Our international engagement, our democracy promotion, our development assistance, our public diplomacy – all of these efforts are vital to our nation’s defense and well-being. […]When democracy is in retreat, America is vulnerable; and when democracy is on the march, we are more secure.[…]And so when we talk about it among senior staff, I don’t ever talk about the competition or the conflict between our democracy promotion and our interests. I think you would be hard-pressed to hear that I’ve ever said that, because I see them as one.
– Condoleezza Rice 2007
With domestic actions being increasingly constrained by international actions, individuals can only meaningfully participate in the decisions that affect them, if these international processes are democratic.
– Joseph Stiglitz 2007
The last three decades of the twentieth century witnessed the global spread of democratic institutions. In 1974, when the Portuguese dictatorship was overthrown, there were only 39 countries classified as democratic by Freedom House out of a total of 145 countries. By 1997 this had increased to 117 out of a total of 191 countries. In other words, whereas roughly a quarter of the countries in the world were classified as democracies in 1974, this had increased to over 60 per cent by 1997 (Diamond 1999). Democratisation spread from Southern Europe (1970s) to Latin America and East Asia (1980s), and to Central and Eastern Europe and Africa from 1989 to the early 1990s. Although some of these countries have moved out of the democratic category, others have joined them, especially post-conflict countries, where elections are often held as an exit strategy for the international community. Samuel Huntington (1991) dubbed this recent spread of democracy as the ‘third wave’ of democratisation.
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.
Interestingly, most of the literature on what is known as democratic transition focuses on the national level. Within the globalisation literature, there is a lot of discussion of the global democratic deficit but this is rarely taken into account in the democratisation literature. This is why the gap between formal and substantive democracy is usually explained in terms of the legacy of authoritarianism or the weakness of democratic culture, despite the fact that the gap characterises older Western democracies as well as newly democratic countries.
In developing this argument, I start by elaborating the distinction between formal and substantive democracy. I then discuss the spread of formal democracy and argue that this has to be understood primarily as a process of global integration, the way in which the practices and institutions needed to participate in the global market and in global decision making are constructed. The various techniques of democracy promotion determine the terms of integration. The more bottom-up the approach, the more the emphasis is on dialogue and communication, the more favourable the terms and the greater the possibilities for substantive democracy. Global civil society, I suggest, is the mechanism for reconciling national and global levels and deepening substantive democracy. In the last section, I will discuss the need for a global framework for democracy and some of the steps that could be taken to advance substantive democracy at different levels.
A few years ago I undertook an evaluation of the EU’s democracy programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. This included organising seminars in which participants were asked what they understood by the term democracy. When a seminar was organised in Brussels, the participants firstly emphasised elections, and secondarily, institutions like an independent judiciary, the separation of the legislature from the executive, or even an active civil society. When the seminars were organised in the newly democratic Central and East European countries, the answers were much more subjective. ‘It means that bureaucrats are our servants, even if they do not realise it’, said a Polish woman. ‘It means that we have to take individual responsibility for decisions and decide for ourselves what we think about political issues instead of following what we are told’, said a young Georgian. And a Romanian girl talked about the new opportunities to choose a life, to be able to travel and to follow one’s own interests.
This difference between democracy as a set of procedures or institutions and democracy as the expression or framework for a more subjective notion of freedom has been widely discussed in the literature on political thought. There have always been varying usages and definitions of the term ‘democracy’. As George Orwell pointed out:
[N]ot only is there no agreed definition but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides…The defenders of any kind of regime claim that it is a democracy and fear they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. (1957: 149).
For de Tocqueville, democracy had essentially two meanings: one was a political regime that was accountable to the people and defined in terms a range of institutional and procedural mechanisms; the other was a condition of society characterised by its tendency towards equality. This societal democratic condition, the ‘habits of the heart’, could not be reduced to the formal institutional aspects of democracy. He travelled to America to observe this societal condition and was much impressed by what he called ‘democratic expedients’ such as lively newspapers, local government and above all, the practice of association. According to De Tocqueville ‘if men are to remain civilised or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio as the equality of conditions is increased’ (1945: 118).
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.
