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[Editor's Note: The following essay by Nadia Urbinati of Columbia University was published in the summer of 2003 in Debating Cosmopolitics, edited by Daniele Archibugi (Verso). I thank Prof. Urbinati for submitting her article to the Political Theory Daily Review.  I would also like to take this opportunity to remind visitors that they are welcome to submit articles or essays to be considered for linking or providing space in our site.]

Can Cosmopolitical Democracy Be Democratic?
Nadia Urbinati

What follows is a critical reading of cosmopolitical democracy, or cosmopolitanism as a project of global government.[1]  I use the term “criticism” in its theoretical and analytical sense though, not polemical.  I do not question, and in fact I share the aspiration to make the economic and political global order more just and respectful of the life and dignity of the world’s inhabitants.  The Kantian maxims commanding us to seek peace and respect human rights have enriched classical cosmopolitanism with a practical goal all are responsible for realizing.  Post-Kant, the burden of proof is on those who want to argue against cosmopolitan civil rights.  My main objection to cosmopolitical democracy is its translation of the Kantian maxims into the project of devising global decision-making set of procedures that are actually the province of nation-state sovereignty.  My criticism interrogates in the name of democratic premises the cogency and desirability of making the cosmos into a unified political space.  Theorists of cosmopolitical democracy do not simply claim for democracy “within” and “between” states.  Much more radically, they argue for constructing a supranational political body endowed with the power of legislation, administration, and military intervention/coercion.  Cosmopolis is a project of centralization and unification of power, not decentralization or mere cooperation.  It adds power to the already existing loci of power.  Thus, despite their pledge of allegiance to Kant’s plane of perpetual peace, theorists of cosmopolitical democracy de facto violate the Kantian lex aurea according to which cosmopolitan rights entail the containment of political power, not its supererogation.  Recognizing the value and essence of a rights-based democracy should alert us to the anti-democratic risk contained in the idea of a spaceless democracy.  As Jürgen Habermas has recently argued, postnational democracy can hardly aim at more than “weak forms of legitimation” to retain a democratic character.

The European Paradigm of Cosmopolitan Democracy

Cosmopolitanism is a composite family of ancient lineage.  Its liberal humanist branch is rooted in classical Stoicism and the modern doctrine of natural rights.  Its neo-liberal branch has grown from the theory of the free market and the liberation of civil society from the fetters of feudalism and state absolutism.  Thus cosmopolitanism can mean the aspiration for global justice and the universalization of human rights, as well as an uncritical celebration of globalization.[2]  Their differences notwithstanding, both liberal and neo-liberal cosmopolitanism see national sovereignty as an obstacle because it resists outside interference and obstructs transnational exchange and/or cooperation.  In their humanist, liberal, and economic versions, scholars of different disciplines, countries, and political orientation share remarkably similar cosmopolitan ideals.  Liberal cosmopolitanism is itself a cosmopolitan phenomenon.[3]  “Democratic cosmopolitanism” presents an interestingly different case, however.

Democratic cosmopolitanism bills itself as a political response to the acknowledged fact of globalization.  Unlike its neo-liberal counterpart, however, it does not see globalization as a natural like and self-regulating phenomenon.  As an ideal, democratic cosmopolitanism represents the reluctance of politics to capitulate in the face of the so-called ‘spontaneity’ of global economic competition.  It reaffirms the power of associated individuals and peoples to shape their lives.[4]  Thus despite its affiliation with the “utopian” legacy of perpetual peace, its aspiration to reassert the place of politics puts democratic cosmopolitanism in the camps of Rousseau and Hegel.  Not because, like Rousseau and Hegel, it opts for autonomous sovereign city-republics or nation-states, but because in its proponents’ eyes, the liberty envisioned by global civil society falls short, and they aspire to create a space for political liberty at the global level.  They make their case in the name of citizenship, not simply of humanity.  And they propose cosmopolitan political institutions in the name of citizenship as a status, not simply as a symbolic or moral value.

So it is their view of the relationship between civil society and politics that distinguishes the various interpretations of democratic cosmopolitanism.  In one view, democracy’s natural place is civil society; in the other, the political realm. The former approach shares a liberal anti-coercive view of politics and interprets democracy more as a civic culture of association, participation and mobilization than as a political process of decision-making.  This is Richard Falk’s position.  Falk's writings convey a deep discontent with the state form of political life.  His theoretical and ideal background is libertarian insofar as it stresses one particular aspect of democratic action, the one that values spontaneous public practice from below.  Here civil society is the most genuine place of participation and freedom because it resists organized power, and above all state power.  Cosmopolitan democracy is identified with a postmodernist view of democracy as post-state based.[5]

The political approach to democratic cosmopolitanism, on the contrary, is much more attentive to the actual and potential relationship between civil society and the sphere of political institutions.  It acknowledges social movements and non-governmental organizations as fundamental components of global democracy but it also believes that in the absence of institutionalized procedures of decision and control, social movements and NGOs can hardly be made democratically accountable.  The writings of Daniele Archibugi and David Held approach cosmopolitan democracy from this perspective, and envision international political organisms empowered to enact enforceable legal collective decisions in response to globalization and human rights violations. Their cosmopolitanism rests on the assumption that civil society lacking the generality of citizenship will revert to a ‘state of nature’ where liberty thrives at the expense of equality and economic power at the expense of justice.  As the Eastern European states’ exit from Communism demonstrates, a healthy civil society and secure individual freedoms need a legal and governmental system that enjoys institutional autonomy from social interests and operates under rules of impartiality and rational efficiency.[6]  Thus the aim of a world-polis is to promote a democratic global society, a goal that in Falk's mind is achievable instead by the autonomous initiative of self-governing social actors and movements.  Cosmopolitical democracy reflects the belief that peoples should have the legal and political means to assert and exercise their influence over their natural and social environment.

