Affluence and FreedomAn Environmental History of Political Ideas
Affluence and Freedom
An Environmental History of Political Ideas
Translated by Andrew Brown

In this pathbreaking book, Pierre Charbonnier opens up a new intellectual terrain: an environmental history of political ideas. His aim is not to locate the seeds of ecological thought in the history of political ideas as others have done, but rather to show that all political ideas, whether or not they endorse ecological ideals, are informed by a certain conception of our relationship to the Earth and to our environment.

The fundamental political categories of modernity were founded on the idea that we could improve on nature, that we could exert a decisive victory over its excesses and claim unlimited access to earthly resources. In this way, modern thinkers imagined a political society of free individuals, equal and prosperous, alongside the development of industry geared towards progress and liberated from the Earth’s shackles. Yet this pact between democracy and growth has now been called into question by climate change and the environmental crisis. It is therefore our duty today to rethink political emancipation, bearing in mind that this can no longer draw on the prospect of infinite growth promised by industrial capitalism. Ecology must draw on the power harnessed by nineteenth-century socialism to respond to the massive impact of industrialization, but it must also rethink the imperative to offer protection to society by taking account of the solidarity of social groups and their conditions in a world transformed by climate change.

This timely and original work of social and political theory will be of interest to a wide readership in politics, sociology, environmental studies and the social sciences and humanities generally.

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  • September 2021
  • 328 pages
  • 153 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $74.95
  • 9781509543717
  • Paperback $28.95
  • 9781509543724
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  • 9781509543731
Table of Contents




Chapter One. The critique of ecological reason

The fabric of liberty

The other history. Ecology and the labour question

Subsisting, dwelling, knowing

Autonomy and abundance

Chapter Two. Sovereignty and property. Political philosophy and the land

The political affordances of the land

Grotius: Empire and possession

Locke: the improving citizen

Chapter Three. Grain and the market. The order of commerce and the organic economy in the eighteenth century

The good use of the land

The agrarian kingdom of the Physiocrats

The liberal pact: Adam Smith

Two types of growth

Fichte: the ubiquity of the moderns

Chapter Four. The new ecological regime

From one liberalism to another

The paradoxes of autonomy: Guizot

The paradoxes of abundance: Jevons

Colonial extractions

Extraction-autonomy: Tocqueville

Chapter Five. Industrial democracy. From Proudhon to Durkheim

Revolutions and industry

Property and labour

Proudhon as critic of the liberal pact

The fraternal idiom

Durkheim: ‘carbon sociology’

The political affordances of coal

Chapter Six. The technocratic hypothesis. Saint-Simon and Veblen

Material flows and market arrangements

The technological normativity of the moderns

Laying bare the productive schema 

Veblen and the cult of efficiency              

The engineer and property

Chapter Seven. Nature in a market society

Marx as a thinker of autonomy

Putting the forest to good use

Technology and agronomy

Conquering the globe

Karl Polanyi: protecting society, protecting nature


Socialism, liberalism, conservatism

Chapter Eight. The great acceleration and the eclipse of nature

Freedom from want

Emancipation and acceleration: Herbert Marcuse

Oil and atomic power: invisible energies

Chapter Nine. Risks and limits: the end of certainties

Alarms and controversies

The critique of development and political naturalism

Risk and the reinvention of autonomy

The impasse: between collapse and resilience

Chapter Ten. The end of the modern exception and political ecology


Authority and composition

Under naturalism lies production  

Unequal ecological exchange

Provincializing critique

A new conceptual cartography

Changing expectations of justice

Autonomy without abundance

Towards a new critical subject

Chapter Eleven. The self-protection of the Earth.

Changing expectations of justice

Autonomy without abundance

Towards a new critical subject

Conclusion. Reinventing liberty



About the Author
Pierre Charbonnier is a researcher at the CNRS and a member of the Centre d'études européennes; he teaches at Sciences Po, Paris.
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"Because he speaks the language of political philosophy and not that of environmentalism, Charbonnier manages, paradoxically, to bring questions of the material conditions of existence much closer to what those who pursue the modern ideals of freedom and prosperity need in order to realize them. He might succeed in rendering political ecology mainstream."
Bruno Latour, Sciences Po, Paris
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