Ecological Citizenship

Deane Curtin. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Editor: Engin F Isin & Bryan S Turner. Sage Publication. 2002.

Enlightenment Culture and the Possibility of Ecological Citizenship

The words juxtaposed in the title of this chapter may seem incongruous. The dominant view of citizenship since the Enlightenment holds that people are candidates for the benefits and obligations of citizenship, not ecological communities. People are capable of the rational self-governance that citizenship requires. Natural ‘resources’ are merely extrinsic goods to be used wisely for the benefit of this and future generations of people.

There can be little question that citizenship has functioned primarily as an expression of Enlightenment culture and its heir, Political Liberalism. It supports familiar liberal concepts such as the primacy of the individual and the autonomy of the moral will. This, so critics argue, has encouraged a general weakening of any strong idea of community as partially constitutive of our moral identity, community, that is, as something more than a mere collection of sovereign individuals.

We should recognize, as well, that in many colonized countries, such as India, the concept of citizenship arrived in the early nineteenth century as the language of colonization. The language of citizenship may read very differently for those in the ‘third’ world.

In Enlightenment cultures, furthermore, nature is often defined in opposition to culture. Sometimes culture also is defined in opposition to those people who are regarded as being intimately connected to nature: indigenous peoples and women. Almost all the major figures of the Enlightenment had dim views of indigenous peoples if we understand this term as referring broadly to communities of people who understand themselves as partially defined by their connections to place. Many also espoused prejudicial views about women.

However, the exclusion of ecological communities from the moral orbit of citizenship may reflect an Enlightenment bias that now demands reexamination. Many non-Enlightenment cultures have a form of public ethics that is at least distantly sympathetic to a concept of ecological citizenship: candidates include the Japanese concept of wa or harmony between culture and place, and the Hopi belief that the vibratory centers of one’s body and of one’s community must sing in harmony with the vibrations of nature.

It may do violence to these cultures if we describe these diverse practices as cases of citizenship. Perhaps the very concept of citizenship is too closely bound to Enlightenment ideas of what it means to engage in a public practice to be employed as a useful tool in understanding different cultures.

I would suggest, however, that attention to cultures that have been regarded as marginal to the Enlightenment is critical in a world marked by the phenomenon of globalization. One of the fundamental features of globalization is that it often requires basic changes in the relationships of people to place. Its emphasis on the importance of individualism and free trade makes it even more likely that nature will be viewed as a mere resource which is categorically distinct from moral bonds of human culture.

If we are to avoid begging important questions about the ethical foundations of citizenship, perhaps this very expansion of Western culture requires us to re-examine the foundations of our moral views. Before attempting to expand the concept of citizenship for a postcolonial world, therefore, it is best to understand the problems of citizenship in greater detail, especially as they pertain to the possibility of functioning within a more-than-human community.

Colonizing Spaces

In the public traditions of the United States, it should be pointed out, we do have the historical case of Thomas Jefferson who argued for the importance of the citizen-farmer as the foundation for true democracy. For Jefferson, citizenship is inherently an issue of place and scale. One is a citizen in relationship to particular places. Real participatory democracy demands connections to place.

However, Jefferson also argued that the nomadic land arrangements of some native North American tribes marked them as ‘uncivilized’. Becoming a citizen meant breaking traditional relationships to place by becoming a citizen farmer. Free agricultural land and training were the rewards for native peoples who were willing to forego traditional dress, cut their hair, and limit hunting. Such ‘civilized’ land arrangements were also more efficient for a dominant culture bent on westward expansion into the ‘wilderness.’ We can see why the very concept of ‘wilderness’ is often dismissed as invention of colonial ambition by many indigenous peoples (see Jefferson, [1782] 1993).

The most ambitious attempt to enforce colonial land and population policies unquestionably occurred during the British utilitarian’s rule of India. Ranajit Guha has called this colonial policy toward people and place the liberal ‘idiom of Improvement.’ In the writings of Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill, we witness the invention of modern, liberal attitudes toward people and place that were at once progressive in Europe and colonizing in India.

