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  • Old Orders for New Ecology, Animal Rights, and the Poverty of Humanism
  • Cary Wolfe (bio)
Luc Ferry. The New Ecological Order. Trans. Carol Volk. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.


Early on in The New Ecological Order, the French philosopher Luc Ferry characterizes the allure and danger of ecology in the postmodern moment. What separates it from various other issues in the intellectual and political field, he writes, is that

it can call itself a true “world vision,” whereas the decline of political utopias, but also the parcelization of knowledge and the growing “jargonization” of individual scientific disciplines, seemed to forever prohibit any plan for the globalization of thought. . . . At a time when ethical guide marks are more than ever floating and undetermined, it allows the unhoped-for promise of rootedness to form, an objective rootedness, certain of a new moral ideal.


As we shall see, for Ferry—a staunch liberal humanist in the Kantian if not quite Cartesian tradition—this vision conceals a danger to which contemporary European intellectuals are especially sensitive: not holism, nor even moralism, exactly, but that far more charged and historically freighted thing, totalitarianism. Ferry’s concern is that such “world visions,” incarnated in contemporary environmentalism in movements such as Deep Ecology and ecofeminism, threaten “[o]ur entire democratic culture,” which “since the French Revolution, has been marked, for basic philosophical reasons, by the glorification of uprootedness, or innovation” [xxi]. Ferry’s thesis—it becomes quite explicit in his comparison of environmental legislation under the Third Reich with tenets of Deep Ecology in the book’s second section—is that Deep Ecology and its ilk have moved in to occupy the space left open by the passing of the political imaginaries of fascism and communism, so that denunciations of liberalism (and its corollary in political praxis, reformism) may now be unmasked for what they are: critiques “in the name of nostalgia, or, on the contrary, in that of hope: either the nostalgia for a lost past, for national identity flouted by the culture of rootlessness, or revolutionary hope in a radiant future, in a classless and free society” [xxvi]. To which Ferry responds—literally—“Grow up!” Late in the book, he tells us that we must see through “the adult development of the secular and democratic universe” [137] by rejecting totalizing revolutionary visions of the sort purveyed by Deep Ecology, and by adhering instead to liberal reformism, “the only [End Page 21] position consistent with leaving the world of childhood” [138].

Ferry is certainly right to draw our attention to the often uncritical nostalgia and romantic holism of some varieties of environmental thought—problems that have been noted before by critics from points on the map very different politically from Ferry’s avowed liberal humanism. And it is certainly understandable, given the historical context, that he would join a long list of other European intellectuals in pointing out the manifold dangers to democratic society of totalizing moral schemes—dangers often represented for liberal intellectuals like Ferry by the rise of the Greens in European politics. 1 We do well to remember, too (as Fredric Jameson and others have pointed out), that for European intellectuals such as Ferry, liberalism retains, for understandable historical reasons, a viability and a promise about which many American intellectuals are skeptical or even jaded. European intellectuals, conditioned by the experience of fascist authoritarianism and the strong but problematic presence historically of the Communist party in social and intellectual life, may find in liberalism a refreshing and indeed radical democratic openness and dynamism, while American intellectuals, conditioned to the absence of any other major political contenders, have long since grown accustomed to liberalism as the name for that “end of ideology” position which, as Jameson puts it, “can function more effectively after its own death as an ideology, realizing itself in its most traditional form as a commitment to the market system that has become sheer common sense and no longer a political program” [249, my emphasis].

But in defending democratic difference, everything hinges, of course, on precisely how such terms are framed and how difference is articulated—an index of which often may be found in how its imagined...