Democracy and difference

Earlier I argued that the themes of stewardship and valuing nature simplify human-nature relations and, arguably, our notion of God. The concept of common democracy is a theological attempt to develop an ecological pneumatology for a political theology of nature. The escha-tological actions of the Spirit engage us in and through our contextual-ity, towards the renewal of sociality and affirm both unity and diversity. The 'democracy of the commons' is a theologico-political attempt to develop a pneumatology towards such fellowship in a common realm. Vandana Shiva writes: 'An earth democracy cannot be realised as long as global domination is in the hands of undemocratic structures. Neither can it be realised on an anthropocentric basis - the rights of non-human nature cannot be ignored.'76 Shiva presents a truism, and the reference to rights is to be regretted. However, a common democracy attempts to do justice to the insight that the political representation of nature is the key to the renewal of relations between humanity and nature and the affirmation ofdiversity. The openness-in-fellowship that arises through the actions of the Spirit in democratic representation prefigures the eschatological renewal of the common realm. In the common realm of creation, the interactions of nature and humanity are best understood by way of the political discourse ofdemocracy.

Why is this so.? The intimacy of our relations with nature may be attended to in democratic discourse - what I am calling a 'democracy of the commons'. Democratic practice seeks to secure two aims: the representation of political agents; and peaceful negotiation. The aim of a democracy of the commons is thereby to include the presence of natural agents towards peace.

This is difficult to grasp. Let me make two sets of comments as a way of amplifying this notion of a 'democracy of the commons'. In his account of the historical relations between Christianity and democracy, John

76. Shiva, 'The Greening of the Global Reach', pp. 155-6.

de Gruchy suggests that democracy may be thought of as a 'vision' or a 'system'.77 That is, democracy points either towards a goal of greater representation or peaceful negotiation; or it indicates the operative political structures of a political system. I prefer to think of democracy as a way of life - precisely, as a pedagogy. What is involved in this educative practice of a democracy of the commons is an acknowledgement that nature cannot be contained, managed, or organised; nature is, to borrow a thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, disorderly.78 The way we acknowledge the importance of the negotiation of agency in our political life is democracy. That is, if, on theological grounds, we wish to maintain an account of the world as the common realm ofGod, nature and humanity, the agency of nature in encounter with us needs articulation and practice. Such articulation and practice is the democracy of the commons.

This reinforces a claim made throughout this book: nature is a political concept. In his Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, David Harvey notes eight different political tendencies - ranging from 'authoritarianism' to 'decentralized communitarianism' - that each construe nature in their different ways.79 As always a political concept, nature is subject to ideological strategies of containment.80 In other words, given the culture in which we live, we should expect that the disorderliness of nature is everywhere suppressed, domesticated or negated. Are we to regard ourselves as split off from nature or instead differentiated from it.? If we regard ourselves as split off from nature, we may then, of course, grant it the status of the hostile Other: to be tamed, controlled and mastered. However, if we understand ourselves as differentiated from nature, then nature encounters us in a dialectic in which both humanity and nature are changed: nature is the us that is not us; as un/natural, humanity is the nature that is not nature.81 The notion of the democracy of the commons seeks to represent politically such a commitment.

77. John de Gruchy, Christianity and Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 7f.

78. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, pp. 123-4. In a similar vein, David Macauley has suggested that what should concern us most is overcoming not the domination of nature but the domestication of nature: see Macauley, 'On Critical Theory and Nature', Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 9:3 (1998), 32-4 (34). Cf. David Macauley, 'Be-wildering Order: On Finding a Home for Domestication and the Domesticated Other', in R. S. Gottlieb (ed.), TheEcological Community (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 104-35.

79. Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, pp. 177-81. The remaining six are corporate and State managerialism; pluralistic liberalism; conservatism; moral community; ecosocialism; and ecofeminism.

80. This phrase is from Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious:Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London: Routledge, 1981), passim.

81. Here I am drawing on Kovel, 'Commentary on Herbert Marcuse's "Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society"', 40-2.

