Ernest Callenbach, Last Words to an America in Decline

Ernest Callenbach’s ECOTOPIA and its prequel ECOTOPIA EMERGING were major books in my developing thinking about how a sustainable society might evolve. ECOTOPIA, the more famous of the two, provides Callenbach’s overall vision of what might be possible. ECOTOPIA EMERGING – with far better characterization and more compelling plot – tells the story of how we – in all our diversity – bring that vision about.

Callenbach wrote a number of other books, including A CITIZEN LEGISLATURE (with Michael Phillips), which argues for a randomly selected legislature as an official part of government. Inspired by Callenbach and other such writers, I explore this idea in one chapter of my forthcoming book EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM (North Atlantic Books, Aug 2012).

Ernest Callenbach has had a significant influence in my life. So I was greatly saddened to hear he died a month ago. Then I learned that he had left us a message, found in his computer after his death. I found his “epistle” quite moving, wide-ranging and potent. So I’m sharing it with you.

Of course I don’t agree with everything Callenbach says. For example, I find his partisan framing interferes with the realization of his larger vision, and his dismissal of brainstorming fails to appreciate its proper role – to stimulate creative thinking – which can enrich the work of “groups in which ideas are proposed, critiqued, improved, debated.” But these are minor objections compared to his deeply concerned but hopeful articulation of our “end of empire” times and his inspiring belief in the capacities of ordinary people to meet the challenges of those times.

His epistle was published as part of an appreciation of Callenbach written by Tom Engelhardt, who worked with Callenbach on a book about friendship. You can find them both at .

Echoes of his care will last forever.


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