Box 17, Item 971: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization theory: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change, with letter from Thomas Cahill, Editor of Anarchist Studies to Richard Sylvan, 18 May 1994

Title

Box 17, Item 971: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization theory: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change, with letter from Thomas Cahill, Editor of Anarchist Studies to Richard Sylvan, 18 May 1994

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Typescript (photocopy) draft, with handwritten emendations. Paper dated 10.4.95. Includes two copies of abstract of paper, with handwritten annotations.

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Letter redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.

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The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 17, Item 971

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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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Lake George - Floor - Pile 7

Text

·*' . ~":'"

mw

10.4.95

PROBLEMS IN DEEPER GREEN POLITICAL
ORGANIZATION THEORY:
an Australi an perspective on radical institutio nal change .

.. . people are ready for change and the impending debate will result m
constitutional change. We should, therefore, explore all options .... 1
As elsewhere, there is growing dissatisfaction with Australia's political institutions, and
increasing demand to change them. This demand, hiding co-optative elements, has been
initiated and fostered in a conspicuously top-down fashion, by politicians and by academics.
There is so far little surge of political enterprise at grass-roots levels, little pressure for the
usually very limited changes proposed. Nonetheless, along with apathy, there is widespread
popular disenchant ment with present political arrangements. There is now an opportunity
(although still only a small window therefore no doubt) to put green and radical themes on the
agenda for real political change in Australia. That opportunity should not be missed, within
Australia, or elsewhere. While the exposition that follows concentrates upon Australia, as a
convenient advanced example, much of what is argued and urged applies or adapts elsewhere.

Disenchan tment with politics, and political proposals for change.
There is now evident in Australia, what is variously described as disillusionment and
anxiety, cynicism and pessimism about the state of politics-a loss of confidence in it, and a
retreat from commitment. As much and more, Mackay has nicely exposed in a survey of the
Australian situation:
. anxiety about the nature and quality of Australian politics [has] increased. . ..
Widesprea d anxiety about the state of politics is based [in part] on an uneasy feeling
that, if the parties are not going to stand for some identifiable philosophy, and the
leaders are going to be chosen on the basis of their potential as television performers
or even as head-kickers, then the only appropriate response is cynicism.
That cynicism is reflected in a turning away from support for the major parties ... and
revealed in the attitudes of young Australians ... 2
who often cannot be bothered registering to vote, or voting. (though voting is legally
compulsory).
Lack of confidence is beginning to show not only as cynicism about politicians, but
also as doubt about the integrity of Australia's political institutions .3
1.

Hon . Ian Macphee, ' A new constitution? '. Of course Macphee did not really mean all options, nor
even all constitutiona l options. Furthermore, his claim about preparedness of people for change is
incompatible with Mackey's data (mentioned below) on exhaustion with change.
2

Mackay pp.174-177. For all the Australian casualness of Mackay's presentation, his sociological
findings are nonetheless fairly solidly survey and interview based (if occasionally stretching the
data). Plain findings are replicated by other socialogists.

3

Ibid. p.178

2

In a recent survey, '62 percent of [Australians] expressed either little or no confidence in the
political system. Such a figure accurately reflects the mood of the Australian community' .4
Australian loss of faith in conventional politics is attributed to a mix of factors. A first
explanator y factor as regards this disenchantment comes from the changes in politics already
remarked (ranging from policy issues to media performers) and from resultant uncertainty. ' ...
the Australian electorate is confused about which party stands for what, and about whether any
party has a long-term commitment to any particular point of view' .5
A complex 'second factor ... concerns the adversaria l nature of two-party politics' .6
How can this 'two party, adversarial approach ... continue to be appropriate when the
distinctions between the two parties themselves are so hard to define'? But 'reµefinition of
party politics implies the possibility of a redefinition of the whole parliamentary process itself .
Why 'when parties seem quite capable of stealing each other's policies or of invading each
other's traditional philosophical territory, [can not] politicians work together in a more cooperative and harmonious spirit' ?7 'Adversarial politics may have made sense ... when .. .
distinction s between the parties were stark and when arguments about principle could be
justified; today, the idea that politicians would be arguing over a point of principle or
philosophy is almost unthinkable .... [They] are much more likely to be arguing over matters of
personality, prejudice and power than over issues which effect the long-term health of the body
politic' .8

'The quality of parliamentary debate is regarded not only as a symptom of the
adversarial nature of the institution, but also as a symptom either of the poor quality of
politicians ... , or of the effect of the system on those who are enmeshed in it' .9 Unless there is
marked improvement in party philosophies, programs and performance, 'the call to re-examine
the nature of the parliamentary process will gather momentum ' .10

4

Ibid.

5

Ibid. pp.178-179.

6

Ibid. The adversarial character of dominant State legal systems is also becoming subject to more
and more criticism. It appears likely that significant movement towards different inquiratorial
systems will occur, not least because of the huge expense and growing unaffordabili ty of
adversarial systems.

7

Ibid.

8

Ibid. p. 180.

9

Ibid. p.179. It is a symptom of both, the latter especially.

lO

Ibid . p. 181 .

3

A third relevant factor contributing to loss of faith is the impression of Australians that
'they are overgoverned ' 11 , with too many expensive bureaucracies and too many houses of
parliament.
Conflicts between State and Federal parliaments - and between the various State
parliaments themselves - are regarded as a particularly unproductive expenditure of
political energy, and Australians question whether 15 houses of parliament may be
too many for the efficient government of 18 million people. The sheer number of
parliaments is often blamed for the problem of too many bureaucracies and for many
duplications of bureaucratic and political activity between State and Federal ·
governments.
... Whilst there is little love felt in the Australian community for Canberra and for the
idea of more centralised government even that is beginning to appear preferable ... .
The widespread support for the idea of a republic which emerged during 1992 is
closely related to the underlying sense that Australia is overdue for _some kind of
reexamination of its political institutions, and even the notion of Federation itself. ...
As debate about the idea of a republic proceeds ... it has begun to incorporate the idea
that Australian's political structures and systems might be quite significantly
reformed. 12
Such diseffection reflects too a growing awareness that Australia's political arrangements
owe more to historical accident than to rational design. Even though the main proposals for
change no doubt remain reformist in character and could lead in unfortunate directions, some of
them are far-reaching by normal standards. Both the extensive disenchantme nt with present
political arrangements and the felt need for significant change further suggest political times are
not altogether normal. Elements underpinning a political paradigm shift are already present, as
are features supporting rational redesign, to which radical additions are now feasible.
So far there have been, along with normal inertial resistance to change, two main
responses to growing pressure for change: political, from politicians, ex-politicians and political
commentator s , and academic from intellectuals, academic entrepreneurs and academic
journalists. By and large, political responses have been grander, more sweeping and vaguer;
academic responses more theoretical and cautious, piecemeal and detailed. But there are no
grand detailed plans.
Under the leading proposal so far for political change, Australia's constitutiona l
monarchy will be displaced by a constitutional republic with its own head of state displacing the
monarch, but with perhaps minimal adjustments otherwise. Nonetheless , as a result ,
republicanism is in the air. Politicians have begun to contemplate other practical reforms, while
11

Ibid. p. 181 , itals added.

12

Ibid. p.181 -2. Republican proposals have been circulating for some time . But the cause was
finally taken up by prominent politicians, who made it their own, after which it became a popular
issue. Mackay's accurate presentation of popular support for political change contrasts drolly with
the first part of his book which depicts an Australian populace exhausted by change and longing for
the old ease and somnolence.

