Democracy's Trojan Horse

By Fonte, John | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Democracy's Trojan Horse


Fonte, John, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


JUST before the new century began, Marc Plattner, co-editor of the influential Journal of Democracy, wrote of the brave new globalized world coming into existence:

A borderless world is unlikely to be a democratic one. For while the idea of 'world citizenship' may sound appealing in theory, it is very hard to imagine it working successfully in practice. Indeed, some aspects of globalization 'point to a long range danger to democracy.'

While Plattner is uneasy about these developments, other observers, such as Strobe Talbott, largely discount the risks. An entire industry of transnational agencies and non-governmental organizations is pushing forward changes designed either to deny or override the national sovereignty of democratic states against surprisingly muted or inchoate opposition. Taken together, these changes amount to a serious political and intellectual challenge to democratic sovereignty vested in the liberal democratic nation-state.

It is a distinctly new challenge. Until now, democrats have faced two major opponents: pre-democrats and anti-democrats. The pre-democrats, adherents of some form of ancien regime (of throne, altar, tribe or clan), have been mostly vanquished over the past several hundred years. Since 1917, three anti-democratic ideologies have presented an alternative vision to liberal democracy: Nazism/fascism, communism, and today militant Islam or Islamism.

The radical Islamist threat is both deadly and serious, and it could last for a considerable period of time. Islamists might gain powerful weapons and thereby cause much death and destruction. Nevertheless, it is in the highest degree unlikely that they will in the end conquer liberal democracy.

Yet, the twenty-first century could well turn out to be, not the democratic century, but the 'post-democratic' century-the century in which liberal democracy as we know it is slowly, almost imperceptibly, replaced by a new form of global governance.

The ideology and institutions already exist in embryonic form and are developing rapidly. The philosophical basis for global governance begins with the premise that all individuals on the planet possess human rights. International law is the paramount authority that determines those rights, while international agreements establish and expand new rights and norms. International institutions (for example, the UN, the International Criminal Court and the World Bank) monitor, adjudicate, negotiate, cajole and administer the international agreements and laws in varying degrees. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claim to represent 'global civil society', or the 'peoples' of the planet. And the NGOs work with international institutions and participate in international conferences helping develop the new norms for global governance. Moreover, global governance is not really 'international', but 'transnational' in the sense that it is not concerned strictly with relations between nations, but with political arrangements above and beyond nation-states. Indeed, it could also be described as 'post-international.'

The global governance regime is promoted and run by complementary and interlocking networks of transnational (mostly Western) elites, including international lawyers, international judges, NGO activists, UN and other international organization officials, global corporate leaders and some sympathetic officials and bureaucrats from nation-states. These transnational elites are, for the most part, ideologically compatible. They could be described as 'transnational progressives' (many are part of the generation of 1968) supporting what they perceive as 'progressive' causes across national boundaries (that is, supporting the 'other', the oppressed, minorities and opposing the death penalty, unilateral military action by the United States, and so on). Denationalized corporate elites who are non-ideological, but seek economic advantage, often have a symbiotic relationship with the transnational progressives. …

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