Turning the World Upside Down – The English Revolution as Inspiration for the Transition to a Sustainable Society

Last week we posted a few excerpts from Molly Scott Cato’s chapter in Carnival Kingdom’s facebook page. Below we profile her contribution to the forthcoming book.

Injustice creates social tipping points which can spawn reform or revolution. Molly Scott Cato, a Green economist, links the spirit of the Medieval carnival with the revolutionary period of the English Civil War and asks if there are lessons we can learn from history which can help us navigate the turbulence of our times.

Here are some brief snippets:-

“For many of those who are attempting to bring about ecologically focused innovation the ecological crisis is a situation that justifies the challenging of all social rules. The space between two paradigms – the current one based on waste, greed and a profligacy with energy and resources that threatens the future of our species and has already brought the death of many thousands of other species – is one where experimentation unbound by the normal conventions of culture is justified.”

“we should acknowledge the central role of laughter and especially parody as a tool to achieve the social turbulence that was central to the performance of carnival: ‘Carnival laughter is directed at exalted objects, and forces them to renew themselves’. Such techniques were also widely used by both the Levellers – we can think of James Naylor’s procession into Bristol on a donkey – or the ubiquitous street theatre that has been a central feature of cultural protest since the 1960s. The peace and ecological movements have been at their most effective when they have found a performance that is also a parody of the world they seek to challenge, the Rebel Clown Army being one of the most impressive recent examples. This laughter is only partially an indication of humour or joy; a deeper interpretation might be an expression of the need of the human spirit to reject the despair that both war and crisis can bring”


“What we may find in the history of the dissenters of 17th Century England is what has been called a ‘radical theology of change’. What gave permission for the outburst of outrageous behaviour that deliberately set out to challenge all conventions was the primary and fundamental act of killing a king. The social order of the times had been broken from top to bottom, and anything became possible. How can we relate this to our present times and the urgent need to respond to economic and ecological crises? I would argue that our social order has also been radically challenged. The social contract is challenged by a financial system that enables the rich to benefit at the expense of the poor, and the political system has lost all credibility because of its failure to respond.”

Molly Scott Cato is Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at Roehampton University and has worked for several years as a green economist. In 2009 she published Green Economics: An Introduction to Theory, Policy and Practice and she has also written widely on themes concerned with mutualism, social enterprise, policy responses to climate change, banking and finance, and local economies. Her new book called The Bioregional Economy: Land, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness develops ideas for a new model of stable and sustainable economic life. She is an active member of the Green Party, the party’s national spokesperson on economics, and leader of the Green group on Stroud District Council. She works with Transition Stroud and was involved in the launch of a local currency in Stroud in 2009. She is also a Director of Stroud Common Wealth.

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