Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Green political theory: a different account

Title

Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Green political theory: a different account

Subject

Printout of draft, dated 13 Jun 1996.

Description

One of seven papers digitised from item 1225.

Creator

Source

The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 18, Item 1225

Date

1996-06-13

Contributor

This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.

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For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

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[17] leaves. 11.63 MB.

Type

Manuscript

Text

13.6.96

GREEN POLITICAL THEORY:
a different account
Green political theory is divided according to one of our guides1, rather like Gaul

according to Caesar, into three parts:

—a green theory of value,
—a subordinate green theory of agency, and

—a green lifestyle program, portrayed as a set of altogether dispensible lifestyle
recommendations.

While it is the high-handed insistent dismissal of green lifestyles by this guide, Goodin, that has

captured the attention of critics and been highlighted, the brash partitioning of green political

theory, and the surreptitious dismissal therewith of significant parts of it, should not pass
unnoticed. To the contrary, virtually the whole of what political theory is taken to treat comes up

for reassessment once green lights are played upon it, certainly under deeper green illumination.
That bogus exhaustiveness taken for granted, that all there is to it amounts to value and action,
no doubt derives largely from an underlying utilitarianism, according to which other theoretical

matters can be subsumed under these.2
In short, partly through dispensing with lifestyle considerations, primarily by virtue of a

background utilitarianism operating within a conventional state-setting, Goodin can suppose that

green political theory reduces to these two parts: a theory of value and a subordinate theory of
agency. Such a reduction is however much too simple, leaving out, as it does, much of ethics of
political relevance, as well as a large slab of politics. For example, ethical omissions include the
fields of deontology (environmental permissions, prescriptives, directives; environmental

justice, rights and so on), of virtue theory, and of accountability. Among political omissions
most striking is the absence of any due consideration of institutional and ideological alternatives
to what now prevails. Prevailing Western political arrangements—with staged elections, urban

bureaucratic control, incremental reformism (often environmentally regressive), and so on—are
simply taken for granted. Above all, there is no critique of the state, an increasingly important

part of radical green politics. One reason for this gross omission— f radical green theory from
what is presented as green political theory—is that Goodin does not question the conventional

political assumption that the appropriate objective of green political activity consists in gaining
power or influence within established statist arrangements, for example at best through electoral

1

R. Goodin Green Political Theory, Polity Press, Cambridge 1992. This was undoubtedly a book
worth criticizing.

2

See the appendix.

2

success enabling control of some of the administrative and executive functions of state (we shall
encounter this conventional “political realism^^ again later). However significant strands of

green political theory no longer accept this assumption. A related reason, reaching deeper, is

that Goodin likewise does not question, as strands of green theory now do, what helps
undergird the conventional political assumption and reformist utilitarianism, an Enlightenment

ideology with its faith in reason and science, technologically-based progress, overall human

goodness and dominance, and so on.3
The bold overstatement of claims, along with misrepresentation as to what green political
theory comprises, is symptomatic of much of the book: overstatement and undersubstantiation.4

Virtually all main themes of the book are false, indeed rather patently so once exhibited

unadorned, because limited truths are overextended; and they are undersupplied with cogent
support. So it is with the green theory of value, which inflates what is a significant factor in

green evaluation into the supposed total green theory. So it is with the green package, which is
presented as having an absolutely tight integration, which it in fact lacks. And so on, as will

appear. Not only are main themes seriously defective; more disappointing, a salvage operation
will not yield a lode of green gold.
As troubling is the anti-subversive character of the work. Goodin has wheeled another

Trojan horse into green territory, a horse bringing a number of anti-green academic warriors
armed with anti-green ideas and sentiments, and engaged in and advocating anti-green lifestyles,
(as will emerge).5 Of course, 'Green political theory' is a clever title, which is complemented by

a politically clever introduction on the crises which are not minimized or marginalised but given
considerable weight—all of which suggest that the text might be of much more interest to

politically inclined greens than the usual academic fare. But the title does not say how the green
theory is to be treated, explained and encouraged, exposed and condemned. Neither really. The
text is not written for greens (though the publishers obviously hope they may buy it,6 or be

3

For an exposition and criticism of Enlightenment Ideology, see Sylvan TM.

4

In part because these sorts of deficiencies have not been addressed in reviews of the book, I
decided to persevere with this less charitable critique (a tiresome exercise bound to alienate).
Regrettably most of the reviews appear to derive from a political science orientation. They trip
lightly by philosophical fundamentals, where the book is noticeably weak, and vulnerable.
And they tend to be very light on argument.

5

Trojan horses are in extensive use by academics, particularly in green regions. We will
encounter a number of these horses. They are evident from sociology to biogeography and
climatology, and particularly prominent around economic enslaves.

