Advisory Board Resignation Letter


September 1, 1996

To The Editorial Board


It is with deep regret that I am withdrawing today from the International Advisory Board of DEMOCRACY AND NATURE.

Some five years ago I initially agreed to participate in this board and to promote the journal (then called SOCIETY AND NATURE) because I had hoped that it would become a valuable venue for presenting the views I have called social ecology. I am fully aware, of course, that SOCIETY/DEMOCRACY AND NATURE is a "political ecology" periodical, hence a forum for diverse ideas--and not a social ecology periodical. I did not then, nor do I now, find this arrangement to be objectionable.

I realized that I had basic theoretical disagreements with the periodical's International Managing Editor, Takis Fotopoulos,differences that would understandably arise in the pages of themagazine. But I was more than willing to live with these differences in view of our shared support for libertarian municipalism, reinforced by our mutual regard and friendship. Implicit in this friendship was, as I supposed, a tacit understanding that we would not aggravate our differences by extensively focusing on them--especially our differences over what Takis calls methodology; Castoriadian "imaginaries"; autonomy versus freedom; the objective basis of ethics; the nature of historical development; and the like.

In his thirty-one-page article in issue no. 2 ("The 'Objectivity' of the Liberatory Project"), Takis made quite clear the differences in philosophical outlook that he has with me. At the time I hoped that he had more or less disgorged his objections and that that would suffice, so I did not write a reply to his piece. Allowing for the likelihood that he would make occasional future references to our areas of difference, I still felt that I could write articles for SOCIETY/DEMOCRACY AND NATURE without becoming involved in lengthy interchanges with Takis about our differences.

Issue no. 8 of DEMOCRACY AND NATURE, however, has totally divested me of my hope of avoiding a protracted--and given my advanced age and poor health, perhaps lifelong--controversy with Takis over postmodernism and Castoriadian "imaginaries" (and the highly subjectivist, ahistorical, relativist, and politically social-democratic implications of Castoriadis's theorizing), not to speak of Kuhnian paradigm theory, dialectics, and the conventional wisdom of Anglo-American academic "discourse" which appears in his articles.

In fact, in issue number 8 I feel I have been "set up" (however unconscious or unintentional this may be) as a mere foil against which Takis can express his immensely arguable views. The lead article is my "Communalism" essay (reprinted with my permission from GREEN PERSPECTIVES), only to be followed by a Castoriadis article that advocates that old bromide, workers' control of industry. That article in turn is followed by an immense, sixty-page article by Takis, "Beyond Statism and the Market Economy." These essays not only flatly contradict much of what I argued in"Communalism"; they repeat in varying degrees the same arguments that Takis forcefully advanced in No. 2 of SOCIETY AND NATURE--and a good deal more to boot.

This is more than a secondary or academic disagreement. Takis's far-reaching, major, indeed oracular pronouncement on democracy and politics is one with which I profoundly disagree (apart from the discussion on John Clark and communitarianism). It gives the reader often doubtful instruction on freedom, individualism, collectivism, the foundations of democracy, sovereignty, the state, liberalism, socialism, economics, community, decision-making, and a future politics. This is done in a didactic way, often with no support or explanation for assertions of the utmost importance on everything from metaphysics to politics. Not only do I find this sweeping presentation generally fallacious; it is unreasoned in its flightiness--yet to a large extent it appears to be programmatic for the magazine as a whole.

As a member of the International Advisory Board, I bear the responsibility of having to reply to these articles. Were I to default on this responsibility while my name is still on the board, my silence would result in confusion among readers interested in social ecology. To Castoriadis's article alone, my reply could easily run longer than Takis's, critiquing his subjectivism, his replacement of historical development with an archipelago of "imaginaries," his concept of autonomy, his evocation of workers' control, and his embarrassing idealization of the Athenian polis (particularly on the issue of slavery) to a point of vitiating what we can learn from the polis in discussions of direct democracy.

As to Takis's article, I find so much that is objectionable that I will not even try to enter into it here. Some months ago I started to write a criticism of it--my discussion of only its opening pages filled five single-spaced manuscript pages before I stopped--and it remains incomplete. Very disturbingly, Takis and I have even drifted apart on the issue that long held us together, libertarian municipalism. (I now strongly prefer the word "libertarian" over "confederal" municipalism because "libertarian" has a revolutionary political content, rather than merely a structural and logistical one.) His current advocacy of a personal voucher system and an "artificial 'market'" (whatever happened to a libertarian-communist moral economy?), and his notion that libertarian municipalism could somehow creep up on the bourgeoisie and erode the power of the state (on pages 93-94), are highly disturbing to me. These notions divest libertarian municipalism of its confrontational stance toward the state in the form of a revolutionary dual power. I did not propound this theory of politics to see it mutate into Bernsteinian evolutionary social democracy.

I genuinely wanted to have a close association, indeed collaboration, with Takis and would never have wanted to say any of the foregoing. But I cannot help but feel that he presides over the magazine in such a way that other people's articles become foils for his own views. As a result the periodical seems to have become less of a "political ecology" forum and more an organ for a distinct line--that of Castoriadis and Fotopoulos. Certainly, issue number 8 is not a forum. Given the immense size of Takis's article--roughly one-third of the entire issue!--to which can be added Castoriadis's and other pieces that subserve Takis's ideas, the magazine becomes a vehicle for the views of its International Managing Editor. I cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the magazine has been overwhelmingly given over to the expression of the ideas of Castoriadis and Fotopoulos--ideas that are, in my opinion, very much a part of academic thinking today and the subjectivism so widespread in the existing society.

To remain on the board and thereby assent, by my very presence, to the mutation of the periodical into such a vehicle would be unprincipled on my part. I had genuinely hoped that the magazine would be a source of clarity. I encouraged people to subscribe to it--indeed, I turned over the GREEN PERSPECTIVES mailing list to Pavlos Stavropoulos when he asked me for it. But my hopes have not been fulfilled. Nor can I devote the very limited amount of time left to me to an endless and possibly fruitless duel with Takis over our many differences.

Readers who wish to know more about my views are invited to write to GREEN PERSPECTIVES, P.O. Box 111, Burlington VT 05402.

With the deepest regrets,

Murray Bookchin




September 1, 1996

To the Editorial Board:

In the intervening months since issue number 8 of DEMOCRACY AND NATURE appeared, I have had lengthy discussions with Murray Bookchin about the issue's contents and about the direction the periodical appears to be taking. Our distress during these months,I must tell you, has been considerable. We have also had many discussions together about what our response should be. I have read carefully the letter he has written to you today and find myself in agreement with it. With great sadness I must now extend to you my withdrawal from the International Advisory Board as well.


Janet Biehl