4

academics have begun to embroider theories around republicanism and institutional reform.
What happens to the Australian federation of states is one of the many unresolved issues
presently being debated.
The main reason for reform offered by the political camp can be summed up simply as
changing geopolitica l circumstances. The camp tends not to acknowledge what would reflect
adversely upon it, the poorness of federal political practice. Rather it tends to attribute popular
dissatisfaction to economic circumstances and uncertainties: declining real standards of living,
extensive unemploym ent, persistent recession until recently, problems to be surmounted by
full-steam ahead untrammelled economic growth, to be attained by recoupling Australia to the
Asian economic express. Meanwhile an orchestrated republican movement can help divert
popular political attention from poor political management and a gloomy economic predicament.
Much has changed in the century since present antiquated political arrangements were
hammered out, arrangeme nts making the newly-fashioned .Commonw ealth of Australia,
politically a federation of states, into a constitutional monarchy coupled to Britain, arrangements
of convenience fashioned for very different circumstances. Most non-symbolic linkages with
Britain, which has been inching towards a place in a united Europe, have already been severed.
Australia has gradually begun to appreciate its geo-political position in the Indian-Pacific region
(and the money-ma king opportunities for a sagging resource-based economy in allegedly
booming parts of Asia). Whence the main idealistic proposal: for an independent republic,
decoupled from Europe, assuming its own (prominent) place in its geo-political regions. In
principle at least, place and region begin to assume, or resume, some of their neglected, but
historic, significance (however that is not how it is yet seen).
Most proposals for constitutional and federal reform fit within that limited idealistic
conception. One important proposal, advanced by established political players, their most
radical proposal so far, includes abolition of the present states. Such a proposal would clearly
represent a welcome step in anarchist directi<;ms, were it not regularly offset by the idea of a
strengthened central state.13 Supposing this latter unfortunate idea is bracketed for the moment,
then what is being seriously considered already starts to look like a much more rational
regionalism than what presently prevails.
The present states of Australia are undoubtedly an anachronis m, based on accidental
boundaries of a contingent colonial history. They are ecologically irrational management units,
utterly failing to reflect ecological regions. Yet the states possess extensive environmental and
other manageme nt powers, inappropriate 'powers which derive from what was largely a
political bargaining process conducted a century ago.' Another effect of inapposite state-federal
13

Anarchists can even rest (if uneasily) with a con stitution , so long as it provides for an
organisation, Australia Inc . even, sufficiently different from a state and its authoritarian trappings.

5

arrangements, especially 'funding arrangements, has been to lock out local government and,
more importantly, local communities . ... local communities must be given greater control over
those decisions of government which effect their lives ... '; the opportunity 'to design and
provide the services which are needed locally.' 14
At this stage of the dialectic McPhee slides easily and naturally from localism to
regionalism.
A glance at the map reveals natural regions for local government on a viable scale [an
optimistic contention]. Some cross State boundaries, and I would envisage that State
governments would be replaced with regional governments. These would be more
akin to larger local governments and would certainly not have the trappings of the
States. They should not have parliaments and the expensive, unwieldy and inefficient
bureaucracies which characterise our States. They should have a small number of
full-time councillors. .. Regional governments should be solely accountable to their
ratepayers ... 15 .
So far so good: however McPhee thereupon begins to infiltrate stock (small /) ·liberal
management assumptions. Nonetheless the basic idea to retain is simple: that of ecologicallyrational local and regional rearrangemen t of anachronistic state partitions. But that
regionalizatio n should be greened, as reform should be radicalized. More generally,
opportunites now present themselves to inset more radical ideas throughout the debate about
Australia's future directions.
For much has been left off political agendas for change, not merely environments and
habitats of their less prominent or noisy inhabitants, but also such issues as rights and liberties,
transformation of antiquated legal and executive frameworks, and so on. Omission of (human)
rights is especially remarkable in states such as Australia, whose constitutions astonishingly do
not mention at all (what is however often supposed to justify states) individual rights, such
rights only being ensured, so far as they are, assumptions from uncodified common law, by
indirect routes (statutes regarding treatment of minorities and the like). Nor do the political
camps pushing limited change speak of rights or liberties; a very limited conception of
adjustments required prevails (though without rights and liberties and a generous public sphere
there is little, and little prospect of,justificatio n for a state at all). Accordingly political agendas
for change need to be conspicuously broadened, to accommodate a decidedly more ambitious
range of constitutional and institutional redesign.

2.

A project within a project: radically reshaping Australian institutions.

14

All quotes in this paragraph are drawn from McPhee. An address along similar lines to the Hon.
Ian McPhee, also proposing abolition of the states, was delivered by the former Prime Minister
R.G. Hawke. Hawke's speech, by contrast with McPhee's, attracted much media attention, and
though facilely dismissed as "unrealistic" by some practicing politicians , appeared to gain a good
deal of support.

I5

McPhee ibid.

6

Academic entrepreneurs have also responded quickly to proposals for constitutional and
institutional changes. Early to scramble on the bandwagon was the institution to which I am
affiliated, the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, with its
ambitious decade-lon g project, Reshaping Australian Institutions: Towards and Beyond
2001. 16 One. small part of this project does connect with the republican push, which no doubt
helped inspire it and gain its funding. The academic version of republicanism furnishes an
institutional and historic setting, tracing its roots back to ancient Rome, and thereby linking in,
what admits much modem adaptation, notions of citizenship and civic virtues. But most of the
project is independent of any republican reorganisation.
The Reshaping Australian Institutions project is presented in predominantly reformist
fashion, unsurprisingly. It is supposed, for instance, to 'provide major input into evaluation
and refonn of Australia's institutions'; indeed it is explicitly 'aimed at contributing to Australian
constitutio nal reform'. 17 Nothing however precludes considerat ion of reshaping or
transforming Australian institutions - those of the whole ecological region - in a unreformist
and possibly unconstitutional way, in a radical way.
Admittedly, the rough boundary between reformist and radical routes becomes even more
blurred when the constitution of a country is open for possible major reconsideration and much
political infrastructure may be altered. Nonetheless, from the perspective of a strong central
state, the stock. boundary stands intact. For reformist changes would amount to comparative
small adjustments leaving it substantially intact. For example, a minimal transformation, of the
sort presently much favoured, from constitutional monarchy to Australian republic, though
entailing non-negligible constitutional redrafting, need only amend the roles of a few elite
power- and position-holders. By contrast, radical changes would substantially alter that strong
central state, perhaps (as will be proposed) eliminating it altogether.
There are appealing reasons for attempting wider, more radical investigations. For,
firstly, there may be more satisfactory institutional structures not accessible, or even visible,
along normal constitutional reform routes. Secondly, there is a demand, a small but growing

16

A recent brief description of this two million dollar project, now outlined in several places, is
given in Tynan, pp.17-19. Fuller descriptions are available from a main coordinator of the project,
J. Braithwaite, Law, RSSS, ANU. One of the many strands (17 at last count) of this project is an
environmental (or green) strand.
The immediate predecessor of this article was presented in a workshop at RSSS on green political
theory , arranged under the project. That accounts for some of the otherwise puzzling structure of
what has eventuated. Another earlier version was tried out at Ecopolitics VIII, Pacific Visions,
held at Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand, in July 1994.

17

' Reshaping Australian institutions : towards and beyond 200 l' in Tynan , p.17, italics added.

7

demand from green directions for instance, for radical institutional change. It would be
prudent, then, to make some investigation of the options, to assess their prospects. Thirdly,
reflection on such structures would certainly be part of a more comprehensive study of and
theory of institutional design, which the Reshaping project also presents as an objective.
Fourthly, much more controversially, major environmental problems cannot be satisfactorily
solved along merely reformist paths. For states, what are reformed, states themselves are
ecologically dysfunctional. In practice this appears obvious enough. Simply reflect upon their
environmental records; these are even worse than those abysmal records compiled for human
rights. But the practical case can be argued in detail in a state by state way, or less laboriously,
through the familiar rough classification of states into first, second and third world states. In
main third world regions, the rise of the state has seen the serious decline of environments.
Those third world states that have not largely destroyed their natural environments are in rapid
process of doing so. The activities involved are, furthermore, not merely tolerated by these
states but are usually actively encouraged (e.g. with state participation or by state concessions,
as through taxation advantages, subsidies, expert incentives, etc.). Further, the role of
exploitation and plunder of remaining natural "resources'', and depletion of "biological capital",
by third world states, most of which are now trapped in debt and structural adjustment, has
increased many-fold in the last two decades. How destructively second world states of eastern
Europe treated their own (and also other regions') environment, how they over-expoited and
polluted them, has recently been much publicized. While the recent record in first world states
is no doubt marginally better, many of these states dominated their natural environments and
their wild inhabitants in the past and have heavily polluted and exported their urban and
industrial regions. Nor does their present record gain an environmental pass. For example,
those that have any natural forests (similarly fisheries) left are in the process of eliminating or
degrading most what remains; most are failing seriously in meeting (their own) targets on
greenhouse emissions, and so on. More theoretically, it is unlikely that states, increasingly
focussed narrowly upon shallow economic agendas, will or can deliver satisfactorily
environmentally. A prime reason is this: states are ineluctably committed, more and more as
their populations expand, to high levels of economic activity characteristically to economic
growth of sorts which impact heavily environmentally, inducing inevitable degradation.18
Accordingly, there are then, or should be, two bands to any green (or environmental)
strand of a restructuring Australian institutions project: not merely an important reformist side,

18

This theme, that states are normally ecologically dysfunctional, is documented and argued in detail
elsewhere; see e.g. Carter and especially . Sylvan 96 . On the dismal environmental records of
particular states see Punting. For shocking figures and illustrations as regards environmental
exploitation of third world states, see Bolla, pp57-65 .