6

They form part of the intended audience for the book according to accompanying publishers'
work and flyers. Indeed the publishers have participated in the deception, supplying a cover
featuring a boss of the Green Man from the cloisters of Norwich cathedral, which sends, as they

3

tricked into buying it), but for a cohert of academic colleagues—for colleagues who form part of
the prevailing system, of politics-more-or-less-as-usual and so on.

Deapite its character, there are several useful and attractive features of Goodin's book,
which do make it worthwhile reading for awake greens of theoretical bent (one of these features
is an Appendix, putting together succinctly a green political program). It is a smoothly written
book, encouraging readers to glide along, glossing over the underlying content and messages,
and not grasping the enormity of some of what is presented, for instance even as green gospel.

It may be just the style that is attractive (the cut of the book, the easy flow, an appealingly simple
structure, and other stylish features), rather than details of the real content. If the book has a
weakness from the PR angle, it may lie in its flippancy, and failure to take several green issues

seriously, both of which sometimes enter irritatingly and will turn off some committed greens.
But, by and large, it is a splendidly packaged work; it is what is packaged and what is pushed on
greens that is the trouble.

For a book purportedly on green theory, treatment of greens is extraordinary
condescending. Not much notice is going to be taken of 'what self-styled greens... happen to

believe', 'what positions greens actually do take' (p.vii). (How then does he justify the green
attributions he proceeds to make, e.g. 'green theory of value5? Evidently his procedure is
methodologically unsound). No, it is 'an attempt to saves greens from themselves5 (p.viii). To

rescue them,4to tidy up' their slovenly positions—while throwing away critical features of green
approaches, such as green lifestyles—Goodin is particularly concerned that green lifestyles
should not be seen as part of a rectified green political package. Green lifestyle
recommendations are entirely dispensible (so he and others can look and indeed be green without

deffort, without making any green contribution; they are conveniently absolved from any
relevant action, or lifestyle adjustment).

At one stage Goodin claims that the theory is 'moderately deep'. But elsewhere he has

more accurately said that it is a pale green theory, very pale green given the attitude taken to
green lifestyles. Green Political Theory it may be called: deeper green political theory, at least, it

certainly is not, even genuine green it but dubiously is. However Goodin's aim, he regularly
informs us, is once again not 4to describe what positions greens actually do take5. His project is

a normative one, aimed instead to show what positions greens should take, given their core
concerns... what they have to say given their core values'?. In this attempt he should be seen to

remarks, 'precisely the contrary signal concerning the nature of the author's project in there
behind the Green Man's work*.
7

P. viii - p.vii, itals added.

4

fail entirely. He is astray not merely on the core concerns of many of them (which concerns are

far from uniform), but also in loosely coupled resultant positions. Greens are under no such
obligations as Goodin would load them with; they are not boxed in as he would suppose.

The approach is not only condescending towards greens; it is a touch arrogant. The aim is

said to be 'to show greens how to cast their position in the strongest possible form\8 This will

turn out to be not a strong theoretical form, by any means, but merely a strong form
pragmatically, given a raft of assumptions about prevailing electoral arrangements, an interests
theory of voting and human behaviour, and so on. According to many a green however, thereby

made are some of the assumptions that have to be turned around if humanly undesirable features

are to be avoided, if social collapse of one sort or another is to be avoided.
At the very outset, Goodin does something to offset such concerns, as those concerning
limits of growth.9 He rolls out a familiar quasi-inductive argument, beloved of economists, that

past predictions of limits have been riotously astray (e.g. Jeavons on coal, Meadows and others
in Limits of Growth on tin). Granted some predictions have, those regularly offered as
illustrations; though others have not, naturally such examples are not emphasized.
Not only is the inductive base for the quasi-inductive argument defective, the argument

itself exhibits some flaws. That it has been claimed before and shown wrong is hardly decisive

evidence that it will not be right a next time. Recall not only the boy who cried "wolf' too often
and was eventually consumed, but also the turkeys who every week approaching Christmas
triumphantly announced that everything was proceeding just fine.

[Simple enumerative

induction is not reliable in such settings.]
On this-here green theory of value.
Much of Goodin's text, that segment that is not pleasant enough "ecopolitical fiir5 (stock

descriptions of ecological problems, green movement and their platforms, and so on), is
occupied in one way or another with what he is pleased call to 'a green theory of value', quickly
to become 'the green theory of value'. Most of the remainder develops from a complementing

4green theory of action5.10 This green theory of value is pushed in a surprisingly deontological
fashion, likely to arouse immediate suspicions: as what greens should adopt and wear, if they

know what is good for them.
A theory of value is just a theory of the good, so it is engagingly asserted at the outset.
Not so, unless the rest

of what is considered to belong to value theory (standing,

8

P.viii.

9

See the beginning of the main text p.l.

10

This theory of value is also presented in a much published paper, 'A green theory of value'. As
to the definite formulation, the green theory, see many places in the text, e.g. p.87.

