Open main menu

The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy is a 1982 book by American libertarian socialist and ecologist Murray Bookchin, in which the author describes his concept of social ecology, the idea that ecological problems are caused by human social problems and can be solved only by reorganizing society among ecological and ethical lines. The book is considered Bookchin's magnum opus, but it has also been criticized as utopian.

The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy
The Ecology of Freedom.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorMurray Bookchin
CountryUnited States
PublisherCheshire Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages480 (2005 edition)
ISBN978-1904859260 (2005 edition)



Bookchin is critical of the class centered analysis of Marxism and simplistic anti-state forms of libertarianism and liberalism and wished to present what he saw was a more complex view of societies. Bookchin writes that, "My use of the word hierarchy in the subtitle of this work is meant to be provocative. There is a strong theoretical need to contrast hierarchy with the more widespread use of the words class and State; careless use of these terms can produce a dangerous simplification of social reality. To use the words hierarchy, class, and State interchangeably, as many social theorists do, is insidious and obscurantist. This practice, in the name of a 'classless' or 'libertarian' society, could easily conceal the existence of hierarchical relationships and a hierarchical sensibility, both of which––even in the absence of economic exploitation or political coercion––would serve to perpetuate unfreedom."[1]

Bookchin also points to an accumulation of hierarchical systems throughout history that has occurred up to contemporary societies which tends to determine the human collective and individual psyche, "The objective history of the social structure becomes internalized as a subjective history of the psychic structure. Heinous as my view may be to modern Freudians, it is not the discipline of work but the discipline of rule that demands the repression of internal nature. This repression then extends outward to external nature as a mere object of rule and later of exploitation. This mentality permeates our individual psyches in a cumulative form up to the present day––not merely as capitalism but as the vast history of hierarchical society from its inception."[2]


Mainstream mediaEdit

The Ecology of Freedom received a positive review from Susan Marie Szasz in Library Journal and a negative review from the political scientist Alan Wolfe in The Nation,[3][4] which was followed by an exchange of letters between Bookchin and Wolfe.[5][6] The book was also reviewed by R. Clarke in New Scientist and R. Williams in The Technology Review.[7][8]

Szasz described the book as, "Elegantly written, and recommended for a wide audience."[3] Wolfe wrote that while he was receptive to a radical critique of society, he found the book "obsessive, dogmatic and angry" and did not believe it would gain as much attention as it deserved. He criticized Bookchin's negative attitude toward New Age views, his account of the development of modern society, and the hostile language he used to describe many authors with whom he disagreed. He believed that the work was utopian and did not explain how to solve society's problems.[4] Bookchin, in reply, accused Wolfe of ignoring the central themes of the work.[5] Wolfe responded by charging Bookchin with misrepresenting his critique and accused him of egocentrism.[6]

Academic journalsEdit

The Ecology of Freedom was reviewed by Karen L. Field in American Anthropologist.[9] The book was also discussed by Bookchin in The Raven: Anarchist Quarterly,[10] the philosopher Steven Best in Organization & Environment,[11] and Brian Tokar in Capitalism Nature Socialism.[12]

Bookchin responded to criticism of the work from the anarchist author Ulrike Heider, describing it as unethical and a distortion of his views. He described Heider's assertion that he does not criticize capitalism as a fabrication.[10] Tokar wrote that while The Ecology of Freedom "received high praise" it was also considered a "utopian social criticism".[12]

Evaluations in booksEdit

Heider described The Ecology of Freedom as "a utopian work" in which the "social and political reality of the past, present, and future are pretty much faded out and capitalism is neither mentioned nor criticized" in Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green (1994).[13] The Ecology of Freedom was discussed by several contributors to the philosopher Andrew Light's anthology Social Ecology after Bookchin (1998), including Light himself,[14] the activist Joel Kovel,[15] the political scientist Robyn Eckersley,[16] and the philosopher John Clark.[17] Light wrote that The Ecology of Freedom was "widely read by both theorists and practitioners in the ecological movement". He also suggested that it was Bookchin's best-known book. He credited Bookchin with providing an extensively developed and novel perspective on social domination, writing that it, "made Bookchin one of the most widely read ecological thinkers in the last thirty years."[14] Kovel described the book as "Bookchin's most important work". However, he criticized Bookchin's treatment of Marx and Marxism. He compared The Ecology of Freedom to the Marxist humanist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya's Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution (1981), but did not believe that Bookchin would welcome the comparison.[15] Eckersley described the book as Bookchin's "magnum opus".[16] Clark criticized Bookchin discussion of politics, arguing that he provided "little detailed discussion of ecological situatedness and bioregional particularity, despite a theoretical commitment to such values."[17]

Janet Biehl wrote in her introduction to The Murray Bookchin Reader (1999) that The Ecology of Freedom was one of Bookchin's most important books. She noted that while it has been regarded as Bookchin's magnum opus, she considers several of Bookchin's subsequent books at least equally important. She credited Bookchin with demonstrating that "the rise of hierarchy eroded the complementarity of relatively egalitarian communities long before the appearance of property ownership." However, she also wrote that while he was working on The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin was influenced by a "New Age anthropology" that he later rejected. According to Biehl, he regretted its influence on the book.[18]

Other responsesEdit

Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan studied The Ecology of Freedom while in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison, and was reportedly impressed by the work, consequently issuing a manifesto titled Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan which called on the Kurdistan Workers' Party to implement the ideas of social ecology.[19]


  1. ^ Bookchin 1982, p. 3.
  2. ^ Bookchin 1982, p. 8.
  3. ^ a b Szasz 1982, p. 1475.
  4. ^ a b Wolfe 1982, pp. 660–661.
  5. ^ a b Bookchin 1982, p. 768.
  6. ^ a b Wolfe 1982, p. 768.
  7. ^ Clarke 1982, p. 754.
  8. ^ Williams 1983, p. 22.
  9. ^ Field 1984, pp. 161–162.
  10. ^ a b Bookchin 1994, pp. 328–346.
  11. ^ Best 1998, p. 334.
  12. ^ a b Tokar 2008, pp. 51–66.
  13. ^ Heider 1994, p. 83.
  14. ^ a b Light 1998, p. 6.
  15. ^ a b Kovel 1998, pp. 30, 38–39.
  16. ^ a b Eckersley 1998, p. 60.
  17. ^ a b Clark 1998, p. 179.
  18. ^ Biehl 1999, pp. 11, 59, 75.
  19. ^ Enzinna 2015.


  • Best, Steven (1998). "Murray Bookchin's theory of social ecology: an appraisal of The Ecology of Freedom". Organization & Environment. 11 (3).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Bookchin, Murray (1982). "Letters". The Nation. 234 (25).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Bookchin, Murray (1994). "A Meditation on Anarchist Ethics". The Raven: Anarchist Quarterly. 7 (4).
  • Clarke, R. (1982). "Ecology of freedom". New Scientist. 96.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Field, Karen L. (1984). "Listen, Bookchin". American Anthropologist. 86 (1). doi:10.1525/aa.1984.86.1.02a00290.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Szasz, Susan Marie (1982). "The Ecology of Freedom (Book)". Library Journal. 107 (14).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Tokar, Brian (2008). "On Bookchin's Social Ecology and its Contributions to Social Movements". Capitalism Nature Socialism. 19 (1). doi:10.1080/10455750701859430.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Williams, R. (1983). "Ecology of freedom". The Technology Review. 86.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Wolfe, Alan (1982). "Listen, Bookchin". The Nation. 234 (21).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Wolfe, Alan (1982). "Letters". The Nation. 234 (25).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles

External linksEdit