The utilitarians were not just philosophers speculating idly about their own existence. Bentham wrote a system of laws for colonial rule in India. James Mill published The History of British India in 1818 hoping to secure a position with the East India Company. He succeeded, becoming Assistant Examiner in 1819, and Chief Examiner in 1830. His History was the standard text at the Company’s college at Haileybury, and deeply affected its policies for decades. The core of Mill’s plan for liberal reform in India, the land rent system, was adapted from Thomas Malthus, who held the first chair in political economics, also at Haileybury College, the training ground for East India employees.

John Stuart Mill, now the most famous of the utilitarian reformers, worked for the East India Company for 35 years. Under the guidance of his father, Mill was trained to write the political correspondence with India, rising, finally, to the rank of Examiner of Indian Correspondence. Until his retirement in 1858, just after the Great Mutiny broke the hold of the East India Company on India, he effectively governed the economic, legal, and political affairs of the British Empire’s most important colony.

Remarkably, he regarded his lifelong employment as nothing more than a good job which had no bearing on his philosophical writing. Mill wrote of his duties: ‘While they precluded all uneasiness about the means of subsistence, they occupied fewer hours of the day than almost any business or profession, they had nothing in them to produce anxiety, or to keep the mind intent on them at any time but when engaged in them’ (1990: vii).

How the author of On Liberty and Representative Government could have felt no anxiety about his Indian correspondence demands an explanation. In Principles of Political Economy, for example, Mill described the British Empire’s colonies as:

hardly to be looked upon as countries,… but more properly as outlying agricultural or manufacturing estates belonging to a larger community. Our West Indian colonies, for example, cannot be regarded as countries with a productive capital of their own… [but are rather] the place where England finds it convenient to carry on the production of sugar, coffee and a few other tropical commodities. ([1848] 1965: 693)

This passage is endlessly revealing as an example of systemic violence. The empire is a ‘larger community’ for Mill comprising both England and its colonies. But the colonies are ‘outlying’, distant from, dependent on, and defined by, the center for its domestic purposes. The fact that the rules applying to proper ‘countries’ do not apply to the colonies caused Mill to regard himself as a morally neutral technician in his writings on India. Relations with these dependencies are matters of ‘convenience’, as he says. For Mill, colonies are not countries because they have no productive capital of their own. They must be given a productive capital, and are defined in terms of their existing and producing for another. What they produce is significant too. Foods produced for domestic consumption, peasant foods, are not mentioned. They are defined by production of export crops produced for the Center: sugar, coffee, and other commodities.

The most important among these utilitarian figures, however, is James Mill. Despite John Stuart Mill’s contemporary standing in the history of philosophy, the colonial game had already been won for the East India Company by the time he influenced its affairs. It was James Mill, in consort with Bentham and Malthus, who literally wrote the colonial agenda.

For James Mill, India was the great social experiment by which to test the success of utilitarian doctrines during the period that Britain worked to transform itself, again in Guha’s words, from ‘conquistador’ to ‘legislator.’ Mill’s History marks the transition in British colonial discourse from the idiom of Order to the idiom of Improvement, from overt military violence to the covert control of thought (Guha, 1989: 287).

According to Mill’s plan, the State itself was to be the landlord with the ryots—a class of tax collectors nominated by Mill as candidates for the new economic middle class—as tenants renting directly from the State. The system of land rent required this direct relationship between each peasant tenant and the omnipresent State. As Eric Stokes and others have seen, this led Mill to a startling conclusion for a liberal: ‘He was prepared to accept the oriental role of the State as landlord of the soil, because this happened to coincide with his views on taxation’ (Stokes: 1989: 92).

We should not mistake Mill’s support for the ryots, however, with support for indigenous peasant traditions. Mill had no interest in preserving traditional Indian social structures, which often include enduring relationships to place, since they were based on subsistence agriculture that did not produce rent. The land rent system sought to create new social relationships by exporting British ideas of progress to the colonies, ideas that consciously undermined traditional social and ecological relationships. The ryots were to be transformed from subsistence cultivators to a new class of small capitalist producers.

