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Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology Hardcover – August 19, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Ophuls takes us on a wide-ranging review of history, philosophy, science, and political economy in search of natural law and objective value by which to replenish the 'lode of fossil virtue and belief' inherited from the premodern era and depleted by modern nihilism. A worthy contribution."--Herman E. Daly, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

(Herman Daly)

"What Ophuls does in Plato's Revenge is what needs to be done more often but is rarely even attempted. The study of political philosophy in universities is primarily about studying the classic texts and assessing them but not about actually updating and re-inventing political philosophy. This book should encourage others to make similarly brave attempts to rethink how present and future societies might be organized given the array of environmental and sustainability challenges that we face."--Robert Paehlke, Professor Emeritus of Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent University; author of Democracy's Dilemma: Environment, Social Equity, and the Global Economy

(Robert Paehlke)

"For decades, William Ophuls has been among the world's most original thinkers about the implications of our global ecological crisis for freedom, democracy, and political order. In Plato's Revenge, he goes to the essence of this crisis: the deep, tacit, and widespread beliefs that nature and society are nothing more than machines, that the state should play no role in cultivating citizens' virtue, and that self-interested individuals should rely solely on reason to guide their lives. Ophuls weaves together the ideas of some of history's greatest thinkers to argue that humankind's future lies in small, simple republics that cultivate their citizens' virtue through natural law. In doing so, he shreds conventional wisdom and invigorates our conversation about the kind of world we intend our grandchildren to inherit."--Thomas Homer-Dixon, University of Waterloo, author of The Upside of Down:Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization

(Thomas Homer-Dixon)

"I would strongly recommend Plato's Revenge as a clear and compelling polemic that deserves to be read alongside Bateson's 1972 work Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology...and yes, alongside Plumwood's Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. Beyond the debate about Plato, all three have something important to say about the fate of our planet" - Times Higher Education

About the Author

William Ophuls is the author of the award-winning Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity and Requiem for Modern Politics.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262015900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262015905
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,325,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Since discovering the Ecological Predicament over 20 years ago, I have read hundreds of books on the topic. Like almost all of those who take the time to study the predicament, I quickly moved from what to why to what to do. In my opinion, Ophuls is the most lucid and easy-to-read predicament writer and he does an excellent job of taking the reader from what to why to what to do. While I prefer to engage the predicament from the education angle, I agree that politics is the lynchpin.

I would definitely recommend that those who are interested in the topic read an earlier book by Ophuls: Requiem For Modern Politics: The Tragedy Of The Enlightenment And The Challenge Of The New Millennium. "Plato's Revenge" is a natural progression from the thoughts that are presented in "Requiem." I have read "Requiem" twice and that is something that I rarely do.

In all likelihood, the brevity of "Plato's Revenge" is a result of a request from the publisher. The publisher realizes that more people are likely to pick up and read a short book. I'm sure the author had a devil of a time condensing his current thinking on the predicament into 200 pages or so.

I came away with a renewed commitment to continue my predicament-related work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was assigned to me in a sociology class, this past semester. As many other students, when this book was assigned to be read, I didn't think much of it and planned to read as little of it as I could to get by in class. When the professor declared that the final exam would be an essay on this book, I was a bit disgruntled that I would actually have to get my lazy ass off the computer and read essentially a textbook. When I began reading, the contents lured me in further and further with Ophuls' amazing ideas. I was completely and utterly fascinated by what he was talking about. I truly fell in love, however, when I reached the psychology section. That section thoroughly entranced me.
I highly recommend this book to everyone. I would have loved to read it even if it wasn't assigned by one of my professors.
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Format: Hardcover
William Ophuls is that rare breed of writer who publishes one book every twenty years or so. I suppose "Plato's revenge" is the last we will see of the man. It might also be the most interesting. His previous books are "Ecology and the politics of scarcity" and "Requiem for modern politics". I admit that I'm impressed with Ophul's current book and find it difficult to review. And no, I don't agree with everything he says. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, everyone worried about the current ecological crisis and looking for solutions - original solutions, not "sustainable development" and one more UN summit - would do well to read Ophul's magnum opus and come to terms with it. It might not be easy!

"Plato's revenge" doesn't argue at length for the existence of a terminal ecological crisis or the need for radical solutions. This ground has already been covered in the author's two previous works. Rather, "Plato's revenge" is an attempt to present a solution to our current predicament.

The author doesn't believe that the ecological crisis can be solved by cornucopian high technology. While admitting that some forms of high tech might be able to sustain us above the pre-modern level (including thorium reactors or solar power), the perspective is really one of declining standards of living for everyone, more self-reliance, less international trade and other contacts, and a society centred on agriculture. Nor is this a temporary situation. No, the collapse of the modern West (and the societies mimicking us) will be permanent. In the future, we will have to learn to live within the limits imposed by ecology and resource scarcity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology", William Ophuls appears to be proposing a new politics, a new kind of economy, a new ethic, and perhaps a new religion, all to replace what currently are not working. Perhaps that description itself is sufficient to suggest that he paints with a brush that is much too broad. Here is his description of his task from the preface: "This book attempts to sketch the basic outline of [a new public philosophy]--a natural law theory of politics grounded in ecology, physics, and psychology." (p. x) The use of the term "natural law" is to suggest that his theory derives essentially from what is revealed by science and therefore is "natural" and founded on what may be thought of as unshakeable truth. He is doing this because he considers our current way of life as unsustainable and therefore doomed.

Much of the critique of what is going on in our world--in any political economy--is valid. We tend to lack coherent value systems apart from economic or monetary values. Our politics are founded in grand bureaucracies which do not represent the diversity of the peoples well and which tend to rely upon police and military force to accomplish their ends. The threat of catastrophic military confrontation continues to threaten a doomsday scenario. And we are exploiting the environment and the capacities of our world unsustainably.

Ophuls derives his political thinking largely from Jefferson and Rousseau. A limited, republican form of government managing a geographically-limited area, as was suggested by Montesquieu, would be necessary in the future, everywhere around the globe. (Clearly an area the size of the United States with its cultural diversity would be unmanageable.
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