The distinction or opposition between power and violence is not as apparent to the reader of Arendt’s book if both are seen through the male lens that has become conventional to us. However, the evidence that women tend to participate in public life in supportive roles, and in community-based roles suggests that many see power very much as Arendt outlines, as about collaboration and cooperation, and are uncomfortable with exercising ‘power over’. In a recent field trip to explore civil society participation in the midst of Colombia’s protracted violence and war, I asked the Casa de la Mujer, a feminist group based in Bogotá, whether they had generated their own vision of power. I am struck by how their analysis echoes that of Arendt:
Women must ask themselves, do they want to replicate exclusionary practices or encourage other types of political practices? Participation is about developing the commonality in our needs and how to negotiate individual and collective needs. Do we come together to put forward our needs or do we want to be exclusionary? Our proposals are not just for women, but for our families, for everyone. What type of political practices do we want to build? How do we not repeat other practices, including those among women? Power is denied us, how do we recognise the power of others? I don’t know whether we have an alternative idea of power. We work on subjectivities. I cannot be democratic if I don’t construct myself as a democratic subject. How as women do we build more democratic subjects? How do I find a balance between my personal interests and my collective interests? We need to reflect on new practices. This is a slow process. Families and schools are very authoritarian. We come from anti-democratic communities and the Church too. There is little acceptance of differences. We are very fundamentalist, left and right. The new subjectivities can materialise in new political practices. This question is in dispute in feminism. Power for what? Do we want power for human beings? Yes, but not that of men, based on exclusion. We want a power that permits men and women to reach agreements. That doesn’t mean that women are only victims. It means a construction. What is in us, which also reproduces exclusionary practices? Being victims takes away our own responsibility. In our work with women and violence, we think women are victims of violence. But we also analyse our responsibility, not for being beaten, but for not leaving the situation. We don’t say women have to deal with their situation alone, we are not talking about guilt, but that something in our subjectivity makes us accept these situations. How can you transform the situation? At least you can take action and go to a doctor or a lawyer. Power is passed on through valuing the autonomy and self-esteem of women. We don’t just suffer power. (Personal interview, Casa de la Mujer, Bogota, 1 April 2005)
Arendt’s distinction between power and violence is dependent on a particular understanding of power, one that appears counter-intuitive. Power for Arendt emerges when people decide to act together. Arendt is attempting here to distinguish between human interactions which originate from a prior acceptance of the right of the Other to exist, a reciprocal recognition that nevertheless can lead to actions to restrict the freedom of existence of the Other (that is, power over the Other), and one which seeks to deny recognition of the Other through pain on the Other’s body and/or mind (the exercise of violence). Arendt’s sense of power is actually profoundly different from conventional understandings of power, which I would argue derive mostly from masculine experiences and conceptualisations. For Arendt:
Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say of somebody that he is ‘in power’ we actually refer to him being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name. (1969: 44)
The severity and far-reaching implications of these unresolved issues suggest global civil society may indeed have reached a critical juncture. Global civil society actors can no longer avoid taking a position on violence for just causes, but if they are to assert themselves in the name of civil society they can hardly avoid contributing to the creation of institutions globally that are equivalent to those that sustain civil society within states. Global governance is then not an optional interest for civil society – its very future, globally and nationally, depends on it. Indeed, global civil society has to engage in profound self-examination, the importance of which extends beyond itself and to the international community at large. The global conditions for its own continued existence may even be those for the survival of humankind.
Conflict, institutions and globalisation
While wars might be fought in the name of free society, such is their intrusion into rights that, when won, democracy has to struggle to re-emerge in the aftermath. Even so, the struggle can be won, as the settlement after the Second World War showed, involving as it did the greatest advance in human freedom in history, with the establishment of the United Nations and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while the development of international institutions has proceeded with no significant check ever since, until perhaps – and we can’t yet be sure – the present time.
Michel Foucault, speaking in 1981, heralded the emergence of an ‘international citizenry’ (quoted in Keenan 1987: 22), exemplified by Amnesty International and others, which had created a new right, that of private individuals to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies, to uproot the monopoly over reality previously held by governments.
Indymedia Strengths & Weaknesses
While the strengths of Indymedia’s internet-enabled radical democratic practices are considerable, they are also fraught with inherent tensions. Indymedia’s sustainability issues are discussed in greater depth elsewhere (Pickard 2006b), but a number of other pressure points are well documented. For example, some democratic theorists are quick to note persistent hierarchies in consensus-based decision-making (Mansbridge 1983; Young 1996). Gastil (1993) observes that typical drawbacks in small group democracy include long meetings, unequal involvement and commitment, cliques, differences in skills and styles, and personality conflicts. Similarly, Michel’s (1915) ‘iron law of oligarchy’ argues that radical organizations – especially larger groups – tend to become more bureaucratic and conservative over time. In another important critique, Bookchin (1994) argues that beyond intimate small groups, consensus dissuades the creative process of ‘dissensus’ by pressuring dissenters into silence and thereby gravitating towards the least controversial, mediocrity, and defacto authoritarianism. Similarly, Freeman’s (1970) classic critique ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’ suggests such purported non-hierarchy masks power, allows ‘informal elites’ to arise, and renders unstructured groups politically impotent.
The Indymedia Model
The IMC model is distinguished by an interactive news website, a global network, and a radical democratic organisation replicated in over 150 sites across six continents (Pickard,2006b). Past scholarship established Indymedia as an anarchic or radical democratic model based on openness, inclusiveness, lateral decision-making, non-hierarchy, global justice, and transparency (Downing 2001; Dorothy Kidd 2002; Pickard 2006a). Though one should not over-generalise the distributed and diverse IMC global network, there is remarkable uniformity reflected in common website architecture, a commitment to organisational processes such as consensus-based decision-making, and other radical democratic practices codified in a shared manifesto or charter called the ‘principles of unity’.
For those who view deliberation and dialogue as central to democracy, this strife is troubling. Yet it need not spell the futility of democratic practice at the global level. Indeed, this contentious international reality closely resembles the raucousness of democratic politics within nations. The diversity of values in contemporary societies, and their proponents’ passion for them, mean that staid debate signals either an issue’s triviality – or the subtle workings of hegemonic power. Instead, what cases like the global small arms and light weapons contest suggest are problems with deliberative democracy theory, both empirically and normatively. Clashes are endemic not just to gun control, but to any number of other global issues, from climate change to family planning. Democratic practice, difficult enough at the global level, must accommodate these profound divergences and the brawling tactics they spur. In turn, democratic theorists must use new tools to understand these realities and strengthen global politics in the face of profound disagreement. While some may cover their ears and wring their hands at the din, it is and always has been a hallmark of political debate. Indeed, as Chantal Mouffe (2005) argues, such conflict is the essence of the political both in domestic and in global arenas.
All of this raises questions about how communication technologies affect global democracy – and the nature of global civil society itself. In some ways, the entry of groups such as the NRA and WFSA into the global arena makes for greater democracy. New voices add to the marketplace of ideas. Theorists of global civil society need to open their eyes to this diversity and its implications for democratic practice. For too long, progressive NGOs have identified themselves as ‘global civil society,’ and sympathetic academics have fueled this perception (Wapner 1996). On this narrow empirical base, elaborate theories of transnational politics have then been erected. This creates the impression that global civil society is thick with like–minded groups harmoniously cooperating to fight corporate greed and state power: they may disagree over strategy, but all fundamentally agree about the world’s problems.
While all of these issues have major implications for the role of media in developing countries, one in particular stands out. Most donors, led by the UK, are committed to providing funds through budget support to governments. Only by doing so, they argue, can governments become accountable to their citizens for delivery of services, rather than to Western donors, and only then can real democracy take hold (budget support also enables donors to spend large amounts of money with relatively little administration at a time when spending budgets are increasing and administration budgets are being pared down). Increasingly, donors understand that if citizens are to hold government to account in new and poor democracies, capacities for that to happen need to be better developed. Citizens cannot hold governments to account unless they are informed of and have access to information on the issues that shape their lives. The role of the media and of communication structures at all levels (community, sub regional, national, regional and international) is inextricably bound up with how citizens understand and engage in democratic life. The rights and capacities of people, particularly those living in poverty, to voice their own perspectives and have them heard in public debate, particularly through the media, are increasingly recognized as critical to effective governance.
Wireless communication and the ‘people who love Roh’ in South Korea
On 19 December 2002, South Korea elected its new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, a major part of whose victory has been widely attributed to Nosamo, an online supporter group known by this Korean acronym of ‘People who Love Roh’. The success of Roh and of Nosamo is now ‘a textbook example for the power of IT’ (Hachigian and Wu 2003: 68), which systematically utilised a combination of the internet and mobile phone-based communication While the internet-based campaign had lasted for years, providing the core political networks, it was the mobile phones that mobilised large number of young voters on the election day and finally reversed the voting result (Fulford 2003; see also S.-D. Kim n.d.; Rhee 2003).
