MPIfG Working Paper 97/5, May 1997
Democracy and Globalization
by David Held
MPIfG Lecture Series Economic Globalization and National Democracy, lecture
given on March 20, 1997
David Held is a professor of politics and sociology at the Faculty of Social
Science at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, and director of Polity
Press in Cambridge.
One of the most conspicuous features of politics at the
turn of the millennium is the emergence of issues which transcend national
frontiers. Processes of economic internationalization, the problem of the
environment and the emergence of regional and global networks of communication
are increasingly matters of concern for the international community as a whole.
The nature and limits of national democracies have to be reconsidered in
relation to processes of social and economic globalization; that is, in relation
to shifts in the transcontinental or interregional scale of human social
organization and of the exercise of social power. This paper seeks to explore
these changing circumstances and to examine, albeit tentatively, their
implications for democratic theory.
There is a striking paradox to note about the contemporary
era: from Africa to Eastern Europe, Asia to Latin America, more and more nations
and groups are championing the idea of democracy; but they are doing so at just
that moment when the very efficacy of democracy as a national form of political
organization appears open to question. As substantial areas of human activity
are progressively organized on a regional or global level, the fate of democracy,
and of the independent democratic nation-state in particular, is fraught with
Throughout the world's major regions there has been a
consolidation of democratic processes and procedures. In the mid-1970s, over
two-thirds of all states could reasonably be called authoritarian. This
percentage has fallen dramatically; less than a third of all states are now
authoritarian, and the number of democracies is growing rapidly.
Democracy has become the fundamental standard of political legitimacy in the
current era. Events such as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the
tearing down of the Berlin wall are symbolic of changes indicating that, in more
and more countries, citizen-voters are in principle able to hold public
decision-makers to account. Yet at the same time the democratic political
community is increasingly challenged by regional and global pressures and
problems. How can problems such as the spread of AIDS, the debt burden of many
countries in the 'developing world', the flow of financial resources which
escape national jurisdiction, the drug trade and international crime be
satisfactorily brought within the sphere of democracy? What kind of
accountability and control can citizens of a single nation-state have over
international actors, e.g. multinational corporations (MNCs), and over
international organizations, e.g. the World Bank? In the context of trends
towards regionalization, European integration, fundamental transformations in
the global economy, mass communications and information technology, how can
democracy be sustained? Are new democratic institutions necessary to regulate
and control the new international forces and processes? How can citizens
participate as citizens in a new, more complex, internationally organized world?
In a world organized increasingly on regional and global lines can democracy as
we know it survive?
Of course, there is nothing new about the emergence of
global problems. Although their importance has grown considerably, many have
existed for decades, some for centuries. But now that the old confrontation
between East and West has ended, many regional and global issues have come to
assume an urgent place on the international political agenda. Nonetheless,
profound ambiguity still reigns as to where, how and according to what criteria
decisions about these matters can be taken.
Democratic theory's exploration of emerging regional and
global problems is still in its infancy. While students of democracy have
examined and debated at length the challenges to democracy that emerge from
within the boundaries of the nation-state, they have not seriously questioned
whether the nation-state itself can remain at the centre of democratic thought;
the questions posed by the rapid growth of complex interconnections and
interrelations between states and societies, and by the evident intersection of
national and international forces and processes, remain largely unexplored.3
By contrast, this paper seeks to address these questions by, first, examining
the nature of globalization and, second, laying out a novel conception of
democratic options in the face of the new global circumstances.
Globalization is a much contested word. On the one hand,
there are those who claim that we live in an integrated global order. According
to this view, social and economic processes operate predominantly at a global
level and national political communities are inevitably 'decision takers'.
This development represents a fundamental break in the organization of human
affairs - a shift in the organizational principle of social life. On the other
hand, there are those people who are very sceptical about the extent of
globalization and who still think the national state is as integrated and robust
as it ever was. They point out, for instance, that contemporary forms of
international economic interaction are not without precedent and that
nation-states continue to be immensely powerful with an impressive range of
Both these views are misleading in significant respects.
We live in a world which is changing due to processes of globalization. The
interconnectedness of different peoples today is more extensive and intensive
than it has every been. But globalization is not a new phenomenon; societies
have always been connected with one another to some degree. Conceptions of
globalization need to be sensitive to the historical variation in forms of
globalization, as well as to their variable impact on politics. It is easy to
exaggerate the extent to which globalization signals 'the end of the
nation-state'. Global processes should not be assumed to represent either a
total eclipse of the states system or the simple emergence of a global society.