Mill defined progress as movement toward a utilitarian society, a society in which an economically rational capitalist middle class produces for its own individual good, and thereby produces a surplus in the form of rent that benefits society as a whole. As he said, ‘Exactly in proportion as Utility is the object of every pursuit, may we regard a nation as civilized’ (Mill, [1817] 1858: ii 1). In ‘backward’ societies, where land is owned communally, according to Mill, the State must intervene as oriental despot to collect rent until peasants are transformed into capitalist producers (Majeed, 1992: 160).

Mill’s liberal program was ‘to emancipate India from its own culture’ (Majeed, 1992: 127). In the History he goes to great lengths to criticize Hindu culture as childish and backward: ‘It is allowed on all hands that no historical composition existed in the literature of the Hindus,’ since ‘they had not reached that point of intellectual maturity, at which a value of the record of the past for the guidance of the future begins to be understood’ (Mill, [1817] 1858). Guha has pointed out that Mill here creates an intellectual void which demands to be filled by a colonial presence. India has no history until it is given one by India’s first true historian, Mill himself (Guha, 1989).

In Mill’s History, then, we have a narrative of progress from collectivist societies, without histories, governed by the imagination, to progressive societies having historical purpose, in which there is a capitalist middle class, governed by instrumental rationality. The movement from backward to modern is also the movement from cultural and geographical particularity, people deeply embedded in a place and in subsistence methods of production, to a universal capitalist culture of the future which is everywhere the same.

The paradox of liberal imperialism is clear. It arose out of historically particular conditions in Europe during the Enlightenment and its aftermath. It satisfied the needs of an emerging middle class for a more egalitarian society. It provided a radical social foundation for progressive movements that is still useful today, for example, in fights for equal treatment for women. Nevertheless, liberal ideas of progress in one context became hegemonic policies in another. Liberal imperialism masks historically specific economic agendas in a narrative of progress that claims to speak in universal and transcultural terms.

The universalist, anti-Hindu temperament of liberal imperialism, which sought to replace stable subsistence modes of production with expansive capitalist modes, was a direct attack on indigenous systems of population and environmental management. In the minds of many Indians, this attack has continued with the policies of the green revolution, which also sought to implement capitalist modes of agricultural production that benefited wealthy farmers (see Shiva, 1988, 1991; Curtin, 1995, 1999).

We can conclude, at least, that the concept of citizenship has a deeply ambiguous historical legacy, especially if we wish to employ it in a postcolonial environmental ethic. It has been used to marginalize both peoples and places, especially those peoples who understand themselves—or are defined by others—as being defined by their connections to particular places.

Having granted this ambiguous legacy, however, it is still worth rethinking the concept, not as the Enlightenment’s universal voice of reason, but as a historical and cultural concept that remains valuable even to a postcolonial ethic. The idea of ecological citizenship is promising because it resonates deeply with Western ideas about what it means to lead a full human life. It also has the potential to reign in the corrosive individualism that so often affects our conception of people/place relationships. Citizenship shapes our public selves, and it balances our private impulses.

If we look at environmental ethics through the lens of ecological citizenship we may be able to move beyond the familiar stewardship (resource) model of responsibility for place—an idea common enough in Enlightenment ideas of citizenship—to a deeper idea of a common moral community, what I will refer to, following David Abram, as ‘the more-than-human community.’

As Avner De-Shalit has argued, we may need to move from a traditional liberal viewpoint to a more ‘communitarian’ approach to ecological citizenship (De-Shalit, 1995: 12). Perhaps the most important limitation in political liberalism in terms of addressing the idea of ecological citizenship is in its conception of moral identity. This limitation is addressed in the next section.

Reconstructing Citizenship

Liberal critics will point out that, while the utilitarian’s treatment of colonized people was abhorrent, this does not mean that Enlightenment concepts of moral obligation are not, in principle, consistent with a defensible notion of citizenship, and perhaps even ecological citizenship.