As a cultural phenomenon, the political branch of democratic cosmopolitanism is largely European in character, both in its deliberative-discourse version (Habermas) and in its political-institutional one (Archibugi and Held.)  In both cases, the moral justification for a global democratic order is derived from the Kantian premise that a degree of association among the peoples of the world is needed to protect human rights and successfully oppose and prevent their violation.  Both conceive a postnational democratic order as the most advanced answer to the challenge posed by the erosion of nation-state sovereignty and the international/domestic order set up by the Westphalia Treaty.  Whereas in the past, international issues were “inter-state” issues, or “boundary matters” resolved “by pursuing reasons of state, backed, ultimately, by coercive force,” today, the source of contemporary international issues are most of the cases transnational actors that states are more and more unfit to face. “Overlapping spheres of influence, interference and interest create dilemmas at the center of democratic thought” because democracy has been associated with the state form.[7]

The erosion of state sovereignty visibly accelerated with the end of the Cold War equilibrium and two concomitant factors.  First, a centrifugal dissemination of non-political powers as an effect of the extraordinary expansion of financial and communication networks beyond the borders of the states.  Second, a centripetal process of political integration among European countries.  Both are phenomena of transnationality but point in very different, if not opposite, directions: the former points to a restriction of the role of politics, while the other points to a new assertion of function of politics. The European Union is the paradigm of the political approach to democratic cosmopolitanism.[8]

The European integration actualizes the century old ideal of radical and democratic European intellectuals to make their continent the laboratory of a world order alternative to other hegemonic models: first national-socialism, then communism, and presently a deregulated global capitalism.  The European Union is the daughter of the vision of a peaceful continent inhabited by democratic nations that inspired European intellectuals beginning with the age of the Enlightenment and the age of the democratic revolutions of 1848.  As a subterranean current, this vision linked together Kant’s cosmopolitan liberalism, Condorcet's democratic universalism, and Giuseppe Mazzini’s cosmopolitan law of nations.[9]  The European political integration gives this old idea a new rebirth, and, furthermore, inspires theorists of democratic cosmopolitanism. The institutional and legal networks that have been enveloping European states and peoples since the 1950s have served as the template for a bolder view of transnationality and pacifism.[10]  It is no coincidence that the pioneers of both cosmopolitical and postnational democracy are mainly European.

Twentieth century Europe has witnessed both the most tremendous cosmopolitan civil war and, as an effect, the renaissance of the ideal of cosmopolitan perpetual peace.  It has also witnessed the extraordinary event of a military victory (1945) that sought legal justice in order to win a total and indisputable legitimacy over all the peoples of the continent, including the defeated.  It sought a kind of legitimacy that might and military victory alone could not deliver.  The defeat of Nazi-fascism could not have been total if it were only military.  Both the rule of might and the rule of law defeated Nazi-fascism.  Of the two, the latter has become the backbone of European democracy and the democratic thought, and above all of the process of continental unification.

European democratic theorists are at the cutting edge of efforts to resist international “realism” and to disassociate democracy from “national interest.” Just consider the theoretical trajectories of the two most important contemporary political theorists, the American John Rawls and the German-European Jürgen Habermas.  The former ties universal principles of right and liberty to the national-constitutional pact in a way that has become progressively stronger, and has culminated in a theory of international justice and security firmly anchored to national-territorial states.  The latter ties those principles to a “discourse-theoretical understanding of democracy” that in and of itself configures a de-nationalized view of democracy.  In Hegel’s language, one might say that Habermas’ deliberative democracy is the philosophical reflection and consciousness of the political trajectory of European integration after World War Two.  His model is theoretically predisposed to envision a postnational legal order and a postnational democratic public sphere in a way that Rawls’ is not.  By the same token, the European Union is predisposed to become the paradigm for cosmopolitan democracy in a way that United States is not. “…the EC has had the bold idea of disconnecting nationality from citizenship, and this idea may well evolve to a general principle which ultimately transforms the ideal of cosmopolitan citizenship into a reality.”[11]

The cosmopolitical version of cosmopolitan thought radicalizes the European paradigm and makes it into an ideal criterion for the entire globe. It does so by challenging the process of financial and economic globalization from the perspective of a world citizenship whose affiliation transcends cultural belonging and territorial specificity, and aims at achieving a political status.  Rather than proposing a revision of the post-French revolution model of democracy, political cosmopolitanism constitutes a radical revision of it. This is what distinguishes Held’s and Archibugi’s approach from Habermas’.  Cosmopolitical democracy and postnational democracy differ in respect to the form and depth each ascribes to the association of the peoples of the world.  Their differences spring from  different judgments about the role of the nation-state and sovereignty in the processes of both domestic and international democratization.