Accordingly, before proceeding further, I would like to clarify the concept of
Globalization is best understood as a spatial phenomenon,
lying on a continuum with 'the local' at one end and 'the global' at the other.
It denotes a shift in the spatial form of human organization and activity to
transcontinental or interregional patterns of activity, interaction and the
exercise of power. It involves a stretching and deepening of social relations
and institutions across space and time such that, on the one hand, day-to-day
activities are increasingly influenced by events happening on the other side of
the globe and, on the other, the practices and decisions of local groups or
communities can have significant global reverberations.
Globalization today implies at least two distinct
phenomena. First, it suggests that many chains of political, economic and social
activity are becoming interregional in scope and, secondly, it suggests that
there has been an intensification of levels of interaction and
interconnectedness within and between states and societies.
What is noteworthy about the modern global system is the stretching of social
relations in and through new dimensions of activity and the chronic
intensification of patterns of interconnectedness mediated by such phenomena as
modern communication networks and new information technology. It is possible to
distinguish different historical forms of globalization in terms of 1) the
extensiveness of networks of relations and connections; 2) the intensity of
flows and levels of enmeshment within the networks; and 3) the impact of these
phenomena on particular communities.
Globalization is neither a singular condition nor a linear
process. Rather, it is best thought of as a multi-dimensional phenomenon
involving diverse domains of activity and interaction including the economic,
political, technological, military, legal, cultural, and environmental. Each of
these spheres involves different patterns of relations and activity. A general
account of globalization cannot simply predict from one domain what will occur
in another. It is important, therefore, to build a theory of globalization from
an understanding of what is happening in each one of these areas.
The significance of globalization, of course, differs for
individuals, groups and countries. The impact of various global flows on, for
instance, policy-making in the economic domain, will alter considerably
depending on whether the country in question is the United States, Peru or Spain.
For individuals and groups as well, variable enmeshment in global flows is the
norm. The elites in the world of politics, law, business and science are often
quite at home in the global capitals, the leading hotels, and in the major
cultural centres. Their access and use of these different facilities is clearly
in marked contrast to those peoples - for example, villagers in sub-Saharan
Africa - who live at the margin of some of the central power structures and
hierarchies of the global order. But the latter are by no means unaffected by
changing processes and forms of globalization. On the contrary, they are often
in the position of being profoundly influenced by these processes and forms,
even if they cannot control them. What often differentiates the position of
these peoples from what some have called the new 'cosmopolitan elite', is
differential, unequal and uneven access to the dominant organizations,
institutions and processes of the new emerging global order.
At the heart of this 'differential access' is power, where
power has to be conceptualised as the capacity to transform material
circumstances - whether social, political or economic - and to achieve goals
based on the mobilisation of resources, the creation of rule-systems, and the
control of infrastructures and institutions. The particular form of power that
is of concern to a theory of globalization is hierarchy and unevenness.
Hierarchy connotes the asymmetrical access to global networks and
infrastructures, while unevenness refers to the asymmetrical affects of such
networks upon the life-chances and the well-being of peoples, classes, ethnic
groupings and the sexes.
In order to elaborate a theory of globalization, it is
necessary to turn from a general concern with its conceptualisation to an
examination of the distinctive domains of activity and interaction in and
through which global processes evolve. This task cannot be pursued here at any
length. But some significant changes can be highlighted. An obvious starting
point is the world economy and, in particular, trade, financial flows and the
spread of multinational corporations.
There are those who are sceptical about the extent of the
globalization of trade in the contemporary period and they sometimes point out
that trade levels in the late twentieth century have only recently reached the
same levels as in 1914. This sceptical view is open to doubt:
Using constant price data, it can be shown that the
proportion of trade to gross domestic product (trade-GDP ratios) surpassed
that of the gold standard era (that is, the period 1875-1914) by the early
1970s, and was considerably higher by the late 1970s and 1980s. In other
words, trade has continued to expand as a proportion of GDP. Export- and
import-GDP ratios were around 12-13% for advanced industrial countries
during the gold standard era but rose to 15-20% - or even higher for some
developed countries - from the late 1970s onward.
In addition, if one removes government expenditure
from the enquiry, and focuses on trade in relation to the size of national
economic activity, it can be demonstrated that the proportion of trade to
such activity has grown particularly rapidly, by as much as a third.
