(Padova, 1/10/98)

Sustainable development and the inclusive democracy approach






The object of this paper is to critically assess the various theoretical approaches to sustainable development and in particular the ‘pure’ ecological approaches, (i.e. the sustainable development approach, the deep ecology approach and the ‘appropriate development’ approach) and to contrast them with the inclusive democracy approach. In the process, the proposals of the Right and the ‘civil societarian’ Left with  will also be examined and assessed.



The object of my lecture today is to discuss the various theoretical approaches to sustainable development and in particular what we may call the ‘pure’ ecological approaches and to contrast them with the inclusive democracy approach. In the process, I would also examine the proposals of the Right and the ‘civil societarian’ Left with  respect to the ecological crisis.

There is no doubt today that a major dimension of the present multidimensional crisis, which extends to the economic, political, cultural and general social level, is the ecological crisis, namely the crisis which concerns not the relations between social individuals, as the other dimensions of the crisis, but  our interaction, as social individuals, with the environment. The upsetting of ecological systems, the widespread pollution, the threat to renewable resources, as well as the world running out of non-renewable resources and, in general, the rapid downgrading of the environment and the quality of life have made the ecological implications of  economic growth manifestly apparent in the past 30 years. It was, also,  during the same period that what we may call the Growth economy flourished. And by growth economy I mean the system of economic organisation which is geared-- either ‘objectively’ (as in the case of the capitalist market economy) or deliberately (as in the case of the now defunct ‘actually existing socialism’)-- toward maximising economic growth.

The realisation of the ecological implications of the growth economy has led, particularly in the last quarter of the century, to the development of various ‘ecological’ approaches. I am not going to deal here with the differences between environmentalism and ecologism[1]  and, generally, the controversies among green thinkers about what constitutes “ecological” thought. As far as I am concerned, any approach dealing with the environmental implications of the growth component of the market economy can be classified under what we may call the ‘ecological paradigm’.

One way of classifying the ecological approaches is by distinguishing between ecocentric approaches, i.e approaches which see humans as ‘part of the web of life’ (e.g. the Deep Ecology approach) and anthropocentric approaches, i.e. those which see humans ‘on top of life’ (e.g. eco-socialism). I see this way of classifying ecological approaches as problematic given the interrelationships between the two types of approaches, for instance, in social ecology.

I would therefore prefer to classify the ecological approaches on the basis of whether they explicitly attempt or not a synthesis between, on the one hand, an analysis of the ecological implications of growth and on the other of the classical traditions which dealt with the marketization element of the market economy, i.e. liberalism and socialism.

We may therefore classify under the ‘synthesis approaches’ label the following ecological approaches:

  • the liberal environmentalism[2], approach which is in fact a synthesis of liberal economic theory and environmental analysis,

  • eco-socialism[3], which emphasises the significance of production relations and production conditions in the analysis of environmental problems and as such represents a synthesis (usually) of Marxist economic theory and environmental analysis and

  • social ecology[4],  which sees the causes of the present ecological crisis in terms of the hierarchical structures of domination and exploitation in capitalist society and as such represents an explicit attempt for a synthesis of libertarian socialism or anarchism with environmental analysis.

As regards the other approaches which do not aim, at least explicitly to a synthesis with other traditions, what we may call the ‘pure’ ecological approaches, the case par excellence is of course the ‘deep ecology’ approach which focuses almost exclusively on the ecological implications of the growth economy. However, the ‘appropriate development’ and ‘sustainable development’ approaches, may also be classified in this category.  

I will attempt first to assess briefly the ‘pure’ ecological approaches, I would then continue with the proposals to deal with the crisis which come from the political Right and the Left and I will finish with a new approach, the Inclusive Democracy approach.


The sustainable development approach

The `sustainable development' approach, which was promoted by the Brundtland Report,[5] and embraced by the Green realos all over the world, aims at achieving sustainable development, which is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.[6]

The Report is founded on  three fundamental principles, according to which :

a)  economic growth is the key to social justice, since it can eliminate poverty[7]

b)  Growth is the key to environmental protection, mainly, because the elimination of poverty  would eliminate a crucial eco-destructive factor[8] and

c)   Growth “could be environmentally sustainable, if industrialised nations can continue the recent shifts in the content of their growth towards less material and energy-intensive activities and the improvement of their efficiency in using materials and energy”.[9]

