Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Long Time Coming: Making Another World Possible.

Peter Ryley, Associate Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, diarist at Fat Man on a Keyboard, mensch-in-residence as much of the time as he can manage in Greece, at Milina, a village in the green and bucholic Pelion Peninsula, has at long last put the writing of this book behind him: Making Another World Possible: Anarchism, Anti-capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain.
I highly recommend it, and by no means because Peter is an old chum. If you want to understand why Idle No More burned up so quickly, morphing from a self-proclaimed revolutionary movement into a tarnished brand, within a few weeks, read this book. If you want to understand the kind of necessary utopianism that Occupy Wall Street asserted, absorbed and eventually smothered to death, this book's for you. There's a lot more to recommend it than this, even, and when the good people at Bloomsbury Publishing asked me whether I'd want to write a pre-publication review and endorsement, I was pleased to do so. I explained my endorsement this way. . . 
Quite apart from the durable purpose this book will surely serve for its long-overdue reconnaissance of some of the most neglected terrain in Victorian-era British radical thought, Peter Ryley’s Making Another World Possible arrives as a work of immediately urgent relevance in the current moment of tear gas, financial implosion, austerity shock, and the preeminent ecological challenge of global climate change. In his resolve to “reassert the importance of history against the arrogance of the present,” Ryley succeeds splendidly in showing that we have been here before, not least in the work of imagining human progress against the contradictions of economic growth and the limits necessarily imposed by environmental sustainability. 
No mere polemic, Making Another World Possible is history of the most serious kind, but it’s told in the most lively and refreshing sort of way. Ryley situates the young hipsters of the Occupy Movement, the direct-action cadres of the Zapatistas and the Indignados and the anti-globalization protesters of the 1990s within the same conversation as the sophisticated politicians of the Green Party and even free-market utopians. This is a conversation with perhaps its deepest roots in the raucous and cosmopolitan radical milieu of 19th century Britain, perhaps most noticeably in the early ecological anarchism of Patrick Geddes and Elisée Reclus. 
To that milieu, Ryley helpfully reclaims the overlooked Victorian individualists Herbert Spencer, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Joseph Hiam Levy and others as upstanding contributors to schools of thought most closely associated with the likes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. In the contemporary rediscovery of a broadly-defined anarchism as a “doctrine of hope,” with all its idiosyncrasy and utopianism and its individualist, communist, pragmatic, libertarian, and even Christian variants and foundations, Making Another World Possible serves as both an indispensable resource and a generous and engaging companion.


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