Ecopolitical Nation

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* Book: Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation. by Ignasi Ribó. Mycelia Books, 2012



"A new world is emerging under the rusted structures of the nation-state. Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec, Flanders, the Basque Country may soon be sovereign and independent states. The process of breaking up the large Western states into ecologically and socially meaningful political communities may have just started and could lead to a more democratic and sustainable world system. In Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation, the Catalan author Ignasi Ribó develops a new and original theory of the nation, in order to show that there is indeed a real alternative to the model of the nation-state and to the modern project of building increasingly larger states. The habitat-nation, founded on the inhabitants' deliberate choice of living together and on the ecoliberal principles of justice, could well be the theoretical framework for this new world that is just starting to emerge, both in Europe and in America. "


Mike Menser:

"Ignasi Ribó’s Habitat is an engaging treatise focused upon one of the most pressing questions facing the global ecological movement: what is the appropriate political unit for fostering the social cohesion necessary to respond effectively to the ecological crisis? Should we be hyperlocalists intensely protecting every intimate inch of our everyday life? Green statists pressuring our presidents to bring about a sustainable economy? Or nomadic cosmopolitans, linking together across any and every boundary in an attempt to make a truly global, multi-everything eco-community?

Ribó rules out all three. States are too focused on securing sovereignty via militaries and/or markets to be socially sane, much less ecologically sound. Hyperlocalists cannot have a big enough impact, and cosmopolitans lack the embedded commitments needed to foster trust and cooperation. Instead Ribó calls for an approach that will make left progressives uneasy and right wing conservatives puzzled: ecological nationalism (85) grounded in the principles of autonomy, reciprocity, care, and friendship (134). The argument goes as follows. To solve the ecological crisis we must live sustainably. Sustainability means living together with other humans and nonhumans so as to be able to preserve and reproduce all those conditions necessary for our collective survival. After a jaunt through some evolutionary biology, Ribó focuses on intersecting the ecological, social and political dimensions of cohabitation (the economic is not addressed). The place of cohabitation is “habitat.” The mechanisms by which we come to operate in a habitat are “habits.” Human beings are, fundamentally, in a sort of ecological Hume-an twist, bundles of habits. Indeed, all organisms are complexes of habits. There is no great chain of being composed of beings with distinct essences, but rather a number of bioregional assemblies of different ways of being in the world: habit-complexes with different modes of obtaining energy, perceiving, reproducing, dwelling, fending off prey, and so on (124). But even if humans are members of the great earth community, we are dissimilar, since we form deliberative political communities in order to pursue the good life. Humans choose to live together.

This seemingly trivial tenet—what Ribó calls “cohabitation”—constitutes the basis for his ecopolitical view. In order to live together, we need to foster habits that promote the trust necessary for coexistence. The project then is not about (cultural) identity or citizenship (my relationship with some abstracted state-based demos), it is about everyday life and the bonds we develop with our cohabitants, all those who make the systems and institutions I require for my life, and autonomy, possible. Ribó writes, “Wherever a particular bioregion, that is, the geographical coincidence of a biological and a social community, is able to uphold these effective relations of justice founded on the habits of autonomy, reciprocity and friendship, we can properly speak of a habitat-nation” (98–9). According to Ribó, examples of such places are Basque Country, Spain [sic], and the Scandinavian states. The distinctiveness of these places arises not from abstracted relationships to the state (e.g., the notion of citizenship) or transcendental moral orthodoxy of rational persons, but the commitment of the inhabitants to each other and to their place. According to ecopolitical theory, on the contrary, the political community should be articulated from meaningful social communities “bound to a certain natural habitat” (192). The foundation of the community is friendship, the “deliberate choice of living together” (192–3). This does not require common language or religion, but is instead based upon the norms necessary for just cohabitation: autonomy, care, reciprocity, and friendship.

Such units are just when they recognize the freedom of inhabitants (the principle of autonomy), as well as the obligations that arise because of our interdependent contributions (reciprocity). But what really makes these units work is friendship, which gives them a coherence born of trust that also allows for the development of the capabilities of said inhabitants with respect to their desires and aims (the principle of care). The boundaries of the system needed for the just reproduction of our society we call the habitat-nation. Ribó then makes a moral argument for a just inhabitation utilizing an unusual reconstruction of a Rawlsian framework with a dose of Aristotle. What does justice as fairness look like in the habitat-nation? In Ribó’s reconstructed “original position,” not only do we not know our economic position or natural talents, we do not know our species! We could be “humans, starlings or martians” (123). He writes, “It would make much more sense therefore to conceive the original position as a hypothetical meeting of indeterminate individuals who know they will inhabit the political community resulting from their contract, but are unaware of the natural, social, or specific characteristics within this community” (123).

