Why do we need Global Democracy?
WHY DO WE NEED GLOBAL DEMOCRACY?
By Professor Jan Aart Scholte, Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation
Current events in the Arab world show once again that democracy is a crucial feature of a good society. ‘The people’ should determine the decisions that shape their common life and shared destiny. Yet how can democracy operate as society becomes more globalised? That is the key puzzle for the Building Global Democracy programme, a worldwide action-oriented research initiative with offices at the University of Warwick.
A More Global World
Today’s world has become more global. Many issues – in our homes, in our workplaces, in our local communities, in our national lives – have important global aspects. Global forces shape food prices, employment conditions, pollution, diseases, financial systems, communication technologies, energy supplies, wars and much more. From the grassroots in Kirgizia to the corridors of Wall Street our lives are globally connected.
Lots of Global Governance
Clearly our more global world is not governed by a world state. However, over recent decades large complexes of rules and regulatory institutions have developed to bring order to global affairs. We have a great deal of global governance even if it has not taken the shape of a world state.
Much regulation of global connections is undertaken through formal intergovernmental agencies like the United Nations. Other global governance occurs through informal transgovernmental networks like the Group of 8 (G8) and its enlarged counterpart, the Group of 20 (G20). Individual nation-states, especially the more powerful ones, may also take unilateral actions on global issues. Still more global policies are formulated and implemented through private channels in, for example, the International Accounting Standards Board and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. There are also interregional arrangements like the Asia-Europe Meeting and global networks of local authorities like United Cities and Local Governments.
But where is the public – the ‘demos’ of democracy – in all of this global governance? What political participation and control does, for example, a resident of a small island country have regarding climate change? What influence can a cotton farmer in West Africa have in global trade policies? How can an e-mailer in China shape rules for the Internet? How can a refugee be involved in making policies on global migration? How can a local voter feed into the United Nations? Answers to these questions suggest that affected people often have little effective involvement in global politics.
Not surprisingly, dissatisfaction with this disempowerment has prompted a great deal of so-called ‘anti-globalisation’ protests since the 1990s. In addition, popular movements have met in spaces such as the World Social Forum to debate how affected publics can gain recognition, respect, voice and due influence in global affairs. Since the mid-1990s a number of academic theorists, too, have turned their attention to developing concepts and practices of global democracy.
For What Purpose?
Some sceptics have suggested that democracy has no place in global politics. They might even say that ‘global democracy’ is an oxymoron and an impossibility. Such a conclusion is arguably dangerous on both moral and practical grounds.
Morally, a refusal to pursue democracy in global affairs is unacceptable as it clears the way for global oligarchy and the many abuses of power that usually arise when there is rule by the few. Indeed, to deny the possibility of global democracy would be to abandon a crucial aspect of a good society in today’s more global world. Global democracy is therefore worthwhile in its own right and for its own sake.
In addition, democracy is often closely interconnected with other core values of a good society. In situations where people’s rule prevails there is often at the same time more distributive justice, more collective solidarity, more individual liberty, and more cultural creativity. Democracy can also help to advance ecological care, material welfare, moral decency and peace. Thus, an absence of global democracy will tend to undermine other primary values in today’s increasingly global society.
Global democracy is also important because it can help underpin the increased global governance that is needed to bring order and desired changes to a more global world. More global governance is necessary in the 21st century in order to respond effectively to ecological challenges, epidemics, financial crises, poverty, inequality and more. That global governance will work better if it rests on the consent of the governed – that is, if people support rather than obstruct it. Global democracy is a key way to build legitimate – and thereby more effective – global governance.
If the case for building global democracy is clear, what can academic research contribute to advance the process? Unfortunately most of the scholarship on this subject to date has been:
An important challenge is therefore to democratise the study of global democracy. The Building Global Democracy programme in which the University of Warwick has participated since 2008 attempts an alternative methodology. The BGD convening group involves scholars from eight academic fields. BGD projects always rest on practitioner-researcher dialogues, with contributors drawn from business, civil society, media, official circles and political parties as well as universities and think tanks. To counter western domination, participants in BGD projects always herald from ten world regions in equal numbers. In addition, BGD activities are normally marked by age, class, gender and race diversities.
Already this different methodology has generated new concepts and new proposals for action. For example, BGD’s project on Conceptualising Global Democracy has attracted ideas from indigenous peoples, Gandhian philosophy, Islam, feminism and Chinese perspectives that have not previously figured in the debate. BGD’s project on Learning for Global Democracy has shown that people can acquire empowering knowledge about global affairs from ‘popular universities’, social forums, mass media and street theatre as well as more traditional, formal education. BGD’s project on Including the Excluded in Global Politics has explored what global democracy might involve from the perspectives of children, national minorities, women and many others.
BGD project outputs are all available free of charge via the BGD website, where it is also possible to register for periodic updates on the BGD journey.
Jan Aart Scholte is a Professor in Politics & International Studies (PAIS) and Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR) at the University of Warwick. He is the author of numerous articles, chapters, working papers and books dealing with questions of governing a more global world. He is currently coordinating a major international project, Building Global Democracy, and has recently released a new book, in association with Cambridge University Press, called Building Global Democracy? Civil Society and Accountable Global Governance.
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Related WRAP Articles
Scholte, Jan Aart (2006) Political parties and global democracy. Working Paper. University of Warwick. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Coventry.
Scholte, Jan Aart (2001) Civil society and democracy in global governance. Working Paper. University of Warwick. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Coventry.
Salih, Mohamed Abdel Rahim M. (Mohamed Abdel Rahim Mohamed) (2005) Globalized party-based democracy and Africa: the influence of global party-based democracy networks. Working Paper. University of Warwick. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Coventry.