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  • Constituting Green Democracy: A Political Project
  • Douglas Torgerson (bio)

Early flirtations with authoritarian and anarchist proposals have largely given way to a democratic turn in green political theory. With this turn, issues of constitutionalism have become salient, and we face the issue of the proper scope of state power in the face of green concerns. Understood as being concerned with the limitations that should be placed upon state power, constitutionalism was something that both authoritarianism and anarchism either avoided or rejected. The current concern with democracy, however, obviously cannot avoid confronting the issue of the role of state power in a democratic "green state."1

Whether one concludes that the role of the state should be a large one or a small one, however, focusing on the problem of state power frames the question in liberal terms that have been familiar since Locke. Here the state is regarded as both a necessary protector of individual rights and a threat to them.2 What is ideally sought, moreover, is a finished constitutional design, or at least the basic outline of one. Is this framing of the question sufficient?

No approach to the constitution of a green democracy can be adequate if it focuses simply on the problem of state power. Such an approach lacks a sufficient assessment of the prevailing alignments of power in the present historical context. The conventional assumption is that this context, at least in the industrially advanced countries, is fundamentally a democratic one. This assumption often prevails even when liberal democracy is deemed not to be entirely adequate as a democratic form, but to require enhanced deliberation. Yet, if the typically established form of liberal democracy is significantly undemocratic—if, indeed, it contains pronounced oligarchic and authoritarian elements that severely inhibit democratization—then efforts to determine the proper constitutional design of a green democracy are inadequate on their own. What they lack, most significantly, is a recognition of the historical scope of the problem and the political project that would be needed in actually constituting a green democracy.

Beyond Constitutionalism? Authoritarianism and Anarchism

What both authoritarian and anarchist schools of thought shared, despite their stark opposition to one another, was a perception of ecological crisis and the conviction that this crisis called for a rapid and dramatic transformation of the established order. What was urgently needed was an institutional form that could respond effectively to the threats that the prevailing order had created and was continuing rapidly to generate. From the authoritarian perspective, the whole point of such a transformation would be to place reliance upon the coercive powers of the state in a way that entailed the diminution, if not total elimination, of established constitutional limitations. This approach placed an emphasis on the necessity of a hierarchical institutional order.3 In contrast, the anarchist response to ecological crisis maintained that hierarchy was the problem, not the solution. From this perspective, the crisis demanded an institutional transformation toward a pattern of decentralized, egalitarian and self-managing local communities attuned to ecological constraints and complexities. The overarching goal was one of harmony, both between humankind and the rest of nature and among human beings themselves. There could be no question of a need for limitations upon state power because the state, along with all forms of hierarchy, would be abolished. There was also no doubt that such a transformation was a revolutionary project based in a diversity of emerging social movements, of which the ecological movement would be of primary importance.4

The authoritarian response, often hearkening back to Hobbes, was guided by the idea that the environmental crisis demanded an extraordinary concentration of power capable of suppressing human wants that, if left unchecked, would overwhelm the carrying capacity of the earth. The anarchist response was based upon an entirely different diagnosis. The real source of the crisis was not unchecked human wants, but hierarchical social structures, patterns of domination distorting the human potential to create cooperative communities in ecological harmony with nature. Instead of a concentration of power, the utopian vision of ecological communities involved "the belief," as Michael Kenny has put it, "that power relationships can be transcended once humans and nature are operating harmoniously."5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 18-24
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-18
Open Access
No
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