Our Natural Selves (Review of Luc Ferry, the New Ecological Order, and Michael Zimmerman, Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity)

Kenneth Anderson


This 1995 Times Literary Supplement essay examines two books on the underlying philosophies of the ecology and environmentalism movements. The first, by Sorbonne professor and lately French Minister of Culture Luc Ferry, offers a critique of ecological philosophies that seek to de-privilege humanity in favor of a larger conception of nature. Ferry writes in a breezy, witty style which has at its aim reasserting liberal humanism and its human-centered ethic as against any ethic that treats human beings as merely species or merely thing within nature. The review argues that Ferry goes over the top in making his case, however, by invoking the historical fact that the Nazis had a special love of animals and nature; Ferry seeks to link anti-modernity trends in environmentalist philosophy with ugly forms of illiberalism - ignoring, among other things, the Nazi infatuation with modernity. Zimmerman, a serious Heideggerian philosopher as well as radical environmentalist, offers a commanding philosophical overview of the conceptual trends within radical ecology - deep ecology, social ecology, and ecofeminism. Their differences are many; all three, however, reject both liberal humanism and accomodationist gradualist environmentalism of the kind upon which virtually all actual environmental public policy is based. Zimmerman, according to the review, impressively argues the case for radical ecology as an ethic; the review suggests, however, that his appeal to postmodernism gives his the necessary freedom and relativism to reach his conclusions, but that ultimately, being committed to some reasonably objective concept of progressivism, he backs away from postmodernism into precisely the modernity that he began by arguing against.