condemned reason as a cruel trick, a control mechanism forced upon the masses by their rulers through the educational and cultural system, aimed at preventing direct or intuitive action…Reason has enslaved us; the path to liberation, then, is the rejection of reason.  A genuinely free society can only be based on intuitive or emotional bonds.[109]

However, one may point out here that although it is true that objective reason, as developed in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, may have functioned in ways similar to the ones described by Sorel, one does not have to go back to pre-Enlightenment times to see the stupidity of human activity, when it is  informed by faith and intuition rather than reason. One only has to look at today’s retreat of reason and resurgence of religious fundamentalism, either of the Christian type (USA) or of the Islamic type (Afghanistan, Iran etc) for tangible results of abandoning reason in favor of intuition, faith etc. So, although objective rationalism has to be criticized, it is obvious that the way out of the present impasse is forward, i.e. toward the creation of a new kind of democratic rationalism and not backward, namely to a  retreat to the absurdities of irrationalism.

As regards the centrality of myth, for Sorel, religion was not a lie, but a myth which, in his early works, was defined as knowledge acquired through intuition rather than from empirical sense data. As such, religion is not subject to analysis or refutation by logic or science, which operate analytically. This is why, as Martin points out, according to Sorel,

in contrasting science and religion one cannot argue that one is true, and the other false, or that one is somehow 'truer' than the other.  Both are equally valid in their proper spheres[110].

However, it is obvious that this equalization of science and religion is meaningless since it is tantamount  to saying that science and hallucinations are valid in the sphere of the laboratory and drug abuse respectively. But, hallucinations are an extreme form of subjective reality whereas scientific reality has an intersubjective nature i.e. the majority of scientists accept the same conclusions at any moment of time and their statements, unlike hallucinations (or religious beliefs for that matter), are refutable. Furthermore, when Martin quotes Sorel sympathetically to the effect that “only the establishment of a mythical goal can draw us onward and upward to the next stage of history”[111] he obviously forgets that in history it was exactly the faith in myths and intuitions, i.e. to irrational ideologies, which led to the most irrational forms of society (from Nazism to Islamic fundamentalism) whereas it was reason that has led to the most rational moments in History (Athenian democracy, Paris sections etc).

As regards Sorel’s contribution to the post-Western synthesis with respect to violence, Martin informs us that

“Sorel's unique contribution is his claim that the (revolutionary) shift occurs in the mythic realm: that is, the dialectic of continuity and discontinuity is beyond logical understanding or predictability”[112].

But, although it is right to assume that the revolutionary shift is beyond predictability, it is obviously wrong to go further and assume that it is also beyond logical understanding. The reason we can not predict it is because we cannot assume a rational process of History, with its own ‘laws’ determing it, (since ‘objective’ rationalism is impossible in the analysis of social phenomena) and not because the shift occurs in the mythic realm. The shift, as far as political revolutions is concerned (as opposed to religious “revolutions”), occurs very much in the rational realm and could be interpreted as a massive rupture with the dominant social paradigm and the implied socialization process[113]. This is so, even when the revolutionary shift appears to rake place in the mythic realm because the break with tradition, in many people’s minds, takes mythical dimensions.

Martin then attempts to support the case for irrationalism using the familiar argument that it is not irrationalism itself, which is wrong, but the persons or the historical conditions involved:[114]

We would have to accept the notion —troubling to most radicals in the classical Left traditions— that a political philosophy can have more in common with emotion and faith than with reason or logic.  We must be cautious: "here be dragons," such as fundamentalists, Republicans, and abortion-clinic murderers.  In the twentieth century irrational political ideologies have not exactly brought peace and justice.  This is not to say that it must always be so.  Irrationalism has thrown up Hitlers and Ralph Reeds because it has had to grapple with a grossly perverted and sinister rationalism, not because it is inherently faulty.  Sorel understood this, and might have expressed the idea better had he been familiar with Lao-tzu, the Zen masters, Sufi philosophy or even Meister Eckhart.