A consistent hedonic utilitiarianism, for example, requires us to take all pleasures and pains into account, when ascribing moral standing to individuals, probably even including non-human animals. Other forms of liberalism that are deontological rather than consequentialist support the idea that all persons are part of the contract that binds moral agents together. The most eloquent advocate of this kind of political liberalism, John Rawls, requires us to set aside individual concepts of substantive goods and define our basic obligations from behind a ‘veil of ignorance.’

However, setting aside history, it is still not at all clear that either of the liberal alternatives can capture the dimensions of ecological citizenship. Hedonic utilitarianism ascribes moral standing to individuals, proper subjects of pain and pleasure, or to persons in a strong moral sense, not to integrated communities. The Rawlsian alternative still applies only to persons capable of giving rational assent to the social contract. Rawls himself has said that he does not think the idea of a rational contract specifying initial conditions of fairness can be extended beyond the human realm.

According to the contractarian version of political liberalism as originally articulated by Rawls, justice requires impartiality. It requires that we operate from behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ that prevents us from knowing who we are and our locations in community. We cannot know our race or sex, for example, so that the basic commitments of a democratic society are not racist or sexist. As Rawls says, from behind the veil ‘parties do not know their conceptions of the good.’ While not egoists, neither are we ‘conceived as not taking an interest in one another’s interests’ (Rawls, 1971: 13).

Rawls intended his description of the original position to be pre-cultural. The original position is the hypothetical framework from which the principles of any democratic society can be established. Rawls did need to assume, however, that rational agents in this position are individuals who operate according to an economic model of rationality: ‘the concept of rationality must be interpreted as far as possible in the narrow sense, standard in economic theory, of taking the most effective means to given ends’ (1971: 14).

Rawls’ concern is that in a deeply pluralistic society, where different individuals have competing conceptions of substantive social goods, justice must remain neutral between competing claims to the good. The right precedes free choices of substantive goods. Justice is procedural, not substantive. It requires that we set aside all the moral sentiments that bind a community together: benevolence, altruism, care for others. Moral rationality is modeled on ‘economic rationality’: the individual maximizes his or her own self-interest.

Rawls’ position in A Theory of Justice has been questioned by communitarian critics. It appears to beg the question in favor of a narrow conception of the moral self. Despite his claim to identify the original position of any moral agent concerned to establish a democratic society, his account of moral rationality describes the economic rationality of the political liberal. Critics, whether communitarians such as Michael Sandel and Michael Walzer, or liberals such as Richard Rorty, argue that even this minimalist account of rationality is biased in favor of a Western account of rationality. Universalism begs the question when it assumes its own account of moral rationality as part of its proof of universalism. In Michael Walzer’s words, there is no ‘moral Esperanto’ (Walzer, 1994).

When Rawls requires that substantive choices among goods are not part of the original position, he reduces such choices to a mere psychological inventory of competing claims on our attention. Choice among goods is a matter of subjective preference satisfaction. My choices are mine but they can never be me. (De-Shalit, 1995: 30).

It is arguable from the viewpoint of Rawls’ critics that citizenship is so fundamental that it properly constitutes who we are, not just what we choose to do. In Michael Sandel’s words,

It requires a knowledge of public affairs and also a sense of belonging, a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community whose fate is at stake. To share in self-rule therefore requires that citizens possess, or come to acquire, certain qualities of character, or civic virtues. But this means that republican politics cannot be neutral toward the values and ends its citizens espouse. (1996: 5-6)

Citizens are previously ‘encumbered’ by the obligations of community membership as a constitutive feature of their moral identity. Civic virtues are powers required by a citizen to act on such obligations.

Concerning the social constitution of the moral self, Charles Taylor has said:

I want to defend the strong thesis that doing without frameworks is utterly impossible for us; otherwise put, that the horizons within which we live our lives and which make sense of them have to include these strong qualitative discriminations. Moreover, this is not meant just as a contingently true psychological fact about human beings, which could perhaps turn out one day not to hold for some exceptional individual or new type, some superhuman of disengaged objectification. Rather the claim is that living within such strongly qualified horizons is constitutive of human agency, that stepping outside these limits would be tantamount to stepping outside what we would recognize as integral, that is undamaged human personhood (Taylor, 1989).

