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Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (Spectre) Paperback

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Product Details

  • Series: Spectre
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: PM Press (October 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160486589X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604865899
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The thread connecting these articles is a desire to strip the rhetoric of catastrophism from all sides so that society can confront and solve real threats, and while the prose veers from jargon to straight talk and back again, each author offers valuable contributions to the discourse." —Publishers Weekly

"Catastrophism is an important contribution to ongoing conversations about strategy and organizing on the left." —Scott Neigh, A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land

"At its heart, Catastrophism states that fear-based politics are a dead end. Hopefully, this can be the spark for new discussions, more rational debate, and a collective change in direction for government." —

"According to the authors, catastrophism hinders, rather than hastens, political action on climate change or the development of a new economic system." —Brooklyn Rail

"Catastrophism launches a vital conversation for our crisis-laden era. In a time of real dangers and unreal cures, this is a book to read and savor with family and friends." —

"Posited as an intervention of sorts, Catastrophism is seemingly aimed to create debate on the Left." —

"The author’s call for an environmental and left-wing politics animated by a faith in people’s ability to change the world is all the more timely." —Nicholas Beuret, Red Pepper

About the Author

Sasha Lilley is a writer and radio broadcaster and the author of Capital and Its Discontents. She lives in Oakland, California. David McNally is a professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He is the author of Another World and Global Slump. He lives in Toronto. Eddie Yuen teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute and is the author of Confronting Capitalism. He lives in San Francisco. James Davis is a documentary filmmaker. He lives in San Francisco. Doug Henwood is a publisher and editor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 6 customer reviews
The reader should just go ahead and buy the book to read this essay.
The Peripatetic Reader
This is an interesting and useful study/critique of the issue of catastrophism, with a good set of insights into the theoretical misuse of the idea of crisis.
John C. Landon
Clearly written and argued, this short book packs an intellectual and political punch.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By The Peripatetic Reader on January 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
Catastrophism, while a first-cousin, is the political counterpart to religious apocalyptic mentality. It is the belief, the political strategy, that the changing social and political conditions, getting progressively worse either by own accumulated weight or by encouragement from outside sources, will get better, harkening to a new world. The left does it, the right does it, the State does it.

If there is one theme that pervades this insightful and fascinating book, it is that this type of thinking breads apathy and inaction. The authors caution against this apathy, in fact, cautions against engaging in catastrophic thinking in that this mentality is self-defeating and plays into the hands of the power structure.

This book consists of four essays which covers the gambit of catastrophism. The highlights of these essays are the following:

The first essay deals with catastrophism with regard to environmental issues. It is in this area that catastrophism plays a major, if not prominent role. For good reason. Catastrophic weather conditions are among us now and part of the daily news. The author points out that it is important that the public becomes aware of climate change; the author implies, however, that there is some element of economic self-interest in promulgating that awareness. In addition, the more the public becomes aware of environmental climate change, the more the public becomes apathetic.

The second essay deals with catastrophism in the left. This mentality takes the form in the passive belief the system will collapse on its own, or that it needs help in doing so, either through political violence and/or terrorism. The outcomes of this mentality are themselves catastrophic.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kay on January 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Clearly written and argued, this short book packs an intellectual and political punch. It provides a new lense on how to think about social change. The book critiques catastrophism - the thinking that society is headed for an economic, ecological, social or spiritual collapse and that such a catastrophe will automatically lead to mass political activism, to revolutionary change or to a better society arising out of the ashes of the old. The four authors further debunk the idea that presenting knowledge about real catastrophes, e.g., global warming or the holocaust, will automatically lead people to political action. Rather, the authors argue for the resurrection of utopian thinking and for the prosaic acts of organizing and resistance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on March 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
"Catastrophism" is a somewhat frustrating book, written from a kind of anarcho-Marxist perspective. It contains both hits and misses, although I would consider the misses to be more prominent in the final analysis.

First, some of the hits. The authors, despite their revolutionary inclinations, are critical of leftist "catastrophism", by which they mean a kind of secular apocalypticism. The idea that capitalism will collapse all by itself, in near-deterministic fashion, is one species of catastrophism. Another is the seemingly opposite notion that a small and dedicated group of revolutionary fighters can take down the system by sheer will power (and, presumably, a lot of bombs) at any given time. The authors point out, correctly, that this kind of voluntarism is really the flip side of determinism, since both perspectives are based on the idea that radicals don't have to bother convincing the broad majority of the people. Both perspectives are therefore grounded in anti-political despair. (At least one author reviewed by me elsewhere fits this description almost to a tee: Derrick Jensen. And yes, he's mentioned in the book, although mostly in passing.)

The authors further criticize the idea that crises, poverty or oppression automatically make people more radical and leftist. In reality, the number of strikes in the United States have historically increased during economic booms, and plummeted during economic downturns. The only exception to the rule are the 1930's, and even then, the resistance didn't come until almost five years into the depression, and was fuelled by hope for reform rather than desperation (in other words, FDR's New Deal, although the authors doesn't mention it explicitly). Something similar can be seen in Europe.
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