The above extract makes it obvious that what Sorel could not have (justifiably) understood at the beginning of the century, and Martin (unjustifiably) now, is that the fascist totalitarianism, as well as the crimes of various fundamentalists today, are exactly due to the heteronomous character of the doctrines behind them. In other words, it is irrationalism itself which is the major source of heteronomy, since it does not allow any rational discussion of the myths on which various totalitarianisms are based. It is a ‘take it or leave it’ situation and, furthermore, it cannot be shown to be wrong. On the other hand, although belief in a form of objective rationalism (e.g. belief in the Marxist ‘laws’ of social evolution) could also function as a major source of heteronomy (it has functioned as such both with respect to the socialist movement and the regimes of ‘actually existing socialism’) still, there is a crucial difference. An ‘objectively’  rational ideology, as I attempted to show in the first section, can be shown to be wrong, since it is based on a particular interpretation of social and economic trends. And these trends, unlike the core beliefs and intuitions of irrational ideologies, can be shown, with the use of rational methods, whether they are valid or not. In this sense, irrationalism is a worse form of heteronomy than objective rationalism, although the latter is, also, a source of heteronomy.

To conclude, Martin concedes that despite the value of Sorelian studies for post-Western anarchists,“at the same time we must admit that Sorel's primary impact in the twentieth century was on the authoritarian ideologies of the Right and Left”.[115] But, an obvious question arises here : is it accidental? If there is a problem in separating Stalinist totalitarianism from some, at least, elements of Marxism, why there shouldn’t be a similar problem in separating fascist totalitarianism from a basic element of Sorelian thought, i.e. his belief in irrationalism and the myth, which are the main sources of heteronomy in thought?

4. Towards democratic rationalism


Why Democratic Rationalism ? 

Democracy is compatible with only one form of rationalism, democratic rationalism, namely, rationalism founded in democracy as a structure and a process of social self-institution. This implies that a confederal inclusive democracy, where some of the communities in the confederation believe in 'given truths' (i.e. truths or values not coming out of rational democratic discussion but out of 'sacred' laws given by God, or spiritual truths, or even 'laws' derived from a specific reading of social and/or natural evolution) is non-viable. In a democratic society, either the majority of citizens accept the principle that every decision affecting social life, including values and ethical codes conditioning individual behavior, is democratically taken and everybody has to abide by the relevant decisions, irrespective of whether these decisions come in conflict with his/her belief in Christ, Mohammet, Buddha or voodoo, or it is not democratic at all.

This is important in practice and particularly so when believers in irrational systems may not be willing to abide to the moral values implied by the two fundamental institutional principles of democratic organisation: autonomy and community. The source of beliefs and values, (i.e. whether they come from God/spirits or through rational democratic discussion), is obviously very important in determining individual behavior with respect to such crucial issues as the death penalty, abortion, adultery and so on. This is not to say, of course, that democratic societies may not make mistakes when they do not draw their inspiration from religion and spirits. But, in case people do not derive their beliefs from "external" sources, there is always a chance that they may correct their mistakes in the future, whereas the opposite is by definition not possibleunless they abandon their irrational beliefs. 

Does all this mean that in a democratic society there will be no divisions? Of course not, otherwise it would be not a democratic but a dead society. The aim of democracy is anyway to resolve such divisions democratically. But, unless the assembly violates some basic principles protecting the individual or a minority group, everybody has to abide by a democratically taken decision. By the same token, everybody has the right to dissent and try to persuade the others on an alternative course of activity. But, nobody should have the right, apart perhaps from abstaining in the implementation of a decision s/he considers wrong (even this right could be decided by the confederal assembly) to 'resist' or obstruct in any way the decisions of the assembly. No democracy, in fact no society at all, can function if a minority can obstruct the decisions of the majority.

The consensus principle can only be thought of as an ideal and Murray Bookchin has aptly criticized the opposite views of some Anglo-Saxon anarchists (usually of the irrationalist type).[116] Apart from the fact that a consensus principle may easily lead to a social paralysis just because of the objections raised by minorities, or, alternatively, to behind the scenes bargaining before the actual decision-taking, so that a façade of consensus is created, one should not forget the fierce social divisions that would inevitably be created in the process to establish an inclusive democracy. It is obvious that during the transitional process the ruling elites, the ‘overclass’ and their personnel, have to be voted out as minorities, before any effective action is taken against them (which, of course, will take a revolutionary form if they resist the democratically expressed wish of the majority).

