The Leaderly and the Political

One of the crucial tasks of this chapter has been to attempt to identify and justify leaderly measures. What has become blatantly obvious is the ambitious and truly disruptive nature of a number of the proposed actions. Their rather radical character inevitably obliges us to entertain the following question: what kinds of political contexts or systems would be most conducive for leading for the Earth? In other words, under what political conditions would the above mechanisms be most likely to be implemented? In sum: what might be the politics of ecocentric leadership?

We straightaway grasp a sense of the magnitude of this line of inquiry - and the inquiry’s magnitude is precisely a primary reason for suspending it. Furthermore, my research background lies with environmental philosophy rather than political philosophy, and the present study is a work in environmental leadership rather than environmental politics. Of course, there is interrelation and overlap between the leaderly and the political, but I’ve been proceeding according to the premise that they are somewhat distinguishable. This commonality and differentiation explain why the political question has been “suspended” here in both senses of the word: on the one hand, it has hovered over this study, especially in its discussion of transformative eco-leaderly measures; on the other hand, it has been withheld for the aforementioned reasons (it exceeds my specializations; it may be differentiated from leadership; its suspension acts as a monographic limit).

Another reason why I’ve refrained from articulating ecocentric leadership’s political dimension is that if I were to explicitly theorize it, then it could be argued that the present research would pass over from the field of environmental leadership studies (ELS) toward the domain of environmental political theory (EPT) and even environmental political science (EPS), which are quite distinct from ELS (e.g., Hays and Hays 1987; Pearce 1991; Eckersley 1992; Timberlake 1992; Davis 1996; Salleh 1997; Carter 2001; Meyer 2001, 2018; Miles and others 2002; Schreurs 2002; Kassiola 2003; Andronova 2004; Elliott 2004; Robbins 2004; Betsill, Hochstetler and Stevis 2005; DeSombre 2007; Mitchell 2008; Dauvergne 2012; Dobson 2016; Gabrielson and others 2016; Arias-Maldonado and Trachtenberg 2019).

While I shall retrace the field of ELS in the next chapter (thereby allowing me to situate my model within the discipline), we may briefly identify key differences and commonalities between ELS and environmental political theory.

A leading scholar of EPT, John M. Meyer, succinctly summarizes three core goals of his chosen field. First, EPT derives from the discipline of political theory, which focuses on key concepts such as democracy, justice, freedom, and representation. ELS, on the other hand, emerges from leadership studies, which focuses on notions of transformation, followership, authenticity, and so on. Next, environmental political theory hones in on notions like sustainability, environment, and nature (Meyer 2018: 435). ELS also focuses on these concepts, but not always or exclusively: in the present work, there are also other fundamental notions at play, especially ecocentrism and anthropocentrism.

The third core goal of EPT identified by Meyer is the one that has most common ground with ELS - or at least should have the most common ground: “EPT moves beyond critique to advance normative arguments for alternative arrangements of social and political ideas and institutions” (2018: 435). Like EPT, I think environmental leadership studies is/should be both critical and constructive, descriptive and prescriptive, analytical and ethico-politically oriented. While I have not explicitly provided any content to alternative Earthcentered institutional/systemic arrangements in this study, the requirement for such arrangements is signaled when I suggest contentious measures like a stringent population stabilization policy, a more regulated economy, etc. Of course, there’s nothing surprising about the shared normative dimension of ELS and environmental political theory/science: researchers from the various fields share a deep concern for the Earth and the ways in which we humans are disfiguring it.

This concern was originally discursively expressed by a number of the foundational environmental thinkers foregrounded in the present work, who likewise also sought or imagined “alternative arrangements” that would foster a more ecological society. We may quickly retrace here some of their thinking in this regard. To begin with, Leopold, Meyer-Abich, Mathews, and Morton contest the notion and practice of private property (Leopold 1989: viii; Meyer-Abich 1993: 126; Mathews 1999a: 129; Morton 2016: 44). Next, a number of the scholars are critics of consumerist society. As noted earlier, Meyer-Abich advances a consumer revolution, and, in a similar vein, Callicott speculates whether what might be required is “a virtual revolution in prevailing attitudes and lifestyles” (1989: 37-38). Meyer-Abich also provocatively proposes that “the greatest political task is to develop, if not a world state, at least some kind of international solidarity” (1993: 61). While the notion of a “world state” might be contentious (consider the neoliberal “new world order”), I also think it is rigorous, given that many of our ecological challenges are global and appear to require some kind of “new world eco-order” (cf. Leinen and Bummel 2019).

Furthermore, some of the foundational thinkers interrogate contemporary forms of democracy. For instance, as noted earlier, White stunningly identifies modern Western democracy as the key driver for the eco-crisis (1967: 1204) -a point that has not been sufficiently emphasized by both his supporters and critics - and instead advocates some kind of Francis-inspired divine democracy (1967: 1206), which I think would operate very differently from contemporary versions. Environmental scholars Ben A. Minteer and Robert E. Manning note how White was among a group of scholars from the 1960s and 1970s who identified democracy as a source of the eco-crisis and thus openly toyed with a more authoritarian alternative sociopolitical arrangement: “The eco-apocalyptic literature of this time often flirted with (and in some cases openly endorsed) an authoritarian political solution to various environmental crises (e.g., Ehrlich 1968; Hardin 1968; Ophuls 1977)” (2005: 170). While authoritarian regimes are rightly often criticized, might not some kind of “benevolent-authoritarian” form of leadership be required to overcome the anthropocentric authoritarianism that is concealed by seductive myths such as “free markets” and “absolute individual freedom”? Of course, the mere posing of this kind of question typically brings the immediate charge of “eco-fascism.” Returning to White, we note how he advances socio-economic reform and even contemplates the possibility of radical transformation: “Every part of mankind [sic] needs social and economic reform, and perhaps some need revolution” (1978: 104).

