Creutzig, F.

Limits to Liberalism: Considerations for the Anthropocene

in Ecological Economics, 07.07.2020

Peer Review , Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport

Modern liberal societies appear ill-prepared to meet the paramount challenges of the Anthropocene. While liberalism has been the winning modern ideology since 1990, dominating both political and economic institutions in most countries worldwide, it has been forced onto the defensive. This is shown symptomatically by the international ascent of the extreme right, and substantially by its inability to address rising inequality and to sustain planetary health, which is understood to keep earth system processes within planetary boundaries. Here, I critique liberalism 1) on its core assumption: autonomy of the individual, 2) on its shaky empirical grounds: rational choice model, and 3) on its track record: ambiguous impact on individual and social well-being and destabilization of the earth. The focus of this critique is economic neoliberalism, and the reductionist role assigned to individuals, an ideology that was never well founded in philosophy but nonetheless remains prevalent in political action. While modern political liberalism is mostly immune to this critique, I maintain that on its own it remains inadequate to counter the global challenges we face. Instead, a broader understanding of human behavior, and a contextualization of the individual in social and environmental settings, will underpin efforts to support planetary health.