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The Global Commonwealth of Citizens:
Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy
Daniele Archibugi

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Introduction: A Queen for the World?

1.1 A Queen for the World?

An American peace thinker, William Ladd, in 1840 published one of the last peace projects which flourished during the European Enlightenment. In his project, he called for the creation of an international congress comprising one ambassador for each state. He envisaged this international congress as a world legislative power that would lay down rules that were shared and respected by all. Ladd realized that such a congress would be insufficient without a judiciary power charged with interpreting the rules and settling disputes, so he also proposed to set up an international court of justice. In a project so explicitly based on the separation of powers that existed in his native America, Ladd could not avoid raising the question of executive power. According to him, executive power was neither conceivable nor probably even desirable and it was therefore necessary to rely on the intangible power of world public opinion, which he optimistically dubbed “the Queen of the World.”1

The idea that public opinion could be the queen of the world is today even more attractive than it was in the nineteenth century. As championed by numerous visionaries, many international organizations have been set up that are nowadays much more sophisticated than the thinkers of the past ever dreamed they would be. The United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, for example, have a much vaster and more ramified jurisdiction than Ladd was proposing. IOs are charged with dealing with a wide range of problems—security, development, communications, trade, environment, childhood, health, and so on. Yet now, as then, no world executive power exists. As a result, at the world level, a huge gap exists between the solemn statements of principle and bleak daily reality.

The violation of human rights, conditions of extreme poverty, periodic recourse to war, and environmental degradation are but a few of the many problems facing humankind today. These ancient problems have taken on a different dimension today, as they are increasingly difficult to confi ne to, and sometimes even to situate in, a circumscribed geographic area. The capacity for a territorial government to ensure security and promote prosperity is therefore substantially limited. Can a single world power contribute to finding a solution for this? There are many reasons to doubt that it can. Concentration of coercive power is always dangerous, and not even the most sophisticated checks and balances can rule out the danger that this power may be transformed into some new form of planetary despotism. This was the concern of Ladd, and of Immanuel Kant before him.

Restoring the power into the hands of public opinion does not arouse the same concern. Indeed, public opinion does not possess any armies, police forces, secret services, prisons, mental hospitals, or other repressive institutions. Public opinion can only disapprove and express indignation. The public can also express its own opinion through collective action and, in the democratic countries, vote a government that has proved ineffective out of office. But at the world level, public opinion has no voting rights. It has been split into an infinite number of rivulets. Over vast regions of the world, its power to express itself has been limited by dictatorships. Even in the internet age, only a small proportion of the population is duly informed about or even interested in world politics. Its power is, at best, symbolic, and its disapproval is often ineffective and uncertain. To appeal to public opinion and even raise it to the status of queen of the world is therefore a hyperbole. Yet giving public opinion a greater role to play seems to be the only hope we have of tackling the many alarming problems that exist in the modern world.

The present book explores the chances of increasing the legitimacy of world politics by introducing the germs of democracy and subjecting world politics to the citizens’ scrutiny. Under what conditions could public opinion become the queen of the world? To what extent can the general public control the actions undertaken by the various subjects, whether national governments, international organizations, or multinational corporations? What institutional instruments are available to confer an effective political role on the inhabitants of the planet? These are the issues to which cosmopolitan democracy—an intellectual project formulated by a group of scholars at the end of the Cold War2—must endeavor to find a response. Cosmopolitan democracy is indeed one of the many offspring generated by the great expectations that blossomed after the fall of the Berlin wall. After the collapse of the Soviet empire and the decisive affirmation of the western democracies, it was hoped that there would be some positive repercussions on the global system. It was thus deemed possible to reform the international organizations, to plan the geographic expansion of democracy, and finally to make human rights more certain and to allow world citizens to express themselves through ad hoc institutions. One goal has been achieved: it is no longer sacrilegious to consider that democracy can be applied even outside the state. However, many, too many, of these hopes have so far been dashed. Why? And above all, what hopes remain today that democracy can make its appearance also in world politics?

