Engaging Nature

Engaging Nature: Environmentalism and the Political Theory Canon

Peter F. Cannavò
Joseph H. Lane
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Engaging Nature
    Book Description:

    Contemporary environmental political theory considers the implications of the environmental crisis for such political concepts as rights, citizenship, justice, democracy, the state, race, class, and gender. As the field has matured, scholars have begun to explore connections between Green Theory and such canonical political thinkers as Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, and Marx. The essays in this volume put important figures from the political theory canon in dialogue with current environmental political theory. It is the first comprehensive volume to bring the insights of Green Theory to bear in reinterpreting these canonical theorists.Individual essays cover such classical figures in Western thought as Aristotle, Hume, Rousseau, Mill, and Burke, but they also depart from the traditional canon to consider Mary Wollstonecraft, W. E. B. Du Bois, Hannah Arendt, and Confucius. Engaging and accessible, the essays also offer original and innovative interpretations that often challenge standard readings of these thinkers. In examining and explicating how these great thinkers of the past viewed the natural world and our relationship with nature, the essays also illuminate our current environmental predicament.Essays onPlato • Aristotle • Niccolò Machiavelli • Thomas Hobbes • John Locke • David Hume • Jean-Jacques Rousseau • Edmund Burke • Mary Wollstonecraft • John Stuart Mill • Karl Marx • W. E. B. Du Bois • Martin Heidegger • Hannah Arendt • ConfuciusContributorsSheryl D. Breen, W. Scott Cameron, Peter F. Cannavò, Joel Jay Kassiola, Joseph H. Lane Jr. Timothy W. Luke, John M. Meyer, Özgüç Orhan, Barbara K. Seeber, Francisco Seijo, Kimberly K. Smith, Piers H. G. Stephens, Zev Trachtenberg, Andrew Valls, Harlan Wilson

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32526-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    John Barry

    Engaging Nature is a landmark contribution to the overlapping fields of political theory/history of political thought and green/ecological political theory. It is the first publication of its kind. Effectively marking out a new area for both green scholarship and those working within the history of political thought, it clears a scholarly path that others will follow. Outlining distinctively novel readings and interpretations of classical texts and thinkers in the political theory canon, it marks a maturing of the field of green political theory scholarship. It also displays the talent and breadth of scholarship within the community of green political theory....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: How We Got Here
    (pp. 1-28)
    Peter F. Cannavò and Joseph H. Lane Jr.

    Environmental, or green, political theory is a relative newcomer to the field of political thought. Not until the late 1980s did a significant number of political theorists begin considering the fundamental political implications of what is often termed “the environmental crisis”—modern society’s increasingly dangerous impact on the biophysical world, including such problems as climate change, pollution and toxicity, habitat and biodiversity loss, resource exhaustion, ozone depletion, and acid rain—and of humanity’s moral and material relations with the rest of nature. However, theorizing about the political and moral aspects of humanity’s impact on the natural world goes back at...

  6. 1 Plato: Private Property and Agriculture for the Commoners—Humans and the Natural World in The Republic
    (pp. 29-44)
    Sheryl D. Breen

    Whether we are compelled or repelled by Plato’s arguments for the ideal city-state and just rulership, his dialogues have driven a significant portion of political debate since classical Athens. Alfred North Whitehead thus famously claimed that the Western philosophical tradition is simply a “series of footnotes to Plato.”¹ Perhaps more surprisingly, some 2,300 years after his death, Plato’s arguments continue to inform not only scholarship but also daily political debate. As one example, both sides of a 1993 Colorado court case on a state constitutional amendment that excluded gays and lesbians from anti-discrimination protection turned to Plato for legal support.²...

  7. 2 Aristotle: Phusis, Praxis, and the Good
    (pp. 45-64)
    Özgüç Orhan

    Aristotle’s environmental relevance has been challenged on the basis of the charge of anthropocentricism. As Sheryl Breen points out in this volume, Greek philosophy in general and Plato or Aristotle in particular have been held responsible for the modern ecological crisis. Whereas the environmentally problematic aspect of Plato’s philosophy is ontological dualism, in the case of Aristotle it is “anthropocentric teleology.”¹ It has been claimed that the ancient Greek definition of man as a rational animal privileges human beings at the expense of other living beings, and this view, in turn, underlies the anthropocentric bias in the Western tradition.² More...