A moral horizon, or framework, for Taylor is nothing less than the context in which we have an identity, a sense of self. ‘To know who you are,’ Taylor says, ‘is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what is not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary’ (1989: 28). Without such an orientation, we would not know how to discriminate better and worse; we would not know what questions to ask of ourselves and others; we would, quite literally, be without an identity.

Taylor believes that our identity is not the invention of a solitary individual, but a function of our relationships to our surroundings. He says emphatically, ‘One is a self only among other selves. A self can never be described without reference to those who surround it’ (1989: 35). For Taylor frameworks ‘inescapably pre-exist for us’; they pose questions independently of our ability to answer.

Moral reasoning within a framework is substantive, not merely formal or procedural. Nor is it a matter of satisfying subjective preferences. It deals with the content of a good human life judged by the goods of the practice. Aristotle’s phronesis, practical wisdom, is an example of substantive moral reasoning. Like Aristotle, Taylor is concerned not so much with what we do, but with who we are, or strive to become, within a moral horizon.

This Aristotelian dimension of citizenship is echoed in the remarks of Martha Nussbaum. We need to ask ‘some of our most basic and ordinary questions, such as “Who are these people? What are they trying to do? What general abilities and circumstances do they have?”’ This approach, she says, ‘urges the parties involved in the argument to ask themselves what aspects of living they consider so fundamental that they could not regard a life as a fully human one without them. Put this way, it is not a request for a matter of metaphysical or biological fact, but a request for a particularly deep and searching kind of evaluative inquiry’ (Nussbaum and Sen, 1993: 327).

This emphasis we find in MacIntyre, Sandel, Taylor, and Nussbaum on the deep level of moral inquiry concerning the self that citizenship demands means that the demands of citizenship are dynamic. Citizenship is a matter of deliberation on the sort of public life that has partially defined our moral identity in the past. It is also forward-looking. As the conditions of public life change, citizenship demands ongoing reflection on what sort of person we will become.

The moral community in which citizenship functions, then, is both ‘sentimental’ and ‘constitutive’ (see Sandel, 1982: 173). By the sentimental bonds of community I mean those bonds of affection that are locally conventional. These conventional bonds can be challenged, however, and we may experience increasing discomfort with the traditions that originally shaped our moral identity. A constitutive moral community is one that emerges progressively as we reflect on and respond to the ongoing challenges to tradition.

In fact, it is impossible to imagine functioning as a citizen if our moral identity does not respond to the demands of community in both these senses. The sentimental community is the initial condition of caring about the world. If we fail to care about anything, just as a matter of fact, the demands of the evolving constitutive community will fail to address us. We respond to the demands of community becausewe care.

I may, for example, have been raised as a meateater. Eating meat may function, as it does for many people, as part of important holidays and rituals, gatherings that partially define who I am. I may, however, read Peter Singer’s arguments for vegetarianism and be persuaded that I should change my eating practices (see Singer, 1990). Becoming a vegetarian is not simply a preference separate from my moral identity. Rational arguments have persuaded me that my moral identity needs to change. The narrative that constitutes the person I have been evolves into a connected, but in an important way, newly emerging moral identity. Traditions that were sentimental have evolved into commitments that are constitutive.

In this section, I have suggested that the very concept of moral engagement that we have inherited from the Enlightenment and Political Liberalism may stand in the way of developing a concept of ecological citizenship. Whereas liberalism demands that we separate what we do from who we are, the concept of ecological citizenship depends on the idea of cultivating a moral identity through ongoing engagement in traditions that are both sentimental and constitutive. In short, ecological citizenship depends on the ability to develop an ecological identity that functions in public ecological practices which partially define who we are.

