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January 29, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Fixing the state beats throwing it away completely

Building more accountable government – not sweeping rejecting it – is vital to check a laundry list of existential risks.

Eckersley ‘4

Robyn, Reader/Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Melbourne, “The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty”, MIT Press, 2004, Google Books, pp. 3-8


While acknowledging the basis for this antipathy toward the nation- state, and the limitations of state-centric analyses of global ecological degradation, I seek to draw attention to the positive role that states have played, and might increasingly play, in global and domestic politics. Writing more than twenty years ago, Hedley Bull (a proto-constructivist and leading writer in the English school) outlined the state’s positive role in world affairs, and his arguments continue to provide a powerful challenge to those who somehow seek to “get beyond the state,” as if such a move would provide a more lasting solution to the threat of armed conflict or nuclear war, social and economic injustice, or environmental degradation.10 As Bull argued, given that the state is here to stay whether we like it or not, then the call to get “beyond the state is a counsel of despair, at all events if it means that we have to begin by abolishing or subverting the state, rather than that there is a need to build upon it.“”¶ In any event, rejecting the “statist frame” of world politics ought not prohibit an inquiry into the emancipatory potential of the state as a crucial “node” in any future network of global ecological governance. This is especially so, given that one can expect states to persist as major sites of social and political power for at least the foreseeable future and that any green transformations of the present political order will, short of revolution, necessarily be state-dependent. Thus, like it or not, those concerned about ecological destruction must contend with existing institutions and, where possible, seek to “rebuild the ship while still at sea.” And if states are so implicated in ecological destruction, then an inquiry into the potential for their transformation even their modest reform into something that is at least more conducive to ecological sustainability would seem to be compelling.¶ Of course, it would be unhelpful to become singularly fixated on the redesign of the state at the expense of other institutions of governance. States are not the only institutions that limit, condition, shape, and direct political power, and it is necessary to keep in view the broader spectrum of formal and informal institutions of governance (e.g., local, national, regional, and international) that are implicated in global environmental change. Nonetheless, while the state constitutes only one modality of political power, it is an especially significant one because of its historical claims to exclusive rule over territory and peoples—as expressed in the principle of state sovereignty. As Gianfranco Poggi explains, the political power concentrated in the state “is a momentous, pervasive, critical phenomenon. Together with other forms of social power, it constitutes an indispensable medium for constructing and shaping larger social realities, for establishing, shaping and maintaining all broader and more durable collectivities.”12 States play, in varying degrees, significant roles in structuring life chances, in distributing wealth, privilege, information, and risks, in upholding civil and political rights, and in securing private property rights and providing the legal/regulatory framework for capitalism. Every one of these dimensions of state activity has, for good or ill, a significant bearing on the global environmental crisis. Given that the green political project is one that demands far-reaching changes to both economies and societies, it is difficult to imagine how such changes might occur on the kind of scale that is needed without the active support of states. While it is often observed that states are too big to deal with local ecological problems and too small to deal with global ones, the state nonetheless holds, as Lennart Lundqvist puts it, “a unique position in the constitutive hierarchy from individuals through villages, regions and nations all the way to global organizations. The state is inclusive of lower political and administrative levels, and exclusive in speaking for its whole territory and population in relation to the outside world.”13 In short, it seems to me inconceivable to advance ecological emancipation without also engaging with and seeking to transform state power.¶ Of course, not all states are democratic states, and the green movement has long been wary of the coercive powers that all states reputedly enjoy. Coercion (and not democracy) is also central to Max Weber’s classic sociological understanding of the state as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”14 Weber believed that the state could not be defined sociologically in terms of its ends* only formally as an organization in terms of the particular means that are peculiar to it.15 Moreover his concept of legitimacy was merely concerned with whether rules were accepted by subjects as valid (for whatever reason); he did not offer a normative theory as to the circumstances when particular rules ought to be accepted or whether beliefs about the validity of rules were justified. Legitimacy was a contingent fact, and in view of his understanding of politics as a struggle for power in the context of an increasingly disenchanted world, likely to become an increasingly unstable achievement.16 In contrast to Weber, my approach to the state is explicitly normative and explicitly concerned with the purpose of states, and the democratic basis of their legitimacy. It focuses on the limitations of liberal normative theories of the state (and associated ideals of a just constitutional arrangement), and it proposes instead an alternative green theory that seeks to redress the deficiencies in liberal theory. Nor is my account as bleak as Weber’s. The fact that states possess a monopoly of control over the means of coercion is a most serious matter, but it does not necessarily imply that they must have frequent recourse to that power. In any event, whether the use of the state’s coercive powers is to be deplored or welcomed turns on the purposes for which that power is exercised, the manner in which it is exercised, and whether it is managed in public, transparent, and accountable ways—a judgment that must be made against a background of changing problems, practices, and under- standings. The coercive arm of the state can be used to “bust” political demonstrations and invade privacy. It can also be used to prevent human rights abuses, curb the excesses of corporate power, and protect the environment. In short, although the political autonomy of states is widely believed to be in decline, there are still few social institution that can match the same degree of capacity and potential legitimacy that states have to redirect societies and economies along more ecologically sustainable lines to address ecological problems such as global warming and pollution, the buildup of toxic and nuclear wastes and the rapid erosion of the earth’s biodiversity. States—particularly when they act collectively—have the capacity to curb the socially and ecologically harmful consequences of capitalism. They are also more amenable to democratization than cor- porations, notwithstanding the ascendancy of the neoliberal state in the increasingly competitive global economy. There are therefore many good reasons why green political theorists need to think not only critically but also constructively about the state and the state system. While the state is certainly not “healthy” at the present historical juncture, in this book I nonetheless join Poggi by offering “a timid two cheers for the old beast,” at least as a potentially more significant ally in the green cause.17

(Source: Cross-X Thread Here)


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