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Plato's Revenge

Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

William Ophuls
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Plato's Revenge
    Book Description:

    In this provocative call for a new ecological politics, William Ophuls starts from a radical premise: "sustainability" is impossible. We are on an industrialTitanic, fueled by rapidly depleting stocks of fossil hydrocarbons. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and feeding the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and by the implacable biological and geological limits that are already beginning to pinch. Ophuls warns us that we are headed for a postindustrial future that, however technologically sophisticated, will resemble the preindustrial past in many important respects. WithPlato's Revenge, Ophuls, author ofEcology and the Politics of Scarcity, envisions political and social transformations that will lead to a new natural-law politics based on the realities of ecology, physics, and psychology.In a discussion that ranges widely -- from ecology to quantum physics to Jungian psychology to Eastern religion to Western political philosophy -- Ophuls argues for an essentially Platonic politics of consciousness dedicated to inner cultivation rather than outward expansion and the pursuit of perpetual growth. We would then achieve a way of life that is materially and institutionally simple but culturally and spiritually rich, one in which humanity flourishes in harmony with nature.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29852-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Prologue: The Five Great Ills
    (pp. 1-10)

    Since its origin, civilization has been marked by five great ills—ecological exploitation, military aggression, economic inequality, political oppression, and spiritual malaise. Our precivilized ancestors, however, should not be idealized or romanticized. Their lives were arduous, their habits often squalid, and their mores sometimes savage. Violent death was common. Nor were they ecological angels: before they learned to live in balance, they exterminated fauna and ravaged flora.² Yet despite the charges that could be levied against them, they eventually evolved ways of living in harmony with the earth and with each other. Above all, they enjoyed what the pioneering anthropologist...

  5. The Necessity of Natural Law

    • 1 Law and Virtue
      (pp. 13-22)

      Modern life is fundamentally lawless. We have an abundance or even a surfeit of man-made laws, but legislated morality is an inadequate and potentially dangerous expedient made necessary by the absence of a basic moral order, the fundamental ground of any society. Without that ground, piling law upon law will hasten, rather than forestall, the onset of social and political breakdown.

      Legislation is no substitute for morality. For Aristotle, “The best laws, though sanctioned by every citizen of the state, will be of no avail unless the young are trained by habit and education in the spirit of the constitution.”²...

  6. The Sources of Natural Law

    • 2 Ecology
      (pp. 25-44)

      The Stoic philosopher Zeno taught that the goal of life is to live “in agreement with nature.”² But how can we know what this means? Those who hold tenaciously to a strict rationalism would argue that it is not possible to live in agreement with nature because there is no scientific way to get fromistoought, from facts to values. Similarly, almost all modern philosophers follow Nietzsche in maintaining that there are no facts, only interpretations. The languages of good and evil spoken by diverse human cultures therefore have no truth value; they are simply expressions of prejudice...

    • 3 Physics
      (pp. 45-68)

      Every age has a master science that constitutes what might be called its paradigm of paradigms—an overarching metaphor for the pattern that all other theories, scientific and nonscientific, will follow. The character of that science has profound political, social, and economic consequences. The master science of antiquity was astronomy. It elevated the sky gods to the throne of heaven and raised the pharaohs, the semidivine surrogates of the gods, to the apex of the political pyramid. It also modeled the seasonal regularity on which agrarian civilizations depended. Similarly, when the scientific revolution inspired by Descartes and Newton made exact-law...

    • 4 Psychology
      (pp. 69-94)

      The twentieth-century revolution in physics pioneered by Albert Einstein was paralleled by equally profound breakthroughs in psychology. The rediscovery and mapping of the depths of human consciousness initiated by Sigmund Freud and continued by his followers, especially by his estranged protégé Carl Gustav Jung, have been supported and amplified by the findings of numerous psychologists, anthropologists, ethologists, and neuroscientists. Although consciousness itself remains a mystery, we now understand both human nature and the limitations of the human mind better than ever before. As we have seen with respect to ecology and physics, however, this new understanding turns out to be...

  7. The Politics of Consciousness

    • 5 Paideia
      (pp. 97-128)

      Paideiaistherapeiawrit large.Therapeiais the restoration of unity to the psyche, so that the archetypal needs of the “2,000,000-year-old man” are reconciled with the demands of civilized life.Paideiais the recovery of the “aesthetic unity” destroyed by a “mere purposive rationality.” It is a cure for the major insanity of a way of thinking and living that ignores the “fundamental unity” and is therefore “necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life.”

      To put it another way,therapeiais about achieving instinctual and emotional sanity, andpaideiais about achieving cognitive and intellectual sanity: what epistemology, what way...

    • 6 Politeia
      (pp. 129-166)

      Politeiais the means for realizing the ends oftherapeiaandpaideia. Wisdom and virtue do not arise spontaneously in human beings, especially those who reside in complex civilizations, so morality must be institutionalized and inculcated by a polity dedicated to fostering and upholding society’s norms and mores. The polity’s role is to govern—to direct affairs in a way that citizens are encouraged to follow a moral code or are swiftly checked when they fail to do so. (All the rest of what we call politics is politicking, policing, and administration.) Provided that the code reflects an elevated ideal,...

    • 7 A More Experienced and Wiser Savage
      (pp. 167-194)

      Modern civilization lives on depleting energy and borrowed time. Its day of reckoning rapidly approaches. If civilization itself is to survive, it must be inspired by a new ideal that renounces endless material acquisition and makes a virtue out of the necessity of living within our ecological means. Envisioning this new civilization in any detail would require another book, but its essential spirit is succinctly stated in the epigraph above: “The civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage.”

      At first glance, Thoreau’s dictum seems paradoxical. Surely the whole point of civilization, at least as we normally conceive it,...

  8. Epilogue: True Liberation
    (pp. 195-198)

    The Enlightenment tried to cure the five great ills of civilization with more of the same—more power, more aggression, more exploitation, more abstraction, more alienation. The result is hypercivilization—a state in which civilization’s tragic flaws are amplified and intensified so that it becomes an engine of destruction, a self-devouring Moloch. The solution cannot possibly be even more of the same—hypercivilization squared, as it were. We must now invent a way of being civilized that does not repeat the errors of the past and yet embodies the wisdom of the past.

    At present, we are both too civilized...

  9. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. 199-208)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 209-230)
  11. List of Sources
    (pp. 231-246)
  12. Index
    (pp. 247-256)