This difference between procedural and substantive democracy is paralleled by two other distinctions often drawn in democratic theory. One is the distinction between popular or direct democracy and liberal or representative democracy. Athens is the paradigmatic example of direct democracy, while liberal representative models emerged at the end of the eighteenth century in Western Europe and North America (Held 1996). The latter was often called the republican model because it drew on the experience of Republican Rome and the city states of Italy. Until the twentieth century, democracy tended to be equated with direct democracy. For this reason, political theorists were sceptical of democracy because they feared that if every citizen participated directly in decision making, it would lead to what we now call populism, decisions based on fear and prejudice rather than the public use of reason. The liberal democratic model was supposed to resolve this problem by electing representatives who would engage in rational debates about key decisions. The representatives were not supposed to express particular positions or special interests; they were supposed to debate the public good. In his famous speech to the electors of Bristol, Edmund Burke pointed out that:
Parliament is not a Congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an Agent and Advocate, against other Agents and Advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative Assembly of one Nation, with one Interest, that of the whole; where, not local Purposes, not local Prejudices ought to guide, but the general Good, resulting from the general Reason of the whole. (Burke 1774)
The other distinction that parallels that between formal and substantive democracy is that between democracy as a method and democracy as a goal. For Joseph Schumpeter, democracy was viewed as a relatively efficient method of choosing a government, which he likened to a steam engine or a disinfectant. He defined this method as ‘that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’ (1961: 269). The idea that political contestation is likely to produce the best outcome in terms of decision making is the political counterpart of the economic idea that competition in the marketplace will lead to economic efficiency. This Schumpeterian view of democracy contrasts with the idea that democracy is an end in itself, a process through which individuals can realise their aspirations.
Liberal representative models of democracy and the notion of democracy as a method of choosing a government tend to emphasise procedures and institutions both as defining characteristics of democracy and as safeguards against what Kant called ‘democratic despotism’. But while procedures and institutions are the necessary condition for substantive democracy and while it seems true that nothing better than the liberal representative model of democracy has been invented, these are not sufficient to ensure that individuals can influence the conditions in which they live. Undoubtedly, attempts to represent the ‘social condition’ as the pre-eminent ‘substantive value’, as in the former Communist countries, led to tyranny in the twentieth century. On the other hand, formal procedures can easily be subverted or ‘hollowed out’ without an underlying normative commitment to democracy embedded in society.
The ‘third wave’ of democracy gave rise to great optimism in the 1990s and ideas like Francis Fukayama’s ‘end of history’ expressed the conviction that the world was finally discovering that liberal representative democracy, combined with free markets, constituted the best possible system of governance. As Gia Nodia, a Georgian democracy specialist, put it:
The most basic contention that lay at the basis of third-wave optimism was the notion that democracy is now the only “normal” political regime – the only game in the global village, if you will. At the end of the day, democracy is the only political regime that is fully compatible with modernity. (quoted in Carothers 2004: 193).
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.
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.
The gap between formal and substantive democracy is usually explained in terms of the legacy of authoritarianism. And this is an important factor. The anomie, submissiveness and passivity of individuals, the experience of patronage and clientilism, the suspicion of parties, politicians and bureaucrats, the pervasiveness of exclusivist ideologies – these can all contribute to a profoundly distorted and traumatised ‘societal condition’. But one or two authors point out that the gap, while larger in newly emerging democracies, can be found in older democracies as well. Thus Carothers talks about the ‘syndrome of post-modern fatigue with democracy and perhaps politics itself’ (Carothers 2004: 150). So the legacy of authoritarianism cannot be the whole explanation.
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).
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).
This applies to all countries to a greater or lesser degree. What is the meaning of elections when, for example, decisions about the size of budgets or environmental regulations or war and peace are taken in Washington, Brussels or New York? In other words, is not the gap between formal and substantive democracy that we observe in the newly emerging democracies merely a symptom of globalisation that affects all democracies at national level?
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.
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).
Whether global integration also leads to substantive democracy, however, depends on whether individuals are able to influence the terms of global integration. In many cases, the newly emerging democracies are offered standard recipes for transition, all of which are adopted by competing political parties. Indeed the language of transition is often reminiscent of the language of authoritarianism, as supposedly technical solutions are offered to social and economic problems and the pain of transition is merely medicine needed to reach some promised utopia. The communists called on people to tighten their belts and work harder so that they could attain socialism; nowadays people are told much the same things in the hopes of reaching the nirvana of capitalism. Citizens experience their rulers as distant and manipulative as in former times. Moreover, the lack of choice in the new democracies often leads to an emphasis on religious and ethnic difference as a way of winning votes in the absence of any progressive alternative to the standard transition recipe.
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.
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).
The typical approach of Western activists was to support local civil society groups – the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, human rights groups in Latin America, groups like Solidarity or Charter 77 in Central Europe – both morally and materially, helping with literature and campaign materials, publicising their cause, protecting local dissidents through public disclosure, demonstrating or travelling to the region in solidarity. The debates with local groups led to the development of joint strategies including pressure on Western governments to use various instruments to oppose repression and dictatorship. Hence the sanctions on South Africa, the human rights legislation introduced in Congress in relation to Latin America, and the insistence on respect for the Helsinki Final Act in Europe. These were all examples of what Keck and Sikkink (1998) call the ‘boomerang effect’.