Habermas faces the challenges of globalization from the perspective of the emancipatory experiences “articulated in the ideas of popular sovereignty and human rights.”  He poses the problem of how to legitimate postnational democratic decisions and norms without creating a “civil [as political] solidarity” at the global level.  “Civic solidarity is rooted in particular collective identities; cosmopolitan solidarity has to support itself on the moral universalism of human rights alone.” Unless we change the definition and practice of democratic self-determination (or citizenship) we cannot make a spaceless cosmos the home of democracy because “[a]ny political community that wants to understand itself as a democracy must at least distinguish between members and non-members.”  Implicitly (and perhaps unwillingly) echoing Carl Schmitt’s paradigm, Habermas seems to admit that democratic self-determination cannot exist without the “inside”/ “outside” dialectics. [12]  Unlike liberal universalism, democratic universalism refers to a specific demos made up of people who are united by something more concrete than humanity and reason.  This is why anyone can claim to be a citizen of the world, but no one can claim to be, say, an American citizen without being one.  The institutional analog of citizenship is ‘power’ and legal-political obligation, not mere moral duty.  The thoroughly voluntary character of cosmopolitan citizenship is matched by its lack of a direct political recognition and legitimation.

This is why Habermas situates himself part in the tradition of Schmitt (or Rousseau) and part in the tradition of Hans Kelsen since he proposes to bind cosmopolitan law to a kind of normative legitimacy without however grounding it in an anterior political identity.  Cosmopolitan democratic legitimacy has multiple, interconnected sources: democratic states that give birth to agreements and conventions along with a global public sphere populated by non-governmental organizations and a global critical public opinion grounded in circuits of communication.  The cosmopolitan horizon utilizes, and in fact stresses democracy’s deliberative character, but drops the ambition of becoming political in the way “particular collective identities” are political.[13]  At most the world can become a ‘community’ devoid of ‘sociological’ or concrete subjects and inhabited by legal persons each state commits itself to acknowledge and respect.  The precondition for this multi-layered system of legitimation and control is the gradual democratization of states and their civil societies.  This legalistic (via states-jurisdiction) plus public opinion solution is the most advanced option a democrat should hope for at the global level.  It recognizes the inherent complexity of normative frameworks and the integration of political status (citizenship) and legal status (legal personhood), where the former remains territorial and the latter gives birth to the multiplicity of legal and public instances comprising the institutions of the international order.[14]  Quite appropriately, scholars have equated this postnational network of overlapping authorities and multiple loyalties with a neo-medievalism.[15]

Held and Archibugi propose going beyond this, though.  They propose to create a new political status of world citizenship independent of the mediation of states.  Moreover, they want citizens to be represented in a world parliament; they propose instituting an international criminal court with effective enforcement power, and reforming the United Nation Security Council so as to transform it into an effective executive organ and propose citizens to be represented in a world parliament.[16]  Finally, they propose the creation of a military and civilian peace force “at the disposal of the Security Council.”[17]  Even if they do not call for the overcoming of states, their cosmopolitical order resembles very much to a state-like sovereign.[18]  Furthermore, the institutional design they propose seems to be a quasi state but with a low democratic standard because its parliament is supposed to hold only a consultative function and no checking power over the Council.

This unbalanced power relation confirms the fact that the cosmopolis project is inspired first of all by the prospect of military intervention and coercion (for human rights protection).  Whereas existing intergovernmental institutions are ruled by principles of non-intervention and multilateralism (intervention being an exception), the new Cosmopolitical executive (the reformed Security Council) should be empowered to “compel” members to comply with the basic norms (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and, moreover, to decide to use military force against those among them that transgress the Declaration.  The existing model has a negative or preventive function, but the new model should have a positive and active power.[19]

The discretionary power of the world executive, while it poses serious problems of democratic deficit, is the undesirable but predictable consequence of a political (thus active as interventionist) cosmopolitanism.  This explains Archibugi’s insistence on the need to compensate for the inherent limits of a nationally based citizenship, and finally his strategic rhetorical use of a negative picture of the state.  His strong criticism of state sovereignty and his alarmist sense of the deterioration of the international arena in the light of the demise of the Cold War equilibrium, reveal both his impatience with Kant’s perspective of the longue durée, and his interventionist inclination.

The Violation of the Kantian Model

Archibugi is unclear about who should take the initiative to overcome the existing world disorder and open the way for cosmopolis.  He appeals to the peoples within states to mobilize and demand global democracy.  However, at the moment peoples en masse have been more active in signaling the crisis of the existing state order than in advancing a postnational democratic alternative.  The lessons of the violent dissolution of the federation of Yugoslavia or the milder regional chauvinism in Northern Italy are that peoples have precipitated the erosion of federative sovereignty in favor of a state form that is truly mono-ethnic and more exclusionary.  It is perhaps the awareness of the discrepancy between people’s potential and people’s actual liberal-democratic role that induces Archibugi to seek more selective company.  What was true two centuries ago remains true today: cosmopolitical democracy is inspired not by the masses but by the tiny minority of intellectuals who try to educate public opinion and influence “the politicians sitting at the negotiating tables.”  The philosophes are the enlightened minds that feel responsible for, and are able to foresee, “often centuries in advance,” the new order and propagate it among rulers and ruled.[20]  In a kind of Jacobean vein, theorists of cosmopolitical democracy hope for a bottom-up movement while de facto proposing a top-down strategy.

