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Open Access How Will Sustainability Transform Democracy? Reflections on an Important Dimension of Transformation Sciences

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This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

What if citizens freely choose a non-sustainable way of life, as individuals or for their political community as a whole? The challenge of the Great Transformation raises fundamental questions about democracy and the liberal tradition with its emphasis on personal freedom. Re-conceptualizing democracy along republican traditions would underscore the common good and allow a new perspective.

The concept of democracy implies two basic elements: the protection of individual rights by the rule of law and the possibility of determining the future through elections or other forms of participation. However, if individual rights imply a non-sustainable way of life, and if the right to make free collective choices includes the possibility of making fatal mistakes, a tension seems to arise between democracy and sustainability. The Great Transformation will have consequences for the Western way of life and the way we view democracy. The question of sustainability’s ramifications for the concept of democracy ought to be discussed more broadly. Transformation sciences would benefit from a more extensive exchange with political theory. The challenge of how to implement sustainability in a democratic way is more complex, as classical models of participatory or deliberative democracy are increasingly seen to be in a crisis state. A more intense impact of democratic politics on citizens’ ways of life will only be accepted if citizens feel sufficiently involved in the collectively binding decisions they are expected to implement. The idea of Green republicanism therefore seems a plausible model for a sustainable democracy.
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Keywords: crisis of democracy; democratic sustainability; participatory democracy; theory of democracy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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