Technological developments have made many classes of goods, particularly
those in the service sector, tradeable where previously they were not.
The evidence also shows that there has not been a
simple increase in intra-regional trade around the world. Measures of the
intensity of trade reveal sustained growth between regions as well (albeit
concentrated among Europe, North America and Pacific Asia). Growth in trade
within regions, and growth among regions, are not contradictory developments;
rather, they appear to be mutually complementary.
What these points suggest is that trade has grown
rapidly in the post-war period reaching unprecedented levels today. More
countries are involved in trading arrangements, e.g. India and China, and
more people and nations are affected by such trade. In the context of
lowering tariff barriers across the world one can reasonably expect these
trends to continue. Any argument that suggests that the world's three key
trading blocks - the EU, NAFTA and Pacific Asia - are becoming more
inward-looking and protectionist is not supported by the evidence. Although
contemporary trading arrangements stop far short of a perfectly open global
market, national economies are enmeshed in a pattern of increasingly dense,
competitive international trade. When linked to changes in finance and the
organization of production and banking, this has significant political
The expansion of global financial flows around the world
has been staggering in the last ten to fifteen years. The growth of foreign
exchange turnover is now over a trillion dollars a day. The volume of turnover
of bonds, securities and other assets on a daily basis is also without precedent.
A number of things can be said about these flows:
The proportion of foreign exchange turnover to trade
has mushroomed from eleven dollars to one to over fifty-five dollars to one
in the last thirteen to fourteen years; that is, for every fifty-five
dollars turned over in the foreign exchange markets, one dollar is turned
over in real trade.
A great deal of this financial activity is speculative
- it generates fluctuations in values in excess of those which can be
accounted for by changes in the underlying fundamentals of asset values.
While the net movement of capital relative to
GDP is smaller for some countries today than in earlier periods, this has
nothing to do with diminishing levels of globalization, i.e., lower levels
of capital-market integration. The liberalisation of capital markets in the
1980s and early 1990s has created a more integrated financial system than
has ever been known.
The effects of global financial flows on economic
policy are profound. Among the most important are:
a) the increased possibility of rapid and dramatic
shifts in the effective valuation of economies as illustrated, for instance,
in Mexico in January, 1995.
b) the increasing difficulty for countries of pursuing
independent monetary policies and independent exchange rate strategies in
the face of the current volume of international turnover in currencies and
c) the erosion of the option to pursue Keynesian
reflationary strategies in a single country. The costs and benefits of these
strategies have shifted against the pursuit of such options in many places.
d) and, finally, as can be seen in the growing
macro-economic policy convergence across political parties in the present
period, a deepening acknowledgement of the decline in the economic
manoeuvrability of individual governments. Recent examples of this can be
found in the reshaping of economic policy among the social democratic
parties of Europe. The transformation of the economic policy of the Labour
Party in Britain - from policy emphasizing demand management to policy
prioritizing supply side measures (above all, in education and training) to
help meet the challenges of increased competition and the greater mobility
of capital - is a particular case in point.
Many of these changes might not be of concern if financial
market operators had a monopoly of economic expertise, but they clearly do not.
Their actions can precipitate crises and can help contribute to making sound
policies unworkable. In addition, they can erode the very democratic quality of
government. This does not lead necessarily to political impotence - although it
has done so in some countries in some respects - but it creates new political
The globalization of production and the globalization of
financial transactions are organized in part, familiarly enough, by fast-growing
multinational companies (MNCs). Two central points need to be made about them:
MNCs account for a quarter to a third of world output,
70% of world trade and 80% of direct international investment. They are
essential to the diffusion of technology. And they are key players in
international money markets.
Although evidence indicates that many of the largest
MNCs still generate most of their sales and profits from domestic business,
this is largely due to the influence of U.S. companies which have, of course,
a particularly large home market. The
proportion of sales and profits generated domestically are much lower for
non-U.S. companies and, significantly, for higher-tech companies. Moreover,
although a company like Ford or General Motors may well have the majority of
its assets in one particular country - in these cases, the U.S. - it would
be wrong to suggest that their performance is not substantially affected by
their overseas activities. Even if a minority of assets are held overseas -
say 20-30% - this still represents a significant interlocking of a company's
assets into oversees market conditions and processes. Companies are highly
vulnerable to changes in economic conditions wherever they are. Marginal
decreases in demand can profoundly affect the operations of a company.