The initial point of such an initiative is to establish a distinct and exclusive space for global civil society within the larger confines of the United Nations. If established so as to be a conduit for grass-roots priorities in various locales around the world, its challenge to governmental and market-oriented thinking would likely be vivid and illuminating. For this reason alone, the proposal is threatening to the statist establishment and nationalist consciousness, and is currently not under serious consideration. The experience in the 1990s with global civil society activism at major UN policy conferences gave leading states an unwelcome taste of global democracy, causing a backlash that can be understood only as anti-democratic, that is, as opposed to conferring status and allowing voice to the representatives of global civil society. This backlash has a paradoxical dimension, given the vigorous engagement of these very same states in the promotion of democracy and democratic values at the national level, and their accompanying rationale about thereby promoting regional and global security communities.
A UN parliament or assembly
From the perspective of global democracy, there is general agreement within global civil society that the constitution and modus operandi of the UN do not allow for sufficient participation by representatives of civil society. A popular mode of global civil society participation to overcome this deficiency would be the addition of an organ to the UN that would function as a representative body selected directly or indirectly by global civil society. This line of reformist thinking takes comfort from the existence and development of the European Parliament, which in the course of several decades has moved from being a marginalised talking shop to a respected institutional pillar whose democratic character that has enhanced the legitimacy of European regionalism (Falk and Strauss 2000).
Issues of information and communication lie at the heart of this edition of the Yearbook. For citizens to participate in democratic life and to exercise democratic choices, they need access to information about the issues that shape their lives, the spaces to discuss and debate those issues openly with others, and the opportunity to make their perspectives and demands heard.
There is, of course, a bridge between social/moral accountability and democracy, in particular the notion of democracy-as-debate. Indeed, of the five types of accountability Koppell identifies, transparency and responsiveness relate most directly to this conception and, as it turns out, are among the most popular of the initiatives we have looked at. By contrast, controllability, which is closest to the traditional conception of democracy-as-representation, does not fare so well and shows the inherent weakness of civil society organisations in this respect. Thus, if social accountability approaches could be developed into the direction of democracy-as-debate and therefore more into the direction of moral accountability, the accountability syndrome we have identified in this chapter could move from an emphasis on technocratic supervision and control to more devolved and open transnational accountability networks.
Accountability and democracy-as-debate
An increasing number of different accountability frameworks exists (as depicted in Box 7.3), especially for organisations and foundations working internationally. The accountability syndrome facing global civil society actors is a by-product of the governance problems of a globalising world. Accountability regimes are tied to a world of nation states but economy and society, and increasingly civil society and philanthropic institutions, no longer fit into this framework. Anti-terrorist legislations in the USA and Europe, laws like the Sarbanes–Oxley Act and the multiplication of watchdog groups add to the accountability complexity of transnational civil society.
Thesis 5: We should move from an NGO-centred notion of accountability to an understanding of social accountability, even moral accountability in a broader sense
- Transparency: did the organisation reveal the facts of its performance? Transparency is an important tool for assessing organisational performance and includes giving access to audit results, internal reports, and other evaluation documents to the press, the public, and other interested parties.
- Liability: did the organisation face consequences for its performance? This dimension attaches consequences for an organisation’s performance? Liability can come in the form of setbacks, such as diminished budget authority and increased monitoring or positive reinforcement, such as cash bonuses to employees and other rewards.
- Controllability: did the organisation do what the principal desired? Many analyses of accountability focus on this dynamic of controllability: how much control the stakeholder has over the organisation or principal, for example, the view that government bureaucracies, as their representatives, should carry out the will of the public.
- Responsibility: did the organisation follow the rules? This aspect of accountability includes being lawful, adhering to professional or industry standards and behavioural norms, and being morally sound.
- Responsiveness: did the organisation fulfill the substantive expectations? Responsiveness works horizontally and refers to the levels of attention that organisations give to their clients and stakeholders’ needs and demands. It implies accountability outwards rather than upward.
Thesis 3: Accountability is a multi-dimensional concept that requires unpacking before becoming a useful policy concept and management tool
The implications that this has on public expectations of accountability are profound. Though this type of media-based accountability offers certain benefits, especially because of the growing capabilities of globalising mass communication streams and technologies, relying on the media as the prime watchdog is not dependable, because media bodies themselves can have political and economic motivations, and can lack access to relevant information. Furthermore, reports from small media outlets may be ignored or overlooked, while larger, more politically embroiled mainstream media sources supply the bulk of accountability reports. The question of who should regulate the regulators comes into play here. Another complication is that while media-based accountability implies aspects of liability (because a public that is aware of corruption is more likely to act to punish the guilty party), it does not guarantee actual enforcement.
Thus, in the context of globalisation, accountability is a persistent and growing problem in search of a solution rather than a solution in response to a problem, in part because it relates to questions of legitimacy. Accountability becomes part of the global political economy: some stakeholders have more voice than others and are the preferred audience of accountability for legitimacy reasons; some jurisdictions are more ‘hands off’ and others are more controlling, even restrictive; some audits in some countries are demanding, others are easy. Accountability becomes a political issue that reflects power differentials among stakeholders, and an economic issue that reflects transaction and compliance costs.
Thesis 1: Accountability is the problem, not the solution
We need to rethink accountability and move away from a position that sees accountability as a fix, as we do at domestic levels, towards an understanding of the endemic accountability problems of many types of non-profit organisations, epitomised by independent grant-making foundations. These foundations are among the freest institutions of modern societies: free in the sense of being independent of market forces and the popular political will. This enables foundations to ignore political, disciplinary and professional boundaries if they choose, to take risks and consider approaches that others cannot. As quasi-aristocratic institutions they flourish on the privileges of a formally egalitarian society and, while they exist in a democracy, foundations are themselves not democratically constituted.
At its core, this difference is largely a result of what is known as the global governance problem, that is, weak, patchy, loosely coupled and sometimes contradictory policies, regulatory frameworks and enforcement institutions relative to the needs of stakeholders, as well as actual and potential accountability failures (Held 2003). Global governance refers to the
government, management and administration capabilities of the United Nations, World Bank and other international organisations, various regimes, coalitions of interested nations and individual nations when they act globally to address to various issues that emerge beyond national borders. (Yakota 2004) The governance debate is about the efficacy of this system in ensuring ‘a degree of co-operation sufficient to bring about order in human affairs’ (Smith and Stacey 1997).
Accountability and global governance
The difference between domestic and transnational accountability arises from the complexity in attempting to promote change across borders. In the transnational arena, questions of legitimacy are raised because the funding and impetus for projects originate from a foreign source. Civil society actors working across borders typically want to change current conditions in the foreign country towards some kind of improvement or to develop better capacity to deal with problems of many kinds. Because of this, relationships among stakeholders are likely to undergo some form of transformation or tension that may or may not have been anticipated.
However, in a transnational context, the weak signal/incentive problem that applies as well to domestic accountability assumes a new quality. We also argue that in transnational contexts, accountability is increasingly becoming a problem in search of a solution, rather than a solution in response to problems that are well understood and accepted by stakeholders. What is more, it is increasingly difficult for non-profit organisations that operate cross-nationally to be or become accountable relative to growing public and political expectations. Ultimately, the accountability syndrome of transnational civil society organisations embeds accountability in legitimacy.
The year of the reports
Starting with the Brandt Commission in 1980, a phenomenon that has become an important component of global civil society is the plethora of commissions, study groups or task forces set up by governments of international institutions to bring together expert opinion on specific global issues. The reports of these international bodies can be viewed as a sort of filter between civil society groups and the institutions of global governance. They are a way of drawing attention to global issues, both for the public and for decision-makers. They can be both ‘top-down’, in the sense that they are generally commissioned by political institutions and are often regarded as mechanisms for mobilisation, and at the same time ‘bottom-up’, in so far as they take evidence from citizens and civil society groups and offer a form of access. Whether they represent democratisation or instrumentalisation, therefore, remains a question to be researched.
There is no question that EU reform is necessary, and many of the provisions in the constitution would have made the organisation more effective, particularly in the area of foreign policy. But the rejection could be taken by the politicians of Europe as an opportunity to rectify the mistake they made in foisting a ‘constitution’ upon their citizens without consulting them. This could be a chance to have really open Union-wide discussions about what people like, and dislike, about ‘being European’; whether they feel in need of a constitution; and what should be in it. In such a process, which could include town hall meetings, school assemblies and online discussion forums, the people of Europe could define for themselves to what extent they actually have a common identity. If a real constitution can be forged out of such discussions and consultations, the process and text itself could actually be drivers of a common European spirit, as defined by the people themselves.