The first point could be easily criticised since there are two main ways in which economic growth may reduce poverty: either through the trickle-down effect (as neoliberals argue) and/or through some kind of redistributive government action (as socialdemocrats hold). As regards the trickle-down effect it is enough to look at  the 1998 UN Human Development Report[10] to see how effective it is in reducing poverty. According to this report, today, 20% of the world population account for 86% of global consumption whereas 225 rich people have a combined wealth equal to the annual income of 2.5 billion people (i.e. almost half the world population). Furthermore, among the 4.4 billion people living in the so-called developing countries, 60% live in communities without basic sanitation and almost one-third were without safe drinking water. As a result, almost a querter of the world population live in absolute poverty today, half of them with a life expectancy of  40,[11]. Also, as regards redistributive government action in favor of the underclass, one may express serious doubts about the effectiveness of such action today, within the framework of the neoliberal internationalised market economyxe "internationalised market economy" , which is taken for granted by the Report. In fact, as all evidence shows, if any redistribution of income takes place in this framework it is against the underclass, not in favour of it! In the UK for example while the large majority of the working population are better off in real terms than 20 years ago, the poorest 10 percent have seen their real incomes decline . Also, in the US, 60 per cent of income gains over the period from 1980 to 1990 went to the top 1 percent of the population, while the real income of the poorest 25 percent has remained static for 30 years[12]  

The second point implies  the possibility of a “green capitalism”. But, this assumed possibility ignores the fundamental contradiction that exists between the logic and dynamic of the growth economy, on the one hand, and the attempt to condition this dynamic with qualitative criteria on the other. Thus, the contradiction that emerged in the past, when an attempt was made by both actually existing socialism in the East and social democracy in the West to introduce socialist criteria (equity and social justice) in the growth process , is certain to emerge again at present, if a similar attempt is made to introduce ecological criteria (e.g. sustainability and enhancement of the resource base) into the same process.

Finally, as regards the last point, although one would agree that some gains have been made in pollution control and the efficient use of energy and resources, still, there is no sign that the ecological problems have become, as a result, less serious or threatening. Instead, the opposite seems to be the case with respect to all major ecological problems, that is, the Greenhouse effect, acid rain, salinity, ozone depletion, forest loss, desertification, soil loss and so on.[13] Thus, despite the efforts of "eco-realists"[14] to give a rosy picture of the growth economy, it cannot be denied that carbon dioxide concentrations (the main contributor to the greenhouse effect) which have remained almost stable for the entire millennium up to the emergence of the market economy, have since then taken off, increasing by almost 30 percent.[15] As a result, in the period since the beginning of this century, a long-term trend of warming in the lowest layer of the atmosphere can be established[16] and all the recent evidence points to a significant rise in temperatures in the last decade or so[17]. Also, the fact cannot be denied that half of the world's tropical forests, home to a third of the world's plants and animals, have disappeared in this century alone and that recently this process accelerated. Thus, in the last decade (1980-90) the annual rate of falling of tropical forests rose by 36 per cent and today, a forest area approximately the size of Austria disappears every year![18] Finally, no one can deny the fact that, as a result of intensive farming--another direct result of the emergence of the growth economy-- and its effects on agro-ecosystems, animal rearing etc, the natural world, including human health, is seriously damaged. One may therefore conclude that the fact that this approach ignores the phenomenon of the concentration of power, as a fundamental consequence and also a precondition of growth, is not irrelevant to the essential solutions proposed by it: more growth, more effort and better policies, laws and institutions, as well as increasing efficiency of energy and resource use. It is therefore obvious that the real aim of this approach is not to propose ways to achieve sustainable development but, instead, ways to create an “eco-friendly” market/growth economy, which is an obvious contradiction in terms.


The deep ecology approach

To come now to the deep ecology approach, supporters of the sustainable development approach are not the only ones who see the way out of the ecological crisis in contradictory terms, that is, in terms of a growth economy subject to qualitative prescriptions of sustainability. Deep ecologists fall into a similar trap. Deep ecology attributes equality to all forms of life ('biocentric equality') and suggests that relations with the natural world will have to change first, in order to change social relations, and not vice versa. Thus,  supporters of this approach argue that the ultimate cause of the ecological crisis should be found in the historical identification, since the Enlightenment, of progress with economic growth. Consequently, the way out of the crisis is to abandon notions of progress so that the present growth economy can be replaced by a “steady-state economy” or even a “declining-state economy[19]. Similarly, others see sustainable development in terms of “a development path towards a stable state”, which necessitates a “stable population”[20] —a clear indication that the deep ecology approach adopts fully the overpopulation myth .

It is obvious that deep ecology sees the causes of the ecological crisis as the direct outcome of an anthropocentric approach to the natural world, which sees human values as the source of all value and aims at the  use of nature as an instrument in the satisfaction of human wants. It is, also, clear that the deep ecology approach considers the present non-sustainable development as a cultural rather than as an institutional issue, as a matter of values rather than as the inevitable outcome of the rise of the market economy, with its grow-or-die dynamic, which has led to the present growth economy.

However, it would be hardly justifiable to blame anthropocentrism for the present global ecological damage. Anthropocentrism, after all, was around—especially in the West—long before the process of massive ecological destruction started about two centuries ago. One could therefore argue that it is not anthropocentrism as such that has led to the present crisis but the fact that the market economy and the subsequent growth economy had to be founded on an ideology that justified the human domination of nature en masse. If this is so, then, the way out of the ecological crisis is not just a matter of changing our values to put nature on an equal footing with treasured human values. No one could seriously expect that a new culture involving a non-domineering approach towards nature could have a chance of appealing to the vast majority of the Earth’s population who are faced with the dilemma of jobs versus the  environment. It is therefore obvious that the dilemma “growth economy” versus “a steady-state economy” is a false one and is usually put by people who do not face, as a result of their social position, the above genuine dilemma about jobs.