8

but as well a radical spread. It is part of this underfunded and undersupported radical spread
which forms the main object of investigation in what follows, that part that relinquishes present
state structures, in favour of more environmentally benign institutions - which no doubt can be
designed, even if not so readily brought to practical use. 19
In order to reach radical redesign ideas quickly, let us touch only lightly upon some of the
more distinctively green reasons for this anarchoid quest (familiar anarchist reasons stand: the
illegitimacy of present states, the undesirability and severe disutility of states, which typically
are highly destructive and corrosive institutions based on concetration of power, hierarchical
authority, massive coercion, manipulation by economic elites, technobureaucracy, utilitarian
rationality, and sundry other evils. 20) As 1ndicated, present states are incompatible with stock
ecologically sustainable practices, because of their heavy unrelenting commitments to shallow
economic growth. More generally, standard states and their practices comprise very significant
parts of environmental problems, but quite insufficient parts of any solutions. Moreover, states
constitute an enormous and destructive drain on regional environments, a feature particularly
evident in smaller states which are always looking out for revenue-raising expedients for their
.
.
own expensive runnmg.
Apart from those greens who have recognised the excessive environmental costs of states
and their heavy demands on environments, and thus or otherwise have come to recognise the
desirability of their withering away, there are many more who have become ambivalent about
states, who appreciate their very problematic character and very questionable legitimacy, but do
not see yet how to get along altogether without them, or more exactly (to point towards a partial
resolution) without certain functions that they serve. To point immediately towards a resolution
of this crucial problem, the functional dissolution idea advocated is this: that the functioning
parts may be separately utilized without the colossal whole. The state is not an organism the
functioning parts of which must fail without the whole. So it may well be the enormous fat of
state can simply be shed, to great advantage.
In any event, 'the State is a social institution', always 'within', Marxists continue, 'a
,concrete historic setting' .21 Granted, it is an institution. For an institution in the relevant sense
is 'a society or association for the [organisation or] promotion of some particular object [or

19

To adapt a referee's trenchant summary . For detail on some familiar anarchist reasons , see
Bumheim and above all Marshall.

20

Nonetheless practical revolutionary displacement of the state is not so remote as is generally
supposed.

21

Thus, Green p.61, who adds quite wrongly that Proudhon and his disciples do not see it that way
'but as an abstraction and aberration'.

9

function]'. 22 Institutions include therefore the state, the central state. So it too is up for
reshaping, radical slimming, and possible removal in a concrete historical setting, such as late
twentieth century Australia. Whittling away the state means in tum dismantling corporate
capitalism, which now dwells in symbiosis with the bureaucratic state, and also much else,
often environmentally undesirable, that the state affords a supportive framework for and enables
to flourish.
Ideas and schemes for radical redesign are already available from rich anarchist and
socialist sources, those for g_reen design and reshaping from growing and diverse
environmental sources. In main part, then, radical ecoredesign is a matter of convivially
meeting (not joining) the two, an intersection that favours anarchist inputs. Something ofthe
sort has already been attempted, in an environmentally shallower way, in eco-anarchism, alias
social ecology, and in a deeper way, in deep-green social theory. 23 Moreover, it could be
attempted in other kinds of deeper green theory-itself really a plurality of theories, which
however does not itself force radical ecoredesign, though most variants would support it. Thus
Naess's "deep ecology" for example, which is not so far politically radical, only strongly
reformist, could (and should) be given a radical tum. 24
Concentrating upon the radical spread of deeper green theory does not preclude
concomitant reformist investigation and activity. Both sides of the green street should be
played. Reformist opportunities should of course be pursued-increme ntal change, social
engineering, greening bureaucrats, lobbying politicians, and like activity (but better really to cut
through much such pleading and obiesance and be rid of politicians and bureaucrats). There are
many reformist proposals being advanced for the greening of Australian federal institutionswith but few so far having much impact on practice. 25 Nonetheless, more limited, more
constrained, proposals of this sort certainly have a better chance of making a difference than
radical redesigns, regularly smartly dismissed as "unrealistic" or "utopian".26 No doubt the

22

Oxford English Dictionary, adapted. An institution is an organitution.

23

On social ecology, see Bookchin 90, and for information on deep-green social theory , see Sylvan
and Bennett 94 and Routleys 80.

24

As to the political character of deep ecology, and why it should be turned, see Sylvan and Bennett
94, where an expose of the political theory of Naess's ecosophy is presented.

25

There are many many narrower economic and technological proposals. One of the more interesting
wider proposals comes from an Opposition not noted for its green initiatives and commitments, for
an overseeing Department of Sustainable Development, a Department that could see to the
greening of all federal institutions.

26

Too smartly, as we argue elsewhere (e.g. Sylvan and Bennett 90).

normal "reshaping institutions" investigations are rightly focussed upon institutional reform, not
upon revolutionary reshaping, where much freer scope for redesign is offered. However the
real possibility of radical change should not be excluded; green radicals should be prepared.
There have been various opportunities for revolutionary change in Australian history, the last
occurring, according to some historians, with the ignominious fall of the Whitlam government.
There may well be opportunities again both in the near and intermediate future, especially
should some solid work be put into propagating the prospect. In the near term there is
economic disarray, social fragmentation, and constitutional destabilization; in the longer term
increasing ecological problems and expanding eco-catastrophes loom.
Under present incremental reform and regression, for all th_e spasmodic environmental
rhetoric, comparatively little in the way of radical green change occurs or can be expected.
Witness, for comparison, the snail pace of the establishment movement towards a rather
minimal grey republicanism in Australia, or differently away from meeting carbon-reduction
commitments. It is increasingly doubtful, given prevailing responses to economic and other
difficulties, that present structural and systematic problems confronting Australia, for example,
will be satisfactorily addressed, environmental problems such as extensive and expanding land
and water degradation not least. Furthermore, under more incremental reform, the sorts of
problems concerning reorganising society in deeper green ways, problems that provide
subsequent topics, would likely noi arise. So in getting beyond more muddling along, do
imagine fairly free scope for institutional eco-redesign is somehow dispensed. One nice
corollary is that once it is worked out where to go organisationally, it is much easier to ascertain
how to arrive there.

3.

A basic problem of structure: central or decentralised organisation.
There are large and immediate advantages in pursuing a problem-oriented approach to
redesign. That approach, which will tend towards anarchoid outcomes, will be anarchistically
guided in this respect: Unless there is a genuine problem, already causing difficulties or
developing, nothing need be done; otherewise let things alone, let Being be. 27 On this non.:.
managerial low-work approach a good deal of structure presently inoperational, and of idle
regulation presently enacted, can be removed; organisational arrangements can be very
significantly down-sized.

The leading methodological idea is that enough relevant
(biodegradable) structure is introduced to resolve organisational problems, but not substantially

27

The non -prejudical term 'anarchoid' is deployed, not because what emerges will not be anarchistic
(as characterized in Marshall and in Sylvan 94), but because it departs from standard forms of
anarchism in significant respects, not least in planned political organization. In this exercise
organization is of the essence ..

