Royal Book of the Week: Monday, August 29, 2011

Green Politics Is Eutopian by Paul Gilk is the Royal Book of the Week for Monday, August, 29, 2011.  Duke August was recently reading an article about how environmentalist strategies are trapped within the paradigm of a capitalist system. These environmentalist needed to be handed this collection of Gilk’s essays.  Did the Duke say “capitalist”?  No, the Duke is not peddling a re-tread of the Communist Manifesto, so there is no need to reach for a copy of the oft-misquoted Wealth of Nations.

Gilk finds that capitalism and communism are two faces of the same utopian, patriarchal, urban, mechanistic civilization.  He calls for a eutopian society as the antidote to this destructive path.   The term eutopian, as used in the title of the book  (At least it did for the Duke.)  Gilk defines eutopian is defined in comparison.  While Utopian means ‘no place’, Eutopian means the ‘good place.’

Despite the confusing contradictions in the respective titles, we can take two late-nineteenth-century novels as clear examples of the “no-place”/”good place” division: Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’s News from Nowhere. the contradiction is clarified by Bellamy’s “ideal” story is set entirely in a city, while Morris’s “real” tale is situated in the countryside.  Bellamy’s story is of an authoritatian, if also benevolent, urban nierarchy that directs a city-as-machine, while Morris’s tale is of robust community-oriented physical life in a classless and unspoiled countryside.

The writing in this book reminds me of the story about James Hutton‘s whose brilliant and difficult-to-read Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe(1785) laid the groundwork for the modern understanding of geological time, but Hutton’ s theories had to wait for Charles Lyell’ s Principles of Geology (1830)  to be widely understood.  (You probably could tell that just from the titles.)

François-René de Chateaubriand
Image via Wikipedia

Gilk’s book is also full of important ideas about how to re-conceptualize our society.  And unless you are willing to wait 45 years for his Lyell to come along, I would recommend diving into the book.  Gilk’s book is an antidote to the underlying thesis of books like Guns, Germs, and Steel that posit that the commodization of society is good.   (Sometimes, the Duke refers to it as as the commode-itization of society since the industrialization of our world turns nature to waste.)   Or as founder of French Romanticism François-René de Chateaubriand said, “Forests precede civilizations and deserts follow them.”

Gilk writes about the balance needed for a just community:

There are two pillars, two foundations, of ethics the world ove. One of these is stewardship in Creation,  the other is servanthood among our own kind.  Socialism, for all the bad rap it’s gotten, a lot of which is fully deserved, is essentially built on the second foundation of servanthood.   Socialism is about sharing, earnestly so. Green, on the other hand, is about stewartship in Creation. it’s about living as lightly on the Earth as possible, as poison-free as possible, as respectful and and sensitive to the rights of all creatures, all landscape, all of the natural world as possible. Stewardship and servanthood are twins who need each other. Separate, they are destructive. an industrial doctrine of sharing without ecological restraint and without respect for ecological community results in the utopian disaster of Soviet communism. Stewartship without sharing results in the exquisite gardens of the aristocracy while peasants starve beyond the lovely stone walls. Green cannot be truly ecological without sharing.  Socialism cannot be truly sharing without stewardship.

It is no accident that Gilk uses the word “foundation”.  His essays explore the concept of a eutopian society from many angles:  Education, Agriculture, Gender politics, and even Asimov’s Foundation series.  In this way, the book reminds me of bell hooks classic book Feminism Is for Everybody whose short essay-like chapters discuss feminism from its intersection with the different aspects of daily life.


Publisher Book Description

Various thinkers have attempted to explain the Earth-altering (even ecocidal) features in modern life. Jacques Ellul, for instance, a French intellectual, became famous for his exposition of “technique.” But “technique” does not adequately address the institutional incubation out of which “technique” itself arises.

In these essays, Paul Gilk stands on the shoulders of two American scholars in particular. One is world historian Lewis Mumford, whose career spanned fifty years. The other is classics professor Norman O. Brown, who brought his erudition into a systematic study of Freud.

From these intellectuals especially, Gilk concludes that the accelerating ecocidal characteristics of “globalization” are inherent manifestations of perfectionist, utopian, predatory institutions endemic to civilization. Our great difficulty in arriving at or accepting this conclusion is that “civilization” contains no negatives. It is strictly a positive construct. We are therefore incapable of thinking critically about it.

A corrective is slowly emerging from Green intellectuals. Green politics, says Gilk, is not utopian but “eutopian.” It is not aimed at perfectionist immortality but rather at earthly wholeness.

Yet the ethical message of Green politics confronts a society saturated with utopian mythology. The question is to what extent and at what speed ecological and cultural breakdown will dissolve civilized, utopian certitudes and provide the requisite openings for the growth of Green, eutopian culture.

Endorsements & Review

The fact that few of the books on Green Politics articulate the relevance of a neo-agrarian future makes Paul Gilk’s book especially important as we face the end of cheap oil and/or climate change. Gilk’s eutopian vision will help our bankrupt industrial civilization come to a soft landing rather than a crash.
—Maynard Kaufman, Retired professor of religion and environmental studies at Western Michigan University and organic farmer.

Paul Gilk is one of those who long ago foresaw the full extent of the environmental and social disasters facing the industrial world.  In these essays, as in his earlier work, he dares to challenge not only the abuses and excesses of a global economy, but the very dream of urban civilization itself.  With an eloquent voice and a ferociously independent mind, he examines our human condition in the 21st century.
—Rhoda R. Gilman, Editor:  Selections from Minnesota History (1968); Ringing in the Wilderness:  Selections from the North Country Anvil (1996);
Author:  The Story of Minnesota’s Past (1989); Henry Hastings Sibley, Divided Heart (2004); The Universality of Unknowing:  Luther Askeland and the Wordless Way (2007).

Paul Gilk serves as a powerful and prophetic voice for a profound and transformative Green Vision. His is not the green politics of trendy and upscale consumer alternatives. Gilk draws deeply from our history to chart a way to a genuinely sustainable future. Along the way he exposes many “an inconvenient truth” about our assumptions about society and the economy. Green Politics is Eutopian challenges the political practice of both mainstream environmentalists and militant Greens and calls them to an entirely different relationship with Nature.

– Dennis Boyer, author and folklorist, co-founder of the Wisconsin Greens, co-editor of the land use anthology A Place to Which We Belong

As per FTC regulations, I will dislose that this book was provided free of charge to Duke Augustus for review purposes.  No other compensation was provided.  

One thought on “Royal Book of the Week: Monday, August 29, 2011”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.