Political Theory

This article seeks to draw out some of the implications of Whiteheadian process thought for political theory. Among the most important of Whitehead’s ideas for political theory are the notions of relational power, the individual in community, and of the intrinsic value of humans and non-humans alike. These concepts provide the metaphysical undergirding for the development of what I like to call “an ecological democratic faith.”[1] In the last section, I engage in a brief discussion of nationalism and community.

1. Unilateral Power vs. Relational Power[2]

Process thinkers develop the concept of relational power in contrast to the notion of unilateral power. The latter has typified most of the Western intellectual tradition as well as socio-politico-economic-cultural-practice in a variety of forms. This contrast parallels process thought’s rejection of the substantialism of most of the inherited tradition in favor of “event” thinking.

The unilateral conception of power rests on a substantialist view of reality. That is, if reality if constituted by discrete, isolated substances that require nothing but themselves (and God) to exist, then the values that become central are self-sufficiency and independence. The consequence of such a view of reality on the conception of power is that power is “a one-way street,” the ability to affect, to influence another. Its exercise is the manifestation of unilateral power. Anything that is its opposite—allowing oneself to be influenced by others, receptivity and sensitivity to others and to one’s world—is seen as a sign of weakness.

The unilateral conception of power expresses itself in a variety of ways. One of these is evident in traditionally stereotyped gender roles. Men are seen as superior because they are active, self-sufficient, independent, unemotional, and unaffected by the vicissitudes of life. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be dependent, the so-called “weaker sex” in need of both the brains and brawn of men. Child and spousal abuse, in turn, are the most perverted and distorted expressions of the unilateral conception of power.

Legitimation of unilateral power has been provided by the understanding of divine power as unilateral power. In effect, God was traditionally conceived as the sole power of the universe, perfect in that power. God was conceived to be supremely unaffected by the world as part of the very meaning of divine perfection. This was also true of the deism of the Enlightenment. God created the world by setting the machinery of the universe in motion, which was then perfectly capable of operating according to its own laws. There was very little left for God to do, apart from possibly intervening “from the outside” when the world needed repairs.

The political expression of the unilateral conception of power tends towards hierarchicalism, authoritarianism, and dictatorship. If being unaffected and influenced by the opinions, thoughts, and feelings of others are seen as signs of weakness, the belittling and suppression of the opinions, thoughts, and feelings of others are possible consequences.

I shall now turn to the concept of relational power, using the metaphysics of process thought. In process thought, anything actual at all, from the tiniest energy event to human beings, has some degree of power. No organism can stay alive without some exercise of some degree of power. A momentary subjective experience, an actual occasion, has both a receptive side, receiving data from the past, and an active side, deciding how it constitutes itself, how it prehends data from the past and actualizes the possibilities of the moment and of future. If then there is a receptive as well as an active side to all experience, then for process thought power also must have both a receptive as well as an active side. Power is not only the capacity affect, to carry out a purpose, but also the capacity to an undergo an effect, to be acted upon.

Process thought has a vision of a relational and participatory universe. Consistent with this vision, process thought envisions power as relational. One consequence of a relational view of power, consistent with a relational view of the self, is that virtues different from those of independence and self-sufficiency would be cultivated. While, to be sure, independence and self-sufficiency are to be prized, it is not to be done in an atomistic way that cuts us off from a fundamental sense of relatedness; rather, it is to be done in a way that fosters interdependence, a word that captures both independence and relatedness. Other virtues that at least this process thinker would want to nurture include sensitivity, receptivity, responsiveness, compassion, and creativity. Nurturing these virtues empowers the emergence of a larger, richer self, able to take in greater contrasts, greater intensity, leading to greater experiences of beauty.

The relational view of power has important consequences for gender relations. The lives of men can be vastly enriched by nurturing their sense of relatedness without giving up their sense of autonomy. Women’s lives can affirm a fundamental sense of autonomy and not be swallowed up in relationships even as they affirm their basic experience of relatedness.

Likewise, the exercise of leadership that ensues from a relational understanding of power is significantly different. Instead of a hierarchical, unidirectional, “top down” manner of exercising power, a good leader may be clear about her/his goals yet is sensitive, receptive, and responsive to those whom he/she leads, affirming them and at the same guiding and motivating them, while respecting their freedom, to the realization of novel possibilities.