Furthermore, changing our values with respect to our relationship to nature will not, by itself, force the market economy or the state to wither away. It is therefore naive to suggest, as deep ecologists do, that “if everyone consumed significantly less, the world market economy would probably collapse.”[21] It does not require a deep historical knowledge or knowledge of economics to realise that a decline in sales, far from leading to a collapse of the market economy, may simply induce a slump leading to  even more massive unemployment at the economic level,  which might easily be accompanied by the rise of totalitarian regimes at the political level (perhaps of the eco-fascist variety this time).

Finally, it is not the industrial society itself or technology as such that  should  be blamed for the present ecological crisis, as deep ecologists usually assert. Technology has never been 'neutral' with respect to the logic and the dynamics of the market economy. Still, environmentalists, like for instance the Greenpeace, as well as social democrats and some Marxists explicitly, or usually implicitly, assume that technology is socially neutral and  that we only have to use it for the right purposes in order to solve not just the ecological problem but the social problem in general. It is obvious that this approach ignores the social institutioning of science  and tecnology and the fact that the design and particularly the implementation of new techniques is directly related to the social organisation in general and the organisation of production in particular.[22]  In a market economy, as in any society, technology embodies concrete relations of production, its hierarchical organisation and, of course, its primary aim which, in the case of a market economy, refers to the maximisation of economic growth and efficiency (defined on the basis of narrow techno-economic criteria) for profit purposes. So, technology is always designed, or at least those designs are adopted, which best serve the objectives of the market/growth economy.

Similarly, it is not industrialism in general that created the present eco-damaging form of economic organisation but the specific type of industrial society that developed in the last two centuries in the framework of the market/growth economy. Therefore, the ultimate causes of the ecological crisis are the market economy and its offspring, the growth economy and not its symptoms, namely, the present type of technology and industrial society.


The ‘appropriate development’ approach

This approach, although it starts from a valid critique of the market/growth economy, ends up with conclusions which are not much different from those of deep ecologists. The central argument of this approach as summarised  by its main exponent[23] is that although there has been a great deal of development, the trouble is that it has been highly inappropriate development because market forces have a powerful tendency to produce inappropriate development. It has been development in the interests of the rich—the Third World upper classes, the transnational corporations, and the rich countries.

The type of ‘appropriate’ development suggested by this approach implies the creation of a ‘conserver’ society that would involve “non-affluent lifestyles, high levels of local self-sufficiency and co-operation, smallness of scale, decentralisation and a zero growth.”[24] However, this approach, by  not placing power relations at the centre of the analysis, ends up with a "Third way" beyond capitalism and socialism, which involves a-historical and utopian proposals, like the proposal to regulate the market with the aim of reversing the present concentration of economic power.[25] Clearly, such a proposal is a-historical, because it does not see that the present de-regulation "mania" (as this approach calls the neoliberal policies implemented today)  is, in fact, part and parcel of the current phase of the "marketization" process, i.e. of the internationalised phase of the market economy. It is also utopian, because it ignores the grow-or-die dynamic of the market economy.

So, this approach derives  identical solutions to those of deep ecology, i.e. that capitalism will die if enough people change their values and life-styles.[26] And this is not surprising, in view of the fact that both this approach and the deep ecology approach, cannot see that the dominant social values which determine mass consciousness cannot change until the present political and economic structures change. One may therefore argue that what is needed is the development of a strong poilitical and social movement that explicitly aims at replacing the present oligarchic political and economic structures, created by liberal democracy and the market economy respectively, with institutions of political and economic democracy. It is only within a process of establishing such democratic structures that one could seriously hope that the present cultural values of dominating nature, which emerged as a by-product of the concentration of power generated by the growth economy, will wither away.


The ecological crisis and the political spectrum

But, let’s see now, in general terms, how the political spectrum reacts to the ecological crisis. It is not of course surprising, in terms of what I already said, that the proposals made by both ends of the political spectrum, despite appearances, do not in effect  differ significantly between them, as both the Right and the Left take for granted the existing institutional framework of the market economy and liberal democracy. But let us consider in more detail the relevant proposals and counterpose them to the requirements of a new liberatory approach.


The Right's proposal: further liberalisation

On the part of the Right, the New Right's[27] solution to overcoming the present multi-dimensional crisis is further marketization, i.e. leaving further freedom to the market forces and minimising the social controls on the market which aim at protecting labour or the environment. But, if we consider the possible effects of further marketizing the economy, it becomes obvious that none of the aspects of the multidimensional crisis is amenable to market solutions. Therefore, the Right’s proposals for freeing completely the market forces, privatisation and a minimal state amount to nothing less than the rational organisation of inequality.