I think that the only significant objection against democratic rationalism is the problem of the protection of minorities which would always exist because of ethnic, cultural and similar divisions. To my mind, however, this problem is not unresolvable, as long as a democratic society is prepared to introduce various institutional protections to protect the ability of these minorities to organise themselves so as to avoid the majority’s oppression, like the ones I suggested elsewhere.[117] Of course, these institutional protections could only apply to minorities which accept the democratic principle of organisation and the values associated with it. Obviously, irrational or other minorities, whose explicit or implicit objectives are inimical to the democratic organisation of society, could not be entitled to any such institutional protection and, although free to believe any ‘truth’ they like, they have to abide by the decions of the majority. 

Democratic ethics 

Coming now to the important issue of the ethics for a democratic society it should be obvious from what has been said above that religious ethics, or any ethics based on irrational belief systems, is utterly incompatible with a democratic society, since it is incompatible with the democratic principle itself.

However, the ethics derived by irrational methods and particularly religious ethics are rejectable not only because of the way in which they have been derived.  Contrary to the common belief, a religious framework, far from providing us with a set of moral principles, it systematically corrupts morals. Thus, as R.A. Sharpe stresses:

We need no further motivation to care for the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the stranger. That God requires it of us either turns it into something which is no longer moral but a matter of expediency, it being sensible to keep in with the Almighty, or else it dilutes the moral motivation[118]… ideas like worship, gratitude and love, notions which play a central role in the Christian vision of the good life, become impoverished or distorted when they are applied to God. My conclusion has been that the moral life is despoiled rather than enriched by religious setting (and) when it comes to sexual morality, the churches, and in particular the Roman church are guilty of advocating immoral doctrines[119]… God is not required to guarantee morality; all the sureties and recognizances of morality are internal. My claim has been that providing a theological framework despoils morality. Some virtues cease to be virtues when given a religious context[120]…to avoid crime because you fear ultimate punishment is not the same as avoiding crime because it is wrong[121]

However, if religious ethics is incompatible with the democratic principle this does not mean that we can return to an idealist conception of perennial and universal values; it is now obvious that values differ in space and time among various communities and societies.

Similarly objectionable is the attempt to derive some ‘objective ethics’ from the ‘laws of nature’, as Kropotkin[122] attempted to do almost a hundred years ago —an attempt which Murray Bookchin[123] continued and expanded today with his dialectical naturalism. As I tried to show elsewhere,[124] the hypothesis of a directionality in social change and of a rational historical process is untenable.  But, if this is so, then the foundation of 'objective' ethics collapses. To my mind, any attempt to develop an objective ethics based on the assumption of a process of social evolution and to assess accordingly forms of social organization as 'good' or 'bad' on the basis of the degree according to which they represent the actualization of the latent potentialities for freedom, is little more than an effort to mask a conscious choice among the autonomy and the heteronomy tradition, the democratic and the non-democratic society.

Therefore, although Murray Bookchin is, of course, right in insisting that in developing a democratic ethics we should adopt a non-hierarchical interpretation of nature[125], it should not be forgotten that this is just one possible form of interpretation of Nature that we consciously have chosen because it is compatible with our choice for autonomy in the first place. This is obviously very different from assuming that a non-hierarchical interpretation of nature is an 'objective' one and that, as a consequence, a democratic society will be the product of a cumulative development, a rational process of realisation of the potentiality for freedom. In this problematique, social ecology’s attempt to develop an objective ethics not only undermines its democratic credentials but it also gives an easy target to statists and irrationalists of various sorts, as it is indicated by the fact that most attacks against social ecology focus on its philosophy.[126]

A democratic society will be a social creation, which can only be grounded on our own conscious selection of those forms of social organization which are conducive to individual and social autonomy. An important side effect of this approach is that it avoids falling into the trap of grounding the free society on 'certain' truths at the very moment when most certainties, not only in social sciences but even in natural sciences, are collapsing. However, the fact that a democratic society represents a conscious choice does not mean that this is just an arbitrary choice.  This is clearly implied by the very fact that the autonomy project turns up in history again and again, particularly in periods of crisis of the heteronomous society. Furthermore, the fact that heteronomous society has been the dominant form of social organization in the past is not indicative of its intrinsic superiority over an autonomous society. Heteronomous societies have always been created and maintained by privileged elites, which aimed at the institutionalization of inequality in the distribution of power, through violence (military, economic) and/or indirect forms of control (religion, ideology, mass media).