Many proposals for UN reform go in the direction of some kind of global civil society assembly, sometimes alongside an assembly of parliamentarians, to supplement or replace the existing General Assembly (Falk, Chapter 5; Van Rooy 2004: 134). But the fundamental flaw of all these proposals is that they try to push civil society into the straitjacket of representative democracy. As we and others have argued before, representation in the elective sense is not what global civil society does (Edwards 2003; Van Rooy 2004: 62–76; Anderson and Rieff 2004: 29–31). We believe the claims, and hence also the structures, for democratising the United Nations through global civil society should be more imaginative.
The Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations stakes a major claim for global civil society by titling its report We the Peoples: the United Nations, Civil Society and Global Governance (UN 2004). It has often been remarked that the United Nations does not in fact represent ‘peoples’ or ‘nations’, but states. By its choice of title, the panel appears to suggest that civil society represents ‘the peoples’ instead. It draws inspiration from ideas about participatory or deliberative democracy to argue that, through the mediation of global civil society, ‘anyone can enter the debates that most interest them, through advocacy, protest, and in other ways’ (UN 2004: para. 13). These are radical claims, which are valid in principle but are extremely difficult to apply in practice (see also Glasius 2005; Kaldor 2003). But the Panel’s concrete recommendations are hardly in keeping with such an optimistic view of civil society’s role in global governance. As Richard Falk notes in Chapter 5, the report engages in ‘soft advocacy’, proposing primarily to maintain the concessions global civil society has won over the decades through sustained pressure, rather than to specifying a structural role for civic participation.
Making the equation of NGOs and non-profit organisations with civil society is also part of a process of instrumentalisation by national governments and international organisations that are in search of greater legitimacy, and eager to try out seemingly new ways towards overdue public sector reform. The statements and proceedings of the Sixth Global Forum on Reinventing Government, mentioned above, the UN’s High Level Panel on Civil Society (see below), the World Bank’s projects on social accountability and civic engagement, or the EU’s attempts to ‘reach out to civil society’, are examples of this instrumentalisation.
Democratisation and instrumentalisation
Where are the spaces in which global civil society communicates and argues about risk? How are individual concerns about risk translated into political decision-making? In this yearbook we discuss four such forms. First of all, for many people the national level remains important. National governments are key participants in global negotiations and are often the first target of civil society action. To an extent that was hardly thinkable during the first phase of modernity, civil society activists can use global links to expand the space for democratic participation. The latest wave of democratisation in post-Soviet republics and in the Middle East illustrates this global dynamic of democratisation. Second, international organisations are under increasing pressure to make more meaningful arrangements for citizen participation. In Chapter 5, Richard Falk discusses the UN’s efforts to come to terms with the challenge of opening up access for global civil society. We suggest below that the series of ‘no’s’ to the European Union’s draft Constitution may also be related to issues of access and participation. Third, the new phenomenon of Social Forums is, at least in aspirational terms, about creating new mechanisms for political participation. And finally, a new medium for global civil society is the rash of reports, study groups, and commissions initiated by global leaders and carried out by independent experts.
While many accountability issues can be broadly applied across all sectors, transnational civil society faces specific challenges in terms of governance, responsibility and liability. Indeed, we see the accountability challenges of transnational civil society closely linked to the process of globalisation itself. On the one hand, globalisation is characterised by democratic deficits and governance problems: disparate societies and communities engage each other and are made to interact with greater frequency and intensity, yet without adequate global supervisory mechanisms. On the other hand, accountability for international NGOs is increasingly related to the cross-national dispersion of democratic values and the public expectations that come with them. In this model, global civil society organisations act as proactive instruments for exposing and demanding transparency and accountability across sectors.
Impunity and insecurity, combined with persistent poverty and inequality, account for much of the profound sense of disconnection between people’s aspirations and the capacity of the political system to respond to the demands of society. The democratic transition in Latin America created the rules and institutions of democracy, but in most countries respect for due process and rule of law is in danger, at best. Mistrust of politicians, political parties, parliaments and the judiciary system is paving the way for the resurgence in several countries of forms of authoritarian populism that were thought to be relegated to the past. Nothing is more expressive of this all-encompassing rejection of the political establishment than the call – que se vayan todos (they all must go) – that punctuated the street demonstrations in Argentina, leading to the overthrow of three successive presidents in a few days. In some countries, such as Venezuela, the traditional political system literally fell apart. In others, the crisis of legitimacy gave rise to new actors and demands for radical change.
This is no longer the case. Over the last five years democracy has been put to severe test. Since the turn of the century, more than a third of Latin American countries – Paraguay (in 2000), Peru (2000), Argentina (2001), Venezuela (2002), Bolivia (2003 and 2005), Ecuador (2000 and 2006) – have experienced situations of acute political risk. In several cases, widespread public protest led to the downfall of elected presidents. Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa in Bolivia, and Jamil Mahuad and Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador were removed from office by a combination of social protest in the streets and political action by parliaments. In Paraguay the military played a key role in the impeachment of President Raul Cubas Grau. In Venezuela, a farcical coup d’état, promoted by military and civil sectors with US support, led to the temporary overthrow of President Hugo Chávez, who was soon reinstated, with the full support of democratic leaders and public opinion throughout the region. To this list might added situations of extreme tension in the political system that did not reach the breaking point: Nicaragua in 2004 and 2005, when President Enrique Bolaños was threatened with impeachment; Honduras in 2005 when authorities delayed announcing the winner of the presidential elections; Brazil in 2005 when the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was undermined by a wave of political scandals; and Mexico in 2006 when the opposition candidate, López Obrador, aggressively contested in the streets the legitimacy of Felipe Calderon’s election to the presidency.
Challenges and threats to democracy in Latin America
From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, Latin American countries led the so-called second wave of democratisation, following southern Europe in the mid-1970s and preceding Eastern Europe, East Asia and parts of Africa in the late 1980s and 1990s. For two decades the peaceful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule after decades of repressive military dictatorship and, in Central America, outright civil war, was deemed a success story. The only exception in the region to this democratic trend was Cuba.
Like their democratic counterparts, illiberal states have understood the need to change and adapt in the face of globalisation. It is possible to distinguish three main forms of control exterted by the state. The first is administrative, the exercise of the rule of law and/or repression. While repressive regimes can and do imprison political dissident and use torture and other inhumane treatments, it can be argued that physical repression is less effective than in the past, partly because of the difficulty of controlling the spread of weapons or knowledge of bomb-making, and partly because of international pressure. To an increasing extent, the implementation of a rule of law or of administrative measures depends on consent. The second is economic. Totalitarian or sultanistic regimes exercised total control over the economy. Today, economic control is exerted through patronage, for example, through oil rents, as in the majority of authoritarian regimes, or through predation, as in Zimbabwe. The growth of global markets, such as China’s, creates autonomous economic spaces that require a political response lest they open the floodgates for freedom, as happened in the former Soviet Union. The third form of control is through communication or, as Joseph Nye puts it, soft power (2004). In the global era, this may be the most critical form of control. New forms of communication such as the Internet and the electronic media are inherently global, and these connections can help and hinder illiberal regimes in promoting their ideology.
By contrast, we introduce globalisation into the analysis of democratisation, or, put more modestly, into the opening up of illiberal regimes. From this vantage point, the distinction between the external and internal does not hold. Instead, globalisation becomes internal to the changes in illiberal regimes. Our argument is that contemporary illiberal regimes are being pluralised involuntarily under the complex pressures of globalisation. The nature of these illiberal regimes changes as civil society spaces are carved out, either in the virtual world or in physical space or as a combination of both these spheres.
The assumption that the state is all-powerful is linked to the tendency to focus on domestic factors and to treat external influences as add-ons, exogenous rather than endogenous determinants of democratic developments. Because of their focus on domestic factors, the analysts of ‘troubled’ democratisation tend to emphasize the legacy of the past more than the contemporary global context.
Linz and Stepan, in their classic book on the transition to democracy, identified five modern regime ideal types: democracy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, post-totalitarianism and sultanism (derived from Weber’s extreme patrimonialism), which they described in terms of the defining characteristics of pluralism, ideology, mobilisation and leadership.