As regards the ecological  crisis in particular, the freeing of markets, which is advocated by the New Right, inevitably leads to a deepening of this  crisis. As the historical experience of the last 200 years has amply shown, when the rise of the market economy and the subsequent growth economy led to the greatest ecological damage in the history of humankind, the market economy had neither any inherent mechanism to avert the ecological damage nor any effective social controls would be compatible with its logic and dynamics.


The Left's proposal: the "civil societarian" approach

On the part of the Left, the way out of the crisis is expressed in terms of the proposal to enhance 'civil society', that is, to strengthen the various networks which are autonomous from state control (unions, churches, civic movements, cooperatives, neighbourhoods, schools of thought etc.). This tendency originated in the ex-Second World, where, as a reaction to the Third International's ideology, a series of anti-bureaucratic movements flourished in the past decade—from Polish Solidarity to movements for a 'communism wit h a human face'. Later, thanks to the theoretical work of modern social democrats of the Habermas School,[28] this new tendency spread to the First World and today exerts considerable influence among social democrats, eco-socialists and others.

The civil societarians’ way out of the multidimensional crisis seems to be radically different from the one proposed by the Right. Instead of further marketization, they argue for limits (i.e. social controls) to be imposed on markets and the state by the civil society networks. Thus, Michael Walzer[29], a prominent civil societarian, argues that since the market makes for inequality it should be politically constrained by civil society, through the setting of various limits on its unequal outcomes.[30] This is why instead of privatizations this approach proposes a kind of ‘market pluralism’  which  encompasses a variety of market agents: family businesses, publicly owned or municipal companies, worker communes, consumer cooperatives, nonprofit organisations of many different sorts”.[31] But, as civil societarians rightly conclude, civil society left to itself, generates unequal power relationships which only state power can challenge and therefore only a democratic state can create a democratic civil society[32].  

It is therefore obvious that the civil societarian approach involves a high degree of statism. In this sense, it implicitly assumes a closed market economy. It is not therefore surprising that there are very few versions of the civil societarian approach which explictly assume the present degree of internationalisation of the market economy. Such an internationalist version of the civil societarian approach (apart from David Held’s[33] ‘cosmopolitan model of democracy’) is the very recent study by Hirst and Thompson[34] which attempts to minimise the significance of internationalisation. However,  the only limits on the internationalised market economyxe "internationalised market economy" that this approach views as feasible are various ‘regulatory controls’ which, of course, have very little in common with the sweeping social controls that social societarians have in mind when they discuss, abstracting from the present internationalised market economy, the limits that civil society networks should impose on markets (drastic reduction of inequalities, massive creation of jobs etc.).

It is therefore clear that the civil societarians, who castigate radical socialists and supporters of the democratic project as utopians, are in fact much less realistic than them when they suggest  that the clock could be moved back to the period of statism, i.e. to a period when the market economy was characterised by a significantly smaller degree of internationalisation than at present. So, the civil societarian approach is both utopian, in the negative sense of the word, and a-historical.

It is utopian, especially today, because, in effect, it is in tension with both the state and the internationalised market economyxe "internationalised market economy" . As regards the tension with the state, neoliberalism has shown how easy it is for the state to undermine effectively the institutions of the civil society (see, for instance, the serious damage done to trade unionism in Britain by Thatcherism). Also, as regards the tension with the internationalised market economy it is clear that every attempt by autonomous institutions (for example, labour unions, ecological movements, etcetera) for an effective control of the market—in order to achieve social, ecological and other aims—is in dire contradiction with the logic and dynamics of the internationalised economy. Inevitably, any attempt to introduce similar controls will lead to the adoption of insignificant half-measures, which have to be compatible with the institutional framework (see eg. the fiasco of Rio's and Tokyo’s`Earth' Conferences with respect to the greenhouse effect).

Also, the civil societarian approach is fundamentally a-historical, since it ignores the structural changes which have led to the present neoliberal consensus and the internationalised market economyxe "internationalised market economy" . In other words, it ignores the fact that the tendency to minimise social controls on the market, which today is dominant everywhere, is not simply a matter of policy: it reflects fundamental changes in the form of the market economy which implies that every attempt towards an effective social control of the market necessarily comes into conflict with the requirements, in terms of competitiveness, for the reproduction of today's growth economy.

In conclusion, the development of civil society institutions has no chance whatsoever of either putting an end to the concentration of power, or of transcending the present multidimensional crisis. This conclusion may be derived from the fact that the ultimate aim of civil societarians is to improve the functioning of existing institutions (state, parties, market), in order to make them more responsive to pressures from below when, in fact, the crisis is founded on the institutions themselves and not on their malfunctioning! In other words, in the present internationalised market economyxe "internationalised market economy" , the need to minimise the socio-economic role of the state is no longer a matter of choice for those controlling production. It is a necessary condition for survival. This is particularly so for European capital that has to compete with capital blocks which operate from bases where the social-democratic tradition of statism was never strong (the United States, the Far East). But, even at the planetary level, one could seriously doubt whether it is still possible to enhance the institutions of civil society within the context of the market economy. Granted that the fundamental aims of production in a market economy are individual gain, economic efficiency and growth, any attempt to reconcile these aims with an effective `social control' by the civil society is bound to fail since, as historic experience with the statist phase has shown, social control and market efficiency are irreconcilable objectives[35]. By the same token, one could reasonably argue that the central contradiction of the market economy today is the one arising from the fact that any effective control of the ecological implications of growth is incompatible with the requirements of competitiveness, which the present phase of the marketization process imposes.


