Headline: General introduction: Democracy and sustainability

Democracy and sustainability are political ideas that have shaped the course of human history and continue to do so today. On a very general level, these ideas have multiple commonalities. Both have strong, universal normative implications (Dobson 1998; Sen 1999). They develop an image of the good society and, thus, also critically refer to a negatively evaluated other. The concept of democracy is oriented toward an equal and free society in which collective problems and conflicts are resolved by a demos consisting of equals in an ordered process of interest articulation and decision-making; it is the counter-model to highly asymmetrical authoritarian forms of rule, in which the suppression of freedom and autonomy of many members of society prevails (Dahl 2000; Saward 2007). Sustainability, on the other hand, refers to the negative consequences of the “unsustainable” (predominantly Western) model of development for the environment and equity of societies around the world (Christen and Schmidt 2012; Dryzek 2013). A sustainable society is imagined as one in which all present and future people have equal opportunities to satisfy their needs or even a good life in the long term (WCED 1987; Jackson 2017). The prerequisite for this is shaping human development in such a way that it remains within planetary boundaries, i.e., below tipping points for potentially sudden and severe environmental change (Meadowcroft 2012; Steffen et al. 2015). Another commonality is that democracy and sustainability are both fundamentally contested and dynamic concepts. This means that they have two levels of meaning: a relatively stable and universal first-level meaning, below which controversial debates about their respective meanings unfold on a second level (Jacobs 1999). Thus, there is general agreement that democracy means rule by the people and that sustainability requires compliance with ecosystem boundaries. However, how exactly the rule of the people and the compliance with ecosystem boundaries are to be realized and organized in concrete terms is subject to an ongoing debate. The empirical implication of this is that both democracy and sustainability do not exist in any kind of pure form but in manifold discursive, institutional, and practical manifestations that are subject to ongoing change (Hopwood, Mellor, and O’Brien 2005; Saward 2007).

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Bornemann, B., Knappe, H., & Nanz, P. (2022). General introduction: Democracy and sustainability. In B. Bornemann, H. Knappe, & P. Nanz (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Democracy and Sustainability. London: Routledge.

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