As the development of civil society and, indeed, democracy is no longer solely restricted to national boundaries, outside actors, be they foreign donors, diasporic networks or global civil society activists, cannot be excluded from the equation. Global actors are implicated in and shape national/local processes in a multitude of ways, including providing financial assistance, training, and supporting exchanges and education abroad. Actually existing global civil society is complex and contradictory (Kaldor et al. 2007: 119); it can contribute to peace, stability and justice just as it can foment conflict, instability and exclusion. While some global civil society actors (such as NGOs) are engaged in democracy promotion through civil society strengthening programmes, this is not the most important contribution of global civil society. The greatest contribution of global civil society is its potential to enhance communication by creating ‘islands of engagement’ (Kaldor 2003: 160), where diverse actors will find opportunities for discussion, participation and debate. If global civil society can do this and also encourage greater self-reflection by Northern actors about the state of their own democracy (and not only discussions about the status of democracy in the South), then it will go a long way in revitalising and reinvigorating democracy and of course, civil society.
The USAID observer was told not to worry by an Iraqi council member, who explained that the shouting was only theatrics and that it would not disrupt the process. While seemingly accepting that this was ‘the Iraqi way’, the authors express their satisfaction that ‘the shouting soon gave way to constructive debate; the council agreed on some issues and deferred others before it adjourned peacefully’ (USAID 2004: 12).
The popularity of capacity building continues unabated. The following excerpt from the USAID (2004) ‘A Year in Iraq: Building Democracy’ report demonstrates the importance ascribed to capacity building. As part of the US democracy promotion effort in Iraq, a former official from Colorado was asked to write a guide explaining how to run a meeting, how to encourage people to speak and contribute, and how to resolve disagreements and reach decisions through compromise. The guide was translated into Arabic and distributed to all members of local councils in Iraq. In order to assess how these lessons had been absorbed, a district council meeting was observed. According to the report:
At the district council meeting, the Iraqi experiment in democracy seemed to be running off the tracks when a couple of council members began shouting their opinions around the table, appearing to be angry enough to come to blows. (USAID 2004: 12)
For instance, in recent years there has been growing selective remembrance (that is, forgetting about the political repressions and lack of freedoms) and intensifying nostalgia for the ‘stability’ of the Soviet past and a questioning of the benefits of democracy, which is linked in the minds of many post-Soviet citizens with the introduction of the shock therapies that led to poverty, gross inequality, social exclusion, gangster capitalism and the rise of the oligarchs (see box 4.2). Democracy promotion in Eastern Europe was also affected by the close association between democracy and market reform programmes. Because the rapidly implemented market reforms and shock therapies of the early 1990s led to vast inequality, poverty and social exclusion, people soon became disillusioned, not only with the market reforms but also with the associated programme of democracy building.
From African dictators in the 1970s to Asian government officials in the 1990s there have been two sets of arguments: first, democracy is a luxury that can and should only come after a certain stage of economic development and stability has been achieved; and second, democracy is a Western individualistic value that is not compatible with more ‘traditional’ or kin-based societies. These arguments held great sway in the 1990s until the financial crisis in Asia undermined the ‘Asian values’ position and silenced most of its supporters (Thompson 2001: 154).
Challenges and obstacles to democracy promotion
In analysing why the transitions to democracy have not yielded the expected results, a common claim is that a society’s propensity or ‘fitness’ for democracy is predicated on its cultural and geographic proximity to the West (Nodia 2002; McFaul 2002). Ernest Gellner (1994), for instance, argued that the concept of civil society is inapplicable in certain contexts, including in non-Western patrimonial societies and in tribal societies (Gellner 1994). He questioned whether civil society could exist in Islamic societies. Others, such as Elie Kedourie or Serif Mardin, have also claimed civil society is a Western dream that does not translate well into Islamic society (Mardin 1995, quoted in Sajoo 2002) or that Muslims have nothing in their own political traditions that is compatible with Western notions of democracy (Kedourie 1992). Meanwhile, in the context of the post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe, ‘transitologists’ often ‘invoke “culture”, that amorphous, omnibus concept’ as an explanation for why certain Western policies or blueprints have been resisted (Burawoy and Verdery 1999: 14). For instance, in Bosnia, culture or ethnic mentality were cited as reasons for the inability to embrace civil society development and democratisation. David Chandler discusses the disparaging ways in which the Bosnian people and society were viewed by some international actors and internationally funded local NGOs. They perceived Bosnian society as ‘deeply sick’, ‘feudalistic’ or as ‘the flock’ (Chandler 2004: 240–1). He argues that this focus on the perceived incapacities of Bosnians is only one side of the story and that greater attention must be paid to the ‘failing within international democratisation practice itself’ (Chandler 2004: 228).
The minimalist or procedural definition of democracy is identified as originating with Joseph Schumpeter (1947), who argued that democracy at the conceptual level is the existence of citizens holding their rulers accountable and the existence of procedures by which to do so. This narrow approach focuses on the formal institutions of democracy and does not consider social and economic inequalities and how they affect participation, access and decision making. While procedural democratic institutions and mechanisms are necessary and in fact represent an a priori safeguard against the abuses of power and for the development of substantive democracy (Kaldor and Vejvoda 1997: 63), there are many managed democracies where the procedural elements are present but where substantive democracy is absent. Consequently while recognising the successes, we must be cautious in prematurely proclaiming the triumph of democracy promotion efforts, consider the challenges and ask why a backlash against civil society strengthening is emerging.
While the growth and presence of NGOs is undeniable, increased activism should not necessarily be seen as the result of democracy promotion programmes for two reasons. First, much of the civil society activism at the global level comes from organisations based in or operating in the global North; far fewer Southern organisations are engaged in lobbying and advocacy at the global level. It still tends to be the ‘usual suspects’ (that is, well-established, Northern-based organisations) that are engaged in global activism and included in consultations with intergovernmental organisations. For instance, only 251 of the 1,550 NGOs associated with the UN Department of Public Information come from the global South; the remainder are NGOs from the global North (Wild 2006).
Achievements of democracy promotion programmes
Many of the democracy promotion success stories are about the countries in Central and East Europe, although South Africa and the Philippines are also mentioned (Gaventa 2006; Hawthorne 2004: 5). The EU enlargement and accession process has come to be seen not only as the EU’s first major experience of democracy promotion, but also as one of the most successful cases of democracy promotion in general. Integration into the EU is often described as an effective tool of democracy promotion because it provided incentives for the leadership of democratising countries to pursue internal changes (McFaul 2004: 157). Certainly, great strides have been made and many democratic institutions and practices have been established in the countries of Central and East Europe. However, this did not happen overnight and enlargement is not an approach that can be replicated elsewhere. Moreover, the ‘return to Europe’ has been more complicated than would initially appear. Examining democratisation processes in Central and Eastern Europe, Mary Kaldor and Ivan Vejvoda recognise the establishment of formal democratic institutions and maintain that there is hope for the development of substantive democracies in these countries. They contend that the process of democratisation, in substantive terms, is ‘underway’ (Kaldor and Vejvoda 1997: 80). While acknowledging the successes of Eastern European countries in establishing democratic institutions and practices, it is important to also recognise that the development of democracy and the growth of Eastern European civil societies (namely, an increased number of organisations) has not necessarily been translated into greater citizen engagement or participation (Celichowski 2004: 77), or led to greater benefits for various social groups (Hann 2004: 46).
Non-state actors and democracy promotion
In addition to bilateral and multilateral agencies, non-state actors, including private foundations, Northern NGOs, private service contractors, political parties and others have been involved in democracy promotion. There are differences among these various actors in terms of their objectives and missions, as well as levels of financial independence and autonomy. Some organisations, such as the Open Society Institute (also known as the Soros Foundation) and the Ford Foundation, are funded by private endowments and consider democracy promotion as an integral part of their mission. They have been actively engaged in democracy promotion and civil society strengthening. Meanwhile NGOs or quasi-NGOs such as the US-based NED and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, or the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy (URL), which are also committed to promoting democracy around the world, have less financial independence than the aforementioned private foundations and are dependent on government funding. For instance, NED receives an annual appropriation from the US Congress through the Department of State (NED URL), while the Westminster Foundation is an independent body that receives £4.1 million annual funding from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (URL). In addition to these various types of foundations, there are also political parties or organisations affiliated to political parties that engage in democracy promotion. In Germany, for instance, there are a number of organisations, including the Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann, Heinrich Böll and Konrad Adenauer foundations that are associated with various political parties and that have been active in democracy promotion. Finally, among non-state actors, there are the private service contractors or consulting companies (such as Planning and Development Collabrative International and Development Alternatives, Inc. URL), which procure contracts and carry out democracy promotion, civil society strengthening and governance on behalf of and based on the specifications of their clients. USAID, in particular, provides a significant amount of contracts to such consulting companies and private service contractors. In 2004 alone it provided US $8 billion to contractors engaged in carrying out international development projects throughout the world (USAID 2006).