Nor, in theological tradition, is such a position of a democracy of the commons so strange.82 The notion of commonwealth, with its resonance of political participation, has been used in theologies of creation to indicate the status of non-human nature in Christian thought. Commenting on Francis of Assisi, Roderick Nash writes: 'Francis... lived long before the age of democratic revolutions, and he did not speak of the "rights" of birds, worms, wolves, and rocks. But he did remove them from the category of "things" by including them with humans in a single spiritual fellowship.'83 In a sequel to his much-remarked, 'The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis', Lynn White also presses this theme: 'Scattered through the Bible, but especially the Old Testament', he writes, 'there are passages that can be read as sustaining the notion of a spiritual democracy of all creatures'.84 And, finally, Leonardo Boff argues that 'an ecological-social democracy... accepts not only human beings as its components but every part of nature, especially living species'.85

Nor is this democracy of the commons alien to philosophical tradition: arguing that oppositional moral knowledge is formed in community, Lori Gruen claims that there is no obvious reason why empathetic loving should not include nature. And she claims that one obvious way of including nature in the moral community is to give a place to those 'who are in community with nature'.86 Val Plumwood also suggests that it is possible within a moral community to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves in ways which are liberatory and not oppressive.87 We are back to the point made by Daniel Hardy: the conferral of true contextuality by the Spirit is directed to those whose contextuality is most diminished or impoverished, whose quality of habitation is degraded. Those to whom society is least hospitable - and failures, distortions and interruptions with regard to hospitality will also be structured by race, class and gender - are

82. I am here agreeing with van den Brom's judgment, 'The Art of a Theo-ecological Interpretation', 303, that the democratic model has important strengths. However, his preferred account of humanity as servant (310-13) does not, in my view, adequately develop these strengths.

83. Roderick Frazier Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History ofEnvironmental Ethics (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 93.

84. Lynn White, 'Continuing the Conversation', in Ian Barbour (ed.), Western Man and EnvironmentalEthics: Attitudes towardNature and Technology (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley (1973), pp. 55-64 (p. 61, italics mine).

85. Boff, Ecology and Liberation, p. 89. Although Boff sets out various types of democracy, he does not develop his ecological-social democracy in relation to any of these.

86. Gruen, 'Toward an Ecofeminist Moral Epistemology', pp. 120-38 (p. 129). Cf. Lori Gruen, 'Revaluing Nature', in Warren (ed.), Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, pp. 356-74 (pp. 362f.).

87. Plumwood, 'Androcentrism and Anthropocentrism', pp. 327-55 (pp. 348f.).

likely to be those either most in community with nature88 or those denied sustained and sustainable access to natural goods. These are the voices that need to be heard in a democracy of the commons.

In making this point, I do not think an account of nature's strong subjectivity is required in defence of the notion of a democracy of the commons. Certainly, neither Gruen nor Plumwood would support the view of nature as a knowing, speaking subject. Nor does the concept of common democracy require such a view. An account of the agency of nature, as proposed in the previous chapter, is sufficient, as is suggested by the following comment by Jim Cheney: 'This sort of expansion of moral community... is simply (or complexly) a matter of trying to come to an understanding of what it might mean to care, to respond to something in the nonhuman environment as a member of one's moral community.'89

The democracy of the commons is a theological as well as a political concept. That is, why Christians take the positions that they do in the debate on ecology is for theological reasons.90 The theological account of the difference of nature in a common realm being proposed here suggests it is neither possible nor required to separate nature and humanity. A common democracy thereby seeks to extend - in a pneumatological thought -the commitments ofthe perspective ofthe common realm ofGod, nature and humanity. Ifthe intimate relations between humanity and nature require specification in a rich, Trinitarian ontology, common democracy is one way of giving an account of such interrelationality. It is, of course, a position in which a 'mastering' humanity is called into question. For democracy requires the redistribution of agency and the reconfiguration of power in negotiation. Such redistribution and reconfiguration are, I suggest, the gifts of the Spirit of God in redemption. And such gifts invite an appropriate pedagogy in response. By this means, that human beings are 'the subjects, not the objects, of history'91 may be honoured. The redistribution of agency and the reconfiguration of power are ways ofsecuring the subjectivities and histories ofthose who have been placed on the underside ofhistory and thereby had their cultures subjugated or denigrated.

88. In making this point, I seek to maintain the dialectical stance of social/ist forms of ecofeminism: in a historicising move, the patriarchal identification of women with nature may be interpreted as ontologically false yet epistemologically liberative.