Engaging in a Practice

Turning to the fundamental question, we might ask, ‘What does it mean to function as a citizen?’ An important part of the answer must include recognition that to function as a citizen requires us to engage in a public practice, as opposed to the private pursuit of merely individual goods. To engage in a public practice means that the standards governing our conduct are transpersonal. The transition from sentimental to constitutive community is a practice of transcendence.

Alasdair MacIntyre defines a practice as: ‘any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized’ (MacIntyre, 1981: 187). There are two important claims in this passage. First, practices are cooperative forms of human activity having an internal structure and logic that places demands on any individual participant in the practice. ‘To enter into a practice,’ MacIntyre says, ‘is to accept the authority of those standards and the inadequacy of my own performance as judged by them. It is to subject my own attitudes, choices, preferences and tastes to the standards which currently and partially define the practice’ (1981: 190).

For MacIntyre, farming and baseball are practices, but growing a few vegetables or throwing a baseball in the back yard, to the extent that they are individual and not social activities, are not practices. Architecture is a practice; amateur bricklaying is probably not. The patterns of scientific inquiry that are characteristic of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as the work of the historian, philosopher, painter, or musician, are practices. Cooking and mothering are also practices (see Ruddick, 1989; Curtin and Heldke, 1992; Curtin and Powers, 1994).

To engage in a practice, then, is not simply a matter of thinking true thoughts; it is an ongoing engagement in a public sphere that has its own standards. If we participate in the practice, it is the practice that shapes the person we might become through engagement in it. Practices are ways of being in the world.

The second point in MacIntyre’s definition of a practice is his distinction between internal and external goods. External goods—MacIntyre mentions prestige, status, and money—can be achieved in alternate ways, not necessarily through the practice. One might achieve these three external goods, for example, by cheating to win the World Series. By cheating, however, one does not engage in the practice for its own sake. One does not, therefore, achieve the characteristic goods of the practice. Since external goods can be achieved outside the practice—even at the expense of the practice and those who engage in it—they are individual goods. There is only a limited amount of prestige, status, and money to go around.

Not so with internal goods. According to MacIntyre, ‘Internal goods are indeed the outcome of competition to excel, but it is characteristic of them that their achievement is good for the whole community who participates in the practice’ (MacIntyre, 1981). Such goods can only be achieved through developing and exercising the characteristic excellences of the practice itself. So, in a given year only one team can win the World Series, but the excellence represented by the Series (won honestly) is a good for the practice of baseball. It sets the standard by which the practice is—and should be—measured.

It follows from this distinction between internal and external goods that there is a critical difference between insiders and outsiders to a practice in the ways that moral reasons are understood. One understands the internal goods to the extent one functions as an insider. To the extent one is an outsider, these reasons for internal goods will tend to be opaque.

The instructions a master violinist gives to her advanced pupil, for example, tend to be short, cryptic. The pupil may ask how to achieve a particular intonation, and the master may simply move her student’s hand position on the bow slightly. The change may be both momentous in terms of achieving goods within the practice—and imperceptible to the outsider.

We can see that what is easily communicable to outsiders is bits of knowledge that can be separated from the practice without much loss in cognitive content: knowledge of external goods. This includes knowledge that is amenable to quantification, whether scientific or economic. It also includes knowledge of individual goods that are achievable without social cooperation.

What really needs to be communicated, however, if the ethical density of the situation is to be conveyed, is a kind of process knowledge. It is local knowledge that involves the development of skills within a tradition that provides criteria for those skills. It is precisely these deep, messy, difficult-to-explain reasons constituting a practice that cannot be taken out of context without great loss of meaning. Yet, it is precisely these reasons that are neglected in much ethical discourse between ‘worlds.’ Such discourse usually concentrates on external goods.

The process of globalization, for example, fundamentally changes the relationships of people to place, the conditions of work, and gender roles. Rather than addressing people’s legitimate concern for cultural autonomy, most discussion of globalization takes place at the level of external goods only.

