The 2015 United Nations Climate Conference in Paris was preceded by public protests around the world in support of decisive action to address climate change. A clear theme in the protests to support climate action has been the idea that these negotiations are of global importance and that political representatives of the participating nation-states have been too slow to react to this issue. The problem of climate change highlights how global problems interact with a world where authority is vested in domestically orientated nation-states, where various forms of global governance exist but are not always effective, and where people are organising in networks of transnational civil society to influence formal negotiations.
In this context, democratic relationships of representation and accountability between citizens and their state are increasingly blurred as political decision-making becomes more densely embedded within complex and overlapping forms of globalization and global governance. As a result of these political dynamics, new thinking about the relationship between globalisation and democracy is required and scholars have developed various responses to the dilemmas of enabling public oversight of political life in an era of globalisation and global governance. Anthony McGrew has referred to this as a “transnational turn” in democratic theory: an emerging contention that democracy needs to be rethought in light of the impact of globalization.
In our recent book, we refer to this literature as global democratic theory and claim that a new field of scholarship has emerged in the writings of scholars interested in the engagement of democratic theory and globalisation. This book provides an assessment of the value of this scholarship and the possibilities associated with rethinking and redesigning the practice of democracy, including the possibility of creating democracy beyond the state. While there is a general argument in this scholarship that representative democracy vested in the nation-state needs to be adapted to globalisation, there is no consensus on how democracy could be reconfigured. Indeed, the approaches considered in this book reveal a wide range of views about the future of democracy and its possible extension to the global level. By examining the development of global democratic theory, this book provides glimpses of what these democratic futures might be.
This book focuses upon five primary approaches of global democratic theory. First, the liberal internationalist theory of Robert Keohane, Anne-Marie Slaughter and others focuses upon a democratic ethic of reform where international institutions act on the cooperative priorities of states and are transparent and accountable to national governments in ways that support democracy at the level of the nation-state. Second, cosmopolitan theorists like David Held, Daniele Archibugi, and Richard Falk, in contrast, argue for a democratic ethic of humanity which involves the creation of a democratic constitutional order for global governance and a long term vision which includes the development of new overarching institutions like a global parliament. Third, transnational deliberative democracy advances an ethic of dialogue as exemplified in the deliberative and republican scholarship of John Dryzek, James Bohman, and Philip Pettit. Unsatisfied with prevailing modes of liberal democracy, this ethic promotes an agenda that seeks to transform governance structures by enhancing the role of transnational deliberation and public reasoning in political life, even in IGOs not likely to be accountable via electoral processes.
Fourth, the social democratic approach captures a diverse array of positions attempting to develop a democratic ethic of equality by regulating and possibly transforming global capitalism. This broad position encompasses efforts by scholars supportive of the Third Way, scholars such as Colin Crouch and Andrew Gamble, who seek to reform global capitalism, and more radical scholars such as Alex Callinicos who seek to promote a revolution that supplants capitalism. Finally, the book considers the radical anarchist approach to democracy exemplified in the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Their approach is grounded in an ethic of revolution that seeks to develop self-governing communities that can resist and overthrow the global system of sovereignty and capitalism.
The book outlines the contours of these approaches and their practical merits. Its main contention is that global democratic theory needs to deliver a range of practical perspectives that can help democratic leaders and citizens to critically rethink and redesign the organization of national and global governance. This body of scholarship offers important thoughts on how people can meaningfully participate in national and global governance institutions that shape their daily lives in the hope that global problems such as climate change will be more readily addressed.
Daniel Bray is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia Steven Slaughteris a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. Their book Global Democratic Theory was published by polity in 2015 and is available for purchase.