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  • The Republican State and Global Environmental Governance
  • Steven Slaughter (bio)

The question of what forms of governance are required to address global forms of ecological degradation has risen in profile over the course of the last decade. However, there has been a tendency in this literature to emphasise the significance of global environmental governance—the international environmental regimes and treaties, and global forms of governance relating to the environment—without examining of the role of the state in this configuration. The potential role of the state within global environmental governance has been largely downplayed, except for a few notable exceptions.1 This article will argue that deeper thought needs to be given to the potential role of the state in addressing environmental degradation and impending environmental harm. However, it is not sufficient to merely argue that the power of the state must be brought to bear on environmental issues and neither is it useful to argue that the state is a replacement for effective global environmental governance. In what follows I will contend that the primary reason we need to emphasize the role of the state in addressing global environmental issues is because of the state's ability to draw their public into the governance of global environmental problems and thereby strengthen global environmental governance.

Underpinning this account is neo-roman republican political theory. In contrast to many strands of liberal and cosmopolitan thought, republican thought emphasizes the importance of the state, constitutional frameworks and the role of citizens in addressing social problems. I contend that republican principles and institutions could develop a strong rationale that enables the state and citizens to politically interface with global governance to more consistently address global problems such as environmental degradation. As a prospective approach to governance, republicanism seeks to reclaim the state as an agent of public interests in order to fashion a liberty against powerful private interests that in a liberal world are allowed to create conditions of subordination and vulnerability. This essay contends that this promotion of liberty will necessarily have to consider global ecological forms of domination if it is to be at all reasonable. This argument develops in three steps. First, I relate the nature of republican thought to ecological degradation, then I examine the main elements of a republican engagement with environmental issues, and lastly, outline how republican citizens could interact with global environmental governance.

Republicanism and Ecological Degradation

Republican political thought has risen in prominence within the last decade, but it is important to note there is no single account of republicanism. While republican ideas have been associated with an "Athenian" school of republicanism which focuses upon participation within a political community constituting liberty, there is also the "Roman" school of republicanism which focuses on "independence under law."2 This latter position is also been referred to as neo-roman republicanism and has been articulated by scholars such as Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit.3 These scholars have placed republican ideas closer to a liberal conception of individual liberty but in contrast to liberalism, that this liberty can only be constituted by the laws and institutions of an appropriately empowered republican state.4 The institutional perspective of this type of republicanism offers important insights into how global environmental issues may be addressed.

Importantly, the overarching goal from a neo-roman republican point of view is the constitution of a robust form of individual liberty conceived as "non-domination": an institutionalized context where citizens are free from the arbitrary interference of others and free from the subordination or domination from the state itself or from other interests or actors in society.5 The aspiration of republican structures and policies is to constitute individual independence through the laws and policies of the state, which includes protecting individuals and dampening down the flows of power which adversely affect them and public efforts to augment the capacity of individuals to protect themselves from subjection.6 A republican state's power is managed by procedural checks and balances with regards to democratic processes as well as ongoing citizen oversight and public deliberation. Such oversight is provided by citizens being motivated by an enduring culture of civic virtue and patriotism. Republicans emphasise that...


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