Academic journal article Human Rights & Human Welfare

Moving beyond Markets and Minimalism: Democracy in the Era of Globalization

Academic journal article Human Rights & Human Welfare

Moving beyond Markets and Minimalism: Democracy in the Era of Globalization

Article excerpt

Democracy as Human Rights: Freedom and Equality in the Age of Globalization by Michael Goodhart. London: Routledge, 2005.


When the term globalization comes up in general conversation, the press or academic writing, it is given a range of meanings and is either loathed or celebrated. Globalization is subject to a variety of interpretations and descriptions. Debates about its merits or shortcomings are often muddled, as it is never clear if the antagonists are talking about the same thing at the same time. Globalization, in a broad sense, refers to "the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patterns of social interaction" (Held and McGrew 2002: 1). While globalization describes a whole range of human activity, its main thrust and orientation has come to be associated with global economic activity that is in turn heavily influenced by, if not synonymous with, neoliberal ideology.

The main characteristics of this dominating trend include an emphasis on free market systems, limited government involvement in the economy, structural adjustment policies for developing societies and the widespread privatization of services. It is argued that adherence to these policies and practices brings a whole raft of benefits to the world, such as rising living standards, faster economic growth, poverty reduction, democratization, and higher labor and environmental standards. (1) At the same time it is also argued that the forces of globalization, influenced as they are by neoliberalism, are severely damaging, contributing to an increase in poverty and greater inequalities in society, a lowering of social and environmental standards, increased inequality among the core and peripheral economies around the globe, and the disempowerment and marginalization of subaltern groups, globally and locally. (2)

The debates about globalization occur at many levels and the arguments on all sides claim to be based on the most accurate and realistic evidence. The opposing sides all also claim to possess the necessary insights for the best means forward. The only area where there is some sort of consensus is that the various forces and processes associated with globalization do have an impact upon how human beings and their societies are organized, how these societies interact and how they are governed. This is where Michael Goodhart's book, Democracy as Human Rights: Freedom and Equality in the Age of Globalization, steps into the debate and in turn provides a number of interesting assertions for deliberating how globalization, and all its manifestations and influences, has an impact on the ways in which we both perceive and pursue government and governance in the world today.

Goodhart's contribution to the debate about globalization comes at a propitious moment. The controversy over globalization appears to have reached a stalemate as the opposing sides become ever more entrenched. At the same time, it continues to be more and more evident that the world is a different place with regards to how it is governed, and greater attention is needed to deal with questions of global governance. Held and McGrew explain "the globalization debate projects, into a new context, the cardinal questions of political life concerning power and rule" (2002: 58). Finding appropriate answers to these questions regarding power and rule in the process of globalization is not a straightforward or easy task. There are a range of possible, often competing, explanations and approaches that may be used for addressing the concerns that exist over the impact of globalization.

This review focuses on one particular area that is at the heart of questions regarding governance in the age of globalization--the role of international law. Given the global nature of international law and its ability to generate norms, values, institutions and procedures, it is a useful tool to mobilize discussions about globalization. …

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