While there are process thinkers for whom the concept of God is not necessary for Whitehead’s system to be complete, there are others who hold God to be indeed indispensable and in their view, God is the chief exemplification of metaphysical categories. And if God is the chief exemplification of metaphysical categories, then God is the supreme example of relational power. God is supremely relational on the active side, “the primordial nature,” as God lures the creatures with ideal possibilities to realize themselves in their fundamental interdependence with one another. God is supremely relational on the receptive side, “the consequent nature,” as God feels the feelings of the creatures and preserves them everlastingly with no loss of immediacy. Thus, God, as chief exemplification of the mutuality and reciprocity that characterizes relatedness, is the supreme participant in the lives of God’s creatures.

In Whiteheadian process thought God always act persuasively rather than coercively. Following Whitehead, process thinkers have rebelled against tyrannical images of God. In keeping with this and in being consistent, coherent, and adequate in upholding the freedom of all actualities, process thinkers have maintained that God does not voluntarily relinquish or limit the divine power but rather is “subject to the rules of the game” (is their chief exemplification), much in the manner that constitutional monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers in modern democracies are not above but subject to the laws of their countries.[3]

At this point, I need to mention the similarity between process thought and consensus theories in sociology and political science. Like process thought, consensus or functionalist theories uphold an organismic view of society in which societies are seen as composed of interdependent and interrelated parts, with each part contributing to the whole; change one part or one set of relationships and you have changed the whole, however incrementally. Thus, according to this view, social change is gradual, evolutionary, reformist, attained on the basis of consensus.

One aspect of contemporary sociology and political science is the division between consensus and conflict theories. Defenders of the conflict theory maintain that society is made up of competing groups struggling over scarce resources. Conflict theorist can ask quite appropriately whether process thought, with its emphasis on gentleness and persuasion can take conflict into account. From my perspective, although it could benefit from the appropriation of the insights of conflict theories, process thought is quite aware of conflict (i.e. Whitehead’s statement that “all life is robbery”) and tragedy, with which it often deals in a moving way.

2. Intrinsic Value and the Individual-in-Community

According to Whiteheadian process thought, the drive toward fulfillment, the experience of beauty, is characteristic of anything actual at all—from the tiniest energy event to atoms and molecules to animals with central nervous systems. Consequently, perhaps the most important metaphysical claim a Whiteheadian understanding of nature can make is that experience is the locus of value. Any subjective experiencing, however rudimentary, is of intrinsic value. The immediacy and intensity of all subjective experiences “perish,” becoming “objective data” in the becoming of other momentary experiencing subjects. While any experience is of intrinsic value in the immediacy and intensity of the moment, it is also of instrumental value as it contributes to richness of experience of consequent moments of experience.

All experiences being of intrinsic value does not the mean that all experiences are of equal value. There is an incredible variety in the capacity for “richness of experience,” for “intensity of feeling.” The capacity for richness of experience depends on the degree of complexity of organization as “actual occasions of experience” come together, extended in space and time.

Positing the locus of value in momentary experiencing is to be understood in a relational way rather than a substantialist, atomistic manner. The moment of subjective experiencing prehends data from the past of the entire universe, as it arises out of a fundamental web of relationships. This holds true from the tiniest energy event to the complex experiencing of the human self. In the relational universe of Whiteheadian process thought, there is neither absolute distinction nor absolute identity between the self (or any subjective experience) and “the other,” no absolute boundary between the self (or any subjective experience) and the world. The web of relationships is the nurturing (or obstructive) matrix for the richness of experience of the becoming moment.

It is in this manner that process thought situates humans in the non-human natural world while preserving the distinctiveness of human beings (the difference between the human and non-human, human and non-human experience being one of degree not of kind). Moreover, it is in this manner that it also provides a non-anthropocentric grounding for human rights—as well as the rights of non-human animals.

In the history of the Western tradition, human rights have been grounded in the unique dignity that humans have simply by virtue of being human, usually connected to a rationality that is a distinctive characteristic of humans alone. In contrast, process thought posits the notion in the capacity to feel, in the capacity for richness of experience which, as we have seen, is of intrinsic value. Reason, instead of being the defining characteristic of being human, is a feature of all experience, present in all actualities in however rudimentary a level. Thus, in a loose sense, because any experiencing subject is of intrinsic value, we can say that it has rights. However, as we have also seen, not all experiences are equal in richness of experience; hence we may assert that while all creatures have rights, they do not have equal rights. Those rights are contextual and intertwined with the fundamental interdependence of all things.