5

considerability, worth, rating, and so on) reduces. It does not (and Goodin makes no effort to
effect a reduction).
It will become plain that Goodin is rather good at presenting topics as what they are not.
The practice goes beyond introductory and presentational matters to what is taken to be central,
value theory. 'A theory of value is, quite simply, a theory of the good', so we are engagingly
informed.11 A theory of value is much more comprehensive than a theory of the good (as a
perusal of Austrian value theory will quickly confirm), and does not contract, without extensive

and dubious reductions (there is the 'quite simply5), to a theory of the good. Do not anticipate
then what is promised: a green theory of value. As it turns out, not only are greens short­
changed on value, they get a very small serve of theory, and again a very pale green offering at

that.
There are certain peripheral obstacles to this purported green theory of value. In particular,

does it even measure up to admittedly lax standards for a theory as to value? As is readily
ascertained, the "theory” does not even say what a value is like and is, what kind of object, what
identity criteria it satisfies, what postulates it conforms to. Let us call what is presented a

pseudo-theory. Perhaps it can be upgraded to a theory, but requisite work is so far lacking.
Is this "green pseudo-theory" green? This sort of challenge Goodin is aware of and aims
to deflect. Granted the pseudo-theory is admittedly shallow, all politically acceptable theories

have to be, he suggests, for instance to seize wide common ground, etc. But this too is astray,

because of pluralistic alternatives.

According to this green pseudo-theory, not only is naturalness a source of green value,
naturalness is the source of value (i.e. goodness).

How does Goodin arrive at this

identification? By various unsound moves. Most simply, he invalidly concludes, from a

consideration of 'naturalness as a source of (green) value', that it is the source of value.12 Such
an inference from an indefinite to a definite description is invalid unless uniqueness conditions
are independently ensured. Less simply, there is a simplistic derivation of "theories of value"

from the three conventional factors of economic production: land (or resources), labour, and

capital, each of which is schematically linked to corresponding theories of value. No doubt the
land ethic and the labour theory of value just could suggest as much, but it is dubious that
anyone much, green or otherwise disposed, would rest content for long with such a “pure"

theory, as the factors operate together, not separately. Moreover, the economic “derivations" of
these theories should be enough to raise serious green doubts about them.

11

P.19. This claim is also made in several other overlapping Goodin productions.

12

Ibid. p.30.

6

The core theme resulting from the identification is that natural objects are valuable, i.e.
good, because they are the result of natural processes and not artificial or human ones. What

gives natural objects their value is precisely their naturalness.13
In support of his green theory, Goodin produces a rather nauseating sociological argument,
along the following lines: 'humans' have a deeply felt need to find meaning in their lives, i.e. to

see their lives as set within a larger context with which they can feel linked. Such a context is

provided by nature. In fuller presentation, it is claimed that people want coherence 'between
their inner worlds and the external world'; that 'whatever makes people strive for harmony
within their own lives would also lead them to strive to lead their lives in harmony with the
external world'; and that 'natural processes provide just such a larger context... within which we

can set out our own life plans and projects5.14 The argument is entirely shallow, appealing to

what some humans want (if they do, not even to what might be good for them); it is utterly
instrumental, with nature an instrument for human wants and needs; it is extraordinarily weak,

each step being highly contestable; and it does not lead to the intended conclusion, uniqueness of
naturalness not being shown. Moreover, for what it is worth, the argument also commits the

naturalistic fallacy, purportedly arriving at an identification of value, as what is natural, on the

basis of "natural" human wants and needs.15
Observe that this is Goodin's theory as to green theory, an ultimately shallow theory,
reached in a shallow economic way, defended in a shallow sociological way, hardly likely to be
reflective of deeper green thought. However, it is made to look in some places as if it were

some sort of descriptive account; while at other places it appears as a normative account, as if it
13

find quote

14

Ibid p.3&

15

An identification of that Moorean nonnatural feature as natural furthermore.

It is worth appending a relevant point from Brennan (pp.805-6):
For theorists like Goodin, the status of environmental systems, species and
non-human animals appears to be problematic. Although he regards them as
proivind a large, independent context within which human life makes sense, it
seems that he at the same time regards them as akin to consumer goods, to be
displayed, consumed or prozed according to our informed preferences. For
those influenced by the resource economists, it can be hard to understand the
challenge posed by environmental ethics»>. Once nature is thought of as a
resource, a standing reserve, a set of processes and objects that have the
potential to satisfy human desires, it is easy to think of it as a nothing more
than that. And the challenge posed by any ethic which is properly called
'environmental' is to find a way of articulating the attitude that nature is
indeed a great deal more than that.

