Towards a Global Polity

By Morten Ougaard; Richard Higgott | Go to book overview

10

From global governance to good governance

Theories and prospects of democratizing the global polity

Anthony McGrew


Introduction

In a recent statement to the International Monetary and Financial Committee, Lawrence Summers called for the modernization of the IMF. Central to the achievement of this task, he argued, was a more representative, transparent and accountable organization (Summers 2000 (16 April)). Likewise, in the aftermath of the Battle of Seattle (1999) and Kofi Annan's prescriptions for better global governance - i.e. 'greater participation and accountability' - the rhetoric of democracy increasingly finds expression in official proposals to reinvent global institutions to meet the challenges of globalization (United Nations 2000:13). Beyond the cosmocracy too, the language of democracy also informs the demands of many progressive social forces, such as Charter 99, in their campaigns for more representative and responsive global governance. For Robert Dahl, among others, such laudable aspirations are simply utopian in that 'we should openly recognize that international decision making will not be democratic' (1999:23). Underlying Dahl's scepticism is a reasoned argument that, despite globalization and the diffusion of democratic values, the necessary preconditions for democracy remain largely absent in the international public domain: a domain which lacks the credentials of a properly functioning polity and in which might still trumps right. Herein lies a curious paradox: for in an era in which democracy has increasingly become a global standard of good governance it is judged inappropriate, by many of its strongest advocates, as a principle to be applied to international governance. Is such scepticism justified? Can the global polity be democratized? What might democracy mean in relation to structures of global governance?

In posing the questions in this way there is a presumption that the terms global polity and global governance in particular have some substantive meaning beyond mere political rhetoric. This is not secure conceptual territory since such terms are subject to serious disputation and qualification. Although this is not the appropriate place to rehearse those debates, some initial clarification is called for. As used here, the notion of

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