  8. 3 Niccolò Machiavelli: Rethinking Decentralization’s Role in Green Theory
    (pp. 65-82)
    Francisco Seijo

    Niccolò Machiavelli—an Italian civil servant, political thinker, and playwright—lived in Florence from 1469 to 1527. Though Machiavelli was one of the leading political thinkers of the Italian Renaissance, his thought has not been frequently engaged with or alluded to in recent debates about environmental political theory. Perhaps this is because, like many of the leading intellectual personalities of his time, the former Second Chancellor of the Florentine Republic considered himself a humanist. Humanism, owing to its seemingly unrestrained anthropocentrism, may at first sight appear not to be relevant to present-day thinking on the relationship between politics and nature....

  9. 4 Thomas Hobbes: Relating Nature and Politics
    (pp. 83-98)
    John M. Meyer

    Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is among the most prominent and pivotal political theorists in the Western tradition. The first to develop the notion of the social contract systematically, Hobbes argues for the necessity of a unified sovereign in order to escape the violence that he describes as our “natural condition.” By his own assertion and the concurrence of many interpreters, Hobbes is among the firstmodernpolitical theorists, distinguished from the ancients and scholastics by (among other things) his emphasis upon agreement as the basis for political legitimacy, freedom as nothing more than the absence of “external impediments to motion,”...

  10. 5 John Locke: “This Habitable Earth of Ours”
    (pp. 99-116)
    Zev Trachtenberg

    Their many differences notwithstanding, environmentalists and their opponents can agree that no thinker has had a greater influence on the way we treat nature than John Locke. Environmentalists see in Locke’s theory of property the justification for private appropriation of natural resources, and in his theory of government the justification for political efforts to limit state regulation of environmentally damaging activities. And indeed, defenders of property rights and opponents of environmental regulation frequently appeal to Locke in just these ways to support their positions.

    In this chapter, therefore, I will take up Locke’s account of property and the state, both...

  11. 6 David Hume: Justice and the Environment
    (pp. 117-132)
    Andrew Valls

    It is sometimes claimed that liberal political theory stands in tension with or is even incompatible with environmentalism. For example, Andrew Dobson suggests that “liberalism and ecologism finally part company” because ecologism raises deep questions about “the good life” that liberalism seeks to bracket and leave to individuals’ private determination.¹ Yet, as Zev Trachtenberg and Piers Stephens show in their respective chapters on Locke and Mill in this volume, matters are not so clear. Trachtenberg argues that even John Locke, the great theorist of natural property rights, can be read in an environmentally friendly way, though Trachtenberg admits that his...

  12. 7 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Disentangling of Green Paradoxes
    (pp. 133-152)
    Joseph H. Lane Jr.

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a major political thinker of the European Enlightenment, even though (or perhaps because) he was, in Mark Hulliung’s phrase, the first great “autocritic” of that Enlightenment.¹ He was born in Geneva in 1712. After many years as an itinerant music teacher, composer, and scribbler lurking on the fringes of French literary circles, he emerged as a major intellectual figure with the publication ofDiscourse on the Arts and Sciences(commonly called theFirst Discourse), which won the prestigious contest of the Academy of Dijon in 1751. That work was quickly followed by theDiscourse on the Origins...

  13. 8 Edmund Burke: The Nature of Politics
    (pp. 153-172)
    Harlan Wilson

    The thought of Edmund Burke (1729–1797) provides a distinctive way of looking at the relationship between nature and politics and, by extension, at environmental issues today. This is the case even though Burke can hardly be considered an “environmentalist” or even a thinker for whom the relations between humans and nonhuman nature were of paramount importance.

    One way to approach Burke’s thought is to consider his explicit utterances about the relations between humans and nonhuman “nature,” or, more generally, to ask what his conceptions of “nature” look like and how they inform human affairs. Another way, more abstract, is...

  14. 9 Mary Wollstonecraft: “Systemiz[ing] Oppression”—Feminism, Nature, and Animals
    (pp. 173-188)
    Barbara K. Seeber

    Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) is a central figure in the history of feminist thought. Her texts, in a range of genres including educational treatise, political tract, novel, and travel narrative, analyze the subordination of women within patriarchy and advocate educational reform. Wollstonecraft, most famously inA Vindication of the Rights of Woman(1792), protests a “false system of education” that “consider[s] females rather as women than human creatures” and limits their learning to pleasing accomplishments (such as music) for the marriage market.¹ Wollstonecraft’s two novels,Mary, A Fiction(1788) andThe Wrongs of Woman: or, Maria(1798), dramatize the political analysis...