Even before the 1989 revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, Western governments and international institutions joined the bandwagon. The democratisation of much of the post-Communist world further reduced the international resistance to governmental involvement in democracy promotion. The difference between the approach of governments and international institutions and the approach of civil society groups has to do with the mix of democracy promotion tools. Broadly speaking, it is possible to distinguish three types of tools.
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.
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 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 effectiveness and/or benefits of different techniques have never been systematically assessed. There are, however, many criticisms of current techniques. It is often argued that the administrative and financial techniques are counter-productive because democracy cannot be imposed or bought from the outside. External military intervention can destroy regimes but it cannot build democracy – the consequence is more likely to be state failure, as in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sanctions, as in Iraq, Serbia or North Korea, weaken the state and, simultaneously, allow the state to mask its weaknesses by helping to mobilise political support against the external enemies who impose sanctions. Money may lead to the formation of artificial NGOs which squeeze the space for genuine grass roots initiatives. It may foster corruption or train people who then use their new skills to find jobs abroad. It may discredit those who receive the funds who may be accused of being ‘enemies’ (see Chapter 4 of this volume).
A related criticism is that administrative tools and money are directed less at the democratic process and more at establishing pro-Western governments. Thus the United States favoured its own expatriate allies in Iraq, while it failed to respect the results of elections in Palestine because they were won by Hamas. The sanctions on Serbia and Iraq were not aimed at promoting democracy as such, rather they were about foreign policy goals: the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and stopping ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo in the case of Serbia. The repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan are not subjected to the same kind of external pressures because of their pro-Western orientation. Indeed, the more muscular approach to democracy promotion often conflates pro-democracy with pro-Western.
There is much in these arguments but they are not always true. Sometimes military intervention can help provide security and the conditions for a political process that can lead to democracy; the UK intervention in Sierra Leone in 1999/2000 might be one such example. Sanctions do seem to have worked in South Africa and it often said that targeted sanctions against Milosevic and his cronies were a major reason for his capitulation at the end of the NATO bombing. Funding for independent radio in Serbia or for young people’s resistance movements like Otpor (Serbia) or Pora (Ukraine) helped to contribute to the colour revolutions. Moreover, while Pora was pro-Western, this was not true of Otpor. The success of sanctions against South Africa, it can be argued was because they were a response to civil society pressure and could not, therefore, be used by the South African government to mobilise public opinion against those who imposed the sanctions. In Sierra Leone, civil society strongly supported both the British and the United Nations interventions.
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.
When the US and the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, they assumed that they would be welcomed. They had talked to exiles and to politicians in Northern Iraq – the relatively free Kurdish part of the country. But they had not talked to those in Iraq who were at the time offering other advice. These included underground movements and parties such as the Al Da’wa Party (Shi’ite Islamist), the Communist Party, the General Union of Students (GUSIA), and the League of Iraqi Women who did a lot to support the widows of the victims of Saddam’s regime. There were also artists who met and talked at the Hewar (dialogue) gallery established by a well-known artist who left the Ba’ath Party at the time of the invasion of Kuwait. The Wednesday group, composed of current and ex-Ba’athists, met every Wednesday to discuss political and intellectual issues even after one of their members was arrested and executed (Said 2005). Among both Sunni and Shi’ite clerics, there were those who were trying were to create more open space within the mosques by leveraging Saddam’s emphasis on religion in the last few years of his rule, in a strategy reminiscent of the Catholic Church in Poland.
These underground groups were suggesting a strategy similar to the opening up of Eastern Europe. For example, they proposed that the UN run the oil-for-food programme instead of allowing it to be channelled through the government, which had turned the programme into a device for the ruling clique to sustain their incomes. They also favoured the return of the weapons inspectors, not merely because this would be more likely to bring the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme under control, but because the presence of the inspectors made them feel more safe. The worst atrocities would not, they believed, be carried out under the noses of the inspectors. They pointed out that the 1991 cease-fire resolution not only covered security issues like the elimination of WMD but also commitments to human rights and political pluralism. They suggested that these commitments should receive more emphasis; for example, human rights monitors could have accompanied the weapons inspectors (Kaldor 2003b).
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.
Communication has to be ongoing and continuous if ‘opening up’ is to lead to substantive democracy. It is not just a matter of communicative engagement designed to bring about a-once-and-for-all ‘regime change’. Rather the toppling of dictators is one moment in the continuous process of constructing the practices and institutions needed for global integration. Whether this makes things worse, for example through the spread of ‘new wars’ or transnational crime, or whether it makes things better, by leading to substantive democracy, depends on the extent to which pressure from below is mobilised to influence the terms of global integration. Can, for example, civil society mobilise together with counterparts in other countries on issues like debt repayment, trade agreements, or the terms of membership in international organisations like the Council of Europe or NATO? In other words, communication has to cover broad global issues such as social justice, human rights, environmental responsibility, and not just the issue of formal democratic institutions.