1.2 The West without Decline

We live in a highly fragmented world that is, however, dominated by a small group of countries that, using a loose but readily understandable term, is defined as the West. The West is an entity composed of countries that have a market economy and consolidated democratic institutions. With the sole exception of Japan, the West involves Europe and its ancient settlements. Too often it is forgotten that this part of the world comprises at most one sixth of the world population. Within the West a single country, the United States, has today emerged as dominant. Never before has such a vast and profound hegemony been witnessed. Suffi ce it to observe the distribution of resources—production, consumption, knowledge, military capacity—to see how a relatively small part of the world became powerful. This power is not only material; its ideology is equally dominating. Cinema and science, literature and technology, music and mass communications are all in the hands of the West. The principles of political organi zation that prevail today were also produced by the West: the western visions of freedom and democracy have become increasingly universal values, and there is no reason to regret this.3 The West has no cause to be ashamed of having proposed and developed forms of government that have gradually also spread to other parts of the world. The peoples of the five continents have taken to the streets to demand them, often against their own rulers, because they have fully understood that freedom and democracy not only guarantee greater personal dignity but also allow more material benefi ts to be distributed.

The West, for its part, has endeavored to make converts. Yet these efforts have proved incoherent and ambiguous. Freedom and democracy have been turned into ideological screens to defend vested interests and attack enemies. The vicissitudes of colonialism and then of imperialism show that only too often has the West claimed these values for itself and denied them to others. Can the power that the West wields today be used to involve and include rather than to dominate and subjugate? Is it possible to enlarge the number of subjects among whom to distribute the benefits? Cosmopolitan democracy has the objective of representing an intellectual contribution to the attainment of these objectives.

Cosmopolitan democracy opposes the idea of constructing a fortress in the western area and excluding all those who do not passively accept the new hegemonies. A strategy of this kind cannot but stir up new enemies and lead to futile crusades. Such a vision of the cosmopolitan project is also based on the factual observation that it is impossible to draw a dividing line between “us” and “them,” between “friends” and “enemies.” The planet is made up of “overlapping communities of fate,”4 to use the apt phrase coined by David Held, and it is a diffi cult, and often impossible, task to mark the confines between one and the other. What is the most suitable political community5 to democratically decide on navigation on the Danube? Does not the spread of contagious diseases affect all the inhabitants of the Earth? And what must be said about issues concerning not only all the present inhabitants of the Earth but also those of the future, such as nuclear waste management or the ozone hole?

There is no obvious, easy answer to these questions. Nevertheless, the modern state—one of the West’s favoriteoffspring—based on the assumption of sure frontiers and rigid criteria of membership continues to be the main political subject in international relations. In just a few centuries, the territorial state has spread over the entire land surface of the planet. With the sole exception of Antarctica, there is no longer a strip of land that does not belong to or is not claimed by a territorial state. In order to participate in world political life, each individual is obliged to become a member of a state, and each community must contrive to speak with a single voice, that of a monocratic government. World politics is therefore practiced by a small group of actors that have set up a directorate, giving rise to what may be defined as an intergovernmental oligarchy. It cannot be denied that the state plays an essential role in nourishing democracy: without actually deciding, often arbitrarily, who is in and who is out, it would not have been possible to develop self-government. The intensification of the pro cesses of economic, social, political, and cultural globalization, however, has rendered traditional boundaries increasingly vague and uncertain, undermining the capacity for certain political communities to make decisions autonomously. The key principle of democracy, according to which decisions must be taken only after discussion among all those affected by the decisions, is increasingly being questioned.

Today it must be acknowledged that the situation has changed. The rigidity of the frontiers of the political communities, an element that historically enabled self-government to be born and prosper, now stands in the way of democracy’s evolving and even surviving. As soon as each political community receives and transmits the echo of its actions from and to the exterior, the state-based democratic procedure is eroded. In order to survive, democracy must undergo a radical transformation comparable to that experienced in the transition from direct to representative democracy. Democracy must be able to create new forms of management of public matters that are also open toward the exterior and to include in the decision-making pro cess those who are affected by certain decisions.