7
were a very reasonable thing for greens to expouse. But really it is of neither sort; it is neither

descriptive of green positions, nor something they should, or would reasonably, adopt; rather it
is a theory foisted on greens. It might be pretended that Goodin has offered a "reconstruction”,
a rational reconstruction even, of green theory; but such a pretence fails as the construction fails,
to meet even basic adequacy conditions, as will appear.
As regards descriptive elements, no solid evidence is assembled that most, or even some,

greens adopt this green theory, with naturalness as the sole source. Indeed Goodin offers no
evidence that any do, and perhaps none of any standing do.16
Furthermore, as but little investigation reveals, there is not a single green "theory" of value,
but various different, sometimes competing, positions.

Nor could a single essence be

satisfactorily distilled from those positions, and even what could be distilled would not resemble

Goodin's construction. For some conspicuous green positions, such as ecofeminism or deep

ecology, would in no way underwrite naturalness as the source of value, or for that matter a

single source of value. More generally, the principles and arguments advanced within green
critiques of reductionist science—including that central lesson of ecology, that meaning is to be
found in connections, in patterns, in relations—similarly militate against any reductionist
grounding of value.
Conveniently Goodin appears to absolve us from more detailed fieldwork on green

positions. His intention, he boldly announces, is to make it clear to greens and others not what
greens in fact think, but what they should think. Indeed he pushes this normative tack to
amazing length; only if greens change in the direction he indicates will they be able to make any

practical difference to public policies! That rash claim has already been resoundingly falsified.
But as regards prescriptive aspects, no intellectually alert greens would adopt Goodin's
theory, either. It is not simply because they have other objectives on their agendas, than directly
influencing party politics. It is because the theory is seriously defective, and open to evident,

damaging objections. So it should not be sought by greens.
A central reason why no aware greens should adopt the theory, and why it should be
rejected is that it is open to a range of fairly decisive counterexamples. There are many natural
items, natural objects or processes, that are not, either on the face of it or after reflection,

valuable, as they are or were or where they are. Much that is natural is at least very problematic,

some is downright bad. A first class of problematic examples, not involving life in a direct way,
16

It is suggested, by Achtenberg, that McKibben may, but a reading of The End of Nature does
not support such a suggestion. As it happens, the situation with McKibben is more than a
little curious. For what McKibben want to insist upon—adopting an inadmissibly high
redefinition of natural—is that realy nothing is natural any more (hence The End) whence
courtesy of Goodin, nothing is valuable any more. But that is not what McKibben wants to
say, or says.

8
are those occurrences clustered together as natural disasters, catastrophes, and the like. Included

therewith are earthquakes, landslides, soil erosion, meteorite collisions, volcanic eruptions, tidal

waves, cyclones, ice ages, and so on. These examples include dramatic and damaging (natural)
variations in the natural more stable course of events, variations with climatic or geophysical

origins. Consider the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1775 which so shocked European
intellectuals (and was construed by Voltaire as evidence that Gthe natural world is farm from the

best of all possible). By contrast, Goodin would be obliged to maintain that it was a good event,

because natural (just as good as the new arrival of a passenger pigeon on a splendid autumnal
morning) and presumably not at all shocking because of the natural beneficence of the whole
disaster. No doubt the problems with global warming, ozone depletion, and so forth, that so
exercise Goodin at the outset of his text, are that these are not natural (being induced by human

activity which falls outside what is natural, under one conventional ruling); no doubt these

would be valuable, and unproblematic, processes were they to proceed naturally without human
intervention or assistance. So it was with the volcanic eruptions that demolished the splendid
pink and white terraces and laid waste much beautiful New Zealand forest last century; so it was

with the earlier ice-age which much reduced the richness of New Zealand flora, eliminating 3 of
4 groups of palms; these were good, even admirable, events.
Similar ridiculous outcomes issue when we turn to life (life forms somehow still achieve a
privileged role in Goodin, though they are no more natural). Consider the wide range of

monsters, cripples, sports, freaks, and so on that natural processes, such as birth, regularly
deliver: deformities, malignant mutations, and so on, outcomes that are still generally hidden
away, put out of general sight, or quietly removed, at least in the case of more hideous outputs.
It is very difficult to see that all these objects are good, even just as good as the most splendid

products of nature.17 Roughly Goodin has landed in a similar awkward position to the theist

17

It seems admissible to record that I put several such counterexamples to Goodin well before he
undertook final revision of his working typescript. Here is his response on these and connected
issues (Goodin, personal communication, numbered and reordered with [1] now proceeding [2]):

[1]

[2]

A somatic organism in a natural environment is a (nonmoral) normative system.
Whatever has that much complexity, richness, self-organization, telos has
(presumptively) value.

I think I still incline to say (despite your chastening) that a sponaneous biological
life is always of prima facie value (intrinsic). Though I recognize at once that such
value can sometimes be overridden and become in some environmental contexts a new
disvalue. And here I just hold in abeyance what the overlay of moral agency with the
moral (past biological) life in humans does to the presumption.

