The unusually stable Earth system of the Holocene epoch of the past 10,000 years, in which human civilization arose, is yielding to a more dynamic and unstable Anthropocene epoch driven by human practices. The consequences for key institutions, such as states, markets and global governance, are profound. Path dependency in institutions complicit in destabilizing the Earth system constrains response to this emerging epoch. Institutional analysis highlights reflexivity as the antidote to problematic path dependency. A more ecological discourse stresses resilience, foresight and state shifts in the Earth system. Ecosystemic reflexivity can be located as the first virtue of political institutions in the Anthropocene. Undermining all normative institutional models, this analysis enables re-thinking of political institutions in dynamic social-ecological terms.