The UN approach
Even though democracy is not a precondition for UN membership and the word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the UN charter, since 2005 the UN has also made a foray into democracy promotion. According to Newman and Rich,
It is not one of the stated purposes of the United Nations to foster democracy, to initiate the process of democratisation or to legitimise other actors’ efforts in this field [democracy promotion]. (Newman and Rich 2004: 5)
European democracy promotion
While democratisation is by no means a new departure for the EU or European bilateral donors, Richard Gillespie and Richard Youngs contend that the US began focusing more systematically on democratisation slightly earlier than the EU and that effective co-ordination of EU democracy promotion efforts has been conspicuously absent (Gillespie and Youngs 2002). They maintain that until the late 1990s, the lack of mechanisms for marrying national initiatives to overall common guidelines on democracy presented a serious challenge to effective concerted European action (Gillespie and Youngs 2000: 6). Discussions on transatlantic democracy building efforts have intensified following September 11 (Schmid and Braizat 2006: 4), but as Jeffrey Kopstein points out, following the war in Iraq, many European leaders and the European public remain suspicious of democracy promotion, interpreting it as ‘a repackaged commitment to the unilateral use of force as well as justification for war and occupation’ (Kopstein 2006: 85).
Donor approaches to democracy promotion
US democracy promotion
Although the US has been engaged in democracy promotion since the 1980s through a focus on election monitoring, civil society strengthening became a significant part of US foreign policy following the collapse of the socialist regimes (Ottaway and Carothers 2000). Since then, civil society assistance has come to be considered ‘a centrepiece of America’s international outreach’ (US Senate 2006: 1) and ‘a matter of principle’ (Tobias 2007). This position is reflected in the fact that since the early 1990s, more money has been spent on civil society assistance than on any other sectors of USAID democracy assistance (Finkel et al. 2006: 33). From 1990–2003, most USAID democracy assistance was sent to the countries in Eurasia ($5.77 million) with the lowest levels of aid going to Africa ($1.29 million) and Asia ($1.29 million) (Finkel et. al. 2006: 33–4). US-funded civil society assistance has largely been directed at NGOs, because the USAID position in the early 1990s was to provide vigorous support for local NGOs, which would ‘be a critical element of civil society strengthening’ (USAID 1999: v). Although the earlier strong focus on NGOs has shifted somewhat and civil society is now defined more broadly, the assumption persists that ‘a strong civil society is desirable and makes democratic practices and traditions more likely to flourish’ (USAID 1999: xi). As US Senator Joseph Biden stated in the 2006 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on NGOs, ‘we must understand that an election does not a democracy make…A democracy must rest on the foundation of a strong civil society’ (Biden 2006, emphasis added).
Why democracy promotion and civil society strengthening?
Although he did not use the term civil society, Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to attribute the importance of associationalism and self-organisation for democracy (Kaldor 2003: 19). In the late twentieth century, de Tocqueville’s work became quite popular among some American scholars, including Robert Putnam, Francis Fukuyama and Larry Diamond, and it was subsequently also influential in policy circles. The neo-Toquevillian position is that democracy is strengthened, not weakened, when it faces a vigorous civil society (Putnam 1994) and that successful transitions to democracy are possible only if civil society or ‘something like it’ either predates the transition or is established in the course of a transition from authoritarian rule (Perez-Diaz 1993: 40). The belief that civil society is a bulwark against the ‘monstrous state’ (Weffort 1989: 349) and a counterweight to state power (Rueschemeyer et al. 1992: 6) supported the emphasis on civil society promotion in US foreign aid programmes, and what some describe as the ‘democracy aid industry’ (Encarnacion 2003: 709). While these neo-Tocquevillian theories linking civil society to democracy became a key element of the post-Cold War zeitgeist and subsequently quite fashionable among certain donor agencies, they are not universally accepted among academics.
Of the various strands of democracy promotion, in this chapter I focus on civil society strengthening programmes and ask the following questions. First, can democracy be promoted through civil society strengthening, and second, given that democracy appears to have near universal appeal and acceptance (at least at the level of rhetoric), why has there been a backlash against democracy promotion that targets civil society? My reasons for focusing on civil society strengthening programmes instead of programmes that are aimed at election monitoring or state institution building are twofold. First, civil society strengthening was viewed as an end itself as well as a means of furthering the other components (such as human rights and free and fair elections) within the democracy promotion agenda. Second, the current backlash against democracy promotion is almost entirely directed at civil society strengthening programmes and involves legal and extralegal measures aimed at constraining, co-opting, coercing or closing foreign-funded NGOs (Gershman and Allen 2006: 38; Howell et al. 2007). Foreign funding of NGOs is increasingly being described as a form of interventionism and neo-imperialism, and as the creation of a fifth column.
Civil society strengthening subsequently became a central part of democracy promotion programmes implemented in both transition and developing countries. Since 1989 very large sums of money have been spent by international development agencies, private foundations and other actors on strengthening and nurturing the institutions of civil society, training civil society activists and funding their projects as a means of promoting democracy. In the former socialist countries, the aims of ‘democracy promotion’ and ‘programmes strengthening civil society’ have been to assist the transition from socialism as well as to support good governance and free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law. In developing countries, in addition to these aims, it was hoped that promoting democracy and civil society strengthening would also enhance aid effectiveness and support efforts to reduce poverty. In conflict or post-conflict areas, promoting democracy is seen as a tool for preventing or reducing conflict (Kaldor et al. 2007: 110). In addition to all these aims, after September 11, democracy also came to be seen as vital in countering terrorism.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, democracy promotion means imaginative responses to demands from global civil society. The best form of empowerment is success, the knowledge that engagement leads to meaningful outcomes. Action designed to fulfil an emerging global social contract or covenant – the consequence of numerous debates, campaigns, arguments taking place all over the world – offers a political project that can help to recast democracy at local and national levels. A good example of what is meant by this is the enlargement of the European Union. The European Union can be understood a new type of multilateral organisation at a regional level, promoting, as it were, regional public goods. Membership of the European Union for newly emerging democracies has become an appealing political project that does take democracy forward. In the same way, a global social covenant could offer a political project for ‘civilising’ globalisation and pressing for global public goods like resource redistribution or global action to tackle climate change that represents an alternative to backward-looking sectarianism.
First of all, administrative tools and money need to be guided by communication, by debates at local, national and global levels. The aim of substantive democracy promotion is to help create and protect political spaces where projects and procedures can be discussed and negotiated. Bureaucrats tend to favour ‘capacity-building’ and measurable outcomes. Yet the most important role that outsiders can play is facilitating discussions and meetings and responding to local agendas. This may mean less rather than more funding. But it does require more ambitious efforts to create channels through which ordinary people and the associations they form can have access to political authority at all levels.
At a moment when democracy at a national level appears to be ‘hollowing out’, the informal political sphere is increasingly active through NGOs. This includes those operating at local levels and those with global brand names like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch or Greenpeace, as well as a new wave of global social movements like the Social Forums, the anti-war movement or Islamist and other national or religious movements. Moreover new types of informal policy making are being pioneered on big global issues like social justice, climate change or war. These are being tackled through consumer practices (fair trade or carbon miles) or through volunteering (delivering humanitarian aid, acting as civilian monitors).
In contrast to democracy, civil society is no longer territorially bounded. Like democracy, civil society is one of those terms that has very many definitions and the discussion about definitions is part of what civil society is about. I define civil society as the medium through which social contracts or bargains are negotiated between the individual and the centres of political and economic authority. Civil society is a process of management of society that is ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’, and that involves the struggle for emancipatory goals. Civil society, of course, includes reactionary groups as well – people struggling to preserve traditions or those who have exclusive agendas – but it is the site where all these issues are debated and negotiated. Civil society makes possible governance based on consent where consent is generated through politics. Substantive democracy is only possible where procedural democracy is accompanied by and indeed constructed by a strong and active civil society.
These examples highlight a more general problem with democracy. Representative democracy is necessarily exclusive. It is territorially based and whether citizenship is based on residency, as in civic notions of citizenship, or on race and ethnicity, as in the examples above, it necessarily excludes non-citizens, those who are not permanent residents or those of a different ethnicity. In a world where territorial boundaries matter less and where communities are no longer congruent with territory, the exclusive character of democracy helps to explain the limitations on substantive involvement in democracy. Should not Iraqis, for example, be able to vote in American elections? Should not British citizens be able to influence conditions in Pakistan since so many minority groups in the UK come from that country.
