Article: A philosophical situation: democratic capitalism, the ecological crisis, and the issue of choice

Published in Acta Academica:


Democracy is an open system, while capitalism is a gated one. Yet the dominant global political economy is democratic capitalism. The presence of a gated capitalist core within democracy results in the political prioritisation of capitalist business as usual, thereby resisting substantive changes to the political economy because economic growth is a prerequisite of capitalism. Responses to some of the challenges facing humankind – challenges such as the ecological crisis, which has arisen in part from unrestrained economic growth – cannot occur if economic growth dictates the democratic political agenda. Acknowledging this open- closed problem means acknowledging democratic capitalism’s incapacity to deal with some of humanity’s current challenges, such as the ecological crisis. A pressing question arises: what does one do? Arguably, if ecological decline is to be slowed or averted, choices must be made that result in ways of thinking and ways of living notably different from those systematised under democratic capitalism. The need for choices incommensurable with democratic capitalism is a sign that a philosophical situation has arisen, because, as explained by Alain Badiou, part of the role of philosophy is to confront incommensurability. In positioning democratic capitalism (and its implications for ecology) against incommensurable alternatives, a full philosophical situation arises. Permaculture is an example of an arena offering such alternatives, and an outline of an implementation of permaculture principles is provided in order to illustrate what a potential remedial candidate entails.

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