While many will find much to disagree with in this reinterpretation, Ribó’s rendering of justice as fairness and his understanding that inequality must benefit the whole society (principle of care as applied to the habitat-nation) is his ecopolitical attempt to respect the autonomy of individuals with respect to the rest of the group. What is more intriguing is that he deems the primary good to be cohabitation: the ability to live together, with human and nonhumans. What is necessary to make this happen is not well appreciated by Rawls, or by liberalism in general, and that is friendship and care. On this note, it is worth contrasting Ribó’s Rawlsian reconstruction and political utilization of Aristotle’s philia with Sibyl Schwarzenbach’s view laid out in On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State (Columbia University Press, 2009). Schwarzenbach calls for an overt refounding and reconstructing of state while Ribó forcefully condemns it, along with political parties, and thus seems to align himself with more bottom-up or “horizontal” political movements as described in Marina Sitrin’s excellent Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina (Zed, 2012).

In sum, we have to cast off abstract moral categories such as rational persons (a fiction), political ones such as demos (an anti-ecological abstraction), citizenship, and sovereignty, and embrace the biocultural terrain of the habitat. The habitat nation is not self-sufficient; to make it the fundamental unit, then, is to require further relations and coalitions. These can be formed along the lines of cohabitation and friendship, rather than market rivalry and competition as in the interstate system (186–7). Although this will sound too ambitious or naïve to some, in the last chapters Ribó thinks strategically about how this ecopolitical transformation might take place in North America and Europe. This is one of the more refreshing and welcome aspects of the book. Ribó takes the pains to explain how his view differs from the top-down decentralization of the EU (205–7) and how it could build upon projects in places as diverse as Québec and Mexico, but he also recognizes the particular political difficulties facing the US and how they are different from those in Europe. Ribó is optimistic without being naïve. Indeed, the book begins with a short story about a small nation whose defection from a large state brought about the collapse of one of the biggest empires in human history. The country was Lithuania. What motivated this tiny nation to risk so much? A mix of ecological degradation and the desire for independence. Acting on the small scale can have big results. The implications for the global environmental movement are profound. Especially, as Ribó points out, since two-thirds of the world’s population lives not in the megastates of the Chinas and Indias but in the more human and natural-scaled Guatemalas and Nigers." (


Ignasi Ribó:

"“This book has grown out of a previous one, written in Catalan, De la indignació a la nació (“From indignation to nation”), which was published on September 11th 2012, the same day that hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to demand their freedom and a state of their own. It was in that book that I first developed the ecopolitical theory and the notion of the habitat-nation that I am exposing here to English readers. The original aim of my reflections was to displace the old ideology of the nation-state, which is still very much divisive in Catalonia, and to ground the nation on a new, more inclusive theoretical framework in which all individuals, regardless of their culture, their origin or their condition, even their species, could find their place in the political community and contribute to the sustainability of common habitation.

By its own nature, the ecopolitical project is not restricted to the transformation of a particular social community such as Catalonia, but aspires to become a model of universal appeal, albeit always within the limits and the possibilities of each specific community. My theory, therefore, rather than offering ready-made institutional solutions that could be indiscriminately applied to all social communities, attempts to set up the foundations that would allow these communities, if they so wish, to constitute themselves as habitat-nations and to develop their own ecopolitical institutions according to their habits and forms of habitation. For the same reason, the theory of the habitat-nation avoids any ideological or partisan ascription, focusing instead on the elaboration of a constitutional framework that could be accepted and assumed by all inhabitants regardless of their inclinations, values or political preferences.

In my previous book, I delved in much more detail into the practical implications of the theory presented here, putting forward specific mechanisms and institutions that could serve to implement the ecopolitical notions in the future state of Catalonia. While many of these reflections and proposals, which touched on political, economic and social issues in considerable depth, might be of some interest to non-Catalan readers, I have decided to exclude them from this book in order to concentrate on the more general proposals of the ecopolitical theory. As a consequence, the reader might feel that my ideas are not sufficiently fleshed out, but tend to linger for too long on the high spheres of theory. I have nothing to say against this criticism, except to invite the critics to undertake the work of elaborating those specific proposals, adapting and developing the concepts discussed in this book to meet the needs and the possibilities of their own habitat-nations. After all, a book should strive to create a sense of wonder and inspire readers to seek their own solutions to the problems, rather than giving them a creed to follow.

Whatever the actual institutions that may eventually stem from it, an unavoidable conclusion from my theory is the urgent need to redefine the geopolitical units that make up the current world, abandoning once and for all the model of the nation-state and advancing towards more ecologically and socially sustainable political communities. This book attempts to justify, both theoretically and practically, why this process is so necessary and how it could be accomplished in the present political context. But surely, as always, the world is already running ahead of our theories. The rusted structures of the nation-states, particularly the largest ones, are already showing evident signs of decay and instability. New habitat-nations may be about to achieve statehood, both in Europe and in America. A new world seems to be forging its way ahead. Let us hope that it will be so organised that we shall not regret calling it our home.”