Research interestsUniversidad La Republica

(Picture: Marcel Wissenburg at Universidad La Republica, Santiago de Chile, 2003)

My research interests in general concern green political theory, environmental ethics, liberalism and theories of justice. Apart from a few smaller projects (see Online papers), I have in the past decade more or less concluded three projects:

… and for the rest of my disturbingly limited research time until my rapidly approaching retirement in 2027, I moved on to:

My final project will be to co-edit (with Amanda Machin) the Edward Elgar Hendbook of Environmental Political Theory in the Anthropocene - theoretically to be submitted for publication in 2023, but given the nuclear bomb sized impact Covid made on every academic's research plans, don't hold your breath. That said, it is probably unwise anyway to hold your breath for two years.

    The Green Libertarian

    For several years, most of my research focused on the comparison of the merits and demerits of liberalism and libertarianism as environmental philosophies. I have decided to more or less abandon this line of research. For one thing, my thoughts were clearly leading me in the direction of a new book and thereby indubitably to academic ruin, since Academia these days no longer appreciates thorough, complex work (what used to be called 'the real stuff') and only rewards extremely limited, overly focused 'normal' research published as articles (what used to be called 'partial try-outs'). Moreover, if I still want to write a book, it had best be my farewell to Academia (as in 'they can't fire me, I retire'); see below.

    Here are some of the titles of papers I’m working on in this connection:

    • Parenting and Intergenerational Justice, as already published in Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 2010.
    • Zero-growth libertarianism
    • The ownership of Nature and of Energy
    • The Concept of Nature in Libertarianism
    • The Liberation of Nature
    • Obama the Green? A Transatlantic Environmentalist Perspective, published in 2012 in G. Scott Smith (ed.), Obama, US Politics, and Transatlantic Relations: Change or Continuity?

    Political plurality and moral pluralism:
    Adapting the liberal theory of social justice to new environments

    ... is a research project that officially ran from 2005 to 2012, but I had written related texts before 2005. After at least seven years of continually interrupted work (2001-2008), the project produced a magnificent monograph, Political Pluralism and the State (2008). Its topic is the (hypothetical) demise of the nation-state. The concept of the state as the central unit in politics (a sovereign institution with a monopoly on force and a monopoly on the attribution of rights within its territory; the only legitimate representative of its inhabitants in an international context) stands in need of revision. Its legitimate powers seem to fragment and "leak away" to international institutions (most clearly in the case of the European Union), to the non-political sectors of civil society and to autonomous regions. Yet in political science and political theory the (nation-)state has almost always been conceived as a major, indeed necessary, condition for the existence and protection in society of liberal democratic values.

    The questions central to this project are: (1) Who, which actors, can warrant social justice if the power of the state is fragmented?; (2) (by implication) Does social justice necessarily requires a classic state?; and (3) Is political pluralisation always undesirable?

    Although these and related questions have only been taken up in political theory in the last few years, the project was nonetheless embedded in a long tradition of research on liberal social justice theory. Constituent parts of the project were a theoretical analysis of the 'potential' for social justice of classic political constellations operating without a state, a listing and, in response to the second part of the question, an analysis of the areas in which political plurality (fragmentation) seems incompatible with liberalism's moral pluralism. All this has cumulated in a series of standards for justifiable political pluralization.

    The last bit of output from this project was a public lecture, presented at a seminar in Vienna and at the World Congress of IPSA, Chile 2009, called 'Two Concepts of Political Order'. You will find it among my online papers. The project is now concluded and I have no intention of revisiting it.

    Animals in Politics

    There is a large body of literature on animal welfare, animal rights and (more recently) animal capabilities – representing the three main traditions in ethics: consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. Those texts were mostly written by academics committed to the causes of animal advocacy, surprisingly often in a highly emotional voice with a quite partisan agenda, and frequently defending logically unsound arguments. And yet the ethical basis of animal advocacy is quite strong and convincing – which may explain why animal advocates never bothered to develop a political philosophy, expecting humanity to change its evil ways either convinced by the voice of (the advocates’) reason or out of the goodness of their (humanity’s) heart. (Insert Homeric laughter here.) There is a recent exception: Will Kymlicka – the first political philosopher to develop a political theory of animals as subjects of politics; unfortunately it is both an exceptionally radical theory and one that keeps relying on human rationality and love.

    There is also a large body of literature called ‘environmental political theory’ (or in days of yore when I wrote my first stuff, green political theory). It took a quarter of a century, but by now environmental concerns are actually being integrated into the body of mainstream political philosophy, not to mention real-world politics. Animals are a blind spot in environmental political theory, though – it is as if they are either not there or mere resources. Few authors connect animals as emanations of nature and simultaneously creators and consumers of nature to environmental politics. Which is weird for many reasons and grows weirder the longer I think about it.

    So I decided to devote more time to the status of animals as subjects of politics and as political subjects (two quite distinct roles), and to their status in environmental political theory. This resulted – so far – in two workshops: one co-directed with David Schlosberg, at the ECPR Joint Sessions in Antwerp 2012, the other on human-animal fraternity at the XXIInd World Congress of IPSA in Madrid 2012. The first publication arising from this project was an article on Martha Nussbaum’s animal ethics which, on the one hand, cannot be read but as an appeal for a complete overhaul of nature (in fact, its abolition), even the most explicit implications of which the average (conservative and perhaps scared) reader would judge utopian, unfeasible and irrational - while on the other hand, Nussbaum merely draws the ultimate conclusions from a set of in themselves perfectly sensible assumptions - going to places where no human dared go before. Read it and weep: ‘The lion and the lamb’ published in Environmental Politics in 2011. In late 2014, Palgrave published Political Animals and Animal Politics, a collection of essays edited by David Schlosberg and yours truly.

    The Liberal Anthropocene

    Don’t expect me to explain what ‘the Anthropocene’ is – but if you have no idea, then you’re a perfect illustration of my suspicion that the group of politically active climate scientists promoting the term as a battle cry in their quest for decisive action and expert rule neither know what they are doing (as citizens and political thinkers) nor, fortunately, are making the kind of impact they expect to be making (well, actually, the latter’s a special case of the former). In my youngest and final research project, I investigate the idea of an Anthropocene (which is not an objective scientific fact but a dubious political reconstruction of genuine facts), its advocates (whom I deeply distrust), and the ways in which liberal political philosophy might develop a more sensible conception of (and answer to) the Anthropocene. Most of this work is ill-suited for journal articles – so honestly, I’m working on a book, fully aware that my Faculty Board may in due course take away my research time because I give priority to content over form.