9

who announces that all the natural works of God are good, and is then confronted by awful
work such as monstrosities or catastrophes. He can try, like the theist, to fall back to some

larger valuable setting of which these prima facie nonvaluable components are an integral part; in
Goodin's case there is a wider encompassing theory available, namely evolutionary theory (with
variation required for natural selection).18 But already this means significant qualification and
modification of Goodin's original theory, and shift to a different and so far undeveloped theory.

Better to abandon the original theory, given that superior alternatives are on offer namely
multiple factor theories, with naturalness one factor in the mix.19

There remain many other lesser difficulties for theories like Goodin's which try to reduce

value-making factors to one, such as naturalness (or biological life, richness, or whatever). For
naturalness, difficulties arise with pests and weeds, which may be quite natural objects, but

objects which are located in the wrong places, notably outside their natural range. No doubt
Goodin's theory can be elaborated to take account of such exceptions, but elaborated it needs to
be. Other difficulties arise with natural objects which are in natural places, but which are in
some way out of balance with their natural environment, for instance through excess numbers,

excessive predation (leading to population collapses, etc.). Consider, for example, members of
a natural herd of elephants, grown too large for their natural environment, who become

destroyers, demolishing significant forests in their range. Again this is natural enough in the

circumstances, but the outcomes are certainly not good, nor praiseworthy or the like.

The deficiencies of the approach as offering a “theory” of value are accentuated by the
specific narrow recipe Goodin tries to impose on greens. In particular, it appears to supply only
an on-off qualitative assessment. An item is either good or not according as it is natural, and that

[3]

I will have to interpet monstrosities, mutation, deformities as struggling life,
somehow a necessary part of the process, even though they are in some respects failures.
Anyway, more on that some other time.

[4]

I also hold that (geo) physical nature can sometimes have intrinsic value, so that life,
while sufficient for value prima facie, is not necessary for it.

A few comments:- Paragraph [1] already points to a more satisfactory, sophisticated theory than
greens are saddled with, with a mix of factors (of which naturalness is surely one) yielding
presumptive value. Paragraphs [2] and [3] also indicate elements of a more sensitive theory,
again at substantial odds with that presented in the book. Paragraph [3] suggest the sort of
theological or evolutionary escape discussed in the text below; it does nothing to counter the
counterexamples.
18

Also the theist's problems concerning maximization are perhaps reduced in this setting.

19

See e.g. EE or FF.

10
is all. But not all items are of the same value, which is all this allows: valuable because natural.

Some, while not being “more natural”,are much more valuable than others. It is well known
that comparative assessments, such as bettemess, and likewise quantitative assessments cannot

be directly defined in terms of mere quantitative assessments, and it is sufficiently appreciated

that a satisfactory axiological theory should account at least for comparative assessments. In this

respect too, Goodin's pseudo-theory falls far short of adequacy. On the other side of the
qualitative divide, even the best art museums and the best painings within them are not valuable,
not good, because not natural. Even if Goodin should say, what his text sometimes suggests,
that his green "theory" applies only to natural objects, artifacts are left out, then the theory is at

best seriously incomplete. Greens will have some more comprehensive theory of value which
covers all items, and integrates a range of assessments of artifacts with natural objects:
naturalness will properly disappear as sole criterion, becoming but one factor.

It is noteworthy that much of the subsequent development of green political theory in
Goodin's text does not depend upon the excessively strong value theory he tries to load upon

greens; it does not require—r always, for that matter, use—naturalness as sole criterion. Much

of what comes later, all that appears right enough, will "go through" will naturalness as a critical

factor. Where appropriate call this the alternate scheme, according to which naturalness is only
one critical, but not always decisive, factor in a mix. The alternate scheme is an integral part of
that different green account alluded to above.
On the touted tightly-integrated Green package, and strong holism.

Certain extraordinarily bold claims are advanced, under the banner of 'a unified moral

vision5 in the chapter advertised as 4the unity of the green programme\ Notably
the green theory of value...[as] elaborated... is what underlies and
unifies the entire green political programme .... It is what makes it
illogical and inconsistent for other, more established parties to try
picking and choosing some bits off that agenda, without accepting all
the rest of its demands as well.20

The claims are never established, would not be established by what is suggested, and indeed

cannot be satisfactorily established, because the claims do not stand up. The arguments outlined
are seriously wanting. Even what is said would make good the claims would not (traces are not

enough for "making good^^); but in any case Goodin does not attempt these things, opting to
proceed 'more impressionistically *.

20

p.87. The same sort of theme is reiterated (with but minor variations) subsequently, e.g. p.92.
Note the ascent from an everyday theory of the good to a unified moral vision.

