256 pages, no illustrations
In this provocative call for a new ecological politics, William Ophuls starts from a radical premise: "sustainability" is impossible. We are on an industrial Titanic, 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.
With Plato's Revenge, Ophuls, author of Ecology 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.
"I would strongly recommend Plato's Revenge as a clear and compelling polemic that deserves to be read alongside Bateson's 1972 work Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology...and yes, alongside Plumwood's Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. Beyond the debate about Plato, all three have something important to say about the fate of our planet"
- Times Higher EducationEndorsements
"Ophuls takes us on a wide-ranging review of history, philosophy, science, and political economy in search of natural law and objective value by which to replenish the 'lode of fossil virtue and belief' inherited from the premodern era and depleted by modern nihilism. A worthy contribution."
- Herman E. Daly, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
"What Ophuls does in Plato's Revenge is what needs to be done more often but is rarely even attempted. The study of political philosophy in universities is primarily about studying the classic texts and assessing them but not about actually updating and reinventing political philosophy. This book should encourage others to make similarly brave attempts to rethink how present and future societies might be organized given the array of environmental and sustainability challenges that we face."
- Robert Paehlke, Professor Emeritus of Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent University; author of Democracy's Dilemma: Environment, Social Equity, and the Global Economy
"For decades, William Ophuls has been among the world's most original thinkers about the implications of our global ecological crisis for freedom, democracy, and political order. In Plato's Revenge, he goes to the essence of this crisis: the deep, tacit, and widespread beliefs that nature and society are nothing more than machines, that the state should play no role in cultivating citizens' virtue, and that self-interested individuals should rely solely on reason to guide their lives. Ophuls weaves together the ideas of some of history's greatest thinkers to argue that humankind's future lies in small, simple republics that cultivate their citizens' virtue through natural law. In doing so, he shreds conventional wisdom and invigorates our conversation about the kind of world we intend our grandchildren to inherit."
- Thomas Homer-Dixo, University of Waterloo, author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization
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William Ophuls is the author of the award-winning Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity and Requiem for Modern Politics.