Intellectual aspiration for a world order modeled according to the principles of a “perpetual peace” is neither new nor original.  In fact it was the most audacious expression of the universalistic ideals of the Enlightenment and a consistent liberal proposal.  The moral foundations of the many schemes for a perpetual peace are to be found in the contractarian justification of political authority and the theory of natural rights.  That only consent can give political power legitimacy is the logical conclusion of the assumption that the individual has a value in herself, and in fact is the primary source of value in relation to which all other goods –material and symbolic— ought to be judged and esteemed.  Modern cosmopolitanism sprang from liberalism.  Its normative principle entails the limitation of the prerogative of political power.  It proclaims individual rights and pertains to the sphere of justice.  It aspires to subject politics to morals by transforming political power from might to legality.  Its natural referees are courts of justice rather than parliaments.  As Kant argued, cosmopolitan civil rights refer to the legal sphere not the spheres of the good and politics.  Indeed, the legal sphere entails rights rather than philanthropy, and concerns politics only insofar as it demands that states limit their jurisdiction so as to make the surface of the earth relatively open to individuals’ choices to move without abjuring their national belonging.

Like the basic rights to property and life, cosmopolitan “civil” rights are claimed in the name of a pre-political entity, that is to say the individual --“but the right to visit, to associate, belongs to all men by virtue of their common ownership of the earth’s surface.” As such, they are conceived as a claim against the unrestrained power of states. They are not “political rights.”  For them to be respected, all states should include them in their legal codes and make them into positive public law.  This would allow individuals to claim for them and appeal to justice for their enforcement.  Just as with the bills of right within national constitutions, cosmopolitan civil rights imply self-constrain on the part of political power.[21]

Kant’s model for a perpetual peace had a negative character in the sense that its purpose was to prevent states from exercising their sovereignty outside or against the basic moral principle of individual rights.  If Kant did not propose a world government it was because his aim was not to bypass states but to induce them to cooperate voluntarily and thus to accept restraints on their power.  Hence his conclusion that if all states complied with the consent legitimacy proviso –if they became republican— they would be complying with cosmopolitan civil rights.  Peace is imperative.  Kant implies that the permanent possibility of war is responsible for autocracy.  In a life threatening scenario, the defense of security justifies an excessive use of force and the adoption of exceptional means that can also violate individual rights (nomos) in order to guarantee survival (bios.)  The enactment of the Patriotic Act by the American government to cope with terrorism validates Kant’s paradigm that national security (and thus peace) is prerequisite of cosmopolitan civil rights.

Kant’s perpetual peace was a project of liberty (because it was a project of security) not democracy.  It was a project of political containment, rather than political building.  This becomes clear once we remember that Kant resorted to the logic of an invisible hand explanation or a philosophy of world history in order to justify his model.  He chose a longue durée perspective and did not call on political actors to take direct initiative to enact a legal world order.  Nor did he think, like contemporary theorists of cosmopolitical democracy, that “voluntary association” among states should give some the power to sanction others.  He believed that as economic, moral and communicative global interaction and moral interdependence among individuals developed, states would gradually proceed toward a form of legal integration that would not compromise their sovereignty.  This meant that no one state could have more power than another.  Mutual agreement requires an equal distribution of power among the associate states.  Kant’s logic was exactly the same as the one he employed to explain the hypothesis of the original social contract by which individuals exited the state of nature and created the commonwealth.

Theorists of cosmopolitical democracy violate the Kantian model on three counts. First, they question the idea that the democratic transformation of states should come first.  Indeed, while they are impatient with Kant’s longue durée, they don’t want “to make people democratic against their will.” ‘Starting from the top’ (from the creation of cosmopolitical institutions) seems to them less “paternalistic” than expanding democracy by interfering with states’ domestic politics.[22]  However, it is unclear why should they worry about being paternalistic if they deny the principle of nation-state sovereign autonomy.  Second, they do not think that democracy “within states” will be an enough strategy to bring about democratic “between states” and a world order more respectful of human rights.[23]  However, it is counterintuitive to think that global citizenship and cosmopolitical institutions would be democratic if a portion of world citizens lives under non-democratic regimes, or if not all states have become democratic.  Would the Unites States be still a democratic federal republic if some of its state members were not democratic?[24]  Finally, theorists of cosmopolitical democracy defy Kant’s equality proviso and underestimate the fact that within an international scenario dominated by one nation-state that holds a quasi imperial power, cosmopolis would be not only impossible, but moreover dangerous.[25]  Indeed, it would either be hegemonized by the strongest (thus creating an empire rather than a cosmopoliticalorder), or it would need to mobilize an extraordinarily great power in order to subject the stronger.[26]  In either case, there would hardly be room for peace and a cosmopolitical democracy. “Viewed historically, Kant’s reticence concerning the project of a constitutionally organized community of nations was certainly realistic” and sensitive to the political condition of Europe after the French revolution.[27]  Contemporary theorists of cosmopolitical democracy seem to lack Kant’s realism when they aspire to be more assertive and politically interventionist.  Their project is deaf to Eighteenth century warnings about the despotic potential of a world government.[28]

