Murray Bookchin and the Integral Community Essay

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Murray Bookchin and the Integral Community

Both Locke and Proudhon speak about integrity, integrity as a person with property and skills in a society that no longer recognizes the person. They speak about natural law: the right top freedom and work, the right to function in society as a full person, not as a machine. These rights (and the duties that come with them) are a part of nature, they exist as objective realities, and hence, moral integrity is reached in coming to grips with the reality of these rights and duties: but come to grips not as a part of a state system, but as a person, since these rights predate the state and the modern economic system.

Hence, both are subject to natural law, and the repository of the natural law in practical terms is the whole body of the community. Murray Bookchin takes the concept of natural law even further than both Locke or Proudhon. His central concept is that the very existence of the natural whole, the dynamic world of non-human nature, can no longer exist as an “other,” some useless lump of matter that needs to be exploited for profit. In other words, it is the violation of the natural rights of man that has led to the environmental degradation and exploitation of the modern world.

The rule of capital and the central state has destroyed any sense of the rights of man or nature in a real revolutionary sense as outlined above. Instead, they have created wants and needs, and based all of his on a vulgar, pleasure-seeking utilitarianism (Bookchin, 1993, 350). Hence, the crisis we are facing, both the specific crisis of debt and foreclosure in 2009, as well as the deeper crisis of values and rights that have existed since Locke’s time, can be based to systemic causes.

This means that it is the system itself that is the problem, and the values crisis is also related to the methods the current system uses to justify itself. But the truth is that natural law functions because man is not essentially different from the natural world around him. Man and nature derive from the same source and are made of the same materials, it is only man that can use technology with substantial theoretical foresight and hence, becomes a very different creature from the non-human nature around him.

But this is precisely the problem, since this distinction between human and non-human nature have led to a mentality, a mentality deriving from ancient magic, that the natural world is “broken” and demands to be fixed by human work. Of course, this is just a mystification for elite rule and domination (Bookchin, 1993, 367-368). The practical effect of all of this is the development of technology that has the creation of needs and wants as its end: the creation of markets and profits.

Technology and markets, in other words, have taken on a life of their own over and above the real needs of the community as well as the natural world as a whole (human’s included). These institutions, the market and technology, have long since overstepped their bounds, the bounds that natural law has created for them: the meeting of relatively simple human needs and the creation of rational mechanisms for distribution.

When the market and the technological elite broke these natural bounds, the irrational and unnatural ideas of limitless development and hence, limitless profits took over and provided these things with their own world and their own rationale far beyond the much older, rational limits. Hence, the question of moral integrity is a matter of limits, and a matter of the ideas of the market or technology creating a world of their own, alienated form the communities that they were originally meant to serve.

Thus, moral integrity is about limits, and the rejoining of technology to the community: in this case, Bookchin and Proudhon are in agreement. While Bookchin stresses the idea of citizenship in an integral community, Proudhon stresses man as a producer, beyond the state and in no need fo it. For Bookchin, a citizen is an integral person by definition: the citizen is someone who can balance the needs to the market, the individual and the person within a integral whole; the community legislating for itself as to what it needs and what will work in specific circumstances.

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