11
more. Organisationa l oversupply and waste is thus avoided. Moreover, much structure that
keeps so much environmenta lly destructive industry in business is likewise shed.
Among basic problems for deeper green theory are those of political reorganisation and so
of organisatior,,. Evidently institutions, and their types, are critical to such organisation. And a
major organisational problem for any putative green society concerns structure: to take a critical
case, whether society is centrally organised (concentrated, bureaucratised , hierarchical, largescale and so on) or decentralised (dispersed, non-hierarchic al, small-scale and supposedly
beautiful, and so on).
This focal problem, to centralise or not to centralise, is sometimes presented as a serious
dilemma for concerned green theorists. 28 The binary horns of this dilemma are respectively: on
the one horn, the pull ( or push) to localisation and regionalisatio n, to non-anonymo us smallscale low-impactin g environmenta lly-friendly arrangements , to diffusion of power and
dismantling of the incubus of a central state with its crippling costs and unfriendly practices; and
on the other horn, the need for continuing and further central income generation and welfare (re)distribution, central regulation and control, and the pressures to environmenta l reliance upon
and use of the central state. 29
The dilemma has been trenchantly posed as follows:
... the demands of the Greens sometimes appear contradictory, in seeking increasing
environmenta l regulation and welfare measures ... alongside a halt to industrial
expansion, the very source of income for the welfare state. Yet the expansion and
further centralization of the bureaucratic state apparatus is neither their overt goal nor
covert motivation. Quite the contrary. Their genuine long term vision is of a
decentralized , steady state society of self-sufficient, relationally autonomous (albeit
interlinked) regions. 30
As it happens, not only does the theoretical and utopian literature run both ways, towards
and away from centralisation , but so does practice and experience. As to theory,
anarchistically -inclined presentations tend to favour decentralisation, perhaps with some central
compensation through federation (thus recent Blueprints, ecotopias, and so on), whereas
socialistically -inclined presentations invariably opt for powerful central states (to control and
redistribute grander social programs, etc.). As to practice, there are local councils, community
organisations, residents' groups aiming to keep out, or to remove, the state-sponsore d nuclear
plants, toxic waste incinerators, waste dumps or super-highway s, on the one horn; and, on the

28

As by Michael Jacobs of The Green Economy, who has posed the problem sharply, as part of an
argument however for retaining the central state (and much of present status quo arrangements).

29

Environmental reasons for favouring small-scale bioregional organisation are nicely gathered in
McLaughlin, chapter I 0.

30

Fox, Ecopolitics III.

12
other, central states blocking, modifying, or regulating local or regionally promoted schemes
for large dams (e.g. Tasmania's Franklin), forest exploitation, pulp mills, strip mining, and so
on .31
To some extent, the way the problem has often been re-presented, in terms of a dilemma
between top-down and bottom-up structure and power transmission, already points towards a
theoretical resolution: namely, both, or rather enough of both. But how is this combination to
be achieved? An answer does not fall out by pure reason, operating in isolation from other
problems. By taking advantage of information gathered from other connected problems, a
promising answer can be teased out. Neither standard socialism nor anarchism afford answers,
socialism because it leaves the central institution of state intact. But standard anarchism, much
more promising, does not resolve the problem either, because federation , as usually explained,
does not leave enough structure; it may not even concede sufficient power to delegates to
constrain exploitative local communities.
A solution to such dilemma lies through a combinational strategy, which includes partial
dissolution of the central state, into its actual organisational functions in each region. While
removing the state, itself source of several environmenta l and social problems, and its
concentration of power, invariably under environmenta lly unfriendly control, functional
dissolution nonetheless retains its apparently essential services, including (where necessary)
those of environmenta l regulation. Relevant continent-wid e functions would persist or be
introduced: for example, services controlling inflow into Australia of damaging forms and
materials such as toxic wastes and exotic pest species, or regulating outflow from Australia of
native wildlife and flora. In part, ecoregional functionalism offers a radical continuation of the

separation of powers of recent historical process, of church and state, legislature and executive,
and so forth. As these functions come to operate separately while remaining coordinated, so
would those functional arrangements and institutions dissolving the state.
It is a major illusion of modem political theory that a central state, ceded monopolies on
coercion, currency, taxation and so on, is necessary in order to secure adequate supply of
public goods, including public order and environmenta l regulation. To the contrary, the most
that appears required, the most that arguments would support, is some network of specific
organisations functioning to look after specific kinds of goods and services, those necessary for
this or that, that are not otherwise supplied. There is no inherent reason why communities
should not institute and regulate specialised bodies coordinated among themselves (by
negotiations or, failing that, through recognised arbitrators) to ensure the adequate maintenance
or production of various types of public goods, including control of damaging crime. Each
3I

Much turns on the exploitative character of certain local and regional communities, their get-richquick schemes, what they are prepared to do to survive in old or affluent ways, and so on .

13
such institution could gain community standing from its support base, for instance through
achieving democraticall y-generated recognition. Such an institution would aim to secure
execution of its recommendat ions and decisions by sanctions and like admissible means, and in
doing this it could mobilize in co-operation with communities and with other recognised
institutions . There are many examples of such institutions operating successfully both
regionally and internationally; for instance, those for postal and communicational arrangements,
international sporting bodies, international academies and clubs, environmenta l and consumer
organizations.32

4.

Selecting satisfactory political arrangemen ts within the span of anarchoid
options.
Anarchoid options come in a wide variety of forms, including, among others, both right
leaning individualisti c or capitalistic varieties, and lef-leaning social or communitaria n
varieties.33 A suitably generous political pluralism will allow for all these form, while not
encouraging all, <:lS they are of very different merit. For example, some may be neglectful or
repressive of some of their inhabitants, or destructive of their environments; others, superior in
these coino-environmental regards, may not be. Dismantling or deconstructing a state does not,
on its own, make a sharp selection between alternatives. No doubt the hope is, what can be
striven for, that adequate design are sought and adequate selections inadmissible forms rapidly
perish. Those forms that are admissible can be ranked, for instance according to defeasible
criteria based upon "pillars" of German green movement such as environmenta l sensitivity,
democratic institutions, and nonviolent practices.
While right leaning anarchoid arrangements could in theory work (e.g. under what is
improbable, benevolent capitalists), they are unlikey to succeed in practice, for several reasons.
Consider to illustrate in outline, why that much promoted rightist form, market (or "liberal"

32

This passage borrows from the summary in Burnheim 86 p.221 of Burnheim 85. For much fuller
elaboration see Burnheim 85 and Sylvan 94.
The critical issue of funding administration, without a coercive location system, is also breached in
these places (and developed in Sylvan 96). The broad proposal is that low-cost administration ,
much of which would be volunteer, could be funded by rents (there would be no property in land
and resources), use charges, and fines .

33

There are many more varieties of political systems than much recent theory has cared to concede .
For example, to take right-leaning dimensions, all of individualism , market-organiza tion and
capitalism function substantially independently. There can be markets without capitalism
(characterised through opportunities to accumulate capital), and conversely, capitalism with free
mar1cet arrangements. And so on . Most historic and modern systems, upon which political theory
has tended inadmissilby to concentrate almost exclusively, are hybrid arrangements with mixes of
different elements drawn from both "left" and "right".