Many attempts have already been made to increase participation and inclusion. International organizations, for example, have increased in number and functions, and almost every country in the world is now a member of the UN. In the so-called Old Continent, a mighty effort is being made to create common institutions, and the Euro pe an Union has been extended southward, northward, and eastward. Half a century ago, the EU was concerned solely with coal and steel, while today it is competent in all aspects of public policy. Other regional organizations are developing on the other continents. World political life is beginning to assign jurisdiction and legitimacy to subjects other than state representatives, such as nongovernmental organizations, multinational corporations, cultural associations, and transnational pressure groups. This process of institutional integration is still only partial and unsatisfactory, however, compared with the intensity and rapidity of the changes occurring in the global process.

Who is willing to undertake the necessary institutional reforms? The West has preached the lofty principle of the sovereignty of the people, at the same time applying this principle with suspicious parsimony. The West has often declared its intention to promote democracy in other people’s back yard but is by no means willing to share the management of global affairs with others. This is what I call democratic schizophrenia: to engage in a certain behavior on the inside and indulge in the opposite behavior on the outside. It is a contradiction that is diffi cult to justify, although here the West can appeal to a powerful and sophisticated ideological apparatus, the function of which is to demonize any political system that opposes its own. The ideological apparatus is used to disseminate a Manichean view in which anyone opposing the will of the West is presented as a barbarian and a savage. It is certainly not difficult to demonize what happens in the world: you have only to open a newspaper to read about the atrocities committed for political reasons in places far and near. The ideological apparatus does not merely demonize, however; it must also sanctify, and so it proceeds to obscure the atrocities committed by the democratic countries. War crimes are transformed into collateral damage, aggression is converted into prevention, torture is modified to become coercive interrogation. The point is reached in which the democratic states are deemed to be peaceful by nature, and when they fight it is only because other states are not as democratic.

In other words, a consolatory view of democracy arose that demonized its enemies and glorified itself. However, this view is analytically tautological and politically reactionary. It is tautological in that it not only defines democracy as good but also defines what democracies do as good. This prevents any assessment of the relationship between two variables, postulating as an axiom what instead remains to be demonstrated. And it is politically reactionary, as this complacency prevents an analysis of which problems are still open and the transformations needed to fulfill the commitments inscribed in the constituent pact of the democracies. Consoling oneself about what democracy stands for is an obstacle to the democracies’ progress.

How far back does this democratic schizophrenia between interior and exterior date? Perhaps it is an intrinsic flaw, already announced in the funeral oration delivered by Pericles, a great democrat, to commemorate those killed in the first year of the Peloponnesian war, a speech that is justly considered the first expression of democratic thought.6 Pericles lavishes deserving praise on the political order of his city. He refers to Athens as a “living school for Greece,”7 a model for all civilizations. Thucydides, the chronicler of the war, scrupulously notes the devastation and plundering carried out by the Athenians, but Pericles never asks whether that war was necessary, whether the democratic Athens had been compelled to fight it, or whether it was a war of aggression. Yet Pericles harangues his fellow citizens: “Do not look at the sacrifices of the war in horror.”8 Only by excelling in war can Athens be a “living school.” Reading and rereading this famous speech, one gets the impression that the praise of the Athenian democracy is necessary to justify the blood spilt but also that the blood shed on the exterior is necessary to build that democratic society. The Athenian events have unfortunately hung like a shadow over the development of democracy through the centuries.

The democratic regimes are certainly not the only belligerent or unworthy members of the international community. The autocratic regimes are equally and sometimes even more violent on both the interior and the exterior. Students of international relations from both the realists’ side and the opposing idealists’ side have filled entire library shelves with publications assessing the extent to which the internal regime of a state affects its foreign policies. The method generally used, however, is to compare the foreign policy of the democratic countries with that of the autocratic countries, and it is not surprising to find that the foreign policy of democracies is often, other things being equal, more virtuous than that of the autocracies. Nevertheless, the basis of the comparison is incorrect: the foreign policy of the democracies should be compared with their internal policy. Only when the two are based on the same principles will it be possible to declare democratic schizophrenia to have been cured and the curse that has accompanied this form of government from the time of Pericles to have been lifted.

