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Green Politics and Civic Republicanism: Green Republicanism as a Response to the Environmental and Political Crises of the 21st Century

Institutions
Political theory
WS08
Iseult Honohan
University College Dublin

Abstract

The green and civic republican traditions have important historical and conceptual connections. Yet only recently has environmental political thought begun to engage with civic republicanism. Engagement with republicanism is important for environmental political theory and practice. First of all, the development of modern environmental values may have been shaped by civic republicanism, both in Europe and North America, so any understanding of the history of green thought must engage with the republican tradition. Moreover, environmentalism shows striking similarities with both historical and contemporary republican thought: inter alia, non-neutrality with respect to the good; a focus on participatory democracy, active citizenship and constitutional laws; liberty as non-domination; a focus on local scale and decentralisation; a critical stance toward capitalism and orthodox economic growth; a quest for stability and/or sustainability; an emphasis on common goods; and, finally, a tension between communitarianism and a more “contestatory” democratic politics. By investigating these similarities, environmental political theorists can better grasp environmentalism’s political implications and internal tensions. Engagement with republicanism can also yield insight into how we might address ecological threats, including climate change, as well as grasp the opportunities presented in the transition from ‘actually existing unsustainability’. Republican conceptions of dispersed sovereignty, civic virtue, and even the proper use of nature can help guide us to a more ecologically sustainable society. The focus of contemporary republicans on non-domination may also be especially relevant in informing resistance to the growing alliance between corporate fossil fuel interests and authoritarian politics in Russia and the United States. The workshop will consider a number of questions related to the interface between environmentalism and civic republicanism: • What is the state of scholarship on republicanism and environmentalism? • How has the civic republican tradition informed green thought in both Europe and North America? For example, is the republican influence most pronounced in the United States? • To what degree does the contemporary practice of environmental politics reflect republican values? • What tensions exist between the green and republican traditions? Does a fuller engagement with republicanism entail changes in basic environmental values, principles or objectives? • What are the implications for green politics of the communitarian/contestation tension within republicanism? • Can republicanism, which has often privileged decentralisation, offer constructive responses to global problems like climate change? • What is the role of the state in a green republican democracy? What are the potential tensions between green versions of democracy and green republican conceptualisations? • What are the components of ‘green republicanism’ – is it singular or plural? • How can republican political economy inform a green critique of and reform or transition from capitalism? What are the contours of a green republican political economy? • How does republicanism inform more recent threads of environmentalism, such as environmental justice, food justice and security, ‘just transition’, local food, smart growth, New Urbanism, and socio-technical transitions? • What are the roles of civic character formation and green virtues in creating a more ecologically responsible citizenry? Can such character formation become a force for political change, or must it wait upon the emergence of a green republican polity? • What would green civic republican institutions look like? What would be the part played by constitutional laws in a green republican democracy? • Can green civic republicanism provide a political/ideological rallying point for opposition to right-wing populism and authoritarianism? Can it provide an opposition to techno-optimists and ecomodernisers who call for a ‘good Anthropocene’, or greater human management of the natural world? • Can green republicanism offer a progressive and ecological populism to combat regressive anti-globalist populism currently on the ascendency across many liberal democracies? The need for a workshop With the challenge of climate change, the recent Great Recession, the backlash against economic globalisation, and the emergence of an unabashedly progressive movement within the U.S. Democratic Party and the UK Labour Party, the rise of right-wing populism and authoritarianism in the West more generally, and the spectre of new technologies on the horizon, environmental politics as well as liberal democracy and capitalism are at a crossroads. Climate change and the Anthropocene