Sovereignty Surrendered and the "Vices" of Parliamentary Democracy Retained

The two main challenges undertaken by cosmopolitical democracy are territorially localized political power and globally diffused economic power.  Its proponents argue that states are powerful enough to harm their subjects but insufficiently powerful to protect their own people from the harm wrought by the new global actors.  While economic globalization does not erode the coercive power of the state, it gravely diminishes states’ power to pursue a politics of social justice.  The paradox of our time, Archibugi and Held argue, is that the extraordinary escalation of economic globalization tends to make  all states less democratic, or rather to reduce their potential for a broader democratic politics.  This paradox induces them to long for something more than “inter-state” democracy.  Archibugi proposes an international power endowed with enough strength to “interfere in domestic affairs,” something that coordination among autonomous states, even democratic ones, cannot allow.[29]  As the argument goes, while there is no certainty that the Kantian strategy would change the nature of international relations, there is no doubt that it would not change the logic of the international order because national sovereignty would still prevail.  The expansion of the geo-social space (global civil and economic society) calls for the construction of an expanded geo-political space.  As a consequence, the traditionally circumscribed space within which democracy has been contained all along demands radical change.[30]

Theorists of cosmopolitical democracy base their proposals on a strong critique of the state form.  States are “the world’s major depositories of power” responsible for a coerced national, cultural and religion homogenization. “It is states that have armed forces; control police; mint currency; permit or refuse entrance to their lands; states that recognize citizens’ rights and impose their duties.”[31]  However, it is unclear, and Archibugi does not clarify, why these state’s prerogatives are a negative fact, above all if one thinks that the alternative could be private corporations or churches minting currency and refusing entrance to their lands.  The emancipation of the legal and political power of the state from patrimonialism and religious hegemony or fundamentalism should be carefully disassociated from the long history of the arbitrary use of force and the law that have been perpetrated by state rulers throughout the centuries.  In this regard, bureaucratic emancipation from feudal rule and subsequent democratic constitutionalism represented a true revolution in the structure and form of the state (and a positive one), not merely an “evolution.”  By the same token, the welfare state transformation of the democratic states has not merely been an additional “instrument of service” states used to mitigate what they are, that is a “tool of domination.”[32]

Archibugi’s picture suggests that it is the link between democracy and “national interests” that vitiates democracy.  “It can be argued that it is consistent with the interests of the French people for a democratic French government to carry out nuclear experiments in the Pacific Ocean, if all the advantages go to France and the radioactive waste only harms people in another hemisphere.”[33]  Hence, his conclusion that a global government involving “the world’s citizens” would be able to rid democracy of the selfishness it inherited from the nation-state.  It is unclear, though, why and how a French or an Italian citizen would overcome his national selfishness in voting for a global parliament.  Does cosmopolitical citizenship entail national or cultural identity self-forgetting?

The source of the problems I have been posing rests on the interpretation of sovereignty adopted by theorists of cosmopolitical democracy.  Archibugi refers to sovereignty as an all-powerful and absolute entity.  While this view may perhaps be functional to his justification of cosmopolitical democracy, it is very problematic and objectionable.  Sovereignty inhabits an international juridical order and a permanent relationship of inter-state recognition.  It is difficult to even talk of sovereignty apart from the grammar of the international norms sovereignty inhabits.  The conceptual pair “inside”/”outside” designates a dialectical back and forth between states and the international order, rather than a barrier segregating two distinct spatial dimensions.  The international order is not an empty space located outside states, in which atom-like states fluctuate and conflict like in the Epicurean void, but an organism of norms and conventions comprising each and every state, outside of which states are unthinkable.As per Kelsen, “the legal order of each State, each national legal order, is organically connected with the international legal order and through this order with every national legal order, so that all legal orders merge into an integrated legal system.” [34] According to this legal, and thus relational, conception of sovereignty, each state exists within a delimited normative order (or a reflexive system within which its state is, so to speak, mirrored in the other).  Because it implies the presence of others, state sovereignty, like individual sovereignty, is de facto always limited.  This is the very condition of its existence.  How would a cosmopolitical order situate itself in relation to this comprehensive network of norms? Would it be an additional agreement that obligates states morally and legally, or would it be a super-political decision-making entity that rules over states and, if necessary, against them?  In the latter case, the cosmopolitan order would be a state like entity that lacks any peer to relate to, and would become a truly unlimited sovereign, which is just as difficult to imagine at the global level as it is in the case of single states.

What makes the idea of cosmopolitical democracy so problematic is the nature of the global scene.  As a political space, the global scene comprises interrelated issues rather than an integrated demos.  Issues, not citizens, are or can become global.  This fact is reflected in the very vocabulary employed by scholars of globalization.  Quite understandably, they prefer the word “governance” to “government.”  Governance entails an explicit reference to “mechanisms” or “organized” and “coordinated activities” appropriate to the solution of some specific problems.[35]  Unlike government, governance refers to specific “policies” rather than general “politics” because it does not entail a binding decision-making structure.[36]   Its recipients are not “the people” as a collective political subject, but “the populations” that can be affected by global issues such as the environment, migration or the use of natural resources.  Global governance is represented by a network of associations and interest groups; it relies on specific abilities and expertise, and refers to specific audiences and publics.  In a word, its actors are united as a result of the problem(s) they are affected by and that they aim at solving.  Interest groups, not the “citizens of the world,” are their multiple agencies.  The desire for efficiency, security, justice and better organization drives the resolution to set up oversight bodies to screen decisions in particular vital areas.  But these imperatives do not require a cosmopolitical government.  They indicate the need for democracy “within states” and “between states” and the adoption of incentives to facilitate the democratic transitions of non-democratic states or to impede authoritarian involution of weak democracies.[37]  Moreover, they require the reform of international economic and financial institutions, which must be more responsive to the actual needs of world’s populations, and the evolution of international norms regulating modalities of global economic justice.[38]