Like White, McLaughlin advocates significant social - especially economic -reform, even though his Regarding Nature (1993) is light on details. Given McLaughlin’s emphasis on industrialism as a/the root cause of eco-crisis (cf. Leopold 1989: viii; Eckersley 1992: 22-23, discussed shortly), he argues for “fundamentally transforming industrialism” (1993: 198). We note how the eco-philosopher is not recommending industrialization’s abolition (in previous pages, he emphasizes that he is not calling for a return to primitivism) but rather modifying it into something profoundly moderate, non-expansionary, post-consumerist, anti-anthropocentric, joyful, and so on. Bookchin also speculates about the possibility/necessity of profound upheaval, though somewhat less tentatively than White or McLaughlin: “I would like to ask if the environmental crisis does not have its roots in the very constitution of society as we know it today, if the changes that are needed to create a new equilibrium between the natural world and the social do not require a fundamental, indeed revolutionary, reconstitution of society along ecological lines” (1980: 74).

Mathews is harder to place when it comes to the economic-political dimension of her ecocentrism. On the one hand, she’s suspicious of conventional left-egalitarian ideologies due to their lingering human-centeredness (1999a: 127), so it’s unsurprising that she’s suspicious of socialist revolutions (1999a: 133-134). On the other hand, she’s a critic of capitalism, so, given her aversion to radical politics, she favors a less drastic form of transition, suggesting a kind of withdrawal or effort to “extricate oneself, to a significant degree, from the ideological grid of capitalism,” so we effectively “become defectors,” even though Mathews rightly questions whether such extrication will undo the system (1999a: 130). Nonetheless, the task is to move toward “an entirely different ‘economics’, or way of ensuring the satisfaction of our material wants and needs” (1999a: 130). Mathews then entertains the notion of more drastic action, such as reinhabiting places earmarked for capitalist “development,” thereby frustrating the developers’ goals. With her politics of reinhabitation, Mathews finally accepts that what may be required are both “creative and forceful ways” of disrupting and replacing capitalism (1999a: 131). But, as I say, she dismisses the radicalism of the historical left (1999a: 133); instead, Mathews indicates a third way: “the ethos of letting be reconciles something of the custodial role of the right with something of the moral intent of the left” (1999a: 133).

Like Mathews, Eckersley is suspicious of conventional left-wing radicalism. She notes how orthodox communism did not prove ecologically progressive (1992: 23-25). Like McLaughlin, Eckersley claims that the fundamental eco-culprit is neither capitalism nor communism but industrialization, given that ecological disfiguration occurred across the ideological divide: “the international nature of environmental degradation has lent force to the broader claim by emancipatory theorists that the modern ecological crisis is the quintessential crisis of industrialism” (1992: 22-23). Nevertheless, during her summary and analysis of ecosocial thought (citing the likes of Gorz and Martin Ryle [1988]), Eckersley does not shy away from representing controversial topics such as the possible/probable need for a planned economy and a strong state apparatus for undertaking ecocentric goals such as the production and distribution of essential goods (1992: 133). Indeed, she acknowledges that ecosocialism “would also enable ecocentrism to anticipate and address in a more concerted way the various forms of opposition that are likely to be encountered in the attempt to give practical expression to ecocentric emancipatory goals” (1992: 132; key ecoso-cialist texts include, e.g., Ryle 1988; Pepper 1993; Bari 1995; Thornett 2019).

We may also briefly note here how Eckersley claims that “no emancipatory theorist has been able to come up with an entirely novel social and political arrangement, that is, one that has not already been mooted in modern social and political theory” (1992: 31). We may briefly respond by suggesting that perhaps the aim of emancipatory theory is not to seek something “entirely novel” but rather to reimagine existing models: this is exactly what I do in Following Reason, where I re-cast Plato’s much-ridiculed theory of “philosopherrulers” (1974) into the concept of “logicracy” - rule/leadership by a collective Reason. An exposition of this model - especially in terms of its relations or synthesis with ecocentric leadership theory - exceeds the contours of the current study. Certainly, one of the key tasks, then, of both environmentally oriented leadership studies and political theory is to attempt to conceive the kind/s of “social and political arrangements” that would be conducive for genuine, bold, and effective Earth-centered leading and politics.

Of course, another key social arrangement is the economic one. As the above review of Mathews’ political thoughts shows, the economic question is just as crucial as the political: what kinds of economics would be conducive for ecocentric existence? While we touched on this subject in relation to the leaderly measure of restricted production and referred to the growing discipline of ecological economics, the subject is not further explored here because we have neither the expertise nor the space to explore it, even though, given the radical nature of Earth-centeredness, I tend to side with the environmental thinkers who deeply question the existing economic order (Bookchin 1971, 1980, 1982; Catton 1980; Pearce 1991; Bari 1995; Best 2014). One could posit that emerging disciplines like ecological economics have responded to McLaughlin’s 1993 observation that “So far, the role of economic systems in the generation of ecological problems has received relatively little attention by environmental philosophers” (1993: 17), but ELS would also benefit by paying more attention to it.

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