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CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 11. The New Leviathan
Article published on 31 May 2004
last modification on 25 April 2015

by r-c.
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1. The Social and the Ecological

2. A Dialectical Holism

3. No Nature

4. The Ecological Self

5. A Social Ecology of Value

6. An Ecology of the Imagination

7. An Ecological Imaginary

8. Freedom and Domination

9. Eco-Communitarian Politics

10. Social Eco-nomics

The New Leviathan

If a social ecology cannot be dogmatic in its economic prescriptions for the future, it must be entirely forthright in its judgment concerning the dominant role of global corporate capital in today’s intensifying social and ecological crisis. While some social ecologists have repeated vague cliches about the market and capitalism (sometimes confusedly conflating the two), social ecological analysis consistently results in the inescapable conclusion that the growing global dominance of corporate power is the major institutional factor in the crisis. Whatever good intentions individual employees, managers, executives and stockholders may have, large corporations operate according to the constraints built into their organizational structures and according to the requirements of global economic competition. To the degree that the prevailing conception of global «free trade» is realized in practice, a corporation that operates according to ecologically optimal decision-making processes will be devoured by its more ruthlessly rational competitors. While there are in some cases strong incentives for transnational corporations to appear socially and ecologically responsible, there are stronger pragmatic requirements of rational self-interest that they act in socially and ecologically irresponsible ways.

A social ecology must therefore concern itself with the various means by which more responsible decision-making might be achieved. This might include regulation by local, regional and national governmental bodies, organization of consumers, organization of workers, transformation of organizational structures of existing enterprises, creation of new and more responsible forms of economic organization, and various forms of citizens’ direct action. The effectiveness of any of these approaches can only be determined through experience and experimentation. There has been no convincing demonstration that change in personal and cultural values, changes in individual behavior, regulatory legislation, structural political and economic reform, citizens’ direct action, voluntary association, and large-scale resistance movements do not each have roles to play in social ecological transformation under various historical conditions.

To date, the best general assessment of economic globalization and corporate power from a social ecological perspective is Athanasiou’s Divided Planet : The Ecology of Rich and Poor. [1] Athanasiou points out how the link between systemic social issues and ecological crisis is increasingly becoming evident. He notes, for example, that while until recently «only a few isolated radicals saw the Third World’s crushing international debt as a green issue, it is well known as a key link in the fiscal chains strangling the world’s ecosystems.» [2]

Athanasiou presents a model of social ecological analysis that goes far beyond generalizations about a human «quest for domination» or a «grow or die» economy. For example, he explains how in return for loans, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank impose on poor countries «Structural Adjustment Programs» (SAPs) that are socially and ecologically disastrous, as rational they may seem from a narrow economistic perspective. SAPs demand drastic reductions in public spending for education, health, housing and other social goods, eliminate subsidies for agriculture, food and social services, encourage production for export, eliminate trade barriers, raise interest rates and lower wages. The result is a more rationalized and superficially stable economy in which poverty increases, the quality of life declines for most people, and environmental destruction accelerates to fuel export-based production.

The phenomenon of globalization shows with increasing clarity the link between transnational capital, the state, the technological system, and the growing and intimately interrelated social and ecological crises. There is no better example of the power of broad social ecological analysis.


12. The Future of Social Ecology

Notes :

[1Tom Athanasiou, Divided Planet : The Ecology of Rich and Poor (Boston : Little, Brown and Company, 1996).

[2Ibid., p. 9.

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