The inclusive democracy approach

The Inclusive Democracy approach which is promoted by the journal Democracy and Nature starts from the fundamental point that the ultimate cause of the present crisis at the ecological level, but also at the economic, the political and the broader social levels, is not, as it is usually asserted, the industrial revolution, or technology, overpopulation, productivism, consumerism, etc. For the Inclusive Democracy approach, all these alleged causes are in fact the symptoms of a much more serious disease which is called ‘concentration of power’. It is therefore today’s concentration of economic and political power, the former as a result of the rise of the market economy and the subsequent growth economy, and the latter as a result of the parallel rise of the present liberal oligarchy (to use the late Castoriadis’ characterisation of what passes as democracy today), which is the ultimate cause of the present crisis). A clear example of the importance of concentration of economic power with respect to the ecological crisis is the fact that the poorest one-fifth of the world today are responsible for just 3% of carbon dioxide levels, whereas the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions originate in advanced capitalist countries.[36]

The second main point of the ID approach, which is an obvious implication of the first point, is that, assuming that  the explanation of the crisis in terms of the concentration of power is valid, then, the project for an inclusive democracy, which involves the equal distribution of economic, political and social power, is not just a utopia but the only way out of the present crisis. This means that all current attempts to tackle the ecological crisis which do not involve a serious effort to attack the present huge concentration of economic and political power are doomed to failure.

In a nutshell, my argument is that the present concentration of economic power is the inevitable outcome of a process which started about two hundred years ago with the rise of the system of the market economy. It was the rise of this system which has led, through different processes and for different reasons, to the two types of the growth economy, i.e. the now defunct ‘socialist’ version of it (what used to be called ‘actually existing socialism’) and the presently universal capitalist growth economy. As we all know both versions of the growth economy have been responsible for  the greatest damage to the environment in the entire History and according to my thesis it is the concentration of power (intrinsic in any kind of growth economy) which is the ultimate cause of the ecological crisis, as part of a multi-dimensional crisis.

Of course, concentration of economic power does not constitute a new phenomenon. In all hierarchical societies, some concentration of wealth has always accompanied the concentration of political and military power in the hands of the various élites—a fact usually `justified’ through a system of social rules based upon religion. The new element in the growth economy is the fact that the reproduction of the social system itself, as well as of the power of the élite controlling it, crucially depends on the realisation of the growth objective  which, in turn, is `justified’ through its identification with Progress. So, economic growth functions not just as a fundamental social and economic goal, but also as a basic means to reproduce the structures of unequal distribution of economic and political power which characterise  the modern hierarchical society, as well as a central element of the  ideology that supports it.

However, the fact that the modern hierarchical society relies for its reproduction on the maximisation of economic growth constitutes, also, its fundamental contradiction. This is not because, as it is usually argued, the continuation of the growth economy has serious environmental implications, but, because the necessary condition for the reproduction of the growth economy is the concentration of its benefits to a small section of the world population, in other words, the huge inequality in the distribution of world income. This is on two counts:

  • first, it is simply not physically possible for the wasteful consumption standards, which are today enjoyed by the “two-third societies”  in the North and the élites in the South, to be universalised and enjoyed by the world population. To simply universalise the North’s standard of living now, global industrial production would need to rise 130 times”.[37] In this sense, one may argue that the present rapid growth rate in countries like China, whose GDP rose by an average rate of 11 percent in 1980-95,[38] is physically sustainable only if the parallel huge increase in inequality continues .

  • second, a universalised growth economy is not environmentally sustainable, at the present state of technological knowledge and cost of “environmentally-friendly” technologies. In other words, the universalisation of such technologies would not be possible, given their cost and the concentration of world income. Furthermore, it is at least doubtful whether after the universalisation of such technologies their beneficial impact on the environment will remain the same.

So, concentration  and ecological disintegration do not simply constitute consequences of the establishment of the growth economy, but also fundamental pre-conditions for its reproduction. Contrary to the under-consumptionist ‘civil societarians’ who hope that the elites of the Triad, facing the threat of an inadequate demand because of growing inequality, will be induced to introduce a world mixed economy,[39] in fact, the opposite is the case. The growth economy in the North not only is not threatened by the growing inequality of the present internationalised market economy XE "internationalised market economy" , but, instead, depends on it. Thus, just as the production of the growth economy is not possible without the  plundering of nature, its physical reproduction is equally impossible without the further concentration of economic power.