A particularly striking example of this tendency to ‘talk past’ the recipients of rapid global change and treating nature as a mere resource is evident in the remarks of former presidential economic advisor, Charles L. Schultz, when he said, Market-like arrangements… reduce the need for compassion, patriotism, brotherly love, and cultural solidarity as motivating forces behind social improvement.… Harnessing the ‘base’ motive of material self-interest to promote the common good is perhaps the most important social invention mankind has achieved (quoted in Daly and Cobb, 1989).

Finally, it is important to recognize that this account of engaging in a practice, like citizenship, is pluralist about human goods, though it is not a relativist account. There are at least two irreducibly different forms of human goods: goods that are internal to a practice and goods that are external to a practice. Internal goods are social, cooperative goods; external goods are individual goods. When we value nature economically and we all do at times, we value nature as an external good. From the point of view of a pluralist, the singular focus on external goods in contemporary Western culture results is an impoverishment of what it means to be human.

The practice of citizenship, on the other hand, allows us to achieve distinctively social goods. In the case of ecological citizenship these are the internal goods of a more-than-human community. In the words of Barry Lopez, ‘To be intimate with the land… is to enclose it in the same moral universe we occupy, to include it in the meaning of the word community’ (Lopez, 1992).

The Paradox of Ecological Citizenship

We have seen that the Enlightenment idea of citizenship was restricted to persons, or at least to sentient beings. Sometimes it was restricted further to a subclass of human beings. Furthermore, the classic Rawlsian account of rational choice separates the moral identity from the substantive choices it makes among goods. I may voluntarily choose to work for the common good, or I may choose to work for a healthier environment, but these choices do not constitute who I am. Rather, they are simply what I voluntarily choose to do. In fact, the very word ‘environment’ can only make sense in an Enlightenment conception of self that separates persons from nature.

Unless we confuse the sentimental community with the constitutive community, however, we cannot identity what it means to function as a moral agent with this Enlightenment view of the self. In the aftermath of the Enlightenment, many have questioned the idea that a person is nothing but a disembodied ‘thinking being.’ Innumerable recent accounts of what it means to be human emphasize that we are embodied creatures. As the science of ecology advances and increasingly pervades the public conception of what it means to be human we are witnessing an emerging constitutive community which critiques an older sentimental idea (paradoxically one whose narrative held that it was exclusively rational). There is nothing odd at all, then, in saying that ecological citizenship is, and should, emerge as a way of functioning in a new intentional community.

One way of focusing on this new way of functioning is to say that ecological citizenship, as opposed to more traditional concepts of citizenship, seems to rest on a paradox: to function in a way that is more completely human requires that we understand ourselves as more-than-human. That is, if we think only of what it means to be human apart from our connections to place, we will never understand fully what it means to function as a human. Citizenship, in its fullest expression, must be understood as encompassing the more-than-human community.

Mitchell Thomashow, for example, has written extensively about this process of developing an ecological identity and its connection to ecological citizenship:

Ecological citizenship hinges on a crucial conceptual step, the integration of ecological identity and political identity. [Earlier] I described the reflective processes that facilitate ecological identity, the learning experiences that constitute an ecological worldview—a sense of belonging to a larger community of species, an understanding of the ecological commons, the broad ecological impact of personal actions, how people identify with nature and ecosystems… Ecological identity emerges in a social and political context. (1996: 105)

Becoming an ecological citizen requires a transformation in our moral identity.

At a personal level, surely one of the reasons this is extraordinarily difficult is that it requires us to see our identity as connected to what Roger S. Gottlieb has described as a new holocaust: the rapid and seemingly irreversible destruction of whole ecosystems. As Gottlieb has written, ‘How can I feel at home here? How can peace, acceptance, or a feeling of deep holiness of the universe arise while I am facing the truth about what the universe contains?’ (1999: 155). Gottlieb describes the current state of our moral identity as being in ‘denial’ (1999: 29-32).

Mark J. Smith has also pointed out that a post-Enlightenment understanding of ecological citizenship will require us to rethink the role of technology. ‘The central principle of the Enlightenment, the rational pursuit of knowledge, is used to tame industrialism.’ The present condition is one of ‘organized irresponsibility’ (1998: 95, 94).