In conclusion, let me briefly mention a further set of problems that theorists of cosmopolitical democracy must approach with great care, as Robert Dahl has effectively and convincingly argued.[39]  The word democracy may be used to define both a form of government as well as a political practice of participation, and finally a moral ideal and general criterion or value.  In its descriptive sense, democracy denotes a system of rules of the game that set and regulate the inclusion, whether direct or indirect, in the decision making process of those who are supposed to obey the law, and the procedures according to which decisions are made, checked, implemented, and revised.  So in this sense democracy refers to voting and electoral selection, entails majority rule, and presumes a view about what and how representation should represent, whether interests or persons.  In any case, democracy is directly tied to the state.[40]

As the name of a political practice and a value, however, the word democracy has a prescriptive meaning enriched by moral content in that it gives participation a formative and educative function.  The value of the theory of public deliberation –which encompasses both the moment of decision and the process of consent formation and expression of opinions –is that it captures the complexity of democracy.  It allows us to refer to democracy as a comprehensive world incorporating politics and civil society, government and social movements, political rights and civil rights, and the autonomous decision of a political community to deal with the problems it deems relevant to the maintenance of its democratic constitution.[41]  The theory of deliberative democracy recognizes and justifies the role of public criticism and action on all the domestic and global decisions taken.  This is the rationale for postnational democracy.

However, although theorists of cosmopolitical democracy refer to the deliberative view in order to justify their proposals, they apply de facto the descriptive definition when they tie democracy to state-like global institutions for decision-making practices.  They propose to globalize parliamentary democracy and even political parties.  They don’t clarify how, given their reasonable dissatisfaction with the functioning of state-based democracies, a world order would be able to make democracy work better.  Indeed, extension of territory has been a key factor contributing to the unsatisfactory performance of representative democracy.  When representation and political parties are transferred to the world level –as Archibugi proposes—all the ‘vices’ that have plagued modern parliamentary democracy since its inception would predictably be transferred along with those institutions.[42]  These ‘vices’ include the problem of how to make elected representative accountable, how to resist the potential for the development of an elected oligarchy, and the growth of hierarchical structures of consent formation.[43]  As the process of European integration shows, the extension of democracy beyond state borders implies the following unavoidable paradox: it allows for more participation, but can also give rise to a proliferation of powers that de facto decrease the chance of an effective control and coordination, and finally participation itself.[44]  Wouldn’t “the citizens of the world” just legitimate an extraordinarily powerful distant elite that is exceptionally free from control?  Theorists of cosmopolitical democracy should take Dahl’s admonishment seriously on the obstacles to democratic accountability, and thus the risks of an unchecked delegated politics, that a global extension of the political space would necessarily engender.  A “democrat” cannot “in good conscience support such delegation of power and authority by democratic countries to international organizations and institutions….To speak in this case of ‘delegating authority’ would simply be a misleading fiction useful only to the rulers.”[45]

[Nadia Urbinati is an associate professor of political theory at Columbia University.  Her most recent books are Individualismo democratico (Rome, 1997) and Mill on Democracy: From the Athenian Polis to Representative Government (The University of Chicago Press, 2002.)  She is presently working at a new project on democratic representation.]

Bibliography:

Archibugi, Daniele “Principles of Cosmopolitan Democracy,” in Daniele Archibugi, David Held & Martin Kőhler, eds., Re-imagining Political Community, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998, pp. 198-228.

Archibugi, Daniele. “Cosmopolitical Democracy,” New Left Review, 4, July-August 2000: 137-50.

Archibugi, Daniele, Held, David, and Köhler, Martin. Introduction to  Re-making Political Community: Studies in Cosmopolitan Democracy, pp. 1-8.

Bobbio, Norberto. Democracy and Dictatorship, trans. Peter Kennealy, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, pp. 133-55.

Bobbio, Norberto. “Democracy and the International System,” in Daniele Archibugi and David Held, eds., Cosmopolitan Democracy: An Agenda for a New World Order, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995: 17-41.

Brennan, Timothy. “Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism,” The New Left, 7, January/February 2001:75-84.

Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

Chandler, David “’International Justice’,” New Left Review, 6, November/December 2000:55-66.

Cohen, Jean, L. “Changing Paradigms of Citizenship and the Exclusiveness of the Demos,” International Sociology, 14 (1999):245-68.

Dahl, Robert. “Can international organizations be democratic? A skeptic’s view.” In Democracy’s Edges, ed. Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 19-36.

Doyle, Michael. “The New Interventionism,” Metaphilosophy, 32 (2001): 212-35.

Dryzek, Jonh S. Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Dunn, John. “Situating Democratic Political Accountability,” in Adam Przeworski, Susan C. Stokes, Bernard Manin, eds., Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 329-43.

Falk, Richard. On a Human Governance: Toward a New Global Politics, University Park, PA, 1995.

Falk, Richard. “The United Nations and Cosmopolitan Democracy: Bad Dream, Utopian Fantasy, Political Project,” in Re-imagining Political Community, pp. 309-31.

Habermas, Jürgen. “Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace: At Two Hundred Years’ Historical Remove,” in The Inclusion of the Other: Study in Political Theory, ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999:167-201.