It is perhaps possible to justify the crimes committed by democracies outside their own borders by the fact that they have so far lived in a composite international system in which the majority of the political communities were managed using authoritarian methods. For years and years, democracies have had to defend themselves with the sword as well as with rhetoric. However, this is no longer the situation in the twenty-first century, when the distribution of power is such that the bloc of the democratic states reigns supreme. For these reasons I am often critical concerning what is done and even more of what could be and is not done by the democracies. This criticism is in no way meant to repudiate democracy as a method of managing power, nor is it meant to deny the fact that all the peoples in the world could benefit from democracy. The aim of the criticism is to prevent countries that have succeeded in constructing these regimes—often by means of blood, sweat, and tears— from sinking into complacency, from discharging their aggressiveness toward their exterior and hindering further progress on the interior. Being critical, in other words, by no means signifies a desire to return to a different system but merely a demand that democracies should rise to the expectations that the majority of the world’s population has of them. Never before have the western countries been so powerful; never before have their enemies been so weak. The western countries no longer have to fight for survival as they did in the first and second half of the twentieth century. No longer do any external obstacles stand in the way of pursuing a world of democracy.

1.3 The Insidious Perils Facing Democracy and Cosmopolitanism

The key terms of the project illustrated herein—democracy and cosmopolitanism—encapsulate two of the loftiest ideals of political thought. Yet as is often the case with good intentions, both these concepts conceal insidious perils. The democratic idea—based on the principle that power belongs to the multitude—was established by drawing dividing lines between the persons to include and those to exclude. Power may be shared by the whole people but only on condition that we know who is being excluded. Paradoxically, the all-time enemy of democracy, despotism, has not had to face the problem of whom to include: obedience is expected from all individuals.

Throughout their journey, the democracies have gradually increased the number of citizens endowed with political rights: those rights have been extended from exclusively the free males of the polis to all adults. But even though the barriers have been whittled down, perhaps the most decisive one has remained standing: those who are in and those who are out. Extraneous peoples and individuals wishing to be included have been the most frequent victims of exclusion. The need to homogenize those who are different by means of assimilation, expulsion, or even elimination has brought out the dark side of democracy, transforming it into ethnocracy.9 This dark side has dominated the process of nation building, but it would be wrong to consider this dark side solely as a problem of the past. In a world in which populations are subjected to great migrations, in which natural resources are scarce, and in which the pro cesses of globalization, whether we like it or not, throw together different individuals, this dark side is always liable to re-emerge. The clashes of civilizations are nothing but the latest version of the deviation that can affect democracies at any moment. Cosmopolitanism as a school of tolerance would mitigate this ge netic flaw in democracy and should prevent democracy from withdrawing into itself and allow democracy to continue to be a perpetually open and inclusive political system.

The vicissitudes of cosmopolitanism are equally turbulent.10 In the course of the centuries, cosmopolitanism has cast off its ideal dimension and become a reality. The number of persons—merchants, explorers, writers, intellectuals, and the ever- increasing hordes of tourists—who have been able to travel and get to know the world has grown in parallel with prosperity and the development of mass society. Those who have become familiar with diversity have developed two different attitudes to it. The first is the curiosity (which, as Giovanbattista Vico tells us, is the daughter of ignorance and the mother of science) aroused by the customs of different societies. The second, parallel attitude is the idea that the various civilizations would ultimately converge toward common customs. Cosmopolitanism thus signifies not only knowing but also assessing, comparing, judging, selecting, and ultimately, wherever possible, actually applying the practices and customs deemed to be more valid. Only too often, however, the cosmopolitans have spread the conviction that, by pure chance, the best practices and customs are those of their own civilization.