The grounding of a free society on a conscious choice does not deprive us of an ethical criterion to assess the various forms of social organization. In fact, the degree to which a form of social organization secures an equal distribution of political, economic and social power is a powerful criterion to assess it. But this is a criterion chosen by us and not implied by some sort of evolutionary process.

However, the fact that the project for a democratic society is not objectively grounded does not mean that ‘anything goes’ and that it is therefore impossible to derive a definable body of principles to assess social and political changes, or to develop a set of ethical values to assess human behavior. Therefore, the postmodern adoption of a complete relativism with respect to ethical values should be rejected for the same reasons that the complete relativism with respect to the choice of traditions was rejected.

The process to derive a set of values for a democratic society can only be based on reason. So, although it is true that moral and ethical systems have functioned as control mechanisms, created and enforced by the ruling élite for the more convenient management of the population, the way out is not, as Sorel suggests “to detach morality from the tyranny of reason and to anchor it once more in compassion and empathy”[127]. Moral and ethical systems can cease to function as control mechanisms not by detaching them from ‘the tyranny of reason’ but by making them part of democratic rationalism, i.e. by letting people themselves to decide their moral codes and not leave their elites to do it for them. The principles and values derived within such a process do not just express personal tastes and desires and in fact, they are much more ‘objective’ than the principles and values that are derived from disputable interpretations of natural and social evolution. The logical consistency of the former with the fundamental principles of organisation of an inclusive democracy could be assessed in an indisputable way, unlike the contestable ‘objectivity’ of the latter.

In other words, it is possible to derive an ethical system[128], which is neither ‘objective’, (in the sense that it is derived from a supposedly objective interpretation of social evolution —Marx, or natural evolution—Bookchin), nor just a matter of individual choice. There can be a set of common or general moral criteria by which individual actions could be judged, i.e. a code of democratic ethics, which would be based on the fundamental principle of organizing a democratic society around a confederal inclusive Democracy,[129] (i.e. an inclusive democracy based on a confederation of demoi or democratic communities). This code of democratic ethics may be derived out of the two fundamental principles of organisation of a confederal inclusive Democracy :

  1. the principle of autonomy and

  2. the principle of community.

Once people accept these basic democratic principles of social organization, then, a whole set of moral principles could be drawn. Thus, out of the fundamental principle of autonomy one may derive a set of moral values about equality and respect for the personality of every citizen, irrespective of gender, race, ethnic identity etc. Out of the same fundamental principle the principle of protecting the quality of life of each individual citizen may be derived something that would imply a relationship of harmony with nature. Similarly, out of the fundamental principle of community life we may derive a set of values involving solidarity and mutual aid, caring and sharing. As Michael Taylor has shown, one of the core characteristics of a community is reciprocity, which covers ‘a range of arrangements and relations and exchanges, including mutual aid, some forms of cooperation and some forms of sharing.’[130]

The set of moral values which may be derived out of the fundamental organizing principles could then constitute a ‘constitutional’ code of democratic ethics to be decided by the assemblies and to be subject to change only with special majorities and quorum.

In a confederal  Inclusive Democracy, where all the ethics derived from autonomy and community have been integrated in the dominant social paradigm, there should be no conflict between personal and collective ethics. This is so, because both the code of moral ethics which will cover comprehensively the basic ethical choices over which men philosophised over the centuries, as well as any non-basic ethical choices over matters of everyday life, will be decided democratically in the assemblies, where every citizen will have the opportunity to take part in the formation of the relevant decisions. Of course, this does not preclude the possibility of conflict between personal and collective ethics, particularly with respect to those citizens who cannot reconcile themselves with the tragic truth that we determine our own truth and might still adhere to moral codes derived from irrational belief systems. However, as long as these people are in a minority, (hopefully, a dwindling one, through the Paedeia of a democratic society), the conflict in their personal ethics with the collectively defined ethics should not be a problem for the community as a whole.