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.
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.
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.
Up until 1989, the definition of civil society was territorially bounded. Moreover, civil society was considered to exist only in part of the world – primarily north west Europe and North America. The reinvention of the concept of civil society in the 1970s and 1980s was linked to the wave of new social movements that developed after 1968 – the generation described by Ulrich Beck (1998) as ‘freedom’s children’. These movements operated outside formal party politics and were concerned with new issues – gender, environment, peace and human rights. They were harbingers both of more radical demands for democracy – autonomy, participation, self-organisation – but also growing global consciousness, the sense of a common humanity. They also made use of the emerging infrastructure of globalisation – air travel and improved information and communications technology.
The language of civil society which expressed these aspirations was reinvented simultaneously in Latin America and Eastern Europe, in societies struggling against authoritarianism and militarism, although the East European discourse is better known. In both cases, there was a similar emphasis on human dignity and on ‘islands of engagement’. The intellectuals in both regions understood civil society as something distinct from the state, even anti-state, a rolling back of the state in everyday life. And they linked this idea with transnational concerns – opposition to the Cold War and to National Security Doctrines that were prevalent in Latin America, and the belief that the reinvented concept of civil society had global relevance. In both cases, these ideas expressed a practical reality: on the one hand, the growth of international legal instruments that could be used to criticise the state and, on the other hand, involvement in transnational networks of activists with North America and Western Europe, which helped to protect these islands of engagement and through which these ideas were debated, refined and exported.
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).
Democracy in a substantive sense depends on the possibilities for closing the gap between the political class chosen on the basis of nationally based formal democracy and global civil society. On the one hand, this would mean that efforts to establish democratic procedures at local and national levels should be the outcome of debates at local levels although external models, ideas, and experiences could be taken into account. In other words a substantive democracy in a given territory is the outcome of a social contract negotiated among those territorially defined individuals who are constructing a democracy, even though they are influenced by or have links with external actors. In this situation, external actors can help to provide the political space needed for domestic deliberation. On the other hand, closing the gap would also mean that any agreements about democratic procedures reached at local and national levels should be supplemented by a process of negotiating a global social contract, necessary to create the conditions for substantive democracy at the local and national level. Substantive democracy is only possible if people live in a relatively secure environment so that they make decisions without fear and without coercion and if they have some control over the allocation of resources or are able to take preventive measures in the event of environmental risks. In other words, they need to be directly involved in deliberation about the big global issues of our time – human security, social justice, or climate change.
What are the practical implications of this argument for those attempting to deepen democracy, to enhance substantive democracy at local, national and global levels? What would count as substantive as opposed to procedural democracy? What would it mean to promote democracy as an end in itself, rather than in order to make America safe or to improve the functioning of global markets?
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.
Secondly, governments may not be the best institutions for imposing administrative measures or spending money because they are more likely to be guided by national self-interest and to favour particular factions, whatever Condoleezza Rice may say about America’s interests in democracy. Administrative measures should only be adopted within a multilateral framework and after civil society consultations. Money could be better spent at arms length by independent public bodies, who are accountable to civil society. The UN Democracy Foundation, established in 2005, is a possible model for such an approach, provided that it is relatively autonomous from national governments and EU and international institutions, and that it includes representatives of civil society in emerging or potential democracies, as well as from donor countries, in its decision-making processes.
The evaluation of democracy assistance is another mechanism for ensuring that assistance is guided by ‘bottom-up’ concerns. Instead of formal benchmarks, stakeholder meetings including recipients and their peers could be used to assess the utility and effectiveness of democracy assistance. Such stakeholder meetings also represent ways to foster debate about democracy promotion in specific contexts.
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.
Democracy promotion that merely covers procedures is a necessary condition for democracy in a substantive sense. But the ‘political grey zone’ that has been created so far is unsustainable. The alternative to democracy in a substantial sense is not a return to classic authoritarianism; closed societies are no longer an option (see Chapter 5 of this volume). Rather it is the politics of fear based on various forms of populist exclusion, state weakness and, in the final instance, ‘new wars’ and terror. The London bombing illustrated what might be described as the ‘perverse boomerang effect’ when disaffected minorities make common cause with those with similar nihilistic political positions elsewhere. Reinvigorating democracy, both at home and abroad, means both a bottom-up process of communication and, at the same time, taking seriously an ambitious global agenda.
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