The cosmopolitanism born as a school of tolerance can thus rapidly turn into its opposite. With the force of its convictions, cosmopolitanism does not fail to desire the assimilation of those who are different, sometimes through persuasion, other times by using violence. The question is whether this can still be considered cosmopolitanism. It is doubtful. The etymology of the word contains a reference to the citizen, a notion that implies equality and participation. The genes of the cosmopolitan should therefore contain the will to consult those who are different before making any decision. When cosmopolitanism becomes intolerant it is because it has swallowed a dangerous poison, that is intolerance, that has transformed it into fundamentalism. Unlike cosmopolitanism, fundamentalism no longer feels any doubt, wants to impose its view on all and sundry, and does not shrink from using violent and coercive methods. An antidote may be found by marrying cosmopolitanism with democracy: it is not enough for an idea to be a good one in order to be imposed; it is also necessary for that idea to be shared through the required procedures by means of persuasion, not force. This is the ultimate goal of the cosmopolitan democracy project restated in this book.

1.4 Layout of the Book

The first part of the book is dedicated to the theory of cosmopolitan democracy, although a constant effort is made to illustrate theoretical problems by linking them to concrete cases. The second chapter presents the conception of democracy implicit in the cosmopolitan project: democracy is to be viewed as an evolutionary process in which the various communities follow an autonomous itinerary of their own. Also at a time in which democracy has fortunately become a widely accepted concept, differences have continued, and will continue, to exist between the way democracy is interpreted in different parts of the world and at different levels of political affairs management. Rather than force democracy into too narrow a cage, it is preferable to assess these differences and try to see how much can be learned in a laboratory that is destined to grow ever larger and more varied.

Chapter 3 addresses the relationship between democracy and the global system. This is a much more complex relationship than might appear at first sight. It is by no means certain that democratic states are worthy inmates of the global system; democratic states are often as quarrelsome and bullying as any other kind of state. And all states tend to become more bullying when their strength increases. I shall therefore try to shed some light on the links that exist between the international system and internal regimes. What attributes must the international system have in order to perform a maieutic function vis-à-vis internal democracy? Consequently, how can democratic countries contribute to rendering the global system fairer?

Chapter 4 illustrates the institutional architecture of cosmopolitan democracy. The treatment is given on two linked planes. The fi rst refers to the various levels of political management, from the local to the global. The second is performed by comparing cosmopolitan democracy to the two classical types of state unions, the confederation and the federation. The question is asked as to whether a third type may be envisaged that is more cohesive and demanding than a confederation but less rigid than a federation.

In the last twenty years, the problems and prospects associated with transnational democracy have received much attention, up to the point of becoming the subject of several university courses. Cosmopolitan democracy itself has been analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized, and not always in the most benevolent manner. Chapter 5 takes this critical debate into account. I have tried to engage in a fruitful dialogue with the critics, because their observations helped a great deal to table new problems and to clarify some crucial aspects. Regretfully, less attention has been devoted to authors who embraced and developed the project of cosmopolitan democracy; for lack of space priority had to be given to rebuffing the critics rather than to praising one’s traveling companions. Nevertheless, I am pleased to see a growing number of young researchers working on these topics and brilliantly treating several key issues of the project in depth.

In part two, cosmopolitan logic is applied to several concrete cases. What does cosmopolitan democracy tell us in connection with daily political action? If cosmopolitan democracy is not to be a book of dreams, it is necessary to determine which steps can be undertaken daily in order to push forward in the direction of cosmopolitan democracy. Chapter 6 is therefore dedicated to the UN, the largest and most ambitious international organi zation ever conceived. Unfortunately, the UN and the other international organizations were born against a backdrop of great hopes that are daily dashed by political reality. However, much can be done, in the fi rst place to ensure that the UN and its smaller sister organizations carry out the tasks that the states have already assigned them and in the second place to reform those organizations so that they are able to accommodate more decisively the norms and values of democracy. I have already spoken of democratic schizophrenia, and nowhere else is democratic schizophrenia found so extensively as inside the UN headquarters: on the one hand, the western governments protest against the lack of democracy inside the organi zation, and on the other, they do all they can to prevent any radical reform in that direction.