demand radical action in terms of both prevention and adaptation to protect human civilization, and especially the poor and citizens of developing countries, from ecological catastrophe. At the same time, the individual rights at the heart of liberal democracy are under assault from right-wing, nationalist political parties preaching racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny, while neoliberal global capitalism is being challenged from both the left and right. The Great Recession and the financial crisis that caused it have raised serious doubts about both the economic and moral dimensions of capitalism and the problem of endemic corruption in liberal democracies. Finally, the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence, data collection, and biotechnology, cheered on by a potentially totalitarian techno-utopianism, are threatening to transform individual liberty, work, social relations, and basic human nature in ways that fundamentally challenge human autonomy and dignity, and even imperil our own basic survival. Liberal democracy, with its emphasis on (negative) liberty as non-interference, free markets, GDP expansion/economic growth, ever-increasing consumption, and neutrality with respect to the good, has not only failed to anticipate and address our contemporary crises, but it is arguably responsible for their rise. Furthermore, it has failed to offer a compelling narrative that can unite the climate and environmental movements, social justice activists, and critics of globalisation and neoliberalism. In terms of an alternative to liberalism, Marxism offers many resources for a critique of capitalism, but its theoretical and historical record on environmental issues, on democracy and individual liberty, and on the intersectionality of various forms of oppression other than class is highly questionable. In the political sphere, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders in the United States and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in the UK, the rise of Podemos in Spain and the Greens across Europe (not least the election of a Green Party backed Austrian Presidential candidate) etc. offer some hope for an energised progressivism. However, much of the backlash against globalisation and neoliberalism has been taken up by right-wing populists who have attacked both the environmental and social justice movements, threatened to undo the limited progress that has been made in tackling climate change, and put political democracy itself in peril. Civic republicanism may offer a compelling theoretical and political framework during this time of crisis. Civic republicanism has roots in the political thought of Aristotle and Cicero and in the historical experience of the Greek city-states and the Roman Republic. Civic republican thought flourished in Renaissance Florence and early modern Poland, Holland, and England. Republican themes were articulated by political philosophers like Machiavelli, Harrington, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft. Republicanism was influential in the founding of the United States and in the political thought of Jefferson, Madison, and John Adams. With its more communitarian orientation, explicit focus on the necessity of the state, and emphasis on civic virtue rather than on a more neutral stance toward individual character and conceptions of the good, republicanism is in many ways at odds with classical liberal individualism. Since the 1980s, there has been renewed interest in republicanism among political theorists on both sides of the Atlantic. This republican revival was initially associated with historiography on the American Revolution, with historians of early modern political thought like J.G.A. Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli (Pocock 1975), and with so-called communitarian critics of liberalism like Michael Sandel (1992). Recent republican political thought has moved beyond any strong association with the communitarian critique and has defined a rich historical and contemporary republican tradition of different strands of thought. Drawing on this rich republican tradition theorists such as Quentin Skinner (1990), Richard Dagger (1997, 2004, 2006), Philip Pettit (1997 amd 2012), Iseult Honohan (2002), John Maynor (2008), Cécile Laborde (2013), and Maynor and Laborde (2008), have in various measures endorsed republicanism as providing – in contrast to liberalism – more scope for such values as political participation and self-government, civic virtue, community and the common good(s), and/or freedom from domination by powerful economic, social, and political interests. In advancing civic responsibility, freedom as non-domination, and long-term political stability, civic republicanism, especially in combination with environmentalism, may offer a powerful corrective to the corrosive individualism, predatory capitalism, dangerous techno-utopianism, corrupt authoritarianism, and anti-ecological despoliation that characterise our time. Moreover, at