Multinational corporations in general have profound
affects on macro-economic policy; they can respond to variations in interest
rates by raising finance in whichever capital market is most favourable. They
can shift their demand for employment to countries with much lower employment
costs. And in the area of industrial policy they can move their activities to
where the maximum benefits accrue. Irrespective of how often MNCs actually take
advantage of these opportunities, it is the fact that they could do so in
principle which influences government policy and shapes economic strategies. But
the impact of MNCs should not just be measured by these indicators alone. They
have a significant influence on an economy even when their levels of
capitalisation are not particularly high. For example, in Zimbabwe, the Coca
Cola bottling plant is not a big factory by global standards; yet, it has a
major influence on local management practices and on aspects of economic policy
Economic globalization has significant and discernible
characteristics which alter the balance of resources, economic and political,
within and across borders. Among the most important of these is the tangible
growth in the enmeshment of national economies in global economic transactions
(i.e., a growing proportion of nearly all national economies involves
international economic exchanges with an increasing number of countries). This
increase in the extent and intensity of economic interconnectedness has altered
the relation between economic and political power. One shift has been
particularly significant: 'the historic expansion of exit options for capital in
financial markets relative to national capital controls, national banking
regulations and national investment strategies, and the sheer volume of
privately held capital relative to national reserves. Exit options for
corporations making direct investments have also expanded ... the balance of
power has shifted in favour of capital vis-à-vis both national governments and
national labour movements.' As a result, the
autonomy of democratically elected governments has been, and is increasingly,
constrained by sources of unelected and unrepresentative economic power. These
have the effect of making adjustment to the international economy (and, above
all, to global financial markets) a fixed point of orientation in economic
policy and of encouraging an acceptance of the 'decision signals' of its leading
agents and forces as a, if not the, standard of rational decision-making. The
options for political communities, and the costs and benefits of them,
Cultural and communication trends
Interlinked changes in trade, finance and the structure of
multinational corporations are somewhat easier to document and analyse - even if
their implications remain controversial - than the impact of globalization in
the sphere of the media and culture. Evidence of globalization in this domain is
complex and somewhat uncertain. A great deal of research remains to be carried
out. Nonetheless, a number of remarkable developments can be pointed to. For
English has spread as the dominant language of elite
cultures - it is the dominant language in business, computing, law, science
The internationalisation and globalization of
telecommunications has been extraordinarily rapid as manifest in the growth
of, e.g., international telephone traffic, transnational cable links,
satellite links, and the Internet.
Substantial multinational media conglomerates have
developed, such as the Murdoch empire, but there are many other notable
examples as well, including Viacom, Disney, and Time Warner.
There has been a huge increase in tourism. For example,
in 1960 there were 70 million international tourists, while in 1995 there
were nearly 500 million.
And the transnationalization of television programmes
and films is also striking. Sixty to ninety percent of box office receipts
in Europe, for instance, came from foreign movies (although this is largely
the story of American dominance).
None of these examples - or the accumulated impact of
parallel instances - should be taken to imply the development of a single
global, media-led culture - far from it. But taken together, these developments
do indicate that many new forms of communication and media range in and across
borders, linking nations and peoples in new ways. Accordingly, national
political communities by no means simply determine the structure and processes
of cultural life in and through which their citizens are formed. Citizens'
values and judgements are now influenced by a complex web of national,
international and global cultural exchange. The capacity of national political
leaders to sustain a national culture has become more difficult. For example,
China sought to restrict access and use of the Internet, but it has found this
extremely difficult to do.
Contemporary environmental problems are perhaps the
clearest and starkest examples of the global shift in human organization and
activity, creating some of the most fundamental pressures on the efficacy of the
nation-state and state-centric politics.
There are three types of problems at issue:
Shared problems involving the global commons, i.e.,
fundamental elements of our ecosystem. The clearest examples of the
environmental commons are the atmosphere, the climate system and the oceans
and seas. And among the most fundamental challenges here are global warming
and ozone depletion.
A second category of global environmental problems
involves the interlinked challenges of demographic expansion and resource
consumption. An example of the profoundest importance under this category is
desertification. Other examples include questions of bio-diversity and
challenges to the very existence of certain species.
A third category of problems is transboundary
pollution of various kinds such as acid rain or river pollutants. More
dramatic examples arise from the siting and operation of nuclear power
plants, for instance, Chernobyl.
