Cosmopolitan Democracy — A Response to Global Crisis?

Guest post by Nicole Bogott – You can find her here and here

(First published in 2016)

New adjustments for change are often made in times of crisis.

Citizens all around the world are increasingly threatened by global threats to security that they themselves have no control over. Oftentimes even the states they belong to are not able to reach out properly in order to address these pressing transnational challenges that impact everyone.

Civil society, think tanks or academics are increasingly the first ones to take up the initiative to take action. Whereas the state represents the status quo, civil society initiatives oftentimes highlight the newest developments and solutions, whether they are living in democratic states or not.

In the last century, people formed social movements to emancipate themselves from oppressive structures fighting for further democratization within states all around the globe. The traditional way of organizing a society is within a state.

Though, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian politician, and diplomat, who was the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, argues that democracy within states is not sufficient anymore to effectively address problems of global scale. Today democracy is at crossroads. It has become increasingly important to foster democratic processes on different levels; especially with other global actors such as the very mighty TNCs, which are at times directly challenging the state.

Democracy is traditionally defined as a system of government based on the will of the people.

But is democracy within a state enough to create stability and peace? I argue “no” and I am not the only one. The first ones to propose the construction of an international democracy beyond domestic boundaries were the idealists. A very prominent figure in support of this idea was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali also identified not just one but three significant levels of democracy that make up a Cosmopolitan Democracy, which has the potential to address global challenges in a more adequate and structured way.

But what is Cosmopolitan Democracy?

In a nutshell, Cosmopolitan Democracy is a concept that outlines democracy as a process that should be advocated not only within states but equally among states and at the global level. It also includes other actors besides states. A strong proponent of Cosmopolitan Democracy is Daniele Archibugi, an Italian economic and political theorist. According to him, Cosmopolitan Democracy can only be achieved when the national level, the interstate level, and the global level are all affected by the democratization process.

Does that mean that the nation-state should disappear? Not at all.

The model of cosmopolitan democracy rests on the notion that states remain the main pillars of international relations. They are “… the first and chief institutional point of reference for the individual” (Archibugi, 1995: p.128). Though, the Cosmopolitan Democracy model does recognize that, when looking towards the global sphere, other actors besides states come into play when exercising power and influence. The state, therefore, does remain vital to have civil society connected to the international level, as there are no other organs in place at the moment that can fulfil this role.

According to Tony Judt, a British historian, essayist, and university professor, who specialized in European history, the state may also potentially act as a mediator to protect individuals from global forces on the one hand and to allow civil society to take influence on mighty global markets on the other hand. Thus, according to him states “… stand between their citizens and the unrestricted, unrepresentative, unlegitimated capacities of markets…” (Judt, 2008: p. 424).

David Held, a British Professor of Politics and International Relations, also states that Cosmopolitan Democracy is a mode of governance that is “… based on the recognition that democracy within a particular community and democratic relations among communities are interlocked, absolutely inseparable, and that new organizational and binding mechanisms must be created if democracy is to survive and develop in the decades ahead” (Held, 1995: p.112).

This is why on a global level institutions are advised to enhance their working mechanisms accordingly to embrace these new realities of the 21st century. Recognizing the existence of more actors besides states in decision-making processes could be a way forward. The challenge of the 21st century requires a shift in establishing improved mechanisms of accountability of states, citizens, global businesses and international institutions.

Globalisation has led to an increased movement of people, capital and information. Archibugi argues that it has become a problem that civil society has no other representation than that of citizens of states. What about people that are not represented by democratic states or people without citizenship that experience grave difficulties “… to have their individual and collective rights guaranteed” ? (Archibugi, 1995: p.129).

The expansion and re-emphasis of democratic processes on a global scale, among states and internally of states is the only way to establish social justice in an unequal world, to fight against the great disparities that exist as well as taking care of trans-border issues such as the environment or human rights.

It will not be easy to establish such a mode of governance but a cosmopolitan community “…does not require political and cultural integration in the form of a consensus about a wider range of beliefs, values, and norms” (Held, 1995: p.115).

Further Reading:

Archibugi D. (1992) Models of international organization in perpetual peace projects. Review of International Studies. 18, pp. 259–317.

Archibugi D. (1993) The Reform of the UN and Cosmopolitan Democracy: A Critical Review. Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 30, №3, pp. 301–315.

Archibugi D. & Held D. (1995) Cosmopolitan Democracy — An Agenda for a New World Order. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Archibugi D. (2000) Cosmopolitical Democracy. New Left Review. 4 Jul Aug 2000, pp. 137–150.

Boutros-Ghali B. (1996) An Agenda for Democratization. United Nations Publication, New York.

De Schutter O. & Lenoble J. (2010) Reflexive Governance — Redefining the Public Interest in a Pluralistic World. Hart Publishing, Oxford.

Held D. (2002) Democracy and the Global Order. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford.

Held D. & McGrew A. (ed.) (2002) The Global Transformations Reader. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Hertwig J., Maus S., Meyer zu Schwabedissen A. & Schuler M. (eds.) (2010) Global Risks — Constructing World Order through Law, Politics and Economics. Peter Lang GmbH, Fraunkfurt am Main.

Judt T. (2008) Reappraisals — Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century. Penguin Books, New York.

Kennedy P. (2006) The Parliament of Man — The United Nations and the Quest for World Government. Penguin Books, London.

Klein N. (2002) No Logo. Riemann Verlag, Sonthofen.

Rijgersberg R. W. (2010) The State of Interdependence — Globalization, Internet and Constitutional Governance. T. M. C. Asser Press, The Hague.

Walt S.M. (1991) The Renaissance of Security Studies. In: International Studies Quarterly 35, pp.211–239.

Ziegler J. (2005) Das Imperium der Schande. Pantheon Verlag, München.

Zolo D. (1999) A Cosmopolitan Philosophy of International Law? A Realist Approach. Ratio Juris. Vol. 12 №4 December 1999, pp. 429–44.