89. Cheney, 'Eco-feminism and Deep Ecology', p. 140.

90. In other words, to discern: 'What is really atstake in any political dispute, the real life questions involved, and why different people take the positions that they do' (Bertell Ollman, Dialectical Investigations (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 104).

91. Rasmussen, Earth Community,EarthEthics, p. 233.

What the proposal of a 'common democracy' amounts to is a political and ecological defence of an extended representative democracy. We have seen already in chapter 5 the difficulties encountered by the type of participatory democracy proposed by Murray Bookchin's social ecology. Such participatory democracy, I argued, must exclude nature, perhaps contrary to Bookchin's intentions in this matter. A democracy of the commons extends democratic community to include non-human nature by demanding that the representation of such nature is secured by the voices of those 'identified' with nature or denied access to nature's goods. The democratic rationality that emerges will thereby be 'holistic', to borrow a term from Adolf Gundersen.92 For Gundersen, such rationality is holistic in the sense that it grasps environmental issues as interrelated. The position proposed in this book is bolder, more radical: holistic here refers to the political representation of the agency of nature which is to be understood as the co-constituting ground of the development (not merely the emergence) of human, social life. Present systems of democratic representation will have to be altered, therefore, in two ways.

First, the argument for some form of proportional representation is compelling from this pneumatological perspective: that is, there needs to be greater participation by groups whose social and economic situation requires them to deliberate in holistic ways.93 A contrast is often drawn, certainly in British political culture, between an apathetic electorate in a system ofrepresentative, 'winner-takes-all', governance and the vibrancy of'single-issue' campaigns, especially environmental campaigns. Perhaps the contrast is overstated: what we have here is, rather, the failure of the present system of representation to enable the representation of nature which, in turn, creates and enforces the division between 'system' and 'enthusiasm'. When traditional politicians complain about apathy, they fail - according to the democratic rationality proposed here - to see the way in which the present system of political representation is the source of that apathy. When environmental activists complain at the indifference of the representative government to their concerns, they fail to see that it is only a specific configuration ofdemocratic representation that funds and requires such indifference. Second, the view ofwhat counts as collective -that is, political - action requires expansion. If, as Gundersen argues, all

92. Adolf G. Gundersen, The Environmental Promise of Democratic Deliberation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), p. 22; cf. pp. 159 and 170f. For Gundersen, environmental rationality is collective, long-term and self-reflexive/concerned with environmental ends, as well as holistic.

93. Cf. Gundersen, TheEnvironmentalPromiseofDemocraticDeliberation, p. 204.

political action is collective action94 - democratic politics, at least, is the attempt to develop common responses to common problems - then the notion of collectivity needs to be extended to non-human nature, and those groups that claim to represent such nature. These two points are intimately related.

A third point: I have argued that the representation of nature must be understood dialectically by reference to groups (self-)identified with nature or denied in some manner access to nature's goods.95 However, in connection with the second group, it must be acknowledged that 'the biggest structural barrier to [democratic] deliberation... is poverty'.96 To make a contribution to collective action depends on the enjoyment of economic security by individuals and groups. The proposal of a democracy of the commons thereby has a social and economic component: there will be a continuing failure to represent nature adequately should chronic poverty persist. For such groups in poverty - that is, without sufficient economic security - are the principal mediators ofnon-human nature in the political realm. The issue of poverty is made more difficult if we note that part of what poverty means is difficulties over access to nature's goods. As the socialist ecologists stress, with poverty goes an impoverished environment. We are therefore in a vicious circle: those most able to witness to an impoverished environment are, on account of the associated poverty, least able to make a democratic contribution. Thus we may now see that the present configuration of representative democracy (at least in Britain) has an ecological - strictly, anti-ecological - component. I cannot claim any expertise in knowledge ofdemocratic arrangements, but there is clearly an ecological deficit in present democratic arrangements, which needs to be addressed. Such a deficit is, on a theological level, an incursion into the fellowship and gift of life of the Holy Spirit. From the perspective of the democracy of the commons, we may conclude that present democracy supports the denial ofdifference: the difference ofnature, and the difference ofgroups (self-)identified with nature or impoverished in relation to nature.

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