In response to the progressive development of, and the
publicity surrounding, environmental problems, there has been an interlinked
process of cultural and political globalization as illustrated by: the emergence
of new cultural, scientific and intellectual networks; new environmental
movements with transnational organizations and transnational concerns; and new
institutions and conventions like those agreed upon in 1992 at the Earth summit
in Brazil. Not all environmental problems are, of course, global. Such an
implication would be quite false. But there has been a striking shift in the
physical and environmental circumstances - that is, in the extent and intensity
of environmental problems - affecting human affairs in general. These processes
have moved politics dramatically away from an activity which crystallises simply
around state and interstate concerns. It is clearer than ever that the political
fortunes of communities and peoples can no longer be understood in exclusively
national or territorial terms.
Politics, law and security
The sovereign state now lies at the intersection of a vast
array of international regimes and organizations that have been established to
manage whole areas of transnational activity (trade, the oceans, space and so on)
and collective policy problems. The growth in the number of these new forms of
political organization reflect the rapid expansion of transnational links, the
growing interpenetration of foreign and domestic policy, and the corresponding
desire by most states for some form of international governance and regulation
to deal with collective policy problems.
These developments can be illustrated by the following:
New forms of multilateral and multinational politics
have been established and with them distinctive styles of collective
decision-making involving governments, international governmental
organizations (IGOs) and a wide variety of transnational pressure groups and
international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). In 1909 there were 37
IGOs and 176 INGOs, while in 1989 there were nearly 300 IGOs and 4,624 INGOs.
In the middle of the nineteenth century there were two or three conferences
or congresses per annum sponsored by IGOs; today the number totals close to
4,000 annually. Against this background, the range and diversity of the
participants at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 or the Women's
conference at Beijing in 1995 may not seem quite as remarkable as the
occasions initially suggested.
All this has helped engender a shift away from a
purely state-centred international system of 'high politics' to new and
novel forms of geo-governance. Perhaps one of the most interesting examples
of this can be drawn from the very heart of the idea of a sovereign state -
national security and defence policy.
There is a documentable increase in emphasis upon
collective defence and co-operative security. The enormous costs,
technological requirements and domestic burdens of defence are contributing
to the strengthening of multilateral and collective defence arrangements as
well as international military co-operation and co-ordination. The rising
density of technological connections between states now challenges the very
idea of national security and national arms procurement. Some of the most
advanced weapons systems in the world today, e.g. fighter aircraft, depend
on components which come from many countries. There has been a globalization
of military technology linked to a transnationalization of defence
Moreover, the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction makes all states insecure and the very notion of 'friends' and 'enemies'
Even in the sphere of defence and arms production and
manufacture, the notion of a singular, discrete and delimited political
community appears problematic. As a result, the proper home and form of politics
and of democracy becomes a puzzling matter.
The developments documented above have contributed to the
transformation of the nature and prospects of democratic political community in
a number of distinctive ways.
First, the locus of effective political power can no
longer be assumed to be national governments - effective power is shared and
bartered by diverse forces and agencies at national, regional and international
levels. Second, the idea of a political community of fate - of a
self-determining collectivity - can no longer meaningfully be located within the
boundaries of a single nation-state alone. Some of the most fundamental forces
and processes which determine the nature of life-chances within and across
political communities are now beyond the reach of individual nation-states. The
system of national political communities persists of course; but it is
articulated and re-articulated today with complex economic, organisational,
administrative, legal and cultural processes and structures which limit and
check its efficacy. If these processes and structures are not acknowledged and
brought into the political process themselves, they may bypass or circumvent the
democratic state system.
Third, it is not part of my argument that national
sovereignty today, even in regions with intensive overlapping and divided
political and authority structures, has been wholly subverted - not at all. But
it is part of my argument that the operations of states in increasingly complex
global and regional systems affect both their autonomy (by changing the balance
between the costs and benefits of policies) and their sovereignty (by altering
the balance between national, regional and international legal frameworks and
administrative practices). While massive concentrations of power remain features
of many states, these are frequently embedded in, and articulated with,
fractured domains of political authority. Against this background, it is not
fanciful to imagine, as Bull once observed, the development of an international
system which is a modern and secular counterpart of the kind of political
organization found in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, the essential
characteristic of which was a system of overlapping authority and divided
Fourth, the late twentieth century is marked by a
significant series of new types of 'boundary problem'. If it is accepted that we
live in a world of overlapping communities of fate, where, in other words, the
trajectories of each and every country are more tightly entwined than ever
before, then new types of boundary problem follow. In the past, of course,
nation-states principally resolved their differences over boundary matters by
pursuing reasons of state backed, ultimately, by coercive means. But this power
logic is singularly inadequate and inappropriate to resolve the many complex
issues, from economic regulation to resource depletion and environmental
degradation, which engender an intermeshing of 'national fortunes'. In a world
where transnational actors and forces cut across the boundaries of national
communities in diverse ways, and where powerful states make decisions not just
for their peoples but for others as well, the questions of who should be
accountable to whom, and on what basis, do no easily resolve themselves.
