June 28, 2017

The Way – a summary (review)

This summary review of The Way: An Ecological Worldview was written for Schumacher College in 1998. First published in 1992, The Way is Edward Goldsmith’s magnum opus.

This second edition of The Way, was published by University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, in 1998, and was fully revised, incorporating a glossary, page references, and index.


The Way first provides a radical critique of the ‘world view of modernism’, which shapes all the disciplines in terms of which we seek to understand the world. It shows how, in particular, its constituent ‘paradigm of science’ including the neo-Darwinian view of evolution, the reductionist and mechanistic ‘new ecology’ now taught in our universities, and perhaps even more so, the ‘paradigm of economics’, slavishly reflect this aberrant world-view, whose role is above all to rationalize and hence to legitimize economic development or ‘progress’ which the author sees as the real cause of the ever more daunting biological, social and ecological problems that face us today.

The Way then provides the underlying principles of a truly ecological world-view in terms of which our real wealth – that on which we really depend for our welfare, indeed for our very survival, is our natural wealth, i.e. our (up till now) favourable and stable climate, our fertile soil, our free-flowing rivers, as well as the traditional families and communities which are the natural and irreplaceable units of social organization.

It is the benefits that they provide that alone can assure our real welfare. Significantly traditional societies when imbued with a chthonic world view or a religion of the Earth see things very much in this way.

Human welfare, for them, is maximized by maintaining the critical order of the cosmos, which is seen as encompassing society, the natural world, and the world of the gods and spirits, which are all organized according to the same basic plan and governed by the same laws. In many archaic societies, a word existed for the fundamental path or Way that had to be followed in order to maintain the critical order of the cosmos – the R’ta of Vedic India, and later the Dharma, the Asha of the ancient Persians and the Tao of China.

Even when there is no word for the Way, the concept is implicit to the behaviour pattern of chthonic societies, including their ritual and ceremonial life, their food producing activities, their economy, their settlement patterns and the technologies that they make use of. All are seen, above all, as designed to maintain the critical order of the cosmos.

Whereas, with us, major problems are interpreted as evidence that economic development or progress has not proceeded far or fast enough, for chthonic society they indicate instead that it has diverted from the Way and has thereby disrupted the critical order of the cosmos.

This interpretation is of course usually correct, as most of the problems we face today are due to the disruption of the natural world – its biological organisms, families, communities, ecosystems and Gaia herself. None of these problems are amenable to technological solutions of the sort our modern society applies, which can only serve to mask the symptoms of the disruption of the natural systems involved. A truly ecological world-view, the author argues, must necessarily be based on the same principles. It is these principles that the author seeks in this book to set out.

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