The Ecology of Freedom

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The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy
The Ecology of Freedom.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Murray Bookchin
Country United States
Language English
Subject Hierarchy
Published 1982
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 480 (2005 edition)
ISBN 978-1904859260 (2005 edition)

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 based on human social problems and can be solved only by social means. Sometimes regarded as Bookchin's magnum opus, the work has also been criticized as utopian.


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]


Anarchist author Ulrike Heider, writing in Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green (1994), described Bookchin's book 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."[3] Bookchin replied to Heider's criticism of his work at length, calling it unethical and a distortion of his views. In particular, he described Heider's assertion that he does not criticize capitalism as a fabrication.[4] Janet Biehl wrote in her introduction to The Murray Bookchin Reader (1999) that The Ecology of Freedom has been regarded as "Bookchin's magnum opus". In her view, however, several of Bookchin's subsequent books are of "at least equal importance." Biehl credited Bookchin with demonstrating that "the rise of hierarchy eroded the complementarity of relatively egalitarian communities long before the appearance of property ownership."[5]

Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan studied The Ecology of Freedom while in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison, and was reportedly impressed by Bookchin's work.[6]


  1. ^ Murray Bookchin (1982). The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Palo Alto: Cheshire Books. p. 3.
  2. ^ Murray Bookchin (1982). The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Palo Alto: Cheshire Books. p. 8.
  3. ^ Ulrike Heider (1994). Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green. San Francisco: City Lights Books. p. 83.
  4. ^ Bookchin, Murray (1994). "A Meditation on Anarchist Ethics". The Raven: Anarchist Quarterly. 7 (4): 328–46.
  5. ^ Janet Biehl (1999). The Murray Bookchin Reader. Montréal: Black Rose Books. pp. 11, 75.
  6. ^ Wes Enzinna (November 24, 2015). "A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard". New York Times Magazine.