Habermas, Jürgen. “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” in The Inclusion of the Other, pp. 239-52.

Habermas, Jürgen. “On the Internal Relation between the Rule of Law and Democracy,” in The Inclusion of the Other, pp. 253-64.

Habermas, Jürgen. “The Postantional Constellation and the Future of Democracy,” in The Postnational Constellation: Political Essay, trans. Max Pensky, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001:58-112.

Habermas, Jürgen. “Why Europe needs a Constitution,” New Left Review, 11, September/October 2001: 3-26.

Hawthorn, Geoffrey. “Running the World Through Windows,” New Left Review, 5, September/October 2000:101-10.

Held, David. Democracy and the Global Order: From the Nation State to Cosmopolitan Governance, Cambridge: Polity Press: 1995.

Held, David. “Democracy and Globalization,” in Re-imagining Political Community, pp. 11-27.

Held, David. “The transformation of political community: rethinking democracy in the context of globalization,” in Democracy’s Edges, pp. 84-111.

Holmes, Stephen, and Sunstein, Cass R. The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, New York-London: Norton, 1999.

Hurrell, Andrew. “Global Inequality and International Institutions,” Metaphilosophy, 32 (2001): 34-57.

Kant, Immanuel. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), in Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991:93-130.

Kelsen, Hans. General Theory of Law and State, trans. Anders Wedberg, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945.

Kymlicka, Will. Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Pogge, Thomas. “Achieving Democracy,” Ethics & International Affairs, 15 (2001): 3-23.

Pruess, Ulrich K. “Citizenship in the European Union: a Paradigm for Transnational Democracy?,” in Re-imagining Political Community, pp. 138-51.

Pzreworski, Adam. Democracy and the market: Political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Rosenau, James N. “Governance and Democracy in a Globalizing World,” in Re-imagining Political Community, pp. 28-57.

Thompson, Dennis. “Democratic Theory and Global Society,” Journal of Political Philosophy, 7 (1999): 111-25.

Urbinati, Nadia. “’A Common Law of Nations’: Giuseppe Mazzini’s democratic nationality,” Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 1 (1996):197-222.

Waldron, Jeremy. “Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative,” in Will Kymlicka, ed., The Rights of Minority Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995:93-121.

Wheeler, Brett R. “Law and Legitimacy in the Work of Jürgen Habermas and Carl Schmitt,” Ethics & International Affairs, 15 (2001):173-83.

Zolo, Danilo. Cosmopolis: Prospects for World Government, trans. David McKie, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997.


[1] Daniele Archibugi, “Cosmopolitical Democracy,” New Left Review, 4, July-August 2000: 144.

[2] “Typically, in this conception, a subjunctive ‘ought’ contains a normative ‘is’;” Timothy Brennan, “Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism,” The New Left, 7, January/February 2001,pp. 76. 

[3] On the cultural interchange and global interdependence as enrichment of the culture of individuality as a value, see Jeremy Waldron, “Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative,” in Will Kymlicka, ed., The Rights of Minority Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995:93-121. 

[4] Jürgen Habermas, “The Postantional Constellation and the Future of Democracy,” in The Postnational Constellation: Political Essay, trans. Max Pensky, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001, p. 59.

[5] Richard Falk, On a Human Governance: Toward a New Global Politics, University Park, PA, 1995, and “The United Nations and Cosmopolitan Democracy: Bad Dream, Utopian Fantasy, Political Project,” in Daniele Archibugi, David Held & Martin Kőhler (eds.), Re-imagining Political Community, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998, pp. 309-31.

[6] On the “cost” of individual rights in terms of governmental agencies capable of providing each citizen for “an opportunity to be heard before an impartial body” and an effective public system borne by the taxpayers, and thus subject to public accountability see Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, New York-London: Norton, 1999, in particular pp. 35-76. 

[7] David Held, “Democracy and Globalization,” in Re-imagining Political Community, p. 22.

[8] The “exemplary case of the European Union” is used “to test the conditions for a democratic politics beyond the nation-state;” Habermas, “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy,” p. 62.

[9] The threshold between democratic nationality (as the basic condition for a democratic Europe) and nation-state nationalism was established in 1849, when the unification of the main continental countries was achieved by monarchical armies through the repression of the democratic movements for national self-determination.  Fascism grew up precisely in those countries (Italy and Germany) that conquered state unity by means of a violent disassociation of nationality and democracy.  See Nadia Urbinati, “’A Common Law of Nations’: Giuseppe Mazzini’s democratic nationality,” Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 1 (1996):197-222.

[10] Jürgen Habermas, “Why Europe needs a Constitution,” New Left Review, 11, September/October 2001: 3-26.

[11] Ulrich K. Pruess, “Citizenship in the European Union: a Paradigm for Transnational Democracy?,” in Re-imagining Political Community, p. 149.

[12] Habermas, “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy,” pp. 107-10. Similar is the view of Will Kymlicka who thus insists on the need to distinguish between democratic nationality and nationalism, and to reconcile the former with cosmopolitanism (Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship, Oxford: Oxford University Press, chapters 10 and 11.) 