The Neo-Conservatives often point to Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. One can quibble about the claim. Should not Turkey or Lebanon be counted as democracies, even if, in the case of Lebanon, it is organised on a consociational basis? Elections are held in Iran, even though, in the last elections, many reformist candidates were disqualified. All the same, there is no doubt that elections in Israel are more free and fair than anywhere else in the Middle East, and debates in the Knesset and in Israeli civil society are as lively as anywhere else in the world. Palestinians often say that they have learned about democracy from watching Israeli television. Yet what does it mean to have a democracy based on an exclusive notion of community, that is to say an exclusive Jewish state? A much more extreme example is South Africa under apartheid. Mamdani (1996) argues that during the colonial period in Africa, civil and political rights were reserved for the Europeans while a coercive reinvented tribal law was imposed on the ‘natives’. South Africa, under apartheid, he argues, represented the generic case of this type of dualism between citizen and subject. During the apartheid years, white South Africans held free elections and debated among themselves and claimed they were the only democracy in Africa, even though blacks were excluded and repressed.
This is not to say that communication necessarily means taking local advice. Often that advice is conflicting and may involve special pleading. But communication and dialogue are both key to empowering civil society and shaping democracy strategies. Money and administrative instruments can be useful where they are a response to bottom-up demands. But they are less likely to be effective where they are based on exporting particular models of democracy or supporting particular pro-Western factions.
What is really important, however, is communication. It can be argued that the empowerment of civil society comes not from resources or capacity building but from access to decision-makers and participation in public deliberation. There are no blueprints for democracy promotion. While experiences and methods can be offered, what fits any particular situation is a complex political set of compromises that are the outcome of an ongoing process rather than externally provided standard recipes.
The third type of tool is communication and dialogue. Essentially this means engaging both government and civil society in debates among themselves and with outsiders. This was mainly what the peace and human rights groups did in the 1970s and 1980s and it is also sometimes the job of diplomats. As the EU’s External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten put great emphasis on political dialogue within the EU framework.
The second type of tool is money. It has been estimated that some $2 billion a year is spent on democracy assistance, mainly by the United States and Europe, though it is increasing and the true figure is probably much higher (Youngs 2006). Democracy assistance tends to cover such areas as elections and election monitoring, security sector reform, justice including transitional justice, public service reform, support for political parties and parliamentary institutions, public service reform, local government, and support for media and civil society. US assistance is both public and private – the Open Society Foundation (founded by George Soros) is probably the biggest single funder of democracy programmes. After 9/11, the US increased official democracy assistance from $800 million in 2000 to $1.4 billion in 2005 (Mathieson and Youngs 2006). European funding is primarily public. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculates that the EU spending accounts for some 1.4 billion Euros a year.
The first type of tool is administrative. Administrative tools consist of coercive pressure by governments and international institutions on other governments; they are pressures ‘from above’. They include Neo-Conservative efforts to bring about ‘regime change’ as in Afghanistan and Iraq, sanctions on South Africa, Iraq, Serbia and North Korea, as well as various forms of conditionality attached to aid. The European Union always attaches a democracy clause to agreements with third countries. During the 1990s, international financial institutions (IFIs) insisted on political and economic reforms as a condition for loans.
During the Cold War, the left were generally suspicious of democracy promotion; it was seen as part of Cold War rhetoric and neo-colonial interventionism. The general presumption during this period was one of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. In the 1970s and 1980s however, peace and human rights groups became increasingly active in opposing dictatorships, especially apartheid and the military dictatorships in Latin America. Those opposed to the Cold War division of Europe began a strategy of ‘détente from below’, linking up with opposition groups in Eastern Europe (Kaldor 2003a).
There are, of course, important differences among the newly emerging democracies. Some countries, especially in the Balkans and Africa, have disintegrated under the impact of liberalisation. Ian Bremmer’s book The J Curve (2006) suggests that it is during the transition from authoritarianism to democracy that the risk of instability is greatest. Other countries in Southern and Central Europe are considered relatively successful. Part of the explanation has to do with specific legacies and experiences in the past and part has to do with economic factors. But if we understand the spread of democratic institutions as a form of global integration, then these differences also have to do with the terms of global integration – the extent to which newly emerging democracies are able to shape their position in the global system. And these, in turn, depend on the various instruments through which democracy is developed. The more that democratic institutions are introduced as a result of pressure from above, the less favourable the terms are likely to be. Conversely, the more that democracy is the outcome of the actions of individuals wanting to influence the conditions of their lives, the better the terms of global integration and the more substantive is democracy. Joining the EU was very important for Central and Southern European countries because it strengthened significantly their ability to influence the terms of their integration in the global system.
Indeed, it can be argued that the spread of democratic procedures is essentially a form of global integration. It is a way in which the institutions and practices necessary to participate in the global system are established. These can range from regulations governing foreign investment and trade, to the political legitimacy required to be considered a serious actor in the various fora of global governance. The Human Rights Report of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office argues that the increased commitment to democracy promotion is driven by a twin logic ‘because it is the right thing to do and because we have a direct interest in building the conditions for sustainable global security and prosperity while fostering reliable and responsible international partners’ (quoted in Youngs 2006: 212).
The spread of democracy, it can be argued, is both a consequence and a cause of globalisation. The opening up of authoritarian states resulted from market pressures, increased communication (travel, radio and television, and more recently mobile phones and the Internet), and the extension of international law. In the 1970s and 1980s, the failure of the statist model of development, the drying up of economic aid, and the growth of indebtedness, contributed to growing disaffection and to demands, often from outside donors, to introduce democratisation measures to legitimise painful economic reforms. In some countries, for example communist countries, frustrated bureaucrats saw an opportunity to translate political positions into economic wealth. These impulses towards democratisation from above were paralleled by pressure from below as communication with the outside world helped to nurture nascent civil societies especially under the rubric of human rights laws, formally adopted by non-democratic states. But while economic, political, technological and legal interconnectedness may have contributed to democratisation, the processes of political and economic liberalisation, in turn, further speeded up global integration.
But what is rarely discussed in the literature on ‘transition’ or newly emerging democracies is the global context. Those who write about democratisation tend to analyse the process almost entirely within a national or comparative framework. Yet the spread of democratisation has coincided with the speeding up of the process known as globalisation – growing interconnectedness in political, economic, or cultural spheres. Theorists of globalisation point to the global democratic deficit which results from the speeding up of globalisation (Archibugi and Held 1997). In the context of globalisation, democracy, in a substantive sense, is undermined. This is because, however perfect the formal institutions, so many important decisions that affect people’s lives are no longer taken at the level of the state. Democracy assumes congruence between the state, the people, the economy and territory. Yet this congruence no longer exists. Increased migration means that the ‘people’ cross boundaries and live in multicultural global cities. The economy is increasingly global shaped by the decisions of global companies, free floating speculators, and international financial institutions. States have to take into account a range of international agreements, which constrain national choices (Held et al. 1999).
Others point to the ‘simultaneity’ problem – the fact that the transition to democracy is taking place at the same time as the transition from a statist planned economy to a market system. The introduction of economic liberalisation and privatisation has often led to dramatic falls in income and deterioration in public services, as well as increased inequality. These all contribute to dissatisfaction with the political class (see Bozoki in Kaldor and Vejvoda 1998; also Elster, Offe and Preuss 1998).
Thomas Carothers, in a widely quoted article, ‘The End of the Transition paradigm’, suggests that most so-called transition countries have actually entered a ‘political grey zone’ characterised by two broad types – ‘feckless pluralism’ (Latin America) or ‘dominant power politics’(the post-Communist world, Africa and the Middle East) (Carothers 2004: 193). A number of other terms have been used to describe these types of polity, including illiberal democracy, pseudo democracy, cosmetic democracy, façade democracy, semi-democracy, or virtual democracy.
Yet despite the spread of democratic institutions, there remains a big gap between formal and substantive democracy. Many of the countries classified as democracies perform poorly on Freedom House’s freedom scores, which are made up of a combination of political rights and civil liberties. In many countries, democratic procedures that have been specified in laws and constitutions are only partially implemented. Thus newly emerging democracies may be characterised, in varying combinations, by a weak rule of law, the lack of an independent judiciary, limitations on freedom of speech and association, ethnic or religious exclusion, election fraud, and presidential domination. These procedural weaknesses are often associated with substantive weaknesses, including the tendency for political parties to extend control over different spheres of social life in ways that limit political participation, especially in former communist countries; a tendency for the government to control the electronic media and restrict registration of NGOs; a politicised and clientilistic administration; various forms of racist or xenophobic sectarianism which may provide a basis for populism; and a widespread sense of personal insecurity that undermines the ability and readiness to debate public issues owing to inadequate law enforcement and an undeveloped judiciary. Participation is also often limited, as evidenced by low voter turn-outs, low membership of political parties, and widespread apathy, disillusion and cynicism. Indeed, the introduction of democratic procedures, especially elections, may lead to conflict, state failure and/or elective dictatorship, and only a very few countries in Central and Southern Europe or South America have escaped this fate.
