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Environmental Ethics

Volume 8, Issue 1, Spring 1986

Robert W. Hoffert
Pages 5-32

The Scarcity of Politics
Ophuls and Western Political Thought

William Ophuls has argued that the sources of and solutions for present scarcity conditions are to be found in Western political philosophy. I clarify various theoretical issues raised by Ophuls’ work and offer conceptual alternatives regarding some of the more basic issues. Specifically, I critique the Lockean and Hobbesian elements in Ophuls’ treatment of the role of liberal democracy, with special attention to abundance assumptions and Lockean individualism. I also argue that he fails to deal adequately with resource distribution in his treatment of resource scarcity, that he improperly removes man from nature, that he misunderstands the relationship of technology and politics, and that he encounters other difficulties in terms of the public/private distinction and in integrating micro and macro issues. Ironically, Ophuls’ admirable attempt to shed light on the critical relationship between scarcity conditions and political philosophy may have created a new and disorienting set of shadows.

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