Still, even the code of democratic ethics should not be declared permanently unchanged (apart from the principle of democratic organisation around autonomy and community itself). The reason is that a democratic society is not static but a dynamic process. People therefore should always have the opportunity to discuss and re-interpret, or even change, basic principles. Of course, the risk is always there that some assemblies may demand changes in basic principles, introducing an element of contradiction with the very institutional framework of an inclusive democracy. However, the requirement of exceptional majorities/quorum at the confederal level (which means that the majority of the entire population in the confederation should agree to such changes) gives some sort of guarantee that this will not happen. But, of course, a democracy can never provide any waterproof guarantees. A democracy is risky, as life is risky, and this is the beauty of it!



[1] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (October 1998).
[2] In fact, Fides et Ratio explicitly refers to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Aeterni Patris, published in 1878, which praised the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and considered the relationship of truth and reason.
[3] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, (2 vols 1918-22) reprinted by Oxford Paperbacks,1991.
[4] C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 3.
[5] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy (London: Cassell, 1997) ch. 8.
[6] Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 1945.
[7] S. Jeffries, The Guardian (28 October 1994).
[8] See the discussion on the evolution of positivism in Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy pp. 308-12.
[9] Ibid. pp. 320-28.
[10] K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist party, 1848.
[11] C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy,  p. 67.
[12] Ernst Fisher, The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach, (London: Penguin, 1963).
[13] See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, chs 1-2 for an analysis of the rise of the market economy and its development into a capitalist growth economy in the West and for the significance of the growth ideology with respect to the emergence of the ‘socialist’ growth economy in the East.
See T Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 21-45.
[15] International Labour Organisation, World Employment Report, 1998.
[16] C. Castoriadis, World in Fragments, (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), p.41.
[17] See T Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 347-50.
[18] C. Castoriadis,  World in Fragments,  p. 42.
[19] Ibid.
See, e.g., Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Imre Lakatos, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (London: Verso, 1975); and Derek Phillips, Abandoning Method (London: Jossey-Bass, 1973).
[21] See, for instance, Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (London: Sphere books, 1968) and Murray Bookchin, Post-scarcity anarchism, (London: Wildwood House, 1974).
[22] Edward Hellmore, The Observer (3 May 1998).
[23] Eleftherotypia (15 September 1998).
[24] M. Bunting & J. Hooper, The Guardian (16 Oct. 1998).
[25] See Damon Young, “Quantum Karma: Semantic Superficiality in the New Age Religions” (in this issue).
[26] Madeleine Bunting, “Coming of Age”, The Guardian (8 October 1998).
Paul Heelas, for instance, reader in religion and modernity at Lancaster University and author of The New Age, states “we no longer believe in reason and science to be the engines of human progress, the promise of the Enlightenment...there is no sense of optimism or enthusiasm about the future. [The] spiritual movements are the exception; they are optimistic but on a very personal individualistic level, as they seek their own self-perfection. Up to 50 per cent of my students are into neo-paganism, Wicca or shamanism; they are more concerned with exploring themselves than changing the world”. Madeleine Bunting, “Shopping for God,” The Guardian (16 Dec. 1996).
[28] The UK New Age magazine Eye to Eye, for instance,  have set up a profitable New Age holiday business combining the teaching of ‘alternative life–styles’ with tourism in the islands of Greece and the Caribbean, where people like the film director Ken Russell and the writers Marina Warner, Sue Townsend, Alison Lurie and others teach relevant courses.
[29] See James Hart & Ulrich Melle exchange with Janet Biehl on Rudolf Bahro (In this issue) .
For a discussion of such matters, see, for instance, Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought (London: Routledge, 1990 & 1995).
[31]  For an example of liberal neoclassical economics being used in the analysis of environmental problems, see Michael Common, Environmental and Resource Economics (London: Longman, 1988).
[32] For a useful description of eco-socialism and its differences from eco-anarchism and other green tendencies, see David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 1993), and Modern Environmentalism (London: Routledge, 1996).
[33] See the works of Murray Bookchin, for instance, Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1989), The Philosophy of Social Ecology (Montreal: Black Rose, 1995), From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (London: Cassell, 1995).