Chapter 7 tackles the problem of the legitimacy of the recourse to war for humanitarian purposes. Under what conditions is it legitimate to use military force in favor of foreign populations? The problem has been debated on an increasingly wide front in recent years. Military operations for humanitarian purposes have been conducted in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and many other places. But in an equally large number of cases, no such operations have been carried out. Rwanda and Sudan have become paradigmatic cases of genocides that the international community failed to halt. We are thus always teetering between interventions that turn out to be medicines that are worse than the disease and failure to act. In chapter 7 I attempt to trace out a few cosmopolitan principles on which to base intervention so as to prevent humanitarian tragedies taking place in a situation of total indifference, but at the same time are used by some states as a pretext to engage in violence and to impose the will of the powerful on the weak. The main lesson to be learned from recent experience is that it is necessary to progress beyond a logic of emergency in order to set up institutions that are morally, politically, and also militarily equipped to intervene wherever necessary.

Chapter 8 brings us to the historical present: at a time in which two wars are being waged, one in Afghani stan and one in Iraq, the question is whether it is justified to export democracy at bayonet point, which used to be the method employed, or by bombing, as is done today. The prerequisites of democracy include also a preventive pact of nonaggression and the principle of nonviolence. It is therefore easy to understand why the peoples to whom this precious good is offered in the form of military invasion may be somewhat skeptical about the good intentions of their alleged benefactors. The chapter does not dwell exclusively on the negative teachings: in accordance with the theoretical framework of this book, it also explores the most effective methods for exporting democracy. The action of the international organizations, founded on dialogue and cooperation, has proved to be more effective than coercion. This is one of those fortunate cases in which there is no contradiction between the ends and the means: democracy is much easier to export by democratic means than by imposition.

Chapter 9 addresses a typical problem of international relations, the self-determination of peoples. The number of conflicts arising out of clashes among political communities, each claiming its own right to self-determination, is surprisingly large and shows little sign of decreasing. To define what a “people” is that has the right to self-determination is by no means an easy task. The chapter attempts to distinguish among the various interpretations. To what extent can the cosmopolitan idea championed herein be of use in delimiting the various political communities and in minimizing the recourse to violence? I maintain that self-evaluation of self-determination is a contradiction in terms. In the case of dispute, the parties involved should agree to arbitration by a third party. Also in the case of self-determination, I place reliance on a typical figure in democratic thinking—the third-party mediator and arbitrator.

Chapter 10 centers on the possibility of achieving democracy in multilingual communities. The ambitions of the cosmopolitan democracy project are worldwide; some object that democracy cannot be cosmopolitan and that cosmopolitanism cannot be democratic. They claim that a democratic community needs a language of communication that is accessible to all; otherwise it turns into an oligarchy. This is no minor objection, and I have taken it into consideration with all due attention. An analysis of linguistic policy actually reveals something of substantial importance for appreciating democratic inclination and how such an inclination can be tested on different scales. A school with students from different ethnic groups, a small country, and an international organi zation all have to cope with the problem of mutual understanding on a daily basis.

The list of issues tackled is by no means complete. Cosmopolitan democracy has much to say in regard to the enforcement of human rights, managing migratory flows, how to combat terrorism, refugees, the process of regional integration, and cross-border criminal justice. A number of references are made in the various chapters to specific studies on these problems. The aim of the present book is simply to make a contribution to a debate that has been ongoing for many years in the hope that the debate will continue in the years to come and can enjoy greater success not only at the intellectual level but also in the boundless seas of real life.

There is some doubt whether the eleventh and fi nal chapter would be more suitably entitled “Conclusions” or “Sunday Political Rally.” Many will probably opt for the latter hypothesis, but this would not trouble me. Also this book is one of those dangerous books written in the hope that our children and grandchildren will have a better world to live in. Such a better world cannot certainly be guaranteed, but at least our children and grandchildren could not reproach us for having ignored the challenge.

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