14
capitalism is unlikely to serve. For one reasons an intrusive state is likely to emerge, with
standing state controlled and funded military and police forces to defend capitalist interests and
accommod ation, to protect private property, to uphold social in equalities, and to enforce
particular market and trade structures, with a substantial and heavy taxation system to fund
these forces and a correspond ing bureaucracy needed to administer and regulate these and other
institutions, such as those required to guarantee that capitalist liabilites are limited and to keep
markets (far from self-regulating) free and competitive. Not only are anarchoid conditions thus
violated, so are those for benign green socities. In normal practice, market capitalism tends to
be highly environmental exploitative, as modem history demonstrates all too plainly (plainly too
it is not alone in this propensity, so are other modern statist systems). Furthermor e, given the
sorts of humans and practices (including extravagen t consumptio n for all that can afford it)
these systems tend to elevate, exalt, encourage and some times even enforce, extensive
exploitation is to be expected, and liable to persist-wi thout further state interventio n to distort
"natural" capitalistic incentives and institutions, to limit practices on private property (thereby
altering the institution 34 ), to establish new mitoument s and commoditi es such as pollution
licences, green investment s and futures, and so forth. Even though a shallow greenness could
be sprayed upon parts of market capitalism (factoiries in fields, forest reserves retained for
tourists, etc.) and some green chowcase exhibits tacked on, environme ntal depth cannot.
Shallownes s is both an inevitable consequenc e of the justifying socio-econ omic theory, and
also an expected best outcome of practice.
Accordingl y in institutional design it is much more promising to look in democratic leftleaning directions. It would be rash to gamble upon any bright new clause of environme ntally
and socially benign market capitalism, which could in any event easily revert back to dark
industrial ages. Similar arguments to those sketched could be developed as regards centralised
socialism, especially as untempered by democratic procedures. While island communiti es of a
wide range of varieties are naturally not excluded under anarchoida l pluralism, brighter
continental prospects lie through modifications of democratic sociality, which appears to permit
much of what is sought in design.
Under duly decentralized social organization, each requisite function would be carried out
by some association of agents comprising operative and support staff (that is, as regards bare
formal structure, more or less as now, in institutions like department s and corporation s). For
direct accountability downwards , and also to ensure desirable separation and dilution of power,
upper operatives, those of a directing or steering committee (the nervous system of the
organisation), would be democratic ally selected (from a relevant lower level constituenc y, and
34

Infiltrated too is much mythology, including acclaimed environmenta l virtues of private property
and privatization generally .

15

from the whole people of an ecoregion in case of a typical bottom level institution). Note well
that selection is not election: election is but one method of democratic selection, and often
enough not an altogether satisfactory method. The point of some sort of democratic selection,
as a guiding though not invariant rule, is manifold: it is in part to ensure due accountability, in
part to prevent unethical accumulation of power in special classes, and in part for reasons that
devolve from the very notion of democracy itself.
In brief, certain forms of democracy offer promising prospects for green reorganisation,
particularly within complementing left-leaning settings where those froms can function in
favour of sustainability. However even with an informed democracy in place, there are few
guarantees. Some structure, such as limited executive power separated from judicial and
administrative functions, needs to be set in place to block or retard worse eventualities (such as
mob actions, selection of tryants, mistreatment of noncitizens and so on). Even then several
thorny problems remain for any deeper green political theory.

5.

Problems of chauvinism and present-time bias in democratic political
institutions.
In modem usage of the motherhood term democracy, two main lines are visible: included
are not only forms of political organisation where 'power [is presumed to] reside in the people
as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them ... or by officers [selected] by them\ but
'often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or
arbitrary differences of rank or privilege' 35 . It is on the basis of this second line that the call for
democracy has operated to remove chauvinism and discrimination of a range of forms: against
unpropertied minorities, nonconformists, women, blacks, tribals, and so on. Even so pursuit
of the line, where successful, has not generally conferred adequate representation and rights on
several of these groups; but, more important, pursuit has stopped short in its inclusions at
certain humans, such as those granted citizenship-though relevant interests of many other
creatures and welfare of many of other items may be affected by what those citizens elect to do.
While democratic voters can perhaps be entrusted to take some account of those near and dear
(within remarkably sharp limits, as the situation of women in many regions still shows), such
as those deemed incompetent to vote: the young, deranged, and so on, much evidence reveals
that they cannot be relied for what is less near or dear (and indeed are easily herded into casting
their votes in accord with a shallow mercantilism). Consider what get left out , outcasts of even
perfect democratic control:-

35

Oxford English Dictionary entry 1, main entry. These two lines are by no means the only
distinctive lines now visible: increasingly conspicuous in calls for "democracy", notably in Asia,
are calls to freedom and rights: not merely for basic legal freedoms such as free assembly, fair
process and so on, but for freedom to access information (the "right to know" ).

16
• spatially distant agents. For example, the interests of many humans outside USA are much
affected by practices of the US government, which however is outside their democratic reach.
• temporally distant agents. Since the past is past, it is future agents who would be affected,
often drastically affected, by present practices, that matter. Some way of taking due account of
future agents, their interests and welfare, is required, even under shallow long-term ecology,
that is under lighter green positions. Sustainable development has been regularly diverted
into--what is part of what it is about-such a way, an indirect and so far utterly ineffectual
way.36
Much more of importance is also excluded according to deep-green theory:
• creatures with interests, other than present human citizens, and
• items with welfare, but perhaps lacking interests. The category includes items with intrinsic
value, whose value can be effected, made to fare worse or better.
A major problem, little addressed, is how to take due account of such democraticall y
excludes. It is a problem especially for deeper green theories: that deep problem is, so to say,
how to obtain satisfactory representation of all that is of value in the natural world? That way of
putting it, while a little misleading, does point to a particular type of resolution.
Problems special to deep ecopolitical theory, include, that is, issues as to adequacy of
representation of items of value outside those humans that are represented, representation of
their interests, where they have them, of their welfare otherwise, of favourable conditions for
their sustenance, continuation and retention of value. Democracy of discussed modem sorts,
whether representative or participative, will not serve these purposes at all satisfactorily. For
instance, insofar as party-political representative democracies represent anything (even human
"bottom lines" as is sometimes erroneously supposed), they appear to represent primarily
interests of certain business-allied elites. Among the issues are of course those as to adequacy
of retention and protection of nonhuman items of intrinsic value, tropical forests and their
inhabitants and elements for instance.
As observed, there is really no organisationa l alternative to proceeding with and through
agents, preferably well-disposed and quality agents. It is hard to guarantee either politically.
As agents are but a subclass of what requires democratic representation and what should have
its welfare or interests considered, how are the rest to be taken care of satisfactorily? There are
significant older responses to like problems, through totems and taboos, guardians and
constraints. Looked at one way the problem repeats, more or less, a familiar problem: namely,
how in larger constituencies do decision-mak ing agents represent the whole mass of agents and
others in the constituency? A main democratic answer, designed to avoid many shortcomings

36

See Sylvan and Bennett 93.

17

of alternatives, was: by representative means-only "representation" was almost never taken
seriously or literally enough. The sorts of considerations that made representation a promising
resolution make what is to be proposed-wh ere representation has, in any case, to be expanded
-also promising. A key principle is this: all relevant items are to be represented. Relevance
criteria enter importantly. Steering committees of lower level institutions among the main
decision-mak ing bodies should be appropriately representative of all items whose welfare is
affected by their decisions (principle of deepened demanarchy). Under more equitable
arrangements, then, some decision-engaged agents will have to be selected as representative of
relevant classes of excludeds. Electoral arrangements do not so readily allow for such;
sortition, well-designed selection by lot, does. 37 Of course, however good the selection
processes, however disinterested and well-intentioned the agents selected, some bias may
remain. Nonetheless prejudice and mal-treatment may be much reduced.
As already hinted, deepened representation is not the only promising resolution of the
present problem that might be tried. Another, which could be attempted either separately or
concurrently, operates through the directive of ecologically sustainable development, requiring
as a constraint, not only intergenerational equity but also preservation of items of ecological
value. 38 It might be suggested that such a directive be made mandatory, applying to all relevant
steering committees. But, as already evident, there <;1re severe obstacles to getting such a
directive properly implemented. (In present oligarchical circumstance s, even very dilute
versions are worth pressing for however, as they would offer definite improvements upon what
presently happens.)

6.

A fundamenta l dilemma for (deeper)-gre en organization democratic or
authoritaria n procedures?
There is strictly no logical space for a deeper green democracy, according to Saward for
one. For there is a clash, an essential tension, between democratic procedures and deeper green
values and commitments, notably to intrinsic values in nature. The main drift of the argument is
that green values, which are mandatory for deeper greens, require for their implementation antidemocratic, indeed authoritarian procedures; otherwise they cannot be guaranteed.
This nasty conundrum for green theory over democracy, which the theory typically
sponsors, is put in sharper form as follows :39
Democracy concerns procedures, environmentalism certain outcomes. What guarantee can
37

No doubt there are electoral approximations; e.g. candidates in separate classes for each category to
be represented.

38

For elaboration of this option, see Sylvan and Bennett 93 and its sequel.

39

Goodin, condensing Saward, p.168 .