By formal democracy, I mean the framework of rules and institutions that provide the necessary conditions in which members of a community can shape their own lives to the extent that this does not conflict with others (Held 1995). These institutions encompass an inclusive citizenship, the rule of law, the separation of powers (executive, legislature and judiciary), including an independent judiciary capable of upholding a constitution, elected power holders, free and fair elections, freedom of expression and alternative sources of information, associational autonomy, and civilian control over the security forces (Kaldor and Vejvoda 1998). By substantive democracy, I mean a process, which has to be continually reproduced, for maximising the opportunities for all individuals to shape their own lives and to participate in and influence debates about public decisions that affect them.
In this chapter, I argue that the spread of democratic institutions has to be understood in the context of globalisation. Common rules and procedures provide an institutional basis for the global connectedness of states. This is what Condeleezza Rice is hoping for; to create partners for the United States on the global stage. But the spread of rules and procedures is not the same as the spread of substantive democracy, by which I mean the possibility for ordinary people in different parts of the world to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Despite the spread of formal democracy, substantive democracy is under erosion everywhere, in the UK as well as other countries. I argue that this has something to do with globalisation. If we are to renew the democratic process, then it is not just a matter of spreading the formal procedures of democracy, it also requires new fora which provide access for ordinary people to all levels of governance (local, national, global) and a new responsiveness at all levels of governance to public debate and deliberation, as the quotation from Joseph Stiglitz, makes clear. In other words, it requires the possibility of negotiating a global social covenant.
Lippmann argued that collective decision making unfolds best when it is a carefully managed, elite and technocratic affair, with elected leaders and expert policy advisors deciding the course of collective action and then organising public opinion for the masses. Others, while not necessarily more sanguine about the quality of the standard commercial news media, expressed far greater confidence in the capacities of ordinary citizens. In response to Lippmann, Dewey (1927) argued that, while the ‘great society’ would never possess all the desirable qualities of a local community, a ‘great community’ of true democratic character was nevertheless achievable. ‘[T]he essential need’ for such a great community, Dewey posited, was improved ‘methods and conditions of debate, discussion, and persuasion’ (1927: 208). Given ‘artful presentations’ circulated through a sort of community-based social science, people would – given sufficient education – indeed be able to develop sound, independent opinions and provide useful guidance to policy makers.
Central to the concept was the widening reach of political information and discussion though newspapers, pamphlets and other media, which brought an increasingly diverse group of non-state actors into closer familiarity with state affairs. Coupled with the growth of the merchant classes and a growing awareness of the monarchy’s dependence upon these classes for financial support, the reach of the political media fostered a growing awareness of a new, virtual assembly of citizens who asserted the right to have their opinions on state affairs taken into account. According to Peters (1995), the European Enlightenment transformed the classical, Athenian assembly of the people into a mass-mediated, fictive body constituted by newspapers that could bring people together, not in physical space, but in shared conversations at a distance. Today, such virtual assemblies are constituted by a wide range of media – radio, television, print media, the Internet and worldwide web as well as mobile telephony – and have consequently grown beyond national and regional dimensions, acquiring transnational and transcontinental scale.
What can be stated perhaps more confidently, Kaldor proposes, is that the congruence has broken down between the state, its people, economy and territory. With the worldwide expansion of media and commerce, nations around the world are increasingly subject to informal but consequential global constraints. National governments forced to contend with an expanding web of international agreements are less able to control flows of information and opinion and, in the face of global social norms and pressures, must now take into account not only public opinion within their borders, but the opinions of external constituencies as well. States have always been responsive to informal public pressure, but usually within their own jurisdictional boundaries: foreign pressures were usually mediated almost entirely by states. Now international pressures are felt more directly through externally controlled media, organised non-governmental groups, attentive international publics and their opinions.
‘In politics communication makes possible public opinion’, wrote the prominent American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in 1909, ‘which, when organized, is democracy’. At the dawn of the last century, observing a rapidly developing system of global communication based upon ‘the telegraph, the newspaper and the fast mail’ (1909: 85), Cooley discerned an important connection between the revolution in communication and the rise of democracy, arguing that the latter was promoted, not because of changes in the formal Constitution, but rather ‘as the outcome of conditions which make it natural for the people to have and to express a consciousness regarding questions of the day’ (1909: 86). Ever the optimist, he opined that popular education and progressive developments in the media would enlarge and quicken social organisation, fostering an international consciousness in literature, science and politics, and promising ‘indefinite enlargement of justice and amity’.
The possibilities this opens for the development of new models of democracy for the global age is one of the most exciting frontiers of knowledge and practice. Industrial society and nation states produced parliaments, elections and representation as modernity’s characteristic institutional form, both in liberal or totalitarian states. Whether the global information society will generate an equivalent institutional locus for democracy is the big issue that this Yearbook leaves open.
In the networks and forums surrounding global issues, civil society finds a powerful way to challenge governments and has discovered the full potential of rights to free speech and association that hitherto were national preserves. Even as governments resist the possibility of developing representative democracy for the globe, so the communicative democracy of civil society gains in legitimacy.
It is in the practices of activists themselves where we find responses adequate to the challenge posed by that the unprecedented levels of the power of capital. For instance, as Victor Pickard describes in Chapter 10, Indymedia is committed to radical democratic practices in its networks both locally and globally, yet whether this is adequate to the task of democratising global governance is open to question when, as Clifford Bob shows, the same technologies are open to the National Rifle Association and, as Thomas Keenan describes, are central to the idea of global Jihad. Deane shows that activists are now going beyond attempts to practice deliberative democracy within their own spaces, to address global governance structures with the new norm of a ‘right to communicate.’ Yet that right has to be guaranteed in some way and the dilemmas around which the debate between Lippman and Dewey revolved, between management of information, individual participation and democratic decision making are ever more acute in a world confronted with global issues that require collective responses. Global civil society is forced to engage with state structures if it is to secure their democratisation. It has to take communicative democracy to the centre of state power if it is to build global governance and redress the inequalities that stand in the way of adequate action on a global scale.
But the ideal has not only inspired cyberspace. The opening phrases of the World Social Forum Charter, now adopted by hundreds of regional, national and local social forums, could have been written by Habermas or Benhabib themselves. According to the Charter, a social forum ‘is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences’ etc. As the social forums chapter in Global Civil Society 2005/6 put it, they ‘give rise to uneven attempts to practise politics in horizontal, network-based ways that are meant to be more participatory and democratic than conventional structures’ (Glasius and Timms, 2006: 190). Six years on from the first World Social Forum, our data suggest that the majority of social forums tend to survive, and new ones continue to be founded. Deliberative democracy has flown off the pages of the theorists’ scholarly works and become a real-life aspiration for civil society activists.
Finally, even if an ideal-typical public sphere were taking shape in global civil society, one may wonder how it could eliminate the tendency to concentrate power. Instead of the kind of formal equality of access that the ideal type of the? global public sphere requires, what is developing, in Monroe Price’s analysis, are precisely the kind of inequalities of power that correspond to the formal equalities of market capitalism. Everyone going around expressing opinions, even freely and equally, is not enough. A democratic theory must also have something to do with decision making. In Habermas’ conception, public opinion was somehow informing governmental decision making. How this link operated was always a problematic aspect of the theory, but it has not been theorised at all for the messy power landscape of political globalisation.
The UN Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations follows in this tradition. It describes participatory democracy as a process in which ‘anyone can enter the debates that most interest them, through advocacy, protest, and in other ways’ (UN 2004: paragraph 13). But a few pages later it acknowledges that there are practical constraints: ‘if the United Nations brought everyone relevant into each debate, it would have endless meetings without conclusion’ (2004: paragraph 23).
Second, in their original version these ‘island-polity’ theories do not help in rescuing democracy under conditions of globalisation. But it appears that the concepts can be taken beyond the imagination of their creators. The current popularity of the notion of the public sphere, and of civil society conceived as having a primarily communicative political function, appears to be precisely related to processes of political globalisation. The fact that these are political concepts rooted not in the state but in society makes it possible and even desirable to begin thinking of them without the necessary context of the state. Fraser’s contribution that perhaps participatory democracy does not need a single public sphere, but multiple ones that contest each other, helps this conceptualisation further along (Fraser 1992).
