While these findings are an important challenge to global democracy scepticism, they do not necessarily contradict my argument that global democrats should invest in promoting the resources that are required at the individual and community level to effectively participate in political decision-making.
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First, the argument that poverty has not prevented some states from making a transition to democracy builds on indices of democracy that usually focus on formal institutional criteria. It essentially means that poverty has not prevented the transition from authoritarian rule to formal democratic institutions. This observation does not challenge my argument unless it could be shown that such formal democratic institutions have in turn led to a reduction of absolute poverty, thereby turning formal citizenship into effective citizenship.
This minimum can be thought of in absolute as well as relative terms and hence only indirectly relates to inequality.
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In sum, my argument is less about the conditions for a transition to the formal institutions of democracy and more about improving the democratic quality of the system of global governance we currently have. In relation to such improvements, we can only speculate on what formal institutional reforms would add to effective citizenship for those communities that face the most significant constraints to participate or exert control over political decision-making. But I find it plausible to assume that direct measures to lift those below the democratic minimum above the threshold are at least as useful as the reform proposals that currently dominate the agenda of global democrats.
This does not mean that institutions are irrelevant. On the contrary, the comparative democratization literature on which this particular challenge draws shows that they matter a great deal. In the words of Krishna and Booth : , :. Political parties, local governments, NGOs, and other civil society organizations … are often weak to virtually nonexistent, especially in rural areas of developing countries, where large parts of the poorer populations reside.
Under such circumstances, citizens are considerably handicapped in terms of access and information.
In pointing to this weakness, the authors refer to the study of democracy in developing countries, but their conclusion seems as relevant in relation to global democracy. Third, some might interpret my reading as global democracy scepticism that either builds on or simply adds another twist to earlier arguments made by Robert Dahl , Andrew Moravcsik or Seymour Martin Lipset In many ways, this wariness is what the democratic deficit discourse is all about.
As this ties global democracy more closely to global structural change than to institutional reform, it makes its attainment more difficult, but not impossible. With Moravcsik, I agree that there is not currently a strong need to further democratize the formal institutions of international governance.
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Yet generalizing from the EU to global governance is of little use since the democratic minimum is guaranteed for most citizens in the former, but not in the latter. As a result, I share with Moravcsik the view that we do not currently need to democratize the formal institutions of global governance, but I do not share his conclusion that global governance therefore does not suffer from a major democratic deficit. Finally, the idea that economic development is insufficient in some parts of the world to allow for a transition to democratic institutions at the global level fails to capture my argument since — once more — my concern is not with a transition to democracy, but with improving the quality of democracy.
This quality suffers most severely from structural exclusion but this does not mean that such exclusion cannot be remedied. Taken together, my position is therefore best described as democratic realism rather than democratic scepticism. Finally, some might take issue with the way in which democracy is conceived in this article.
Global democracy and the democratic minimum: Why a procedural account alone is insufficient
Such a critique may come from two different corners. Eva Erman has thus argued that it is normatively problematic to conceive of democracy as an aggregate concept composed of different democratic values like inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and deliberation as this neglects the inherent connections among those values. Labelling an improvement in the transparency record of an international organization as a democratization might thus overlook the possibility that performance on other dimensions declines, that it is so low that one cannot reasonably speak of democratic procedures in a meaningful sense or that the level of transparency itself remains effectively low because it cannot be seen in isolation from the other values.
In short, it is therefore fundamentally misleading to conceive of democracy as an aggregate of different democratic values. Again, I do not think this critique poses a significant challenge for my argument. Rather, while I stress the benefits of disaggregating the concept of global democratic governance, Erman points to the possible downsides. To be sure, conceptual disaggregation may lead some observers to conflate transparency or inclusiveness with democracy. But it can also lead others to identify more clearly how different democratic values relate to each other, to what extent they are in conflict and how such conflicts should be resolved in particular circumstances.
Last, but not least, a frequent critique of proposals for global democracy is that they are biased towards Western conceptions of good political order, which they seek to uplift to a global scale Scholte, b. Obviously, even a critical engagement with the predominant conceptions of global democracy to which this charge is most commonly addressed cannot guarantee that the arguments I put forth are themselves free from a bias towards the political culture in which the views that inform these arguments have been formed.
To this last challenge I therefore only have two modest answers: first, those who have engaged more strongly with non-Western ideas about a good global order include economic inequality as one of several key dimensions of global democracy Scholte, b : 17— This provides at least some confidence that a focus on the socio-economic preconditions of global democracy might also be attractive to non-Westerners. Second, the main thrust of my argument is critique from within.
This internal critique is meant to fill an important gap in a global democracy debate which is indeed primarily informed by a conception of democracy that builds on Western experiences. At the same time, internal critique does not render external critique obsolete, regardless of whether such critique is itself informed by Western or non-Western alternatives to the ideal of Western democracy. In the concluding chapter of his Democracy and the Global Order , David Held lists 20 short-term and long-term goals. He distinguishes between polity and governance goals on the one hand and economic goals on the other hand.
The polity goals include reform of the UN Security Council, the establishment of a UN second chamber following an international constitutional convention, the acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction by the International Court and the establishment of an International Human Rights Court as well as a new coordinating economic agency. Short-term economic goal no. Held is right about this latter goal.
And while he may also be right about the other goals, it is interesting — and in my view highly problematic — that he does not set priorities among them. The thought experiment of a Global Democracy Foundation has a key advantage in this regard: it forces us to think about priorities. As I have argued in this article, there are strong reasons to assume that many of the polity and governance goals identified by global democracy scholars will remain ineffective unless they are paralleled by expanding the range of global citizens that benefit from effective basic rights to subsistence, health and education.
Quite understandably, global democracy scholarship has taken much of its inspiration from the European experience. Despite its own imperfection, it is the one transnational polity in which democratic ideals have been realized most extensively. Luckily, there is thus less need to think about the socio-economic preconditions for rendering citizen rights effective.
As a result, a focus on formal structures seems warranted for the particular case of the EU. Yet global governance is different from European governance. Yet while Koenig-Archibugi : — mainly uses the Indian example to show that a polity can be democratic even as a vast number of citizens are illiterate or live in absolute poverty, my argument would be that if we take democracy seriously, reducing illiteracy rates as well as the number of people living in absolute poverty will be crucial to enhance the democratic quality of government in India.
In the end, this difference in perspectives is partially based on the fact that the indices of democracy used in comparative democratization research are commonly based on very formalistic notions of democracy, rendering them more persuasive in some contexts than in others. In contrast, authors who anchor their indices of democracy more closely in normative democratic theory tend to be more sensitive to the socio-economic preconditions for democratic governance, with some of them including health-related and educational rights in their measurements of democracy Saward, Given its own roots in normative democratic theory as well as its sustained consciousness of these roots, we should expect the global democracy discourse to be more open to including these dimensions in its own measurements and reform proposals.
Advancing global democracy may never have been one of their primary goals, but the close connection between global democracy and global justice or development that I have sketched in this article implies that, luckily, one can do much for democracy even with other goals in mind. That, in the end, is good news indeed for global democracy scholars. For other critical discussions that make slightly different distinctions, see Scholte b ; distinguishing between statist, cosmopolitan and postmodern conceptions of global democracy and Smith and Brassett ; who distinguish between liberal, cosmopolitan and critical perspectives.
The section is informed by challenges that I have been confronted with when presenting the central argument of this article to various academic audiences. For a partial exception, see Bohman One may therefore also read my article, first, as an effort to spell out this dimension more explicitly and, second, as an attempt to justify why, under current socio-political circumstances, it deserves priority over other dimensions of global democracy. Skip to main content.
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