18

there be that the procedures will deliver the outcomes? What guarantee that democracy would
yield a way of protecting environments?
However the type of situation is worse than a matter of guarantess, which greens are not
really seeking and could not in general expect. (For here as almost everywhere else, things can
go wrong. Philosophy especially supplies few absolutes and little certainty.) It is a type of
situation, moreover, which effects not only environmentalism but any sort of social and other
amelioration, and even democracy itself. For democratic procedures may yield unsatisfactory
and even anti-democratic outcomes. Unfortunately there are few or no guarantees that
masitonous forms will eventuate or persist. Political history itself capiously illustrates that. But
ti can be argued theoretically. For example, succession of regimes must view (owing to finite
lifetimes, etc.), and in occasional transitions deterioration can occur; there are no effective
mechanisms that an exclude decline absolutely. Democratic procedures of certain sorts offer
better controls, and better prospects of satisfactory transition than most other available, but even
they afford no cast as on guantees of adequacy, and are beset by paradoxes of their own. In
inadequate democratic structure plausible scenarios are easily designed where just such
outcomes occur, for instance as in what has been called a "paradox of democracy" where a
constituency elects an anti-democratic tyrant. 40
A concerned attempt is made by Saward to mount a destructive version of such a paradox
against deep-green political theory (which he darkly calls 'dark green'). The version is based
upon holism and intrinsic value requirements, coupled with democratic demands, of deep green
theory . In clearest form, the version runs as follows:

Holism implies consistency or

compatibility. But intrinsic value maintenance and democracy are not compatible, under evident
conditions (e.g. democratic procedures result in diminution or destruction of intrinsic value).
Firstly, partial confirmation for this explication:
The green imperative contains a number of elements, variously economic,
political, social, geographical, religious, and so on. Its force comes partly
from the holism it embodies, and partly from its basis in the idea of the
'intrinsic value' of nature. Holism implies that the various elements which
make up the imperative are compatible. The elements of the imperative gain
their importance, and their links with each other, by being referable back to a
common, intrinsic value. It is at this point that we can pick up the position of
democracy or 'direct democracy' in lists of basic values set out by greens.
These goals are the elements of the overall green imperative, and gain their
importance from both the holistic nature and intrinsic merit of the values
which the imperative represents. 41

40

Such paradoxes of democracy, and variants thereupon, are presented trenchantly by Popper, and
nullified in Sylvan and Bennett 90. Improved structures can much reduce the likelihood and
problematicness of paradoxical overturns.

41

Saward, paper version p.3 .; repeated p.5 .

19
As should now be plain, and is becoming plainer, consistency is not an invariant desideratum,
and is not insisted upon; coherence is what is "implied" and what supersedes consistency .42 As
more than a century of Hegelian theory should have revealed, there can be inconsistent wholes.
A further key assumption in the argument is that guaranteeing that intrinsic value is
protected (or like absolutes sustained) will require undemocratic procedures, such as
authoritarian ones. An underlying assumption (soon to be rejected, e.g. as incorporating an
offensive false dichotomy) is that only undemocratic, authoritarian procedures fit with deeper
green imperatives or givens. 43 Several illustrations are offered of inconsistency of green
imperative_s with types of democratic procedures-none of which tell, without testing
adaptation, specifically against deeper green positions.
A first illustration is directed against Porritt:
A direct democratic procedure (is not) compatible with imperative goals like
' local production for local need', 'low consumption', 'labour-intensive
production' , and ' voluntary simplicity' (other items from Porritt's list). 44
Against this and other illustrations, it is worth emphasizing goals resemble objectives and
~argets; goals are goals which are not mandatory and by no means always achieved, especially if
the achievers, like present humans, fall short (e.g . irt ecological sensitivity) or their
organisational means and opportunities are inadequate. Observe the oppositional attempt, to
convert or to twist (since it is an up-grading by high redefinition), goals, programs , and
principles-through 'imperative goals' and the like-into 'imperatives', 'prescribed outcomes' ,
undeniable principles, ultimates. That attempt should be resisted.
A second example looks at an alleged
contradiction in the programme of the German Green Party. ' Grassroots
democracy' is one of the four 'basic principles' of the party's 'global
conception' . Another is the 'ecological': 'Proceeding from the laws of nature,
and especially from the knowledge that unlimited growth is impossible in a
limited system, and ecological policy means understanding ourselves and our
environment as part of nature'. In effect, this means that certain outcomes are
proscribed from decision-making procedures. Proscribed outcomes go well
beyond any plausible list of outcomes which must be proscribed in the
interests of defending a direct democratic decision procedure. Therefore,
there is a clear contradiction between elements of the value-set, whereas given
the holism the green imperative is based on we would have the right to expect
these goals and values to be_thoroughly compatible.4 5

42

See Priest and others.

43

Cf.p.12 essay.

44

[Reference]

45

[Reference]

20

The last charge repeats the critical point already rejected, that holism implies consistency. A
further critical point should also be rejected: the flawed inference that 'certain outcomes are
proscribed' . A political party in a democratic system has to be prepared to see its principles,
however spendid, overridden, certainly by other parties if they gain or hold political power.
There is a misconception too about principles (especially higher level principles) and their roles:
' principles [too] can only be akin to [givens and] "laws of nature", against which democratic
procedures must inevitably be traded off the board'. Sets of principles, which may themselves
turn out to be inconsistent, are hardly akin to natural laws; consider for instance reasons for
their revision, procedures for rechecking and revision, and so on. In any case, democratic
procedures are not traded away against laws of nature, which they may try to upset or suppress.
(Rather effort should be directed at informing the electorate and the like).
To reinforce his case, Saward appeals to other authors who have advanced similar claims
(it is like appealing for confirmation of a newspaper report to other newspapers).
Frankel accuses Bahro of an 'anti-democratic' vision of an ecological society,
given that politics as conflict will have no place in a sea of 'givens'. He sees
the dilemma as being similar to that of socialists-de eming certain things as
desirable in an ultimate sense, but proclaiming attachment to democracy and
the diversity it implies. Ophuls has stated the matter especially clearly. · The
basic question about politics, he writes, is 'Is the way we organize our
communal life and rule ourselves compatible with ecological imperatives and
other natural laws? ... how we run our lives will be increasingly determined
by ecological imperatives' 46
In an ecological society, enough of the demos (members of democratic constituency) will hold
ecological attitudes and vote or select accordingly, almost by definition. Problems of effecting
change lie with unecological communities, which may not support ecological principles under
instituted democratic procedures (as presently in many places) . Principles, and ecological
"givens", stand, they remain 'desirable in an ultimate sense', but they are not followed and
implemented, while revealed democratic preferences go unchanged. There need be no 'antidemocratic vision', but rather an unecological praxis, which principled greens will work to
change.
The route is accordingly barred to Sayward's
important conclusions ... : that at best direct democracy, and for that matter
indirect forms of democracy, can only be at or near the bottom of value-lists
of greens. A commitment to democracy must clash with values that are
inherent to ecologism-a nd ecologism is about inherency, intrinsic values,
laws of nature and holism. Things-like democracy-t hat can only have
instrumental value must lose out to imperatives backed by inescapable
canonical force.47
·

46

47

..