The moment of subjective experiencing is the locus of value; yet, it arises out of the web of relationships that includes the past of the entire universe. In this manner, the relational metaphysics of process thought can be described as that of the “individual-in-community.” As with the notion of interdependence, combining independence and interrelatedness, the concept of the “individual-in community” suggests an inseparable link rather than unavoidable conflict between the individual and the community. Indeed, conflict may occur. However, the individual emerges out of a fundamental web of relationships. The communities out of which we emerge as individuals are a part of us and we a part of them. Those communities can enhance or obstruct individual development, even as individuals have the capacity to transcend their communities and realize themselves at times in spite of their communities.

The notion of the self, human and non-human, being an individual-in-community holds true for all actualities, all creatures, human and non-human. Indeed, Whitehead considered the question of the “individual-in-community” to be the religious question.[4]

The notion of the “individual-in-community,” which in the case of humans has been called “persons-in-community”[5] by such a process thinker as John Cobb and the economist Herman Daly, provides quite a different grounding for democratic theory than do typical modern democratic theories grounded in an individualistic, atomistic view of the self and in a substantialist view of reality. Process thought emphasizes the dignity of the individual and individual self-realization no less than do individualistic democratic theories. However, unlike atomistic democratic theoreticians, process thinkers emphasize the health of the communities out of which the individual emerges and through which she/he realizes herself/himself no less. While there is no process “party line” and process thinkers are hardly monolithic, nevertheless those who engage in political theory tend to be “communitarian” and “social democratic” in their treatment, within their green perspectives. This does not mean that process thinkers are collectivists. Process thought, with its emphasis on the “individual-in-community,” offers unique resources in affirming both the distinctiveness of the individual and her/his fundamental relatedness. Thus, process thinkers can affirm the concerns of deep ecologists and yet resist allowing the “parts” to be swallowed up by the “whole,” whether that whole be the ecosystem or a Cosmic Soul/Mind of the Cosmic Social Organism, as in some images of Gaia.

If a community profoundly shapes the development of healthy, creative, free individuals, then the elements that foster that kind of creative development need to be examined. Expressing it in a variety ways, a number of process thinkers across the generations (from John Dewey, Henry Nelson Wieman, and Daniel Day Williams to John Cobb) emphasize the need for people to participate effectively in the decisions that affect their lives.[6] They emphasize the importance of individual responsibility, of taking responsibility for what we do with the past and for how we respond to the possibilities of the future, for the persons we become.

One of the crucial implications for efficacious participation in the decisions that affect one’s life is the limitation of undue concentrations of power in every overlapping sphere of life, in both institutions and in persons. Politically, this would involve the maximum safeguarding of civil liberties and due process of law. It would include institutional systems of checks and balances. At larger levels of community, it could entail representative forms of government, at smaller levels it could and would encourage direct forms of democratic participation.

Undue concentrations of political power are usually inseparably intertwined with undue concentrations of economic power. For example, transnational corporations have undue influence in the politics within and between nations. All too often, the ability to express one’s views is all too dependent on the ability to pay for it. The spectrum of political opinion that gets to be heard and read in public is circumscribed by the fact that the media is largely owned by transnational corporations or media moguls. Most process thinkers want to limit such concentrations of power.

Process thinkers concerned with these issues advocate some form of workers’ democracy, workers’ ownership and management of their places of employment; there cannot be political democracy without economic democracy. Unlike the neoclassical economists, with individualistic, atomistic presuppositions, process thinkers also advocate subsuming economic life to political life, for the health of the community. That does not necessarily imply state control or ownership; it will involve the use of market mechanisms. However, the use of markets is not unhampered; it is for the good the community.[7]

All of this implies limitations on the undue concentration of power in the state, as for any institution or person, especially, as we have seen, with regard to its coercive powers, with regard to civil liberties, due process of law, and the observance of democratic procedures. Nevertheless, there is also positive role for the state: assuring that the “rules of the game” are observed, that there is fairness, equity, and justice, that all have access to the goods of life. The positive role of the state is to promote the common good, with the maximum participation of all.

