On Karl Marx as an environmental hero

Environmental Ethics 3 (3):237-244 (1981)
Abstract
Donald C. Lee’s “On the Marxian View of the Relationship between Man and Nature” is one of a number of recent attempts to interpret Marxian doctrine in an environmentally attractive way. I argue that Lee does not really succeed, that many of the assumptions of the Marxian theory which Lee still retains are in conflict with a satisfactory environmental ethic and with the current process of revision of theconventional ethic. The central doctrine Lee expounds, the superficially attractive Marxian thesis of unity between man and nature, is attractive only because the real basis of this “unity”-the transformation of nature into a human expression-is not spelled out. Such unity-through-transformation is incompatible with retention and respect for untransformed nature, i.e., wilderness. The Marxian position Lee expoundsis environmentally unsatisfactory in many other ways also: it continues to laud the “objectification” of nature, retains a highly homocentric view of man’s relation to nature, and encourages human hubris. Other specific elements of the position Lee presents which are in conflict with environmentalism are the doctrine of the historical necessity of the capitalist stage, with its acquiescence in the destructive technology of advanced capitalism, the chauvinistic Marxian material on animals appealed to by Lee, and the treatment of liberation as the maximization of leisure and the minimization of bread labor. To obtain an environmentally sound noncapitalist society it is necessary to discard many central elements of Marxian doctrine and to move beyond Marx
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