In conclusion, it is obvious that the present concentration of economic, political and social power in the hands of the elites which control the growth economy is not simply a cultural phenomenon related to  the values established by the industrial revolution, as significant currents within the ecological movement naively believe. Therefore, the realisation of ecological balance is not just a matter of changes in value-systems (abandonment of the growth logic, consumerism etc.) which would then lead to an eco-friendly way of living. In fact, the concentration of power constitutes the inevitable outcome of a historical process  that started with the establishment of hierarchical social structures  and the implied ideology of domination of human over human and nature[40] and which culminated in the last two centuries with the development of the market economy and its by-product the growth economy.

In other words, the market/growth economy and the concentration of economic power are opposite sides of the same coin. This means that neither the  concentration of economic power nor the ecological implications of the growth economy are avoidable within the present institutional framework of the internationalised market/growth economy. But--and here is the contradiction--the increase in the concentration of economic power inevitably leads to the realisation that Progress, in the sense of improvements in welfare through growth, has a necessarily non-universal character. Therefore, the moment of truth for the present social system will come when it will be universally acknowledged that the very existence of the present wasteful consumption standards depends on the fact that only a small proportion of the world population, now or in the future, are able to enjoy them.

If now we accept the thesis that I tried to put forward that the cause of the ecological crisis, as part of the present multi-dimensional crisis, is ultimately the concentration of power at all levels that is implied by the present socio-economic framework, the obvious conclusion is that the only way out of the crisis is the creation of the subjective and objective conditions which will lead to a new society. A society which, at the institutional level, will create the necessary conditions for the abolition of concentration of power and, by implication, for the re-integration of nature and society. Such a society is what I  call an inclusive democracy, which I will attempt to summarise briefly here, whereas those interested in a further exploration of the topic and the crisis of the growth economy generally are referred to D&N, the journal of inclusive democracy and my latest book “Towards An Inclusive Democracy“ (Cassell, 1997).

To define inclusive democracy we have to distinguish first between the two main societal realms, the public and the private, to which we may add an "ecological realm", defined as the sphere of the relations between the natural and the social worlds. Contrary to the practice of many supporters of the republican or democratic project, I will include in the public realm not just the political realm, but also the economic realm, as well as what I will call the ‘social realm in a broad sense”. In other words, I will include any area of human activity where decisions can be taken collectively and democratically. To my mind, the extension of the traditional public realm to include the economic, ecological  and ‘social’ realms is an indispensable element of an inclusive democracy. So, we may define the political realm as the sphere of political decision-taking, the area where political power is exercised. The economic realm is defined correspondingly as the sphere of economic decision-taking, the area where economic power is exercised with respect to the broad economic choices that any scarcity society has to make. Finally, the social realm is defined as the sphere of decision-taking in  the workplace, the education place and any other economic or cultural institution which is a constituent element of a democratic society.

Correspondingly, we may distinguish between  four main types of democracy that constitute the fundamental elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic, ecological and ‘democracy in the social realm’. We may then define, briefly, political, economic and democracy in the social realm as the institutional framework that aims at the equal distribution of political, economic and social power respectively, in other words, as the  system which aims at  the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Similarly, we may define ecological democracy as the institutional framework that aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the  system which aims to reintegrate  humans and nature.

Therefore, in this conception of inclusive democracy it is first recognised that  political or direct democracy,  where political power is shared equally among all citizens, is neither feasible nor desirable, unless it is accompanied by economic democracy in the sense of equal distribution of economic power. Political and economic democracy in this sense would represent the re-conquering of the political and economic realms by the public realm, that is, the reconquering of a true social individuality, the creation of the conditions of freedom and self-determination, both at the political and the economic levels.

However, political and economic power are not the only forms of power and therefore political and economic democracy do not, by themselves, secure an inclusive democracy. In other words, an inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless  it extends to the broader social realm to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution which constitutes an element of this realm.

The final question that arises with respect to the conception of an inclusive democracy refers to  the issue of how we may envisage an environmentally-friendly institutional framework that would not serve as the basis of a Nature-dominating ideology. Some critics of inclusive democracy misconceived the issue as if it was about the guarantees that an inclusive democracy might offer in ensuring a better relationship of society to nature than the alternative systems of the market economy, or socialist statism. This is a clear misconception of what democracy is about because, if we see it as a process of social self-institution where there is no divinely or ‘objectively’ defined code of human conduct, such guarantees are by definition ruled out. Therefore, the  replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework of inclusive democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between the natural and social worlds. The sufficient condition refers to the citizens’ level of ecological consciousness and one can only hope that the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that will follow the institution of an inclusive democracy, combined with the decisive role that a well-rounded education in knowledge and skills will play in an environmentally-friendly institutional framework, would lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature.

So, a democratic ecological problematique cannot go beyond defining the institutional preconditions that offer the best hope for a better human relationship to Nature. However, there are strong grounds to believe that the relationship between an inclusive democracy and Nature would be much more harmonious than could ever be achieved in a market economy, or one based on socialist statism. The factors supporting this view refer to all three elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic and social.