Overlapping spheres of influence, interference and interest create dilemmas at
the centre of democratic thought.
In the liberal democracies, consent to government and
legitimacy for governmental action are dependent upon electoral politics and the
ballot box. Yet, the notion that consent legitimates government, and that the
ballot box is the appropriate mechanism whereby the citizen body as a whole
periodically confers authority on government to enact the law and regulate
economic and social life, becomes problematic as soon as the nature of a
'relevant community' is contested. What is the proper constituency, and proper
realm of jurisdiction, for developing and implementing policy with respect to
health issues such as AIDS or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, 'mad cow
disease'), the use of nuclear energy, the harvesting of rain forests, the use of
non-renewable resources, the instability of global financial markets, and the
reduction of the risks of nuclear warfare? National boundaries have demarcated
traditionally the basis on which individuals are included and excluded from
participation in decisions affecting their lives; but if many socio-economic
processes, and the outcomes of decisions about them, stretch beyond national
frontiers, then the implications of this are serious, not only for the
categories of consent and legitimacy but for all the key ideas of democracy. At
issue is the nature of a constituency, the role of representation, and the
proper form and scope of political participation. As fundamental processes of
governance escape the categories of the nation-state, the traditional national
resolutions of the key questions of democratic theory and practice are open to
Against this background, the nature and prospects of the
democratic polity need re-examination. The idea of a democratic order can no
longer be simply defended as an idea suitable to a particular closed political
community or nation-state. We are compelled to recognise that we live in a
complex interconnected world where the extensity, intensity and impact of issues
(economic, political or environmental) raises questions about where those issues
are most appropriately addressed. Deliberative and decision-making centres
beyond national territories are appropriately situated when those significantly
affected by a public matter constitute a cross-border or transnational grouping,
when 'lower' levels of decision-making cannot manage and discharge
satisfactorily transnational or international policy questions, and when the
principle of democratic legitimacy can only be properly redeemed in a
transnational context. If the most powerful geo-political interests are not to
settle many pressing matters simply in terms of their objectives and by virtue
of their power, then new institutions and mechanisms of accountability need to
It would be easy to be pessimistic about the future of
democracy. There are plenty of reasons for pessimism; they include the fact that
the essential political units of the world are still based on nation-states
while some of the most powerful socio-political forces of the world escape the
boundaries of these units. In reaction to this, in part, new forms of
fundamentalism have arisen along with new forms of tribalism - all asserting the
a priori superiority of a particular religious, or cultural, or political
identity over all others, and all asserting their sectional aims and interests.
But there are other forces at work which create the basis for a more optimistic
reading of democratic prospects. An historical comparison might help to provide
a context for this consideration.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe was
marked by civil conflict, religious strife and fragmented authority; the idea of
a secular state, separate from ruler and ruled, and separate from the church,
seemed an unlikely prospect. Parts of Europe were tearing themselves to pieces
and, yet, within 150-200 years, a new concept of politics became entrenched
based around a new concept of the state. Today, we live at another fundamental
point of transition, but now to a more transnational, global world. There are
forces and pressures which are engendering a reshaping of political cultures,
institutions and structures. First, one must obviously note the emergence,
however hesitatingly, of regional and global institutions in the twentieth
century. The UN is, of course, weak in many respects, but it is a relatively
recent creation and it is an innovative structure which can be built upon. It is
a normative resource which provides - for all its difficulties - an enduring
example of how nations might (and sometimes do) cooperate better to resolve, and
resolve fairly, common problems. In addition, the development of a powerful
regional body such as the European Union is a remarkable state of affairs. Just
over 50 years ago Europe was at the point of self-destruction. Since that moment
Europe has created new mechanisms of collaboration, human rights enforcement,
and new political institutions in order not only to hold member states to
account across a broad range of issues, but to pool aspects of their sovereignty.
