I wish eco-communalist murray Bookchin, who died of heart disease this summer in his 85th year, could have lived at least a few months longer to enjoy seeing some of his seeds bear fruit.
Recent happenings on the municipal level would have warmed the heart of this anarchist turned pioneer ecologist and campaigner for city-based independent politics.
If only he could have been around to see that by mid-November, 330 U.S. mayors (up from the 10 who launched it seven months earlier), had signed onto the Climate Protection Agreement pledging Kyoto-style cuts in fossil fuel pollution.
After all, it was Bookchin who foresaw the trajectory of global warming as early as the mid-1960s, and started championing the democratic and transformative role of local governments shortly thereafter, following his anarchist inclinations to build citizen power against senior governments.
Bookchin's teaching and writing career was mainly based in Vermont, but his major publisher, Black Rose Books, was in Canada, so he might also have enjoyed watching the returns in November's Ontario-wide municipal vote, an electoral breakthrough giving expression to the most challenging (and at first glance incomprehensible) theme identified in Bookchin's many books: the struggle between cities and urbanization.
Candidates working to protect farmland from sprawl and to carve out a more visionary and reasonably financed future for cities had a pretty good day of it across Ontario.
"Dialectic" was one of Bookchin's fave words, and the dialectic between his writings and the emergence of these new themes in local politics will make the city-urban conflict and widened realm of city politics two hotlinks to watch over the next decade.
True, Bookchin wasn't well known in Toronto. The author of more than 20 books, he never gained the stature he deserved as an analyst or prophet and there are a few reasons why.
First, he came across as a grump. As much as he railed against the old-time materialist religion of the Marxist left that couldn't appreciate youth counterculture or understand issues as pollution, which cut across class lines, Bookchin couldn't abandon the old Marxist-Leninist style of writing in run-on rants and venomous polemics, a turnoff even for people like me who were raised in that tradition.
Second, he suffered from the problem of being second.
No one remembers the second person to run the four-minute mile or the second crew to walk on the moon, and no one remembers the number-two thinker in the field of chemical pollution. (His book on the synthetic environment came out a few months before Rachel Carson's blockbuster, Silent Spring, which birthed the modern enviro movement.)
No one remembers the number-two thinker on liberatory technology (just behind Fritz Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful, the famous manifesto of appropriate technology). And no one remembers the number-two thinker on cities, just behind Jane Jacobs.
But to be second to giants public intellectuals all, not academics in three separate fields deserves a first of its own, and Bookchin's thinking about pitting cities against urbanization flowed from the mind of a grand theorist of the old school.
Alas, Bookchin was a raging, flaming, in-your-face revolutionary, and the case can probably be made that neither the media nor the academic establishment give much of a break to people who think Anarchy Is Beautiful, even if they call their grand theory something mild like "social ecology."
Assignment: describe Bookchin's theory of urban-city conflict in two brief paragraphs.
Bookchin's views are laid out in two books: The Limits Of The City, written in 1974, and From Urbanization To Cities: Toward A New Politics Of Citizenship, published in 1992. He sees the city as a cornerstone of civilization because it gave humans their first opportunity to break out of their limiting blood, kinship and tribal networks and develop identities and loyalties based on collaboration with fellow citizens in a place that was shared by all.
At their best he was fond of ancient Athens, European medieval burgs, Renaissance Venice, Switzerland's communes, Paris during the Revolution and New England towns cities were based on a quest for the "good life" and provided ample opportunities for face-to-face discussions leading to open and public decision-making.
The ancient Greeks, he liked to point out, coined words with "pol" in their root such as "politics" and "metropolis." Such cities practised "autarky," a Greek word that's come to mean buying or making everything locally but was originally conceived as the kissing cousin of "autonomy" or self-government, which required self-reliance within a region and lots of shopping, walking and face-to-face meetings in the agora, or public square and farmers market.
Translated for today's world, autarchy might be called community food security in a walkable neighbourhood.
At its worst Bookchin didn't like Rome or Los Angeles urbanization overwhelms both city and countryside.
An urban area isn't a place where people come to seek out the good life together in public spaces. And jobs there don't come from local farms or craft shops; they come from managing the tribute that pours in from a huge resource hinterland.
Thus, urban areas sprawl over cities and countryside alike and are threats to "the stability, fecundity and freedom that the city added to the social landscape," he writes.
The rapid rise in the number of U.S. cities pledging to take action to prevent further global warming and the big jump in quality candidates who have the opposite of parochial views on municipal challenges are both signs that local is where it's increasingly at for dynamic new politics.
Too bad Bookchin is going to miss his revolution.