JOFF. "The Possibility of an Antihumanist EcoAnarchism" (8) The Concept of Humanism and the Promise of Enlightenment

ecologyBOOKCHIN, Murray (14 janvier 1921 – 30 juillet 2006) Philosophy. EnlightenmentPhilosophy. HumanismJOFF
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The Concept of Humanism and the Promise of Enlightenment
What is humanism? As a philosophical worldview humanism celebrates what it claims to be the highest and most distinct qualities of the human being. [1] Several standard interpretations of humanism argue axiologically that human beings possess superior value over other entities. Humans are seen as dignified creatures worthy of the highest consideration. The rational, autonomous self free from the dictates of unconscious animality is cherished as the site of humanity’s unique potentiality. The ‘soul’ or ‘mind’ is a centripetal concept. The universe, in a sense, revolves around the ‘soul’ or ‘mind’. The Renaissance humanist Vico supports this point when he says: ‘[it is] a truth beyond all question that the world of civil society has certainly been made by man and that its principles are therefore to be rediscovered within the modifications of our own human mind’. [2] Humanism in the Renaissance returns to Greece and Rome to re-birth the concept of paidiea. Humanism in this sense celebrates education in the humanities. From another perspective pleasure and toleration are foregrounded as responses to a debilitating religious dogmatism, zealousness and asceticism of the Medieval Age. To add a further distinction we ought to note the role the concept of God plays in humanist formulations. Humanism is by no means inconsistent with nor is it incompatible with a religious point-of-view. In fact, humanism, on the whole, defends and is tolerant of the right to express religious convictions. Yet, the twentieth century has witnessed the growth in what we could call a godless humanism. The latter is a much stronger form of humanism for it jettisons the concept of God as the overarching valuer. The human subject, for example, in Sartre’s aggressive existential humanism, is unique with regard to its capacity for self-determination and is the source and creator of all (moral) value. Renaissance humanism compared with its twentieth century form stutters as an inchoate adventure to openly express atheistic tendencies. In summa: humanism once traced to a truly human setting in which God is expelled from the universe, confers human beings with the responsibility as the ultimate demiurge and sole intrinsic value bearer and bestower. Man left to himself fulfils his potentialities as a free, creative and rational social being.
Bookchin’s insights into the predicament of modernity are illuminating. If Enlightenment is the bursting asunder of humanity’s ‘self-imposed tutelage’ (Kant) then anti-Enlightenment is the return of the cultural dark ages of superstition, mysticism, and the irrational. Bookchin’s search for a re-enchantment of humanity traces the tendencies which desired the cold and manipulating instrumentalism that led to the gas chambers. What Bookchin’s thesis, in effect, boils down to is a defence of ecological subjectivity and the role it plays in the unfolding of self-consciousness.
Malthusianism, sociobiology and deep ecology are chastised for their apparent antihumanism. Yet, Bookchin criticises the employment of an abstract conception of ‘Man’ or ‘Humanity’ but baulks at a way of thinking that decentres subjectivity such as sociobiology which notes the impact genetics and the environment have on the constitution of human beings. ‘Man’ is more than a white-male-middle-class entity. ‘Man’ unifies the composite of ethnic, gendered, sexual differences. Bookchin is cautious to invoke a one-sided biological emphasis which exists at the expense of underemphasising the role consciousness plays in human affairs. Similarly he attacks deep ecology for its anti-anthropocentric impulses which Bookchin contorts into misanthropic statements.
Contra biocentrism, Bookchin defends what is ‘essentially’ unique in the human species. From a social ecological perspective, humanity registers a unique potentiality for rationality. At its best, a socio-ecological awareness is a lived rationality which fosters cooperation, empathy, a sense of responsibility for the biosphere, together with new ideas of community and consociation. Bookchin’s Hegelian social ecology claims that it is a transcendence of philanthropos and misanthropos. The quintessence of the nature of each conjunct is preserved in a more complex whole. Social ecology thus aims to transcend the anthropo-centric and the bio-centric for Bookchin’s organic dialectic implies no centricity. Bookchin conceives ‘first nature’ and ‘second nature’ in terms of organic flow from one to the next which contravenes classical logic’s demand for stable identities. Bookchin re-configured humanism is thus an ‘ethics of complementarity’. The culmination of an ‘ethics of complementarity’ is located in the utopos of a ‘free’, nonhierarchical, nature. ‘Free’ nature is thus the synthesis of ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature. The Enlightenment is read by Bookchin largely in terms of a liberation movement away from superstition and domination. Historically, anarchism is derived from the Enlightenment belief in the powers of reason to rationally re-order society (revolution) and its placing of value in humanity as a unique species with unique capacities. [3] Classical humanism is perceived by Bookchin as a largely regressive movement looking backwards historically towards ancient Greek society and their positive values concerning education and civilisation. Enlightenment humanism, on other hand, moved away from the classical viewpoint towards a more prospective position. It is here that anarchism and the Enlightenment share a common thread. Liberation from superstition also meant the prospective reconstruction of society along communistic lines. Thus spoke Bookchin: ‘Enlightened humanism is a hopeful message that society can be rendered not only rational but wise and not only ethical but passionately visionary’. [4]

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[1Edwards , P , (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, p.69-72.

[2Gregory, R. (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, p.317.

[3Gide and Rist, The History of Economic Doctrines, London, Harrap & Co., 1967. Bakunin here is quoted as a supreme defender of reason and humanity. Bakunin recognises ‘the absolute authority of science and the futility of contending with natural law. No liberty is possible for man unless he recognises this and seek in turn this law to his own advantage. No one except a fool or a theologian, or perhaps a metaphysician, a jurist, or a bourgeois economist, would revolt against the mathematical law which declares that 2 + 2 = 4‘, p.624-625.

[4Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity, p.34.