[34] See, for instance, Ted Trainer, Developed to Death (London: Greenprint, 1989).
[35] See World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (United Nations, 1987).
[36] See Spirit of the Environment, ed by David E. Cooper & Joy A. Palmer (London: Routledge, 1998) p. ix.
[37] See e.g. M. Marangudakis “The Metaphysical Uncertainties of Political Ecology”, (in this issue).
[38] See for Judaism compared to Christianity and Islam as regards their attitude to nature Rabbi Arthur et al “Religion and nature: the Abrahamic faiths’ concepts of creation” Spirit of the Environment, pp. 30-41.
[39] See P. Bilimoria, “Indian religious traditions”, Spirit of the Environment, pp. 1-14.
[40] See Martin Palmer, “Chinese religion and ecology”, Spirit of the Environment, pp. 15-29.
[41] R.L. Clark, “Pantheism”, Spirit of the Environment, pp. 42-55.
[42] Adolf G. Gundersen, “Religion, Politics, and the Native American Land Ethic” (in this issue).
[43] Arne Naess, “Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises”, The Ecologist, Vol.18, Nos. 4/5 (1988) and reprinted in Society and Nature, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Sept-Dec. 1992) pp. 109-10.
[44] Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered, (Layton, Utah: Gibbs M.Smith, 1985), p. 66.
[45] See, for instance, John M.Gowdy, “Progress and Environmental Sustainability,” Environmental Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring 1994).
Richard Douthwaite, The Growth Illusion, (Devon: Resurgence, 1992) Chapt. 15.
For a critique of the neutrality of the technology thesis,see Takis Fotopoulos, “Towards a democratic conception of science and technology” Democracy & Nature, vol 4 no 1 (10) August 1998, pp. 54-86. See, also, Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 192 and Frances Stewart's study which shows that the way in which technological choices are made in practice is anything but `neutral'; Frances Stewart, Technology and Underdevelopment (London: Macmillan, 1978), Chap. 1.
[48] UN, Human Development Report 1998.
[49] For further analysis of the meaning of inclusive democracy see Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy,  chs 5-6.
[50] M. Marangudakis, “The Metaphysical Uncertainties of Political Ecology”, (in this issue).
[51] Ibid.
[52] Ibid.
[53] Ibid.
[54] See Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944), particularly Part two;see, also, Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy,  ch. 1.
[55] M. Marangudakis, “The Metaphysical Uncertainties of Political Ecology.”
  P. J. McGowan and B. Kurdan, “Imperialism in World System Perspective,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1 (March 1981), pp. 43-68.
Paul Bairoch, The Economic Development of the Third World Since 1900 (London: Methuen, 1975), pp. 190-92.
Data calculated from The World Bank's World Development Report 1995 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), tables 1, 3 & 13.
[59] UN, Human Development Report 1997, Tables 2.1 & 2.2.
[60] See also Fotis Terzakis, “Irrationalism, fundamentalism and religious revival:the colors of the chess-board” (in this issue) for a discussion of religious fundamentalism as a form of belated nationalism.
George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism”, The Penguin Essays, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), pp. 306‑23
As K. Gouliamos, a Canada-based professor on mass media, stresses, TO BHMA (9 Feb. 1992).
[63] C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy,  p. 75.
[64]  Ibid. p. 137.
Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 21.
[66] See e.g. A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (1936).
[67] See Nikos Raptis “Religions and ‘Believers’”, Democracy & Nature, Vol. 4, No. 2/3, p. 118
[68] Mogens Herman Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991) p. 64.
[69] Cornelius Castoriadis, “The problem of democracy today” Democracy and Nature, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1996), p. 23.
[70] David Ames Curtis (ed) The Castoriadis Reader, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), p. 282
[71] Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity,  (London: Cassell, 1995), p. 249.
[72] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 18.
[73] See, also, David Ames Curtis (ed) The Castoriadis Reader, cf. pp. 273-74.
[74] Thomas Martin, “Violent Myths: The Post-Western Irrationalism of Georges Sorel” (In this issue).
[75] David Ames Curtis (ed) The Castoriadis Reader, p. 274.
C. Castoriadis, “The Crisis of Marxism and the Crisis of Politics,” Society and Nature, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1992), p. 209.
C. Castoriadis, “The Crisis of Marxism and the Crisis of Politics,” p. 209.
According to Naess, the father of deep ecology, “the higher the Self-realization attained by anyone the broader and deeper the identification with others.” Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle (MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 196.