11
Even impressionistically little works satisfactorily. For 'the green theory of value' of
Goodin is not 'uniquely able to account for the coherence of the green public-policy

proposals\2122Apart from the critical features, to be considered below,
that green proposals do not enjoy the sort of coherence alleged, and that
established parties can, and do, pick over green programs selectively,

the uniqueness claim, the special position of Goodin's theory, is quietly dropped in the

impressionistic "argument". All that is used is the alternate scheme, that a concern for nature
informs, directly or indirectly, all the connected 'plants in the green programme'.22

Evidently a variety of concerns for nature can motivate and justify attitudes and procedures
regarding pollution, waste, environmental destruction, and so forth. Uniqueness lapses.

Worse, the more remote, less directly environmental parts of the green agenda do not fall out
eith of Goodin's theory or from the alternate scheme. In a note, Goodin concedes as much; but

these (decentralization, grass roots democracy, nonviolence, and much else) derive so he
claims, from the subsidiary, but logically separate, green theory of agency.23 Whether they do

so derive or not (they do not), they do not derive indirectly from a green theory of value,
because of the separation of agency from value. For similar reasons, the "integrated" green

programme (outlined in an Appendix) begins to unravel.

All that Goodin tries to make out, then only suggestively, is that the alternative scheme

helps in explaining certain green attitudes that appear anomalous or otherwise problematic.
Even should this exercise succeed (and its success is at best mixed), it would not achieve what
is required.

Interestingly, the Appendix, 'The Green Political Programme5—far from demonstrating
that the narrow green theory of value runs through all green policy, not just the overly
'environmental5 parts—helps in revealing what a patchwork the presented programme is really,

a patchwork from which separate patches can be unsewn. A basic problem with the whole
approach is this: that there is not a single green program, different green groups have different
programms. Witness the many internal disputes, the very public conflicts between social and

deep ecology, between animal liberationists and nature greens, between luddites and smart new-

age technologists, between spiritual and secular greens, and son. Granted various loose

conalitions may be stitched together; but they are various, not unique, and the stitching is very
loose, and may easily be undone, for different repackaging. In short, there are many green
packages, corresponding to different green theories of value and agency and so on. As there is
21

Ibid p.87.

22

Ibid. p.87. Goodin himself slides back to the indefinite, to a green theory of value, e.g. p.88.

23

Note & p.8&

12
no single green theory, so there is no such tightly unified single package, which is what

empirical evidence also seems to show. Moreover, established parties have drawn very
selectively upon these sorts of packages, and filched elements selectively. Witness the fate of
the early Values party in New Zealand.
'The prima facie wrongness of ... piecemeal borrowing from the greens is easily

explicated. It derives straight forwardly from the logic of consistency. It would be simply
wrong to embrace a theory of value... for some purposes while shunning it for others. The

truth status of value theories just does not flicker on and off like that/2425Embedded therein, in
this strong holism, is one basic confusion that pervades the book, a confusion between a theory

and what derives from it, between a source and its outputs. Nothing in logic stops selective
borrowing from what derives from a program, however tightly integrated. Strong holism is far

too strong; it would imply that we cannot adopt, or even toy with, one part of some value
theory, or ethical theory on Goodin's account of the matter, without embracing the lot. We
cannot accept some on Moore's claims, some of Spinoza's analyses, part of Aristotle without
being stuck with the whole. Eclecticism, at least as regards a theory of value, is impossible.

Which is absurd, and a reductio thereto of a seriously defective argument.
The conclusion has to be that yet another of Goodin's main themes is seriously astray and

should be rejected: that 'greens make (radical) demands on an all-or-nothing basis525, that
greens 'might reasonably demand that we implement their political program on an all-or-nothing
basis5.26

On the misadvertised green theory of agency: green collective organization・

The title 'The Green Theory of Agency5 is something of a misnomer. Most of the chapter
consemed (chapter 4) is taken up with what is inaccurately headed 'Principles of green political
structures*, which treats not agency but certain elements of macro-political organisation,

notably decentralization and policy coordination (itself headed, misleadingly, 'think globally, act
locally5). Most of the remainder of the chapter is occupied with what is headed, generally,

'Principles of green political action', but reduces to 'democratic participation5 and

'nonviolence5, and with 'Principles of green party organisation', cut down to 'grassroots

democracy5 and 'nrotation in office*, both something of travesties, given the indicated sweep
and generality.
The theory of "agency" is itself rather a part of a theory of collective action. Virtually

nothing on agency in the usual sense of individual action theory enters, except a footnote
24

p.92, partly reiterating the integrated package theme.

25

p.168? [check, locate]

26

Back cover.