  15. 10 John Stuart Mill: The Greening of the Liberal Heritage
    (pp. 189-204)
    Piers H. G. Stephens

    John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) is one of the greatest of liberal thinkers. Perhaps most famous for his classic defense of individual freedomOn Liberty(1859), Mill fundamentally rethought utilitarian moral philosophy inUtilitarianism(1861), gave early voice to sexual egalitarianism inThe Subjection of Women(1869), and produced the Victorian era’s most influential work of economics:Principles of Political Economy(1848). In this chapter, I examine Mill’s theoretical accounts of utilitarianism, human agency, liberty, and economic development. I maintain that his liberalism contains many of the priorities that green thinkers support, and that it offers a morally grounded vision...

  16. 11 Karl Marx: Critique of Political Economy as Environmental Political Theory
    (pp. 205-222)
    Timothy W. Luke

    Karl Marx (1818–1883) remains one of the most influential revolutionary thinkers, political philosophers, and social scientists of the nineteenth century. During his lifetime, he became a preeminent theorist of political economy as well as a committed revolutionary in working-class movements seeking to create a socialist, and then communist, way of life. Born in Trier, he was educated in Bonn and Berlin. His political activities in Prussia, France, and Belgium troubled the authorities enough that he was compelled to spend the rest of his life as an exile in England. Remembered mostly for his ground-breaking study of politicaleconomy Capital...

  17. 12 W. E. B. Du Bois: Racial Inequality and Alienation from Nature
    (pp. 223-238)
    Kimberly K. Smith

    Like the other theorists in this collection, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) is not usually considered an environmentalist. But in fact he was deeply engaged in the nineteenth-century and twentieth-century conversations about progressive agricultural reform, the back-to-the-land movement, and wilderness preservation. Those conversations informed his critique of American race relations and his defense of social and political equality for blacks, helping to form his background assumptions about the proper relationship between humans and the natural world. An underappreciated element of his philosophy concerned the impact of racial oppression on environmental stewardship and on a community’s ability to establish...

  18. 13 Martin Heidegger: Individual and Collective Responsibility
    (pp. 239-252)
    W. S. K. Cameron

    Virtually alone among major twentieth-century philosophers, Martin Heidegger examined the human-nature relationship and diagnosed an insidious disease. Fortunately its symptoms—properly appreciated—also portended the “saving power,” a fever through which healthier relations could reemerge. Heidegger’s prognosis remained vague, but his diagnosis was undeniably compelling. Though he rarely addressed political questions directly, Heidegger’s discussion of the human-nature nexus would seem an essential guide to green political theory.

    Or maybe not. In 1933, Heidegger was promoted to Rector of the University of Freiburg. Ten days later, Heidegger joined the National Socialist Party; his inaugural address ended with a call that the...

  19. 14 Hannah Arendt: Place, World, and Earthly Nature
    (pp. 253-270)
    Peter F. Cannavò

    Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), a German Jew who fled the Holocaust and became a citizen of the United States, was one of the most important political theorists of the twentieth century. Commentators have largely focused on her concepts of the public and private spheres and of the realm of the social, on her theory of political action, on her agonistic politics, on her analysis of totalitarianism, and on her views on the relationship between politics and morality.¹ However, she has received scant recognition for her insights into humanity’s relationship with its natural and built environments.² Both newcomers to Arendt and...

  20. 15 Confucius: How Non-Western Political Theory Contributes to Understanding the Environmental Crisis
    (pp. 271-286)
    Joel Jay Kassiola

    [I]n all or most societies throughout history there has been some thinking or theorizing about politics, about the right and wrong ways, and the proper and improper ways of conducting public life in a community. Yet, as least as far as the practice in the United States is concerned, the teaching of political theory has been confined almost exclusively to the so-called Western “canon,” that is, the tradition of political thought stretching from Socrates to Marx or Nietzsche. No doubt, this is an immensely rich tradition and college students should be exposed to it and learn about its subtle nuances....

  21. Conclusion: The Western Political Theory Canon, Nature, and a Broader Dialogue
    (pp. 287-292)
    Peter F. Cannavò and Joseph H. Lane Jr.

    As the essays in this volume demonstrate, the political theory canon offers a wealth of practical and theoretical insights into the relationship between humanity or, somewhat more specifically, political society and the natural world. In his discussion of Confucius, Joel Kassiola argues that the Western political theory tradition has problematic recurring themes that revolve around the concept of humanity’s separation from and superiority to the rest of nature. Certainly, these essays give some credence to what we would term the “hard anthropocentric” aspects of the Western theoretical tradition. Plato’s attempt to imagine a ruling class removed from direct physical engagement...

  22. About the Authors
    (pp. 293-294)
  23. Index
    (pp. 295-304)