[79] See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, ch. 8.
[80] C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, pp. 104-05.
C. Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy,  p. 34.
Peter Marshall, Nature's Web (London: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 426.
Even Feyerabend, a strong supporter of relativism, does not go as far as to adopt philosophical relativism; P. Feyerabend, Science in a Free Society, (London:NLB, 1978) pp. 82–83.
[84] K. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844).
[85] The Guardian Weekly (4 Jan. 1998).
[86] K. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
[87] K. Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, (1845).
[88] V. Lenin, “Socialism and Religion” (1905), Selected Works, Vol. xi, pp. 658-62.
[89] K. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (1867) pp.51f.
[90] V. Lenin, “Socialism and Religion”.
[91] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 333-342.
[92] C. Castoriadis, World in Fragments,  pp. 319-320.
[93] Ibid. p.329.
[94] See Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity.
[95] M. Bakunin, God and the State, (New York: Dover, 1970) p.30.
[96] Ibid. p. 25
[97] See C. Castoriadis, “La democratie comme procedure et comme regime” in La Montee de l’insignifiance, (Paris: Seuil, 1996), pp. 221-41.
“It may well be, however, that the tradition of democracy in the post-Greek world had its obscure roots among the Catharists”; George Woodcock, “Democracy, Heretical and Radical,” Our Generation, Vol. 22, Nos. 1-2 (Fall 1990-Spring 1991), pp. 115-16.
Peter Marshall, erroneously identifying NOMOS (i.e., the laws of the Polis) with custom and convention, points out that “The Cynics of the third century came even closer to anarchism ... they alone rejected Nomos in favour of Physis; they wished to live purely "according to Nature".... Since the Greek Polis was based on the rule of custom or convention, by rejecting Nomos, the Cynics denied the right of established authority to prescribe the limits of their actions”; Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible (London: Harper Collins, 1992), p. 68.
G. E. R. Lloyd, “Democracy, Philosophy and Science in Ancient Greece” in Democracy, ed. by John Dunn, p. 55.
[101] Nicolas Walter, “Anarchism and Religion”, The Raven, #25 (Spring 1994), p. 4
[102] See Peter Marshall, Demanding the impossible  and Nature’ Web.
[103] See Murray Bookchin “Comments on the International Social Ecology Network Gathering and the "Deep Social Ecology" of John Clark”, Democracy and Nature, Vol. 3, No. 3, issue 9 (1998).
[104] L. Suzan Brown, The Politics of Individualism, (Montreal: Black Rose, 1993).
[105] Thomas Martin, “Violent Myths”.
[106] For further expansion on this see Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 175-76.
[107]  Murray bookchin, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle anarchism, (Edinburgh: AK press, 1995).
[108] Thomas Martin, “Violent Myths”.
[109] Ibid.
[110] Ibid.
[111] Ibid.
[112] Ibid.
[113] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, p. 181.
[114] Thomas Martin, “Violent Myths: The Post-Western Irrationalism of Georges Sorel”.
[115] Ibid.
[116] Murray Bookchin, “Communalism:The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism”, Democracy & Nature, Vol. 3, No. 2 (issue 8) 1995, pp. 1-17.
[117] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 230-33.
[118] R. A. Sharpe, The Moral Case Against Religious Belief, (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1997) p. 57.
[119] Ibid. p. 64.
[120] Ibid. p. 97.
[121] Ibid. p. 100.
[122] P. Kropotkin, Ethics, (Dorchester: Prism Press, 1924).
[123] Murray Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology:Essays on Dialectical Naturalism.
[124] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 328-38.
M. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy, (Montreal, Black Rose Books, 1991) p. 274.
. See, for instance, the criticisms raised against dialectical naturalism by eco-socialists like David Pepper (David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice, p. 165); and Andrew Light (Andrew Light, 'Rereading Bookchin and Marcuse as Environmental Materialists', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, No. 3 [March 1993], and Andrew Light, 'Which Side Are You On? A Rejoinder to Murray Bookchin', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, No. 14  [June 1993]). See, also, the criticisms raised by deep ecologists like Robyn Eckersley (Robyn Eckersley, 'Divining Evolution: The Ecological Ethics of Murray Bookchin', Environmental Ethics, Vol. 11, No 2 [Summer 1989]).
[127] See Thomas Martin.
[128] The issue of democratic ethics will be the subject of discussion in a forthcoming theme of Democracy & Nature (Vol. 6, No. 3 “Democracy and Ethics”).
[129] See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, ch 6 for a detailed description of confederal inclusive democracy.
[130] Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) pp. 28-29.