Liberalism, of course, is quite a capacious theory, with room for liberals to debate quite vigorously among themselves, as well as with others, the meaning and significance of freedom, rights and other concepts. It is also capacious enough to allow for a rethinking of these concepts at a time of pressing environmental problems. Such a rethmking, I shall argue, should lead us to conceive of freedom and rights less as barriers or shields that protect individuals against interference - as forms of independence - and more as matters of organic growth and connection, or interdependence. Indeed, we must conceive of freedom and rights in this organic, interdependent way if we are to respond adequately to the ecological challenge. If Garrett Hardin is right, we shall have to rely upon 'mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon' if we are to avoid environmental tragedy (Hardin I 968). But it will be easier to agree to this mutual coercion if we see our rights not as inviolable barriers agamst others but as forms of relations that entail responsibilities to others. I shall argue, therefore, for a move away from the negative conceptions of rights and freedom and toward an understanding that relates both concepts to autonomy. If this seems to be a self-defeating leap from one negative, atomistic way of thinking to another, I can only ask the reader to bear with me until I explain what I mean by 'autonomy'.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2006 Cambridge University Press. This chapter first appeared in Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge.

Please note that downloads of the book chapter are for private/personal use only.

Purchase online at Cambridge University Press.