At this point, I need to refer to Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom for.” “Freedom from” refers to such things as civil liberties and due process of law, protection from arbitrary state interference in people’s lives, i.e. political liberties. “Freedom for,” on the other hand, refers to maximum and direct participation in al the areas that affect one’s life, political, economic (workers’ management), and cultural (direct governance of local schools) (Gould 1990). In liberal thought as espoused by Berlin in a fashion typical in the West and having virtual official standing in the U.S. (as in the government’s official stance on human rights: there are no economic rights), freedom has been conceived only in terms “freedom from.” Although there is one political philosopher, Samuel H. Beer, who used Whitehead’s thought to defend the individualist premises of liberal democracy (Beer 1949), Whitehead as well as his early and contemporary followers have in various ways advocated both “freedom for” and “freedom from” as requisite for the flourishing of the ‘individual-in-community.”

A related issue is that of equality. Whitehead and most process thinkers, with the exception of Kenneth Cauthen (Cauthen 1987), prefer to deal with the concept of “participation” rather than equality. The two concepts certainly are not mutually exclusive and process thinkers need to devote more time to the issue of equality. For example, hierarchies based on privilege of one kind or another inhibit effective participation on the part of those in the lower parts of the hierarchy. Process thinkers need to think through and work towards a society in which there equal access to power and to the goods of life.

Although there is no unanimity on these issues, most process thinkers who deal with them are opposed to globalization, to free trade as practiced today. They take this position because, in their analysis, globalization is destructive of community and the diversity of communities.[8] It imposes an artificial homogeneity destructive of community, of the individual-in-community, human and non-human. It keeps wages low. In contrast, process thinkers advocate economic self-sufficiency, which would enable what they see as authentic free trade, and the principle of “subsidiarity,” the idea that “power should be located as close to the people as possible, that is, in the smallest units that are feasible.”[9] Although process thinkers encourage the maximization of local participation, they realize that some problems demand solutions on a larger scale, sometimes regional, sometimes national, sometimes international. Thus, their treatment of community envisions an ever expanding circle of “communities of communities.” In all instances, they seek the “common good,” the health of the community, of the “individual-in- community.”

In this regard, process thinkers realize that people need to have some minimum standard of living in order to participate effectively in the decisions that shape their lives. Hunger and poverty are not conducive to such participation. The manner in which such a minimum standard of living is guaranteed would encourage both individual responsibility and serving the “common good.” This is another dimension of “freedom for.”

For process thinkers, the “common good,” the health of the community includes the non-human natural world—not just as something of instrumental value to human beings but of intrinsic value. Unlike in neoclassical economics, most process thinkers concerned with these issues treat the non-human natural world not as “externalities” but as integral to economic activity. They advocate “sustainable” economies that do not exceed the carrying capacities of the earth’s resources; they advocate economies of “scale” that use “appropriate” technologies. Instead of measuring economic welfare by the Gross National Product, they advocate the use of an “Index of Sustainable Welfare,” which includes such usually ignored factors as environmental damage, infant mortality, the value of unpaid household work, etc.[10]

The previously described views of process thinkers have much in common with the principles of The Earth Charter. Both process thought and The Earth Charter situate human beings firmly in the non-human natural world. Most process thinkers and The Earth Charter advocate the quest for a free, democratic, participatory, just, and sustainable community in a non-anthropocentric way, affirming the intrinsic value of the constituent elements of the non-human natural world.[11]

There is one last point I would like to make in keeping with the prospects for developing “An Ecological Democratic Faith.” In contrast to democratic theories grounded in anthropocentric views of humanity’s relationship to the non-human natural world, Thomas Berry has suggested that instead of “democracy” we should start talking of “biocracy.”[12] In this regard, Buddhist deep ecologist Joanna Macy have called for “a council of all beings.[13] The notion of “biocracy” seeks to convey the idea that we have duties and obligations towards all sentient creatures as well as to the complex, interrelated ecosystems that make life possible. I would like to strengthen the non-anthropocentric, biocentric and ecocentric thrust of Berry’s notion of “biocracy” by claiming that the non-human natural world, speaking metaphorically, has its own system of “checks and balances.” Is not the environmental degradation so evident in today’s world the result of non-human nature’s system of checks and balances?