13

referring to some work on the topic, and no theory at all of green individual agents (their

lifestyles, etc.). The relevant part of collective action theory looks not so much at the roles of
operative agents and their individual instrumentality, as at the character and corodinating

mechanisms of collective action, namely that needed or designed to realize green values. And
really, what is considered is green collective organization, which comprises not only action and

practices, but also associated political procedures and structures. Into this expanded account,
furthermore, some large assumptions are written, assumptions not accepted by many greens:
roughly, reduction of the political to the collective, and of the collective to aggregated

individuals, i.e. themes of individualism.2728These reductive assumptions, which are inserted
and infiltrated unargued, come to matter in the material on policy coordination, which adopts a
standard game-theory approach drawn from the received reductive theory of collective action, a

theory unlikely to gain much green applause, for all its academic fashionability.
The case for green engagement in coalitions is less straightforward than depicted. No
doubt greens who opt for this course of action—what Goodin tries to insist upon, involvement

in the politics of the established system—do not then have the option of spuming power-sharing

opportunities when those opportunities present themselves. Our guide is, however, too
optimistic about how often such opportunies are like to occur, and too sanguine about how they

are likely to operate to green advantage. For one thing, greens are not the only political forces
within conventional politics who have a theory of value. Furthermore, just as greens seeking to

enter into a coalition with a party of the electoral left (at present the only plausible option) must
look askance at the likely ttincohe^ence^^ of the compromise reached, so too must the other
coalescing party. If, under such circumstances, 'the blame for the logical incoherence would lie

with the parties that insisted on adulterating the green programme528, so too, from the
perspective of the party of the left, must *the blame for the logical incoherence lie with the

greens who insisted on adulterating the pink programme'. It should come as little surprise then,
that the evidence suggests that parties of the moderate left are every bit as reluctant to enter into
coalitions with the greens as the greens are with them.29
Green agents: their lifestyles, their commitments, their changed consciousness.

These matters feature large in American deep ecology; they are neglected or dismissed in

Goodin. His rejection of green personal lifestyles is indicative, in these terms, of personal

green consciousness and commitment, and of but subdued or diminished green values. It seems

fair to remark that only weak environmental commitments are displayed in the book (however
27

See e.g. p.l 14 top.

28

To cite Goodin p.179.

29

Hay op.cit., where various examples confirming the final claim are assembled.

14

even weak commitments, typical of much academic literature, are better than none, typical of
former academic literature); or, more provocatively, to infer that Goodin has not really absorbed
genuine green values (else he would act personally). What does come through from the book is

that Goodin remains something of an outsider to green activism. That he is not together at the

cutting edge of things green is betrayed by occasional telling slips, as with what greens worry
about in different places (esp. pp. 180-1). It is not that what he asserts is wrong; it is that
emphases and contrasts are different.
Reasons offered for rejection of green lifestyles are, where clear, extraordinarily weak.

Consider what is offered:
• living too close to nature, too much in harmony with it, might cause it to lose its valued role
for us30一which is (remember) to provide us with a larger context in which we can see our lives

as being set! Test the force of the argument by comparing living in the vicinity of other valued

items: worthy lives, art, music, intellectual accomplishments. Moreover, there are counter­
arguments and considerations: that closeness brings respect and awe, and can enhance

appreciation of value. Consider the idea of Christians distancing themselves from Cathedrals
and Churches, ritual and practice.
• to achieve political change, greens should make every effort to minimise the perceived distance

between themselves and the “orthodox” community一whereas the association of 'alternative
lifestyling5 with 'green' has exactly the opposite effect. Such a claim reveals much as regards
subcontests, such as: claimants commitments and seriousness, type and extent of change

envisaged, and so on. Christians, feminists, revolutionaries and others would not be too
impressed. As in other reaches where orthodoxy may be morally or otherwise amiss, so with

regard to green lifestyles: There is a case for a politics of “exemplary practice”; for whilst some
people will treat those who so engage as objects of scorn and ridicule, it is evident that many
people have been recruited to green values through positive contact with experiments in "right

living”,or with elements of green lifestyles. It is important too that at least some people
endeavour to demonstrate how green principles might be put into practice at the level of daily

living.
• Bizarre examples, selective unfavourable examples, advanced under the heading 'green

heresies5.31 Granted 'some of this “exemplary practice” might be so outlandish that it reflects
negatively on larger green projects. But the influence of this can be overstated; this sort of game

can be played with many things that have features to recommend parts of them. After all, every
social movement and every tradition of political philosophy, has its fringe-dwellers, even its
30

Thus p.81ff.

31

pp.78-81.

15

practitioners of a particular reductio ad absurdum extracted from a larger coherency.32
• local lifestyle set the focus astray. It should be on grander issues, on global environmental

problems, fate of earth, etc. But plainly more regional and local problems also matter, esp. for
preservation of habitats, creatures, etc. And here personal and local things can be very
important.
Finally, there are other reasons for green lifestyles. For example, for the structural

changes necessary for environmentally satisfactory societies of one sort or another, something
like internalization of green values and adoption of a green lifestyle proves highly advantageous.

