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.
Thesis 3: Accountability is a multi-dimensional concept that requires unpacking before becoming a useful policy concept and management tool
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).