But we need to go further than that. We need to listen to the voices of the non-human natural world in their own right. And we need to experiment with institutional ways of making this effective and permanent.

This is the vision of an ecological democratic faith, the vision of a participatory universe in which the dignity and creative freedom of all creatures in their fundamental interdependence with one another are affirmed, in which the voices of all creatures are “heard.”

3. Community, Nationalism, and a “Critical Patriotism”

A sense of community seems to be inseparable from a sense of rootedness, of belonging,[14] at-homeness in the universe. We experience this sense of rootedness, of belonging, of at-homeness in the universe not in abstract ways but in the concrete experiences of community in a particular place and expressed through shared memories, although those memories may be interpreted in diverse ways.

Whitehead and subsequent process thinkers maintain that each actual occasion, each momentary subjective experiencing, has its standpoint, its own perspective from which it prehends data from the past and responds to the possibilities of the future. The standpoint includes the physical, geographical location, the community(ies) of which one is a part in space and time. The need for rootedness, for belonging, as Daniel Day Williams has maintained, is intrinsic to one’s identity as a human being.[15] And if this need is inseparable from the particularity of place, then, while repudiating its extreme expressions, we need to recognize that contemporary forms of nationalism, sometimes in twisted, distorted, even demonic ways (i.e. the Balkans), are fundamentally motivated by the search for roots and belonging.

Of course, the expressions of nationalism need not such distorted and demonic forms; there are traditions within those expressions, such as the “liberal nationalism” of the nineteenth century, that are able to affirm the need to belong to a particular group in a particular place while accepting and affirming “the otherness of the other.” In this regard, the Hungarian political thinker István Bibó makes a useful distinction, one that process thinkers might appropriate, between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is fraught with xenophobia, an uncritical attitude toward anything one’s country does, and sees “the other” as a threat to one’s identity. Critical patriotism, on the other hand, is characterized by a natural love of one’s country yet can be critical of particular policies of particular governments and is engages in self-critical reinterpretation of national symbols.

The challenge for us is to be rooted in our own communities yet to be so open to other communities that we recognize the bonds of our common humanity, put better and more inclusively, of our common creatureliness, in the search for rootedness and belonging.

4. Conclusion

I would like to conclude with Whitehead’s own words:

Freedom means that within each type the requisite coordination should be possible without the destruction of the general ends of the whole community. Indeed, one general end is that these variously coordinated should contribute to the complex pattern of community life, each in virtue of its own peculiarity. In this way, individuality gains the effectiveness which issues from coordination, and freedom obtains power necessary for its perfection (AI 67).


[1] I am inebted to J. Ron Engel for the use of the term “ecological democratic faith.” In this lengthy footnote, I shall include references to both process philosophy and process theology since treatments of political theory from a process perspective have come from both areas.

An early work in political thought influenced by Whitehead that stresses reason, individual freedom, and liberal democracy is Samuel H. Beer’s The City of Reason (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1949).

The literature dealing with process theology, political theology, and liberation theology is abundant. For representative treatments of process theology, political theology, and liberation theology, see Delwin Brown, To Set at Liberty: Christian Faith and Human Freedom (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1981); John B. Cobb, Jr., Process Theology as Political Theology (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1982); John B. Cobb, Jr., and W. Widick Schroeder, Editors, Process Philosophy and Social Thought (Chicago, Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1981); Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr., The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Human Community (New York, Cambridge University Press, 1981); Herman E. Daly and John B Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, Second Edition Updated and Expanded (Boston, Beacon Press, 1994); John B. Cobb, Jr., Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1992); John B. Cobb, Jr., Sustaining the Common Good: A Christian Perspective on the Global Economy (Cleveland, Ohio, The Pilgrim Press, 1994); Schubert M. Ogden, Faith and Freedom: Toward a Theology of Liberation, Revised and Enlarged Edition(Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1989); the essays on the theme of faith and justice, an interface between process and liberation theologies in Process Studies, Volume 14, Number 2, Summer 1985; Dermot A. Lane, Foundations for a Social Theology: Praxis, Process, and Salvation (New York, Paulist Press, 1984); Jay McDaniel, “The God of the Oppressed and the God Who is Empty,” Frederick Ferre and Rita Matragnon, Editors, God and Global Justice: Religion and Global Justice: Religion and Poverty in an Unequal World (New York, Paragon House, 1985).

