Peter Ryley, Making Another World Possible: Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain.

Author:Martin, Thomas
Position:Book review

Peter Ryley, Making Another World Possible: Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain

New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2013, 224pp; Contemporary Anarchist Studies Series; ISBN-13: 978-1-441154-40-8.

Contemporary eco-anarchist and Green philosophy is often seen as springing, as Minerva did, from the head(ache) of Jupiter, fresh from the mind of Peter Kropotkin and filtered through the works of Murray Bookchin. Peter Ryley, who teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University, demonstrates that today's promising synthesis of radical ecology and anarchism has tangled and not always savoury roots--in many places, of course, but notably in late-Victorian Britain. The radical individualism and libertarianism of the era--not always labelled anarchism--was one of several broad currents of reaction against the dehumanising and toxic Industrial Revolution and the increasingly heavy-handed State that protected and empowered capitalism. The new definition of 'progress' was more technology, more factories, more profit, more urbanisation, all of which would pour money (now the only measure of worth) into the coffers of the innovators and proprietors. That new wealth would then trickle down (perhaps somewhat diluted) to the middle and working classes, and everyone would be happy.

But of course everyone was not happy. Ryley covers a wide range of thinkers and activists on both right and left--secular and Christian freethinkers, Ricardian socialists, the sort of extreme individualists we would now call anarcho-capitalists, as well as mainstream anarchists. Some, like Herbert Spencer and Elisee Reclus, are well known; others, like Wordsworth Donisthorpe and Joseph Hiam Levy have been neglected. All agreed that an industrial and urban future required human equality and autonomy, and ecologically sound agriculture. They foresaw the need for an economics of quality rather than quantity, use as opposed to value, appropriate scale, a radical redefinition of 'wealth'. And much of what they feared has now come to pass.

The book begins with a brief preface that suggests a strong link between these early British thinkers and today's Green, Zapatista...

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