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  • Towards a Green Republicanism:Constitutionalism, Political Economy, and the Green State
  • John Barry (bio)

The republic is threatened—who will stand by the republic?


The range of threats to modern society ranging from growing environmental stresses (water shortages, deforestation, soil erosion to climate change), food and energy insecurity, peak oil, rising poverty and inequalities within and between societies, increasing passivity of citizens within democracies and the inexorable rise of corporate power within and over the democratic state can be summed up as facets of 'unsustainability' or 'unsustainable development.' Just as it is commonplace to declare that the 21st century will be China's century, equally the politics of the 21st century are and will be the politics of sustain-ability. Taking it as given that the transition to sustainability will be the dominant challenge and opportunity facing all societies in the coming decades ahead, this article looks at two traditions of political thought—namely green political theory and civic republicanism—and seeks to conjoin them to outline a new political approach—'green republicanism'—which may respond and rise to this challenge.

It needs to be pointed out from the outset that what is discussed below is 'green politics' and not 'environmentalism,' which is narrowly concerned with environmental preservation, species conservation or combating climate change. In broad terms green politics aims at 'sustainable development' which, inter alia, deals with securing basic human rights, lowering socio-economic inequalities, eradicating environmental injustices (within nation-states and globally as well as intergenerationally) and ensuring the demands of the human economy do not outstrip the regenerative capacities of the eco-systems upon which that economy depends. Sustainable development therefore is a radical proposal, indicating not simply the 'ecologising' or 'greening' of the current political and economic order. Such reformist proposals may be viewed as interim staging posts such as those represented by 'ecological modernisation' and discourses of 'natural capitalism,' but suggest the transformation to a different distinctly 'green' or 'sustainable' political order.1 While the metabolism between the human economy and its ecological systems is the most pressing and significant [End Page 3] dimension of sustainable development, questions of political economy and the economic order are always already present in any green analysis (whether explicit or not).

In the same way that I take it as given that a sustainable society is one that is a post-carbon society (in terms of energy production and consumption), the green republican perspective offered here is also one which sees such a society as post-liberal, though not anti-liberal. Green politics can be viewed as 'post' not 'anti-liberal' in Robyn Eckersley's terms, and this can be seen to settle around the centrality of separating free market capitalism as the dominant organization of the economy, from liberalism (representative democratic governance, citizen freedoms, equality of citizens, etc.) in the creation of a sustainable society.2 In short, a green republicanism is one which asks the question 'How do we maintain and sustain liberty in a post-liberal political, post-capitalist economic and post-carbon, sustainable order?'

In that context it is important to look at what are the political and institutional dynamics within, between and below the nation-state of this transformation away from current unsustainable development paths. If we are to live in a sustainable/green political order different than the current liberal democratic one based on the capitalist free market, what are the types of legal, constitutional and institutional innovations we might expect to see in a greening state or in a fully fledged 'green state?' Thus, while this article is critical of reformist ecological modernisation and strategies that focus on securing (often through technological innovation) the ecological conditions for the political economy of expansionist fossil-fuelled capitalism, it is also critical of radical green proposals (mostly anarchistic in character) which argue for the eradication or transcendence of the nation-state as a necessary condition of achieving sustainable development. Thus, the position outlined here is firmly within that school of green political thought which is concerned about the evolution and emergence of green states and pragmatic/strategic considerations about the 'greening' of existing liberal democratic states.

Green Constitutionalism

Given that constitutional provisions...


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