The Distortion of Nature's Image

Reification and the Ecological Crisis

By Damian Gerber

Subjects: Environmental Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology
Series: SUNY series in New Political Science
Hardcover : 9781438473550, 244 pages, April 2019
Paperback : 9781438473543, 244 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents


Introduction: Ecology and Critical Theory
On Some Limitations of Contemporary Nature Ontologies
Reification and the Historical Context of Nature Philosophy
The Dialectic of the Nature-Concept
The Concept of Dialectical Naturalism

1. Anti-Naturalism, the Bourgeois Enlightenment, and the Modern Origins of a Dialectical Naturalism
The Becoming of Nature
Epistemology and the Bourgeois Image of Nature
The Kantian “Block” and the Distancing of Reason from Nature
An Alternative Perspective on Kant: Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters
Fichte’s Nature-Concept as the Non-Ego
“The Struggle of Spirit with Itself ”
Hegel’s Critique of the Concept of Natural Law
The Representation of Nature as Reification
Hegel’s Doctrine of the Notion
The Anti-Naturalism of “Spirit” and the Limits of Hegel’s Idealism
Feuerbachian Interlude

2. Nature in Marx and Anarchism
Marx and the Historicization of Nature
The Younger Marx’s Naturalism
The Concept of Nature in Marx’s Middle Period and the Ethical Dimension of Marx’s Anti-Naturalism
Beyond the Limits of Marx’s Nineteenth Century
Post-Proudhonian Anarchism and the Persistence of Mythopoeic Naturalism
Nature Against Itself: The Contradictions of Bakunin’s “Natural Human Society”
The Ambiguities of Kropotkin’s Concept of “Anarchist Morality”
Digression: On the Historical Scars of Nature Philosophy
The Self-Contradictory Historicism of Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid” Thesis
Naturalism as Politics
The Determinate Negation of Kropotkin’s Theory of Society
The Necessity of a Dialectical Naturalism

3. Recovering a Dialectical Naturalism
The Basis of a Dialectical Naturalism
Precursory Models of Dialectical Naturalism
Bloch’s Notion of “Technological Contact”
Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology
The Nature-Concept and the Anthropology of Hierarchy
Toward a Communalist Image of Nature

Theses on Communalism

Illustrates how the notion of an ecological society remains a decisively political question.


The global ecological crisis is upon us. From global warming to the long-term implications of ocean acidification, air and water pollution, deforestation, and the omnipresent dangers of nuclear technology the future of our planetary home is threatened. Yet in the midst of the unfolding crisis, the conventional ideologies of the twentieth century and their representations of nature remain unchallenged by both the defenders of capitalism and capitalism's most radical critics. The Distortion of Nature's Image illustrates how the anti-naturalism of late capitalist society, in which nature is reified into the emptiness of mere matter, simply a thing to be dominated, is subtly complemented by the failure of the Left to go both beyond the historic limitations of Marx's ninteenth-century viewpoint and beyond anarchism's blind faith in "natural law." However, an alternative for comprehending nature and the ecological crisis as historical and social phenomena remains open in the dialectical naturalism of Western Marxism and Murray Bookchin's social ecology. By examining in closer detail how Bookchin's social ecology politicizes the concept of nature, as well as how precursory models in Western Marxist thought provide a foundation for this, Damian Gerber illustrates how the notion of an ecological society remains a decisively political question.

Damian Gerber is Lecturer at the University of Queensland and the Australian Catholic University.


"This book is provocative and inspiring in that it opens spaces for social hope by calling for changes to our basic conceptions of democratic society, selfhood, and nature." — CHOICE

"There are very few studies that bring anarchism into conversation with an ecological focus. Gerber's book does this in extraordinary form, offering a critical but balanced overview." — Simon Springer, author of The Anarchist Roots of Geography: Toward Spatial Emancipation