For related works see, Kenneth Cauthen, Christian Biopolitics: A Credo and Strategy for the Future (Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1971); Kenneth Cauthen, The Passion for Equality (Totowa, New Jersey, Rowman and Littfield, Publishers, 1987); Kenneth Cauthen, Theological Biology: The Case for a New Modernism (Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario, 1991); Kenneth Cauthen, Toward a New Modernism (Lanham, Maryland, University Press of America, 1997); Robert C. Neville, The Cosmology of Freedom (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1974); Robert C. Neville, The Puritan Smile: A Look Toward Moral Reflection (Albany, New York, State University of New York Press Press, 1987); Robert C. Neville, Religion in Late Modernity (Albany, New York, State University of New York Press Press, 2002); William M. Sullivan, Reconstructing Public Philosophy (Berkeley, California, University of California Press, 1981).

For a work closely resembling Daly and Cobb yet original in its own right, see Carol Johnston, The Wealth or Health of Nations: Transforming Capitalism from Within (Cleveland, Ohio, The Pilgrim Press, 1998).

For a critique from within the process camp, see Randall C. Morris, Process Philosophy and Political Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne (Albany, New York, State University of New York Press, 1991). Hartshorne’s reply can be found in Charles Hartshorne, “Some Comments on Randall Morris’ Process Philosophy and Political Ideology,” Process Studies, Vol. 21 No. 2, 1992, pp. 123-29.

For representative treatments of these and related issues from a feminist perspective, see Sheila Greeve Davaney, Editor, Feminism and Process Thought (Lewiston, New York, Edwin Mellen Press, 1981); Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and Self (Boston, Beacon Press, 1986); Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then (Boston, Beacon Press, 1996); Susan Nelson Dunfee, Beyond Servanthood: Christianity and the Liberation of Women (Lanham, Maryland, University Press of America, 1989); Susan L. Nelson, Healing the Broken Heart: Sin, Alienation and the Gift of Grace (St. Louis, Missouri, Chalice Press, 1997); Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, The Fall into Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology (New York, Continuum Publishing Company, 1994); Nancy R. Howell, A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics (New York, Humanity Books, 2000).

For a perspective from Latin American liberation theology informed by process thought and biblical studies, see the works of George V. Pixley.

For a creative synthesis of process thought and black liberation theology, see Henry James Young, Hope in Process: A Theology of Social Pluralism (Minneapolis, Minnesota, Fortress Press, 1990). For an important work in African American social ethics by an African American process social ethicist, see Theodore Walker, Jr., Empower the People: Social Ethics for the African-American Church (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1991).See also the special issue of Process Studies devoted to Process Theology and the Black Experience, Process Studies, Vol. 18 No. 4, Winter 1989.

The works of the members of the Social Ethics Seminar, a group of social ethicists informed by process thought, situated for the most part in the Midwest. They tend to be more positive in their estimate of modernity than such “constructive postmodernists” as Cobb and Griffin, with some favoring economic growth. For some representative works, see Warren R. Copeland, Economic Justice: The Social Ethics of U.S. Economic Policy (Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1988); Warren R. Copeland, And the Poor Get Welfare: The Ethics of Poverty in the United States (Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1994); Franklin I. Gamwell, Beyond Preference: Liberal Theories of Independent Associations (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1984); Franklin I. Gamwell, The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of God (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1990); Franklin I. Gamwell, The Meaning of Religious Freedom: Modern Politics and the Democratic Resolution (Albany, New York, State University of New York Press Press, 1995); Franklin I. Gamwell, Democracy on Purpose: Justice and the Reality of God (Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Press, 2000); W. Widick Schoeder and Franklin I. Gamwell, Economic Life: Process Interpretations and Critical Responses (Chicago, Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1988); Lois Gehr Livezey, “Goods, Rights, and Virtues: Toward an Interpretation of Ethics in Process Thought” (The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics, 1986). The works of Douglas Sturm are especially important. See especially his Community and Alienation: Essays on Process Thought and Public Life (Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 1988) and Suffering and Solidarity: Toward a Politics of Relationality (Albany, New York, State University of New York Press Press, 1998). Also important are the works of J. Ron Engel who combines in a unique way concerns for eco-justice with concerns for democracy. I am indebted to him for the phrase “an ecological democratic faith.”