·-

·----------- ------ - - - - - - - - - - - -- ------

21
What Saward proposes instead is depressing ly familiar: pragmatism , jettison intrinsic value.
Out therewith go deep-green positions .
... greens should not think in terms of green imperatives . Indeed, it suggests
that to think in terms of imperative s based on arguments about intrinsic merit
is unjustifiabl e.48
Fortunately the argument developed does not sustain the proposals. There is, to iterate a
central point, no internal or latent contradicti on between (deep-)gree n policy objectives and
democratic procedures . Rather, green objectives would fail to be achieved without welldisposed decision makers, who may not straightforwardly reflect any "will" of the demos. A
logical requiremen t on a realistic set of political objectives is that there are accessible
circumstan ces where they are realisable, where all elements of the whole would obtain. It
should not be required that there are are no situations where they may conflict, become
inconsisten t. It is certainly not required that they are realised, by whatever means. A
community , as variously represented , can choose better or worse. There are many means
available, which it may shun (again there are no absolute guarantees) , enabling it to choose
better, including improved structures, attitudinal change and consciousn ess raising; and so on.
In the end Saward too recognises the popular power of attitudinal change, thereby
removing himself his previous loading of authoritarian means upon greens. There
needs, from a green perspectiv e [and others], to be a change in political
culture such that it will be compatible with sustainability. This, of course, is a
familiar theme from green writing. How[?] ... It can only be the case that
'political change will ony occur once people think differently or, more
particularly, that sustainable living must be prefaced by sustainable thinking' .
By abandoning foundation alist myths of intrinsic merit, greens abandon the
implicit arrogance that have made democracy such a tenuous part of green
political theory. 49
But he overstates the attitudinal point, with 'only ... the case'. People can be politically led
(retardation , however, as distinct from genuine advancement, is a familiar phenomena ); they
could just elect a green governmen t which instituted, under permissible democratic methods,
sustainable living or the like. Worse still, his final ungrammatical sentence is a complete non48

Of course it is now put in terms of "imperatives "; it would be better expressed in terms of
principles, policy objectives or the like.
Opposition to deeper green political approaches often derives, as in Saward and in Goodin, from a
underlying shallow utilitarianism . The differences concern not only depth, but the rejection of
individual interest bases, in favour of welfare bases and holism in deeper approaches.

49

[Ref. and page] There are further defects in this passage than those noted in the text. For one,
admission of intrinsic merit does not entail foundationalism. For another, such recognition of
merit, which is less liable to disturb democracy, or render it tenuous, than adherence to
Christianity, need caary no tinges of arrogance; to the contrary, by contrast with humanism it may
yield a certain humbleness.

22
sequitur. Attitudinal change may including coming to appreciate intrinsic merit in natural things
other than humans.

7.

Ecoregio nal demanar choid reshaping of Australi an political institutio ns: one
beginni ng.

Is such a radical restructur ing as that suggested feasible? Initial investiga tions hold out
the hope that major problems for deeper green theory can be solved, at least in theory.
Investigations according ly suggest that the project within the Reshaping Australia n Institutions
project is viable and worth pursuing. A logical next stage offers sketches for a radical political
reorganisation of Australia. 50 Evidently there would be many designs (thereby removing facile
jeers against "the blueprint ", a part of co-optative strategy for persistence with prevailing statist
arrangem ents). Among the many designs, some few, conformi ng to favoured principles,
would be selected for detailed study. If the study were attempted, most appropria tely through
systems modelling s, then flexibility could be built into modellings, so that even though only a
few basic designs were examined , many variations would be feasible. Not only is systems
modelling particular ly well suited to modelling network designs; it also further offers prospects
for computin g simulatio n and impleme ntation, and even some simulate d political
experime ntation. Furtherm ore, such modelling s begin to give some grasp on the size and
complexi ty of the task (a useful comparison is with World 3 modelling of the on-going "Limits
to Growth" project 51 , or, better, with a regionalized version of it).
To get started on such ecoregional design, for Australia, two broad classifica tions and
associated maps and charts are required:
• 1. an ecoregional classification, with partitions and overlays, for Australia and its continental
shelf. Observe that this classifica tion would be hierarchi cal, as smaller regions merge into
larger regions; but it is a benign hierarchy of levels (it facilitates no accumula tion of power or
wealth) . Observe too that any such classification is far from unique. Plurality has already set
in, and a choice of classifica tion (or a few choices) would have to be made, taking due account
of political organisat ional principle s and objective s. Fortunate ly some of the prelimina ry
classifica tory work has already been accompli shed in Environm ental Regional isations of

Australia, where 3 broad classifications are presented and procedures for generatin g many more

50

Such design, well accomplish ed, would help considerab ly in revealing what is possible, thereby
providing a seriously neglected contribution to politics, itself sometimes presented, with undue
licence, as the art of the possible.

5I

See e.g. Meadows.

23
given. 52 For political purposes further classification attributes (e.g. demog
raphic features) need
to be included.
Ecoregions provide the basis for spatially linked admin istrativ e and
comm unity units.
(Not all units need be of this sort; many contemporary arrangements
are spatially unlinked). At
this stage a basic principle of decentralization and distributed and smalle
r-scale organization can
be invoked, namely
• subsidiarization: organisational functions should be allowed to fall
down to (or to be pushed
down to) the lowest level compatible with their satisfactory performance
. Thus, for instance,
most matters concerning such things as sewerage and primar y educat
ion would be localized.
This subsidiarization principle, drawn from classical anarchism, has
been widely adopted in
green planni ng propo sals. (It is said to have been applie d by
the Catho lic Churc h in
admin istratio n of the Holy Roman Empire, whenc e the not altoge
ther apt title derives. It is
presently being reassessed for use in that successor organisation , united
Europe.) No doubt the
principle is open to challenge, for instance on grounds of efficiency,
that larger size may prove
more efficie nt, of duplic ation, and so on. But, the object ive
is not maxim ization of
technological values such as efficiency factors; instead it aims to satisiz
e on a wider framework
of values , including holistic social arrangements. Presum ably, howev
er, undue duplication of
expensive administrative bodies is to be avoided.
Coupled with subidiarization is another principle,

• direct accountability downwards: units should answer directly to region
al constituencies. This
contra sts with prevailing accountability (such as it is) upwar ds, throug
h some indirect and
tenuou s , centra lized circui ting chain. Natura lly much more gets
compr ehend ed under
accountability , for instance openness of environmental accounting.
There are also principles interrelating smaller with larger regions, both
bottom-up and topdown (or centre down) principles. Among these will be
• repres entatio n of smalle r regions in relevant planni ng institutions
of more compr ehensi ve
region s . Representation, appropriately regulated, would often replac
e anarchistic federation,
which as observed appears too weak for requisite environmental contro
l.
The point needs no labouring that the classifications and principles are
open to challenge
at every step; for instance, there is nothing rock-hard about the type of
ecoregional classification
prefer red, nor about social functio ns to be addres sed. At a
theore tical stage that is
unproblematic: there are other (less preferable) models; elaborate your
own if you want to and
can. In any case, it is to be hoped that a diversity in theory might be
to some extent reflected in
some diversity in practi ce-wi th different regions and continents trying
different arrangements,
52

See Thackway and Cresswell. Rudiments of a politically useful classific
ation begin to emerge on
their 30 Group Regionalisation .

24
with much less of the sort of cosmopo litan political monocult ure that we are presently being
harassed toward, with much more resilient political biodiversity. Of course, not all political
forms (includin g stateless types) are equally desirable or satisfactory, and some (includin g
present state examples) are inaccepta ble. So there are bounds open diversity. Moreove r, what
suits one communi ty or region well may not suit another to be satisfactory for it. So too there
are limits open successful transfer of organisational structure; what works .in one region may
require much modification in another, or may substantially resist transfer.

Structural diagram :

Schematic diagram of organisation structur e

(with some sample components indicated, but not all their network interlinkages displayed)

statistics
bureau

upper levels:
administrative,
executive,
research
ground level:
functional

inflow
control
materials

selectoral
college

Australian
region
(federal)

immigratio n

sup_erreg10ns
(a to k)
interregional
transport, etc.