Furthermore, there are, of course, new regional and global transnational actors
contesting the terms of globalization - not just corporations but new social
movements such as the environmental movement, the womens' movement and so on.
These are the 'new' voices of an emergent 'transnational civil society', heard,
for instance, at the Rio Conference on the Environment, the Cairo Conference on
Population Control and the Beijing Conference on Women. In short, there are
tendencies at work seeking to create new forms of public life and new ways of
debating regional and global issues. These are, of course, all in early stages
of development, and there are no guarantees that the balance of political
contest will allow them to develop. But they point in the direction of
establishing new ways of holding transnational power systems to account - that
is, they help open up the possibility of a cosmopolitan democracy.
Cosmopolitan democracy involves the development of
administrative capacity and independent political resources at regional and
global levels as a necessary complement to those in local and national polities.
At issue would be strengthening the administrative capacity and accountability
of regional institutions like the EU, along with developing the administrative
capacity and forms of accountability of the UN system itself. A cosmopolitan
democracy would not call for a diminution per se of state power and
capacity across the globe. Rather, it would seek to entrench and develop
democratic institutions at regional and global levels as a necessary complement
to those at the level of the nation-state. This conception of democracy is based
upon the recognition of the continuing significance of nation-states, while
arguing for a layer of governance to constitute a limitation on national
The case for cosmopolitan democracy is the case for the
creation of new political institutions which would co-exist with the system of
states but which would override states in clearly defined spheres of activity
where those activities have demonstrable transnational and international
consequences, require regional or global initiatives in the interests of
effectiveness and depend upon such initiatives for democratic legitimacy. At
issue, in addition, would not merely be the formal construction of new
democratic mechanisms and procedures, but also the construction, in principle,
of 'broad access' avenues of civic participation at national and regional levels.
Figure 1 provides an outline of some of the constitutive features of
The theory of cosmopolitan democracy is one of the few
political theories which examines systematically the democratic implications of
the fact that nation-states are enmeshed today in complex interconnected
relations. Our world is a world of overlapping communities of fate, where
the fate of one country and that of another are more entwined than ever before.
In this world, there are many issues which stretch beyond the borders of
countries and challenge the relevance of those borders in key respects. Many of
these issues have already been referred to - pollutants, resource-use questions,
the regulation of global networks of trade, finance, etc. Can these be brought
within the sphere of democracy? The theory of cosmopolitan democracy suggests
this is not only a real necessity, but also a real possibility.
1 I should like to thank
Daniele Archibugi, Martin Köhler, Joel Krieger and Craig Murphy for comments on
this paper. A version of this paper will appear in Global Governance (forthcoming).
2 See David Potter et al. (eds.), Democratization
(Cambridge, Polity Press, 1997).
3 For an elaboration of this theme, see my Democracy
and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance
(Cambridge, Polity Press, 1995).
4 In focusing on processes of globalization I would
like to acknowledge my debt to David Goldblatt, Anthony McGrew and Jonathan
Perraton, with whom I have collaborated over the last four years on a research
project investigating the changing enmeshment of states in global flows and
transformations. The conception of globalization along with many of the examples
in the following section are drawn from our joint work. See Global Flows,
Global Transformations: Concepts, Evidence and Arguments (Cambridge, Polity
5 See, for example, Kenichi Ohmae, The
Borderless World (London, Collins, 1990); and Robert Reich, The Work of
Nations (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1991).
6 See Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, Globalization
in Question (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1996).
7 See Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of
Modernity (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990).
8 See Anthony G. McGrew, 'Conceptualizing global
politics', in A. G. McGrew, P. G. Lewis et al., Global Politics
(Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992).
9 See Richard Falk, On Humane Governance: Toward
a New Global Politics (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1995).
10 For a fuller account of these points see
Jonathan Perraton, David Goldblatt, David Held and Anthony McGrew, 'The
globalization of economic activity', New Political Economy, 2, 2 (July
1997). I am particular grateful for Jonathan Perraton's guidance on these
11 David Goldblatt, David Held, Anthony McGrew and
Jonathan Perraton, 'Economic globalization and the nation-state: shifting
balances of power', Alternatives (forthcoming 1997).
12 Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society
(London, Macmillan, 1997), pp. 254-255.
13 For further discussion and elaboration of these
and related features see Daniele Archibugi and David Held (eds.), Cosmopolitan
Democracy: An Agenda for a New World Order (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1995)
and David Held, Democracy and the Global Order (see note 3 for details of
Copyright © 1998 David Held
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