Thus, at the political level, there are grounds for believing that the creation of a public space will by itself have a very significant effect in reducing the appeal of materialism. This is because the public space will provide a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates. The realisation of what it means to be human could reasonably be expected to throw us back toward Nature. As it was recently pointed out with reference to the work of  Hannah Arendt “a world in which labour is seen as only one part of a meaningful life will find consumption less tempting”.

Also, at the economic level, it is not accidental that, historically, the process of destroying the environment en masse has coincided with the process of marketization of the economy. In other words, the emergence of the market economy and of the consequent growth economy had crucial repercussions on the society-Nature relationship and led to the rise of the growth ideology as the dominant social paradigm. Thus, an ‘instrumentalist’ view of Nature became dominant, in which Nature was seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power. If we assume that today only a confederal community-based society could secure an inclusive democracy, it would be reasonable to assume further that once the market economy is replaced by a democratically run confederal economy,  the grow-or-die dynamics of the market economy will be replaced by the new social dynamic of the new society: a dynamic aiming at the satisfaction of the community needs and not at growth per se. If the satisfaction of community needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the wants that the market creates, and if the link between society and economy is restored, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature will continue conditioning human behaviour.

Finally, democracy in the broader social realm could also be reasonably expected to be environmentally-friendly. The phasing out of patriarchal relations in the household and hierarchical relations in general should create a new ethos of non-domination which would engulf not only First Nature but Second Nature as well. In other words, the creation of democratic conditions in the social realm should be a decisive step in the creation of the sufficient condition for a harmonious nature-society relationship.

But, apart from these political and economic factors, an ecological factor is involved here, which strongly supports the belief in a harmonious democracy-Nature relationship. That is, the ‘localist’ character of a confederal community-based society might also be expected to enhance its environmentally-friendly character. Small scale communities are more likely to meet the formal conditions required for successful and enduring collective management of the commons. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume—and the evidence about the remarkable success of local communities in safeguarding their environments is overwhelming- that when people rely directly on their natural surroundings for their livelihood, they will develop an intimate knowledge of those surroundings, which will necessarily affect positively their behaviour towards them. However, the precondition for local control of the environment to be successful is that the community depends on its natural surroundings for its long-term livelihood and that it therefore has a direct interest in protecting it—another reason why an ecological society is impossible without economic democracy.

In conclusion, the present day ecological crisis is basically susceptible to two solutions: one solution presupposes radical decentralisation. This is so, because the economic effectiveness of the renewable forms of energy (solar, wind, etc.) depends crucially on the organisation of social and economic life in smaller units. This solution however has already been marginalised by the internationalised market economy, precisely because it is not compatible with today's concentration of economic, political and social power. This is why the alternative solutions which are being advanced today are solutions which supposedly concentrate many advantages of renewable energy, but without necessitating any radical changes in the market/growth economy.

So,  what I would like to stress is that the project for an inclusive democracy is not just a utopia,  in the negative sense of the word. A social project is not a utopia if it is based on today's reality. And today's reality is summed up by an unprecedented crisis of the `growth economy',  a crisis which engulfs all societal realms (political, economic, social, cultural) as well as the Society-Nature relationship. Furthermore, a social project is not a utopia, if it expresses the discontent of significant social sectors and their, explicit or implicit, contesting of existing society. Today, the main political, economic and social institutions on which the present concentration of power is founded are increasingly contested. Thus, not only basic political institutions are contested in various ways, but also fundamental economic institutions, like private property, are challenged in a massive way (e.g. explosion of crime against property) clearly reflecting the growing discontent with the rising inequality in the distribution of income and wealth-- an inequality, which, within the context of the present consumer society, becomes unbearable.

I think that after the collapse of the state socialist project, democracy may represent the only way out of the multi-dimensional crisis. But democracy does not mean the various oligarchic regimes in the North that call themselves today democratic, let alone the despotic regimes in the South. It also does not mean an anachronistic return to the classical conception of democracy. Democracy today can only mean a synthesis of the two major historical traditions, namely, the  democratic and the socialist tradition, with the radical green, feminist and libertarian traditions.-




Takis Fotopoulos, editor of Democracy & Nature, The journal of Inclusive Democracy

Research interests: Further development of the Inclusive Democracy project

Publications: Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Cassell, London & New York, 1997 and numerous articles on the subject

Other publications: Dependent Development: The Case of Greece (Athens: Exantas, 1985 and 1987), The Gulf War: The First Battle in the North-South Conflict (Athens: Exantas, 1991), The Neoliberal Consensus and the Crisis of the Growth Economy (Athens: Gordios, 1993) and The New World Order and Greece (Athens: Kastaniotis Press, 1997)



[1] For a discussion of such matters, see, for instance, Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought (London: Routledge, 1990 & 1995).

[2]  For an example of liberal neoclassical economics being used in the analysis of environmental problems, see Michael Common, Environmental and Resource Economics (London: Longman, 1988).