[13] Hence, Habermas’ cosmopolitan Kelsenianism is a strategy that aims at preserving the national articulation of democracy rather then dissolving it. This emerges from a comparison of two of his most recent essays on cosmopolitanism: “Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace: At Two Hundred Years’ Historical Remove” (in The Inclusion of the Other: Study in Political Theory, ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1999, pp. 167-201) and the already mentioned “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” Habermas’ acknowledgment that democracy cannot avoid a “self-referential concept of collective self-determination” situates him (lui malgré) in a position of mediation between Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen. But the point of view that Habermas’ readers seem keener to stress is the “antagonism” between him and the Crown Jurists of the Third Reich; see for instance, Brett R. Wheeler, “Law and Legitimacy in the Work of Jürgen Habermas and Carl Schmitt,” Ethics & International Affairs, 15 (2001): 175-79.

[14] See Jean Cohen, “Changing Paradigms of Citizenship and the Exclusiveness of the Demos,” International Sociology, 14 (1999): 260. 

[15] Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, p. 254.

[16] Held, Democracy and the Global Order, pp. 267-87 and “Democracy and Globalization,” p. 25. Habermas himself has argued in favor of these proposals, though.

[17] Daniele Archibugi, “Principles of Cosmopolitan Democracy,” in Re-imagining Political Community, p. 221

[18] “The extension of ‘international justice’ is, in short, the abolition of international law. For there can be no international law without equal sovereignty, no system of right without state-subjects capable of being its bearers. In a world composed of nation-states, rather than a single global power, universal law can only derive from national governments;” David Chandler, “’International Justice’,” New Left Review, 6, November/December 2000, p. 63.

[19] Archibugi, “Principles of Cosmopolitan Democracy,” p. 218.  For a discussion on principles of nonintervention and intervention in relation to the U.N. peacemaking strategies and international law, see Michael Doyle, “The New Interventionism,” Metaphilosophy, 32 (2001): 212-35.

[20] Archibugi, “Principles of Cosmopolitan Democracy,” p. 199.

[21] Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), in Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 105-6.

[22] Archibugi, “Cosmopolitical Democracy,” pp. 138-39.

[23] Ibid., pp. 143-5.

[24] See Norberto Bobbio, “Democracy and the International System,” in Daniele Archibugi and David Held, eds., Cosmopolitan Democracy: An Agenda for a New World Order, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995: 17-18.

[25] Cahndler, “’International Justice’,” pp. 60-62.

[26] Theorists of cosmopolitical democracy might face this objection by resorting to the “power of numbers” over that of might. Whereas in a disordered international order, the military superiority of the Unites States is bridles, in a world parliament where only votes count, the Unites States would have to face the fact that it does not dispose of numerical majority.  However, as the history of state sovereignty shows, for votes to have an effective power a Leviathan must first ‘confiscates all weapons.’ (I thank Daniele Archibugi for discussing with me this issue.)

[27] Habermas, “Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace,” p. 170.

[28] On the autocratic implications of cosmopolis see Danilo Zolo, Cosmopolis: Prospects for World Government, trans. David McKie, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997. 

[29] Archibugi, “Cosmopolitical Democracy,” pp. 145-5, 149; David Held, “The transformation of political community: rethinking democracy in the context of globalization,” in Democracy’s Edges, ed. Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 91-102.

[30] Daniele Archibugi, David Held and Martin Köhler, Introduction to Re-making Political Community, p. 4. 

[31] Archibugi, “Cosmopolitical democracy,” p. 137.

[32] Ibid., pp. 137-138

[33] Ibid., p. 145.

[34] Hans Kelsen, General Theory of Law and State, trans. Anders Wedberg, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945, p. 354. “Even if all international law had the character of contractual law, it would not be possible to maintain the idea that States are sovereign because they are not subject to a superior legal order restricting its will. For the rule pacta sunt servanda, the legal basis of all international treaties, as a rule of positive international law, corresponds only in a limited way to the principle of autonomy” (352.) 

[35] James N. Rosenau, “Governance and Democracy in a Globalizing World,” in Re-imagining Political Community, pp. 30-32.

[36] John S. Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 120.

[37] See for instance the proposals elaborated by Thomas Pogge, “Achieving Democracy,” Ethics & International Affairs, 15 (2001): 3-23.

[38] Andrew Hurrell, “Global Inequality and International Institutions,” Metaphilosophy, 32 (2001): 34-57; but see the entire issue which is entirely dedicated to “Global Justice.”

[39] Robert Dahl, “Can international organization be democratic? A skeptic’s view,” in Democracy’s Edges, pp. 19-36.

[40] Norberto Bobbio, Democracy and Dictatorship, trans. Peter Kennealy, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, pp. 133-55. Bobbio’s minimal or descriptive definition has been endorsed by Adam Pzreworski, Democracy and the market: Political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 10-14. 

[41] Literature on deliberative democracy is vast. I limit myself to mention two of Habermas’ most recent articles on the subject: “Three Normative Models of Democracy” and “On the Internal Relation between the Rule of Law and Democracy,” in The Inclusion of the Other, pp. 239-64. 

[42] Geoffrey Hawthorn, “Running the World Through Windows,” New Left Review, 5, September/October 2000, pp. 103-4.

[43] John Dunn, “Situating Democratic Political Accountability,” in Adam Przeworski, Susan C. Stokes, Bernard Manin, eds., Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 329-43.

[44] See Dennis Thompson, “Democratic Theory and Global Society,” Journal of Political Philosophy, 7 (1999): 111-25.

[45] Dahl, “Can international organizations be democratic?,” p. 22.