Words: Elaine Quinn (December 2016)
Image Credits: Open Source
Reading Time: 4 minutes

‘The Ecology of Law – Toward a Legal System in Tune with Nature and Community’

Authors: Ugo Mattei & Fritjof Capra

More information and purchase/support: https://www.bkconnection.com/books/title/the-ecology-of-law

This book by law professor and activist, Ugo Mattei and physicist and philosopher, Fritof Capra describes how at the root of many of the environmental, economic, and social crises we face today is a legal system based on an obsolete world-view. By incorporating concepts from modern science, the authors explain that “the law can become an integral part of bringing about a better world, rather than facilitating its destruction“.

So, what is this obsolete world view and why is the legal system still in its grip? During the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, developments in scientific thought led humanity to conceive of the world like a machine, made up of basic separate building blocks, which could be analysed and understood by breaking it down into constituent parts. This is commonly known as the ‘mechanistic paradigm’. During the past three decades however, because of important advances in theories of physics known as quantum theory and relativity theory, this scientific world-view has changed. The world is now understood to be an integrated living system that cannot be understood by reducing it to its separate parts, its essential properties derive from the interactions and relationships between those parts. There has been a radical shift in focus from parts to relationships. Ecology is the branch of science that explores the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. Ecology seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. The Ecology of Law seeks to open an interesting and fundamentally important dialogue between law and ecology.

Fritof and Capra observe the ways the obsolete, mechanistic world view persists in the legal system today describing elements such as the high regard given to individual rights (whether human or corporation) and the lesser regard, or complete disregard, given to how the individual’s actions impact upon the community and society. Since relatedness is key, a healthy living system must have regard to the impact of one’s actions on the whole system. Another element is the persistence of law as a professionalised, pre-existing, objective framework, ‘owned’ by the state, and separate and distant from those over whose behaviour it purports to regulate and control. The authors describe this as an expropriation of a community’s control over its own legal order.

To those in the law hungry for change, the book presents an enticing vision of law, when integrated with an ecological viewpoint, as a generative force – what the authors describe as a new ecology of law or an ‘ecolegal’ order. In this new order, it is the commons – an open network of relationships – rather than the individual that sits at the centre of the legal framework and, rather than remaining distant and external, law is restored to communities and the collective. Law is not static and objective but rather a “a process of ‘communing’, a long-term collective action in which communities, sharing a common purpose and culture, institutionalise their collective will to maintain order and stability in the pursuit of social reproduction.” What is needed to achieve this vision? In their concluding remarks, Mattei and Capra describe ways, perhaps not yet visible to the many, in which the principles of ecolaw are already in action and say that all that is needed is an understanding amongst the many “that they can take the law into their own hands and, with them, their future.”


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