[3] For a useful description of eco-socialism and its differences from eco-anarchism and other green tendencies, see David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 1993), and Modern Environmentalism (London: Routledge, 1996).

[4] See the works of Murray Bookchinxe "Bookchin" , for instance, Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1989), The Philosophy of Social Ecology (Montreal: Black Rose, 1995), From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (London: Cassell, 1995).

[5] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (United Nations, 1987).

[6] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, p. 87.

[7] The Report, for instance,  states that the aim should be “an economy geared to growth and the elimination of world poverty”; World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, p. 18. Similarly, it is stated that sustainable development “requires...an assurance that those poor get their fair share of the resources”; p. 8.

[8] The Report calls for economic growth and at the same time it takes for granted that this is compatible with the aim to “enhance” and “expand the environmental resource base”; World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, pp. 1 & 364.

[9] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, p. 51. [10] UN, Human Development Report 1998

[11] UN, Human Development Report 1997, Tables 2.1 & 2.2

[12] Anthony Giddens, The Observer 13/9/98 (extract from The Third Way:The Renewal of Social Democracy, Polity Press, 1998).

[13] Ted Trainer, “A Rejection of the Brundtland Report,” p. 74.

[14] See, for instance, Greg Easterbrook, A Moment of the Earth (New York, 1995).[15] Carbon dioxide concentrations, measured in parts per million by volume (taken from ice-core samples) were at the level of about 280 for the period 1,000-1,750 but at the end of the millenium have reached the level of 361 (1996); Paul Brown, The Guardian (13 July 1996).  

[16] john Gribbin, "Climate and Ozone", The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 3 (May/June 1991).

[17] See, for instance, Guardian/Greenpeace, "A Report into the Environmental Forces Shaping Our Future", The Guardian (2 June 1994).

[18] Polly Ghazi, The Observer, (11 April 1993).

[19] See, for instance, John M.Gowdy, “Progress and Environmental Sustainability,” Environmental Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring 1994).

[20] Richard Douthwaite, The Growth Illusion, (Devon: Resurgence, 1992) Chapt. 15.

[21] John M. Gowdy, “Progress and Environmental Sustainability,” p. 52.

[22] For a critique of the neutrality of the technology thesis,see Takis Fotopoulos, “Towards a democratic conception of science and technology” Democracy & Nature, vol 4 no 1 (10) August 1998, pp. 54-86. See, also, Cornelius Castoriadisxe "Castoriadis" , Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 192 and Frances Stewart's study which shows that the way in which technological choices are made in practice is anything but `neutral'; Frances Stewart, Technology and Underdevelopment (London: Macmillan, 1978), Chap. 1.

[23] Ted Trainer, Developed to Death (London: Greenprint, 1989), p. 3.

[24] Ted Trainer, The Conserver Society (London: Zed Books, 1995), p. 9.

[25] See Ted Trainer, “What Is Development?”, Society and Nature, Vol.3 no 1 (1995), pp. 26-56.

[26] Ted Trainer, The Conserver Society, p. 220.

[27] See, e.g., Henri Lepage, Tomorrow, Capitalism, The Economics of Economic Freedom (London: Open Court, 1982); Nick Bousanquet, After the New Right (London: Heinemann, 1983), Mark Hayes, The New Right in Britain (London: Pluto Press, 1994).

[28] See  John Ely, “Libertarian Ecology and Civil Society”; and Konstantinos Kavoulakos, “The Relationship of Realism and Utopianism: The Theories of Democracy of Habermas and Castoriadisxe "Castoriadis" ,” Society and Nature, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1994).

[29]  Michael Walzer, “The Civil Society Argument” in Dimensions of Radical Democracy, Chantal Mouffe, ed. (London: Verso, 1995 & 1992), pp. 89-107.

[30] Michael Walzer, “The Civil Society Argument”, p. 100.

[31] Michael Walzer, “The Civil Society Argument”, p. 100.

[32] Michael Walzer, “The Civil Society Argument”, p. 104.

[33] David Held, “Democracy: From City-States to a Cosmopolitan Order?” in Prospects for Democracy, pp. 13-52. See, also, Held’s  latest book Democracy and the Global Order, (Cambridge, Polity, 1995) , where the proposal for a cosmopolitan model of democracy is further expanded.

[34] Paul Hirst & Grahame Thompson, Globalization in Question (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996).

[35] See also, M. Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1988).

[36] UN, Human Development Report 1998

[37] Michael Carley and Ian Christie, Managing Sustainable Development (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 50.

[38] World Bank, World Development Report 1997, Table 11.

[39] Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, Globalisation in Question, p. 163.

[40] For a comprehensive analysis of this process, see the work of Murray Bookchin XE "Bookchin"  and, in  particular, his works Remaking Society  (Montreal: Black Rose, 1990), The Ecology of Freedom (Montreal: Black Rose, 1991), and From Urbanisation to Cities  London: Cassell, 1992 & 1995).