The Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political Theory

The Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political Theory

The Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political Theory

The Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political Theory


This book presents a uniquely comprehensive and balanced survey of current green political ideas. It analyses the ability of these ideas to provide plausible answers to fundamental problems in political theory, concerning justice and democracy, individual rights and freedom, human nature and gender. The authors, who come from a range of different disciplines, explore the relationship between green ideas and other traditions including liberalism, anarchism, feminism and Christianity.


The authors of this book met in a workshop on green political theory at the European Consortium for Political Research sessions at the University of Essex in 1991. They shared a keen interest in green ideas but came from different disciplines and diverse political families—some considered themselves ‘green’, others did not. While disagreements were rife, the consensus was that green political theory is undertheorized and demands further investigation.

Most authors discuss only fragments of such a theory, but to some degree or other the fragments fit together. We have arranged them in four sections: ethical foundations; green politics: the state and democracy; green society: economics and welfare; green political theory: the boundaries.

Environmental ethics constitutes the core or the foundation of green political theory, as we understand it. Traditional political theory assumes a moral community consisting of all (rational) ‘men’, whilst green theory expands this community to include animals, plants, and possibly even the Earth itself. All green theorists seem to agree on this, even if they disagree about the implications. the moderates—‘light greens’ or ‘shallow ecologists’—remain anthropocentric: human rights may be extended to ‘higher’ animals, but human values and interests retain hegemony in any moral discourse. (Moreover, the ‘higher animals’ are held to be higher precisely because they approximate in some sense or other to human beings.) the structure of their discourse may still be traditional—inspired by Bentham, Kant or Aristotle. Radicals, ‘dark greens’ or ‘deep ecologists’ perceive man as a rather young and arrogant member of the Community of Life whose claim to a leading part in the play should be rejected.

This radical notion of Nature as a moral community cannot be reconciled easily with traditional ethical theories. As Marcel Wissenburg argues in his contribution to this volume, it may be impossible to found a theory of justice on this idea. Justice can only be applied by moral subjects to other moral subjects. a moral subject has to be a sentient being which can suffer harm; hence Wissenburg includes animals but excludes plants and minerals. Even so, he argues that human beings are ‘more equal’ than animals. in the end, his position remains anthropocentric and individualistic. Nature can be an

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