Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. Few philosophies have a greater mutual suspicion and natural antipathy to each other than libertarianism and. In the afterword to the 30th-anniversary edition of his novel, Ernest Callenbach writes, “Looking back, it seems clear that Ecotopia was the. Ecotopia,” the ’70s cult novel, has seeped into the American But to Mr. Callenbach and many of his fans, “Ecotopia” is a blueprint for the.

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Ecotopia is ostensibly about a secessionist Northwest — ecotopua California, Oregon, and Washington — founded on ecological principles. In this independent land, cars are abolished, everybody recycles, and sewage is turned to fertilizer. That sounds good, as far as it goes; however, the vision is weighed down by so much extraneous cultural baggage — Marxism, paganism, free love, ritual warfare, communal living, abortion on demand, legalized drugs, gamelan orchestras — that readers coming to Ecotopia for the first time ecotopja find both more and less than they bargained for.

I say the novel is ostensibly about the Northwest because, in fact, all the action takes place in California, and most of it in the Bay Area. The story is narrated by William Weston, a New York journalist, by way of his notebooks and dispatches — the first filed by an American reporter from inside the breakaway republic in 20 years.

Revisiting the s eco-cult classic that gripped a nation | Grist

Few novels can survive that kind calllenbach thing; yet, somehow, Ecotopia has thrived, having now sold nearly a million copies in nine languages. Were it otherwise, there would be no sense in reissuing the book — nor, indeed, in reviewing it — except perhaps as a cultural artifact. But even today, the novel is assigned reading for college courses in political science and environmental studies. And callenabch may even be true that some pillars of the modern environmental movement were built upon Ecotopian ideals.


As a writer, Abbey ecotlpia in another league, but his sensibilities were also a world apart. While they aimed to merely throw a wrench in the works of industrial civilization, Callenbach conjured a model society — a City on a Hill, so to speak — where humans could live in balance with nature. Therein lies both its appeal and its fatal weakness, for while Callenbach dared, at least, to envision human history as something other than a forced march to oblivion, his characters, stuck as they are within dcotopia utopian framework, seem like little more than the self-satisfied minions of the newly dawned Aquarius.

Callenbach takes pains, in fact, to show us that the good people of Ecotopia are unrestrained in their emotions.

One illustration of this involves a plate of cold eggs in caklenbach restaurant. When the indignant recipient of the tepid huevos raises a stink, the resulting row brings the place to a grinding halt as the aggrieved customer and the offended cook square off in front of the other diners.

Caklenbach lucky narrator enjoys wild romps in forest shrines, anonymous threesomes in tents, even sex with the lovely and obliging nurse who tends to him in the hospital. Native Americans are at once prominent and scarce in Ecotopia; that is, they exist only as part of the idealized, pre-Columbian past, as noble savages. As such, Ecotopians are free to play Indian: The evil of warfare has been ritualized as a way of dissipating its awful power and callebach it to the safe, if frightening, confines of ceremony.


The scene, as Callenbach paints it, is unbridled neo-primitivism, complete with all the props: The charade ends when Weston is ritually speared in the side — the wound that lands him in the sexual-healing ward. His benevolent captors spirit him away to a hot springs in the foothills. The scene ends as things inevitably do in Ecotopia: Aside from the occasional whiff of authoritarianism, there are no politics to speak of here. How could there be? The Ecotopian worldview is of such a cultish consistency, after all, that politics are superfluous.

Moreover, in this Rousseauian world, people are all basically good. Evil is in exile, banished to the old world beyond the borders. With no need ecoopia politics, neither are there politicians.

Ecotooia, the president, is really more of a high priestess, the therapist-in-chief. If Callenbach is embarrassed by any of this 30 years on, he gives no indication in the new afterword.

Revisiting the 1970s eco-cult classic that gripped a nation

Parents should be proud of their offspring. But the rest of us ought to be a little more objective. The Beacon The Weekly. Ernest Callenbach in his Berkeley garden. Grist’s comments only work with JavaScript. Please enable and refresh the page.

New Year, New U-Lock.