chapter  3
A green critique of Rawls
Pages 33

The green critique, as already stated, can be split into two relatively distinct parts. The first is distinguishable from the second by virtue of the fact that it seeks to modify, or update, Rawls’s theory for a world now facing deteriorating ecological conditions. The second critique, offered in Chapter 4 , avoids any such modification in order to make the case that political liberalism embodies a theory of stewardship in and of itself that moves us towards a more enlightened position on environmental justice. Rawls’s separation argument; that is, his own reluctant dismissal of green concerns as too controversial for a political agreement by identifying them as existing separately from matters of ‘strict justice’ and ‘constitutional essentials’ has led several critics to accuse his theory of being, at best, indifferent to the plight of those at risk from deteriorating environmental conditions and, at worst, serving as an apologist for a more general anti-green attitude within a citizenry, beyond the political. Two weaknesses stand out when conducting an in-depth survey of the first part of the green critique. The first is that there is a lack of conceptual clarity regarding the notion of ‘the environmental crisis’. Although widely employed as a summum malum capable of shaking the very foundations of Rawlsian liberalism, the literature examined in Chapters 3 and 4 ref lects a plethora of competing and increasingly disjointed notions of environmental and ecological justice. The second is that those who have seized upon Rawls’s abstraction of justice between contemporaneous rational humans remain unable to articulate the link between this separation, and the supposed theoretical encouragement of disregarding environmental attitudes amongst a citizenry, beyond the OP. As stated at the end of the previous chapter, the viability of the green critique is dependent upon an assessment of the inf luence the basic structure is said to have on citizens’ attitudes in the non-political public and private spheres. This second weakness means that we are mostly left to infer the answers individual contributors would give if asked why they had sought to green Rawls in the first place. The first part of the critique, as presented here, is broken down into four specific themes: the idea of a third principle of justice; a challenge to the overlapping consensus; the question of non-humans; and finally, freestanding exploitation. The works covered in this chapter relate to Rawls’s move (or retreat in the minds of several green political theorists) to a more

limited political liberalism. Daniel Thero (1995 ) provided a thorough overview of the literature on TJ and emerging notions of the environmental crisis, hence there is little need to add to his impressive analysis of early extensionist efforts immediately after the publication of TJ. 1 Having said this, Thero’s conclusions are worth revisiting so as to assess any developments in the green critique during the ensuing period. Our enquiry commences in the late 1980s, by which time it was clear that Rawls’s political thought was changing. The salient feature of the green critique discussed in the sections that follow, is that, to date, a consensus emerges stipulating that Rawls’s mature work can only take liberal theory so far in addressing the gravest environmental threats. The key aim is to get these individual pieces working together for the first time, and as a continuous dialogue, so as piece together a potentially self-contained critique built on an analysis of the separation argument and the inf luence of the basic structure.