Time for Democracy 2.0? The Launch of the Manifesto For A Global Democracy

By Kym Beeston - 05 July 2012
Time for Democracy 2.0? The Launch of the Manifesto For A Global Democracy

After decades of democratization across Eastern Europe and Latin America and now the democratic elections taking place in countries like Egypt and Libya in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions – one could be forgiven for thinking that the world is fast becoming a remarkably democratic place.

Sadly, however, this is not the case. Democracy may have grown in form, yet it is retracting in substance. Citizens of many countries have fought so hard for democracy in its traditional sense of free and fair elections and representative politicians, only to discover that, meanwhile, the world has changed so much that this type of democracy - Democracy 1.0 - no longer makes much sense in the globalized, interconnected, borderless world in which we now live.

As Argentinean writer and former politician Fernando Iglesias recently declared – "everything has gone global except democracy." We have a global marketplace, global communications, global institutions, global risks like climate change, and a global financial crisis.

Yet somehow democracy has been left behind. It flails at the nation state level, struggling to keep its head above water in a world in which party politics has become increasingly redundant and nation states appear increasingly powerless to direct the global forces and decisions that shape the financial systems, employment conditions, food prices, diseases, and environments that determine our livelihoods.

If democracy is understood as enjoying equal rights to partake in decision making about the rules and policies that bind and affect us, the fact global institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations, and powerful multinational corporations are unelected, unrepresentative, and unaccountable to people affected by their decisions is hugely problematic.

And so, an impressive array of leading democracy and globalization intellectuals, including Richard Falk, Saskia Sassen, Noam Chomsky, David Held, Daniele Archibugi, Mary Kaldor, and Vandana Shiva, have signed a Manifesto for A Global Democracy. The official launch of the Manifesto took place at the London School of Economics and Political Science on Wednesday 27 June 2012.

Working from the premise that: “Politics lags behind the facts. We live in an era of deep technological and economic change that has not been matched by a similar development of public institutions responsible for its regulation”, the objective of the global democracy movement is to explore new, more extensive, and deeper forms of democracy, in order to enhance democracy in a global world.

It is not necessarily about replacing national governments with a world parliament, but about creating a more democratic global order; an international system in which there are viable solutions to the challenges posed by globalization, and within which affected people can have a voice and some measure of power in global politics. In a sense, it calls upon us, as citizens with a right to political participation, to re-conceptualise democracy and find ways to bring it up to speed with the globalized times we live in.

Thus, whilst the Manifesto calls for the “urgent creation of new global agencies specialized in sustainable, fair and stable development, disarmament and environmental protection, and the rapid implementation of forms of democratic global governance on all the issues that current intergovernmental summits are evidently incapable of solving,” different members of the global democracy movement focus on different strategies.

For his part, Richard Sennett argues that progress towards global democracy will be made by focusing on cities rather than states. He suggests that in an urbanised world, megacities like Mumbai, Moscow, Mexico City and Sao Paulo are more fractured than the country as a whole, hence the city is a better space to develop a dialogue with global democracy.

On the other hand, Fernando Iglesias calls for increased citizen participation in social movements, particularly on issues like the campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. Similarly, Daniele Archibugi’s work focuses on  a project of ‘cosmopolitan democracy in which a new world order is built by promoting democracy on three different but mutually supporting levels – inside states, between states, and globally.

But, if there is one consistent theme of the global democracy movement, it is that citizens are the nominated agents of global change. At the Manifesto’s launch event, Saskia Sassen pointed out that the systems and structures of power we have today didn’t fall from the sky. We created them ourselves. Similarly, old systems of power like the Soviet Union regime and the Latin American dictatorships only fell because masses of people power were involved.

Thus, global political change requires us, the global demos, to flex our muscle and take action to restructure governance systems at local, regional and global levels to create a world order that is more participative and accountable to the world’s 7 billion inhabitants.

Naturally, bringing together different strands of work, and consolidating the competing arguments made by various academics and practitioners that form the global democracy movement is a large and difficult task.

Similarly, whilst a stated aim of the Manifesto for A Global Democracy is to provide a lens to see issues and problems facing democracy that we might not otherwise see, psychology suggests that we all suffer from a confirmatory bias –the tendency to only ‘see’ information that confirms our existing beliefs. The success of the movement thus depends on educating a wide range of global citizens about the pitfalls of the deficits of democracy, legitimacy and accountability that plague global decision making, to attract supporters beyond academic circles.

But it is really important to not give up on this challenge. Globalisation is here to stay, so it’s time to accept that democracy as we know it has reached the end of its innocent childhood. It is now going through its difficult teenager years; conflicted, rebellious, unsure of who it is.

It’s now up to us to nurture it, educate it, instil wisdom upon it, to help it grow and mature into an adult, fully equipped to thrive in a globalised world. It’s time to start thinking about Democracy 2.0.

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