a time when global environmental policy-making is challenged by the right wing populist backlash, republicanism might offer an avenue for a more locally-grounded, democratic approach to problems like climate change. Relation to existing research The field of environmental political theory has exploded since the 1990s. Much of the work in environmental political theory of late has been concerned with responses to the Anthropocene (Schlosberg 2016; Purdy 2015); critiques of exclusionary or Western-centric aspects of the environmental movement (Kassiola 2014); critiques of globalisation and ecological modernisation (Barry 2007); engagements with liberalism (Wissenberg 2006; Stephens 2016), critical theory (Biro 2011), and capabilities theory (Schlosberg 2007; Holland 2014); the environmental justice movement (Schlosberg 2007; Martínez Alier 2016); climate justice (Vanderheiden 2008); the politics of food (Lyson 2004); animal studies (Young 2008); the concept of place (Cannavò 2007); the theorizing of everyday practices (Meyer 2015); the contestation of boundaries between humans, animals, and machines (i.e. postmodernist studies and neo-materialisms) (Bennett 2010; Coole and Frost 2010); and the contested character of ‘nature’ or the obsolescence of the concept itself (Vogel 2015). These are enormously important lines of inquiry and they also represent a maturation and diversification of environmental political theory. However, there has been relatively little scholarship on the intersection of the green and republican traditions, which is very surprising given the rich theoretical and political possibilities here. In terms of existing scholarship, John Barry (2007, 2008, and 2012) has applied republican themes of mutual interdependence and vulnerability, virtuous political economy, non-domination, and long-term political sustainability to a critique of contemporary capitalism and a call for a green republicanism. Thad Williamson (2010) has articulated a civic republican critique of suburban sprawl. Peter Cannavò (2012a, 2012b) has traced the historical and conceptual connections between republicanism and environmentalism in the United States. Richard Dagger (1997) has connected republicanism to the politics of place. Pettit, in his larger work on republican theory, has conceptualised environmental degradation as an example of the sort of political domination that republicanism opposes. In a similar vein Iseult Honohan (2002) has also provided civic republic defences of the environment as a ‘common good.’ Finally, Patrick Curry (2000) has related republicanism to conceptions of ecological community. A workshop on republicanism and environmentalism could jump-start scholarship on this topic. It is our hope that the workshop will yield an edited volume or a special edition of a journal like Environmental Politics. References Barry, J., & Eckersley, R. (2005). The State and the Global Ecological Crisis. MIT Press. Barry, J. (1999). Rethinking Green Politics. Sage. Barry, J. (2007). ‘Towards a Model of Green Political Economy: From Ecological Modernisation to Economic Security.’ In: International Journal of Green Economics 3 (1), 446-464 Barry, J. (2008). ‘Towards a Green Republicanism.’ The Good Society 17(2), 1-12. Barry, J. (2012). The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability. Oxford University Press. Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press. Biro, A. (2011). Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises. University of Toronto Press. Cannavò, P. F. (2007). The Working Landscape: Founding, Preservation, and the Politics of Place. MIT Press. Cannavò, P. F. (2012a). ‘The Half-Cultivated Citizen.’ Environmental Values 21(2), 101-24. Cannavò, P. F. (2012b). ‘Ecological citizenship, Time, and Corruption.’ Environmental Politics 21(6), 864-881. Cannavò, P. F. (2016). ‘Environmental political theory and republicanism.’ In T. Gabrielson, C. Hall, J. M. Meyer & D. Schlosberg (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory (pp. 72-88). Oxford University Press. Curry, P. (2000). ‘Redefining Community.’ Biodiversity and Conservation 9(8), 1059-1071. Dagger, R. (1997). Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism. Oxford University Press. Dagger, R. (2004). ‘Communitarianism and Republicanism.’ In G. F. Gaus & C. Kukathas (Eds.), Handbook of Political Theory (pp. 167-179). Sage Publications. Dagger, R. (2006). ‘Neo-republicanism and the Civic Economy. Politics, Philosophy & Economics 5(2), 151-173. Eckersley, R. (2006). ‘Communitarianism.’ In A. Dobson & R. Eckersley (Eds.), Political theory and the Ecological Ehallenge. Cambridge University Press. Holland, B. (2014). Allocating the Earth: A Distributional Framework for Protecting Capabilities in Environmental Law and Policy. Oxford University Press. Honohan, I., & Jennings, J. (Eds.). (2006). Republicanism in Theory and Practice. Routledge. Honohan, I. (2002). Civic Republicanism. Routledge. Kassiola, J.J. 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