Jay Walljasper Shows Us All That We Share & How We Can Reclaim the Commons (Book Review)

all that we share book cover photo
It may not make mainstream news headlines all that often, or indeed non-mainstream news headlines all that often either, but there's been a long-running battle being fought around the globe. You may not have thought of it as such, the casualties mostly don't occur en masse, but rather die slowly--so slowly in many cases that you might not realize they are dead until they are gone.

On one side, and in the ascendent for decades now, are the dominant economic and political ideologues proclaiming that so-called market-based solutions and privatization of all aspect of civic life, public life, political life are the best (and by extension in this way of thinking, only) way to create a civilization. Private, corporate, individual, compartmentalized, isolated, me and mine. On the other, most seriously beaten back if not outright defeated in the Reagan and Thatcher years, are those people that see value in working together as community, that proclaim that there are a whole range of natural resources that truly belong to us all provided that no one person or group takes more than their fair share (water, air, forests, ecosystems), and civic functions that are properly collective in utility and ought to be provided to everyone equally (sidewalks, public squares, the internet, fire fighting, healthcare). There are some things that belong to us all. There are some things that rightly remain in the realm of The Commons.

Which is where Jay Walljasper's new(ish) book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, published by The New Press, comes in--documenting both the rise of reclaiming the commons from the forces of privatization and corporatization, concrete examples of how this is being done from multiple corners of the globe, practical and philosophical explanations as to why commoning is better than compartmentalizing, as well as some of the history as to how we got into this situation.


Walljasper writes a goodly portion of All That We Share's 250-odd pages, but one of the things that really gives it greater weight--and nicely fits in with the message of the book--is that there are at least a dozen other contributors adding their voices and their take on commoning. These contributors span an impressive swath of intellectual space and perspective: Robert Kennedy Jr, economist Elinor Ostrom, Winona LaDuke, Lawrence Lessig and more are included; Bill McKibben provides the introduction.

But what about the tragedy, the tragedy of the commons?!?--that conversation-stopping phrase pulled out red card style by the refereeing freemarketeers, privateers and apologists of the near-sacred righteousness of corporate control of, well, everything.

As Walljasper's book convincingly argues, and Elinor Ostrom's work shows well enough that the Nobel Prize committee gave her an award for it, both historically and currently resources held in common, managed by the community (often just by custom and not by law), have been and are being sustainably used. To say that without commodifying the planet we will automatically consume it is both intellectually and practically false.

I could go on and on, but won't. Let Walljasper and his contributors in All That We Share inspire you if you're already a commoner and convince you if you're not.

All That We Share has been out since January 11 and is available from all the usual book-selling suspects. If your local bookstore doesn't have it, you can also order directly from The New Press.

More on The Commons
Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Shows the Commons Doesn't Always End in Tragedy
Trashing Tragedy of the Commons? Communities Found to Manage Forests Better Than Government

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