Keywords: green economics, law, social systems, Niklas Luhmann, autopoietic theory, social change, justice
A better world through law? The implications of the theories of Niklas Luhmann for green economics
This paper considers the implications of the theories of Niklas Luhmann for attempts at achieving social change through law. According to Luhmann, modern society consists of all that can be communicated and understood as having meaning. Such communications are structured according to functionally differentiated subsystems such as law, politics, science, economics and education. Luhmann applies the biological term, 'autopoiesis', to explain how social systems produce and reproduce themselves by the interaction of their own elements and in so doing, participate in society's construction of reality. Each system distinguishes itself from its environment through binary codes and then reconstitutes phenomena entering its environment by applying its own internal binary code (such as legal/illegal in the case of law). This normative closure means that direct or simple exchanges or communications between social systems, or between individuals and social systems, are impossible. We therefore need to abandon notions of 'steering' social systems in predetermined ways and bringing about social change directly through legal norms. Progressive change may occur but this will depend more on how events entering each social system are reconstituted by those systems, rather than on the motivation and planning of social campaigners. Luhmann offers a way of describing society that seeks to engage with, rather than avoid, the increasing complexity and contingency of modern society, and which enables us to see that whether law achieves 'justice' depends on the viewpoint from which law (or any other social system) is being observed.