To this end and others, committed green subcultures and inspiring individual examples are

extremely valuable.
APPENDIX: a defective setting.
Many productions that may look new and interesting in fact prove conservative, brushing
off and wheeling out old ideas as if they would accomplish all requisite work. That is, it is

implicitly claimed, under conservative approaches, that prevailing paradigms offer all necessary
resources for capturing what has (wrongly) been presented as radically new.33 In environmental

philosophy a classical exercise of this sort, well received by an environmentally conservative or
reactionary establishment, was Passmore's text. Passmore's (and was followed, in a slightly
expanded and apparently more liberal setting by Attfield, in a series of broadly consequentialist
productions. Now the exercise repeated in environmental political theory by Goodin, who
simply imports utilitarianism as supplying a unique and unquestionable rationality, in place of
Passmore's vague utilitarianism of humans interests.
It does not bode well for a genuinely green theory that its presentation lies virtually entirely

within a shallow utilitarian setting, the setting of the dominant economic and public policy

paradigm. For just such a setting is what has assisted significantly in getting the Earth into the
present environmental mess. Consider what Goodin tries to insist upon in his section (s.1.3) on
the arguments (and also elsewhere):- He assumes, in so trying to preempt the range of

arguments, both that
—the case for environmental protection has to be made in utilitarian terms if it is to prove
effective
—the most telling arguments concern the ways environmental protection measures are required

to further human interests (and intertwined items: people, profits, property, resources, etc.).

It is worth commencing erosion of these commonplace assumptions immediately. As for what
arguments "work”,are telling or effective, that depends heavily on the context, who is engaged
32

This paragraph borrows heavily from Hay.

33

Brennan's third reductive trend(p.800.

16

in a dialogue, and so on. Those with deep green sympathies are not going to be vastly
impressed by a sheaf of utilitarian and human interests (first and only) arguments, any more than

by other privileged class arguments. Goodin seems to have rather assumed that, in effect, we
are always paired with our political masters, who are and will remain shallow utilitarians. Even

now this is by no means uniformly so, and there are grounds for hope that things could be much

ameliorated in the future. Accordingly there is little reason to accept Goodin's further excessive
claim that the 'essence' of the arguments (all satisfactory arguments he really wants to have us

concede) remains the same: 'inadequate protection of the human environment, seriously
compromised human interests\34
Pretty much the same problematic ethos is likewise taken for granted for proposed

remedies: a standard economic public policy framework, with the essence of the remedy
consisting in correcting market failure. From deeper green perspectives this is extraordinarily

tired stuff, with "remedies" that have been tried and tried and continue to fail.
As part of his case, he tries the stock shallow strategy of rubbishing the idea of admitting
interests beyond humans (to grant animals interests is hardly to ''widen'' or ttextend^^ interests).

The arguments are all very cheap, and the counter-case is not properly addressed. Regrettably, a

shallow utilitarianism raises its ugly head all over the place. A few examples: 'it is more

important that the right things be done than that they be done in any particular way or through
any particular agency * (p.120). But it is unnecessary to document utilitarian imput as Goodin
himself has provided it in susequent work.
A main orientation of Goodin's work一which help explain several of its features一 is

towards policy-makers or would-be policy-makers. Among such audiences utilitarian and

economic rationales contue to be greeted enthusistically. For one reason, such rationales seem

made to order when policy makers, or "bureaucratic rationality,5, require 'a means of justifying
decisions that may be unpopular with large members of people5. For through these rationales

they have seemed
able to give principled reasons for action. The policy-maker can claim
to have weighed up all the relevant considerations for and against a
course of action; each consideration was in some way commensurable
with every other—perhaps because each had a dollar value associated
with it—and so it was possible to reach a determinate conclusion, by
fair and objective means. The appearance of determinacy, fairness and
objectivity is an important tool for those who wield and manipulate
power in business, government, and even universities. But this
rationalizing use of economic approaches should be resisted by
everyone, including economists themselves.35

34

Ibid p.8 (check).

35

Brennan p.807.

17
The reasons are now entirely familiar ones.

References
Achtenberg, W., Review of Goodin, Environmental Values, (1994).
Foucault, M., 'What is Enlightenment5
Goodin, R., Green political Theory, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1992.
Habermus, J., 'Modernity—an incomplete project*, in Postmodern Culture (ed. H. Foster),

Pluto Press, London, 1987.
Hay, P., Review of Goodin typescript, University of Tasmania, 1994.
McGowan, J., Postmodernism and Its Critics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 199x.
Osborne, P, 'Modernity is a qualitative, not a stromological, category: notes on the dialectics of
differential historical time', in Postmodernism and the re-reading of modernity (ed. F. Barker

and others) Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1991/2.
Priest, G., 'On alternative geometries, arithmetics, and logics; a tribute to Lukasiewicz5,
typsescript, 1996.
Routley, R. and V., “Human chauvinism and environmental ethics' referred to as EE

Routley, R. and V., The Fight for the Forests,referred to as FF.

Collection

Citation

Richard Sylvan, “Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of Green political theory: a different account,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed February 23, 2024, https://antipodean-antinuclearism.org/items/show/186.

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