[2] I am indebted for the distinction between unilateral and relational power to Bernard M. Loomer’s classic essay, “Two Conceptions of Power,” Process Studies, Volume 6, Number 1, Summer1976, pp. 5-32. See also Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power (New York, Crossroad Publishing Co., 1988); Leslie A. Muray, “A Democratic Faith in a Democratic God;” also Leslie A. Muray, “Democratic Vistas on Faith and God” (Part I), Creative Transformation, Vol. 6 No. 4, Summer 1997, pp.22-23 and “Democratic Vistas on Faith and God” (Part II and III), Creative Transformation, Vol.7 No. 1, Fall 1997, pp.14-16. See also, James Newton Poling, The Abuse of Power: A Theological Problem (Nashville, Tennessee, Abingdon Press, 1991).

[3] See my “A Democratic Faith in a Democratic God” and “Democratic Vistas on Faith and God” (Parts I, II and III) for lengthier treatments of these ideas. For parallels between concepts and images of deity and of political power, I am indebted to the insights of David Nicholls. See especially his Deity and Domination: Images of God and the State in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London and New York, Routledge, 1989/1994).

[4] Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (Cleveland and New York, World Publishing Company, 1967), 86. In my “Meland’s Mystical Naturalism and Ecological Responsibility,” in Religious Experience and Ecological Responsibility edited by Donald A. Crosby and Charley D. Hardwick (New York, Peter Lang, 1996), 257-75, I appropriate Meland’s use of the notion of the “individual-in-community” to argue that in order to foster the ecological ethos requisite for dealing adequately with ecological crisis, we need extend the doctrine of the imago dei to the non-human natural world.

[5] Herman E. Daly and John B Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good, 159-75.

[6] ibid., 298-304.

[7] ibid., 14-15, 138-58, 298-304.

[8] ibid., 209-235.

[9] ibid., 174.

[10] ibid., 443-507.

[11] “The Earth Charter,” Benchmark Draft II, April 1999, Principle 11, p. 4. “The 1994 Declaration of Principles on Human Rights and the Environment” also attempts to affirm the right of humans and non-humans. It stresses human responsibility to such an extent that the document winds up underemphasizing the intrinsic value of non-humans, raising the question of whether, in spite of its intentions, the document succeeds in avoiding anthropocentrism. See the document at http://tufts.edu/departments/fletcher/multi/www/1994-decl.html.

[12] Thomas Berry, “Teilhard in the Age of Ecology,” Video Interview (Mystic CT, Twenty-Third Publications, 1988).

[13] Pat Fleming and Joanna Macy, “The Council of All Beings,” in Thinking Like A Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings, edited by Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess,pp.79-90.

[14] Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and the Forms of Love (New York and Evanston, Harper and Row, Publishers, 1968), 146.

[15] ibid., 146.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Beer, Samuel H. 1949. The City of Reason (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).

Birch, Charles and Cobb, John B. Jr.. 1981 The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Human Community (New York, Cambridge University Press).

Brown, Delwin. 1981. To Set at Liberty: Christian Faith and Human Freedom (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books).

Cauthen, Kenneth. 1987. The Passion for Equality (Totowa NJ, Rowman & Littfield).

Cobb, John B Jr. 1982. Process Theology as Political Theology (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press).

Cobb, John B. Jr. 1992. Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books).

Cobb, John B. Jr. 1994. Sustaining the Common Good: A Christian Perspective on the Global Economy (Cleveland, Ohio, The Pilgrim Press)

Cobb, John B. Jr., and W. Widick Schroeder. 1981.  Editors, Process Philosophy and Social Thought (Chicago, Center for the Scientific Study of Religion).

Daly, Herman E. and Cobb, John B., Jr. 1994 [1989]. For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston, Beacon).

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Author Information

Leslie A. Muray
Philosophy Department, Curry University

How to Cite this Article

Muray, Leslie A., “Political Theory”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <http://encyclopedia.whiteheadresearch.org/entries/thematic/public-policy-natural-law/political-theory/>.