On the other hand Dewey, in spite of his nostalgic communitarianism, in our time of digital, interactive, Internet-based technology seems to speak as the animating spirit of civil-society led global communication. His local community was not cut off from the wider world by national boundaries. It was to be the vital node for transmitting democratic values. Anticipating Habermas, he declared ’The Great Community in the sense of free and full intercommunication’ will only work through trans-local associations that feed into the intimate unions. ‘Democracy must begin at home’ (1927: 367-8). ‘Fraternity, liberty and equality isolated from communal life are hopeless abstractions’ (1927: 329).
Dewey agreed with the diagnosis, but not the remedy. ‘Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community’ (Dewey 1927: 324). His communication was grounded not in public information but in ‘relations of personal intercourse in the local community’ (1927: 371). The articulate Public Dewey called for depended on a responsive and vivid art of communication. It would take charge of the machinery of transmission and circulation, thus creating the free and enriching communion known as democracy (1927: 350).
One hundred and sixty years of experience bore out Rousseau’s worst fears. Human beings could effect democracy in small communities but both Lippman and Dewey saw it failing in ‘the Great Society’. This was the title of the book (1914) by Graham Wallas (1858-1932), the first Professor of Political Science at the LSE, who viewed representative democracy as unable to create the same cohesion, saw how specialised fields of knowledge and work became ever more complex and distant from citizens and each other, and how interest groups competed to exercise influence on government. Wallas addressed his book to Lippman, who had earlier attended his discussion class at Harvard. Lippman responded to him with his book Public Opinion (1922) seeking to find a remedy for the ills that he saw as coming to disastrous culmination in the First World War. The public opinion of the great national societies was a partial, compressed, distorted picture of a world beyond reach, formed into stereotypes to fit self-perceived interests, then easily manipulated and led into war.
In our institutions and in our thought world communication and democracy have historically been bonded in a set of complex and often contradictory relations. As we said at the outset, Habermas pointed to the continual transformation of the public sphere. One stage in that process was ‘the plebeian public sphere’ that flourished in the French Revolution (1989 : xviii). One can trace that back to what he calls Rousseau’s ‘democracy of unpublic opinion’, (1989 : 98) a mass of popular prejudices. Given the fact that the mass media today reflect just that so much of the time, it will help our appreciation of the fraught relationships between the mass media and democracy and the limits on full and free communication if we retrieve some of their roots in Rousseau and his successors who framed the theory of modern public opinion.
Even before globalisation was widely recognised as a key contributory factor in the decline of democratic participation, political theorists were seeking a more satisfying normative underpinning for democracy than majority rule expressed in periodic elections, constructing models of radical, participatory or deliberative democracy (Barber 1984; Blaug 1999; Bessette 1980; Cohen and Rogers, 1983; Gutmann and Thompson 1996). The most famous and broadly inspirational of these conceptualisations is probably Habermas’ conception of the public sphere as a space of communication and deliberation where citizens identify and discuss social problems, forming a ‘public opinion’, which in turn informs the decision making of political actors (Habermas 1989; 1992; 1996). In such conceptions, the effectiveness of communicative action, not the density of associations, is the key measure of democracy.
Civility now has to be entrenched globally before it can be guaranteed nationally and locally, but the guarantors of civility in the old nation state, a legal system, rights, a judiciary, police, political representation and administration under the law, have no global equivalents. Democratic behaviour then has to be lodged at a deeper level than in institutions alone.
At the same time globality does not merely undermine liberal democracy in nation states. Kaldor and Kostovica in Chapter 5 show how illiberal regimes are equally vulnerable to global connections. In their responses to the pressures of globalisation, most of these regimes have moved far away from the monolithic Orwellian ideal type. Instead of aspiring to eliminate civil society and monopolise communication, which is simply no longer possible, they tolerate some forms of civil society organisation as well as some forms of transnational communication. They either try to contain and control civil society, relegating it to the role of social policy sub-contractor, or found their own organisations, but without the old aspiration to a complete monopoly. In the realm of communications, Iran, Saudi Arabia or China now try to ‘get the message out’, becoming, in Monroe Price’s term, sellers in the market for loyalties (see Chapter 3). These changed parameters may also have consequences for the old debate as to whether to isolate or engage rogue states. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, for instance, has become an occasion for bringing attention to a plethora of human rights violating aspects of Chinese domestic and foreign policy (see Box 5.1 in Chapter 5).
But globalisation does not only take the form of enforced integration into Western governmental models. Even before the 1990s when Richard Falk (1993) gave recognition to globalisation from below, there were plenty of empirical examples of democratisation as the result of successful efforts of social movements in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa building transnational links and appealing to transnational norms in order to defeat the authoritarian state (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Kaldor 2003; Glasius 2003). This volume provides an example of those transitions: in Chapter 6 Darcy de Oliveira’s charts the transformation in Latin America where NGOs and social movements spearheaded the struggle for democracy in the 1970s and 1980s, but where now the vitality of what he calls the ‘classical notion of civil society’, its organised form, has declined. But they have left a legacy of democratisation at the very personal level: ‘ordinary people tend, today, to be more ‘intelligent’, ‘rebellious’ and ‘creative’ than in the past insofar as they are constantly called upon to make value judgments and life choices where previously there was only conformity to a pre-established destiny. This enhanced capacity of individuals to think, deliberate and decide is a consequence of the decline in diverse forms of authority based on religion and tradition. As he says, ‘democracy is always work in progress, an unfinished journey.’
Ishkanian describes potently in this volume how such integration has taken place at the civil society level. Western governments in the last 15 years have sought to reinforce democratic legitimacy in nation-states by co-opting organised civil society. Based on a particular reading of de Tocqueville (ignoring his concern for social equality), influential scholars like Putnam, Fukuyama and Larry Diamond asserted a direct connection between the existence of numerous associations and the vibrancy of democracy. Applying such theories to transition countries, where they might not find the ‘right’ type of associations for promoting Western-style democracy, donor agencies would in Ishkanian’s term ‘genetically-engineer’ NGOs through training and project funding. Under these conditions of global communication, the types of aid projects Ishkanian describes have provoked a backlash against the twin projects of ‘building civil society’ and ‘democratisation’, often and justly perceived as a form of neo-imperialism.
Kaldor connects this paradox to globalisation. In the first place democratisation, in the sense of a spread of formal procedures, accompanies the expansion of Western market institutions and guarantees participation in the global economic system. A cynical reading is that this has nothing to do whatsoever with ‘rule by the people’ Adherence to certain democratic procedures has become a badge of respectability, and more especially marketability, for state participation in the global neo-liberal order. Moreover integration into that order means that parliamentary democracy suffers the erosion of the substance of democratic participation and choice (see for instance Held 1995; McGrew 1997; Scholte 2001; Anderson 2000). David Held (2002) uses the phrase ‘overlapping communities of fate’ to express the fact that those who are affected by certain decisions are no longer found neatly in a single political entity controlled by a democratic process.
Mary Kaldor, in Chapter 2 of this volume, draws our attention to the paradox that democratic institutions spread worldwide in the latter part of the twentieth century but have also suffered a ‘hollowing-out’ in the process. While in the 1980s and 1990s more and more states became nominally democratic and it has become a virtual taboo to espouse any other political system, there have been severe declines in the number of political party members, in attendance at party conferences, and in voter turn-out in most established democracies. Anticipating the electorate at large, democratic theorists had already become increasingly disillusioned with representative democracy, calling it ‘thin’ or ‘procedural’ democracy (Pateman 1970; Bessette 1980; Cohen and Rogers 1983; Barber 1984).
The Saddam images fed into a debate that immediately became global. But it has no global institutional locus. Is this the new global public sphere, where a global public opinion takes shape? Do the new communication possibilities realise democracy beyond the nation state or does the very proliferation of media channels result in a fragmentation that undermines any public sphere? Habermas re-centred the issue of democracy in the nation state on the possibilities of full and free communication in the public sphere. We ask whether developments in the media of communication and their use now require us to rethink democracy for global society. If we do now have a global public sphere can we be sure that democracy will inspire its debates? These are our concerns in Global Civil Society Yearbook 2007/8.
Set in contrast to the manipulated mass opinion and ideological conflicts of the Western nation state, Jürgen Habermas found in the eighteenth century a model of rational communication and rational-critical debate that he called the public sphere. ‘Private people come together as a public’ challenged the state to engage with them in reasoned argument (Habermas 1989 [1962: 27]). Parallel with and necessary to the economic interests of civil society, communication was also subject to rational principles. Since his intervention full and free communication has become even more salient. It outstrips the principle of representation contemporary efforts to reconstruct democratic theory.