The transformation that ecological citizenship requires is painful. Yet, we can achieve some understanding of what such a transformation would be worth if we see how it can alter our thinking about what the future alternatives are, thereby opening up new avenues for public practice. To see this, let us look back for a moment on the received traditions in environmental ethics, at least in the United States: the traditions of John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. Ecological citizenship contrasts with the two received views particularly in regard to environmental work.

Pinchot famously believed that there are only ‘people and resources.’ (1947: 326) If resources are managed for the long-term human good then we have the stewardship model of the relationship between people and places. Nature, in more philosophical language, is an extrinsic good to be managed wisely. Forests are farms that should be managed for maximum sustainable yield. Pinchot valued nature only as a set of external goods.

John Muir, Pinchot’s great critic, argued that nature—or at least wilderness—is not an extrinsic good. ‘Temple wilderness’ is sacred; it is intrinsically valuable. Whereas Pinchot was instrumental in founding the National Forest Service, which is a division of the Department of Agriculture, Muir lobbied for the creation of the National Park system and the Department of the Interior that manages them.

On the face of it, we can see why it might be tempting to think of these two views as mutually exclusive and exhaustive of the logical possibilities for an environmental ethic. Nature either is, or it is not, intrinsically valuable.

We should notice, however, that these views, for all their differences, share a common assumption: that nature and human culture are categorically distinct. For Pinchot this is clear: people and resources fall into different ethical categories; they demand to be treated differently.

But in a more subtle way we witness this kind of human/nature split with Muir as well. Certainly, it would be fair to say that Muir thought of his identity as being constituted by the wilderness. He was closer to the idea of ecological citizenship than Pinchot. However, we also think of Muir wandering alone through the Sierras, worshipping in ‘temple wilderness’, furious at the intrusion of domesticated sheep which he depicts as ‘hoofed locusts’ (Muir, [1911] 1987: 56). Muir argued for the necessity of National Parks as places where humans are only temporary visitors. Civilization is categorically distinct from the ‘environment.’

To delineate the differences among these two positions and the idea of ecological citizenship let us consider the concept of work. For Pinchot, work is judged solely by whether it benefits this and future generations of people. Work is a kind of morally justified violence, justified because the resources themselves do not having standing within the community.

For Muir, work seems akin to original sin. Since people are outside of wilderness, work pollutes the purity of non-human nature. Although the charge may not be entirely fair, we can see here how one might get from Muir to a touristic conception of environmental ethics. Connecting with nature is what one does for two weeks each year while on vacation.

What Pinchot defines as work I understand as work designed to achieve external goods. But there is also the work of an ecological citizen which is designed to achieve the internal goods of an ecological community. Working to restore an injured prairie, for example, certain kinds of less invasive agriculture, or work to stop racially prejudicial siting of hazardous waste, are the practices of an ecological citizen. They are part of an emerging intentional community whose internal goods are constitutive for that community.

I have argued here that the Enlightenment conception of moral agency is itself problematic if we are to achieve a new form of public practice: ecological citizenship. Ecological citizenship requires that we see our moral identity as partially defined by public practices whose internal goods allow us to achieve cooperative goods for the more-than-human community.

It may seem, following Roger Gottlieb, that ecological citizenship places overwhelming demands on us. Early in this process it is easier to live in denial. Yet, we may also be witnessing what Gottlieb calls ‘a spirituality of resistance’: ‘a spirituality in which evil is not avoided, wished away… In this spiritual realm we can fully experience the deepest of joys because we engage directly with unjust suffering by opposing it’ (Gottlieb, 1999: 158).

At a political level it may be that, as Mark Sagoff has argued, the American public is still capable of distinguishing between the environmental policies appropriate to a consumer and to a citizen (Sagoff, 1988: 50-57) We are, in effect, still capable of shifting paradigms in response to the kind of question we are asked. It may well be that the consumer framework seems ‘natural’—even inevitable—to most citizens only because of the power of Homo economicus. We are rarely encouraged to respond as citizens.