upper
levels

arbitration
bureau
resources
income
office

ground
level

(local)
regions
(1 ton)

water
systems

rental
entitlements
office
hospital
systems

region 1

sewer
systems

reg10n n

25

• 2 a social function classification, of those community matters that require explicit organisa
tion
at some level. An initial listing can be compiled by consulting Australian metropolitan telephon
e
directories, especially the government sections that used to feature in the front (until a year
ago).
What results under redesign and reorganisation would, of course, look very different from
what
is listed. Parliaments, parties and all their supporting apparatus would vanish; the Australi
an
Bureau of Statistic s will assume a new significance and indepen dent role, and so on.
But
which instituti ons are retained, which adapted, and so on, would depend on further
social
organisa tional features, not yet considered here. The result would be a levelled pyramid
al
structure, a flat-untopped network as depicted in the structural diagram below, not a
power
hierarchy.
While some requisite research has been undertaken .upon how the various functional
bodies and decision -making committees can be selected and can operate 53, insuffic
ient
investig ation has been made of the interrelations and adequate fundings of the bodies
and
institutions involve d - whichever they are! For little such detailed anarchoid modellin
g has
apparen tly been attempt ed for any region anywhere. Evident ly there is much to be
done
theoretically. Detailed modellings could bring issues down to earth, without setting things
in
concrete; no doubt too they would disclose many further problems hidden in the detailing
,
problems to which anarchoid solutions can however reasonably be expected.
Noneth eless compar atively little is likely to be done, unless requisit e support is
forthcom ing, support in the shape of researchers (researc h volunte ers and students
) and
research infrastr ucture (from research, donatio ns and the like). For such support,
for
investigating its own demise, a state is hardly likely knowingly to supply; nor are its establish
ed
research institutions. Insofar then as it is done visibly, it will probably have to be accompl
ished
largely outside state-supported and state-supporting infrastructure, such as prominent universi
ty
projects. (like Reshaping Australian Institutions). Fortunately there are now other structure
s,
such as internet and radio channels, that can facilitate interconnections and interchanges
of
researches, both regionally and internationally. On these sorts anarcho id communicationa
l
bases, networks of groups interested in elaborating such alternative political modellings,
both in
theory and in practice , could be formed. Given the dismal state of present politica
l
arrange ments, almost everywhere terrestial, there is a great need, as a very minimu
m, for
networks of innovative researchers who chose such goals. 54
53

Thus e.g. Burnheim 85. The present article is not only heavily indebted to Burnheim
's work, but
overlaps on-going investigations on his part.

54

To echo one referee. My sincere thanks to demandin g referees for several helpful suggestio
ns and
many improvem ents.

26

Richard Sylvan*

Refer ences .
Bello, W., Dark Victory, Pluto Press, Londo n, 1994.
Bookc hin, M., Remaking Society: Pathw ays to a Green Futur
e, South End Press,
Boston , 1990.
Bumh eim, J., Is Democracy Possible?, Polity Press, Cambr idge,
1985.
Burnh eim, J., 'Demo cracy, nation states and the world
system
Democracy. (ed. D. Held and C. Pollit t) Londo n, Sage, 1986, pp.218 ', New Form s of
-239.
Ul.rh2r) A
Fox, W. , in Ecopolitics III, Hamil ton, New Zealan d.
Goodi n, R., Green Political Theory, Polity Press, Cambr idge,
1992.
Green , G., The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist?, Intern
ationa l Publis hers, New
York, 1971.
Jacobs , M., The Green Economy: enviro nmen t, sustainable
development, and the
politics of the future., Pluto Press, Conco rd, Mass, 1991.
Macka y, H., Reinventing Australia: the mind and mood
of Australia in the 90s,
Hugh Macka y, Pymbl e, NSW, Angus & Rober tson, 1993.
Macph ee, I., 'A new constitution?' (excer pts from an openin g addres
s) NILEFA Newsletter,
Griffith Unive rsity Schoo l of Law, June 1993.
Marsh all, P., Dema nding the Impossible: a history of anarc
hism, Londo n, Harpe r
Collins 1992.
Mc Laugh lin, A., Regarding Nature, SUNY Press, Alban y NY.,
1993.
Meado ws D., and others , Beyond the Limits, Chesle y Green, Vermo
nt, 1992.
Naess , A., Ecolo gy, comm unity and lifesty le (trans. and
ed. D. Rothe nberg ),
Cambr idge Unive rsity Press, Cambridge, 1989.
Pontin g, C., A Green History of the World, Sincla ir-Stev enson,
Londo n, 1991.
Priest, G., Routle y, R. and Norma n, J. (eds), Paraconsistent Logic
, Philos ophia Verlag ,
Munic h, 1989.
Routle y, V. and R., 'Socia l theorie s, self manag ement and enviro
nment

al proble ms', in
Environmental Philosophy (ed. D Mann ison and others ), RSSS,
Austra
lian Nation al
University,
1980.

*

where is it

"

.

\)ot:;::,o

27

~\)--:, \\-'

Saward, M., 'Green. Democ racy', in Politics f Natur~ op cit, pp.
~~~ J..-.'->~f\,

l(;

~ '5:>

r 1\J

'

' .

b3 - 'S/J

L , £_? ~ J?_
\._\J.. cfr

\~~ 2

~"\,o (')roN

CrlL~ rv fbltf ~~L, H-iof2 v-

Sylvan, R. and Bennet t, D., Utopias, Tao and Deep Ecology, Green
Series , RSSS,
Australian National University, 1990.
Sylvan, R. and Bennet t, D., The Greening of Ethics, White Horse Press,
Cambridge,
1994.
Sylvan, R., 'Anarc hism\ in Contemporary Political Theory (ed. R. Goodin
and P.Pettit)
Blackwell, Oxford, 1993.
Sylvan, R., Deep Plurallism, University of Edinburgh Press, 1994.
Sylvan, R., Green Anarchism, to appear, 1996.
Thackw ay, R. and Cressw ell, I.D., Enviro nment al Regionalisations
of Austra lia,
Enviro nmenta l Resour ces Information Network, Australian Nation al Parks
and Wildlife
Service, 1992.
Tynan, L., The Institute of Advanced Studies, The Australian National Univer
sity, May
1993.

The following has been redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.
Letter, Thomas V. Cahill, Editor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Lancaster
University to Richard Sylvan, 18 May 1994 re feedback from referees on paper by Sylvan for
Anarchist Studies (1 page)

ABSTRACT OF
PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS in DEEP ECOPOLITICAL THEORY
A reshaping of social and political institutions, which are often outmoded or suboptimal
and certainly commonly anti-environmental, is now prominent on theoretical agendas, at least in
Australia. One such project is the multi-million dollar "Reshaping Australian Institutions"
project at the Australian National University.

At the same time there is widespread

disenchantment with prevailing politics in Australia. Accordingly there is an opportunity to put
radical green themes on agendas for real political and institutional change.
A deep change, however, which is what deep green theories require, encounters several
problems. For one, there appears to be a contradiction between demands for, on the one side,
increasing environmental regulations and welfare arrangements, characteristically dependent
upon bureaurcratic centralisation and economic growth, and on the other, decentralized lower
impact organisation, which halts anti-environmentally industry and economic growth. A
functional resolution, partially dissolving a central state, is outlined, along with a theory of
encephaletic organisation.
Further problems to surmount include human chauvinism and present-time bias, even in
present "best practice" democratic institutions. Deep demarchoidal resolutions of these
problems are sketched and defended.

R. Sylvan
RMB 683
Bungendore Australia 2621

f0J.._/ ,C. #--0/'...__~,_,k_J ver.r~
~

-;-

I

c}~J

,h,,z'7

-?<

ABSTRACT OF
PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS in DEEP ECOPOLITICAL THEORY
A reshaping of social and political institutions, which are often outmoded or suboptimal
and certainly commonly anti-environmental, is now prominent on theoretical agendas, at least in
Australia. One such project is the multi-million dollar "Reshaping Australian Institutions"
project at the Australian National University. At the same time there is widespread
disenchantment with prevailing politics in Australia. Accordingly there is an opportunity to put
radical green themes on agendas for real political and institutional change.
A deep change, however, which is what deep green theories require, encounters several
problems. For one, there appears to be a contradiction between demands for, on the one side,
increasing environmental regulations and welfare arrangements, characteristically dependent
upon bureaurcratic centralisation and economic growth, and on the other, decentralized lower
impact organisation, which halts anti-environmentally industry and economic growth. A
functional resolution, partially dissolving a central state, is outlined, along with a theory of
encephaletic organisation.
Further problems to surmount include human chauvinism and present-time bias, even in
present ."best practice" democratic institutions. Deep demarchoidal resolutions of these
problems are sketched and defended.
R. Sylvan
RMB 683

Bungendore Australia 2621

Collection

Citation

Richard Sylvan, “Box 17, Item 971: Draft of Problems in deeper green political organization theory: an Australian perspective on radical institutional change, with letter from Thomas Cahill, Editor of Anarchist Studies to Richard Sylvan, 18 May 1994,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed February 23, 2024, https://antipodean-antinuclearism.org/items/show/125.

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