The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy

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The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy

Princeton University Press (298 pages)
Reviewed By:
Ronald J.

Democracy is needed at the global level, not just within nations. That is the thesis of this book directed mainly to Western thinkers, especially in the United States. The governance of the world community should be in the hands of all its inhabitants, not just the small proportion found in earlier industrialized, earlier democratized richer countries.

The first chapter, "A Queen for the World," directs the reader to an idea put forth in 1840 by American William Ladd, the idea that world public opinion (what he called "the Queen of the World") rather than military or economic power should govern the world . Ladd's ideas on how to implement his vision were primitive compared with institutions that now exist such as the U.N. General Assembly and the International Court of Justice. Archibugi notes that this book aims to explore "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?"(p. 2) The goal is to develop institutions where the public controls the actions of national governments, international organizations, and multinational corporations.

Archibugi is concerned that the world is dominated by a small group of countries which contains less than a sixth of the world's population. Archibugi points to the "democratic shizophrenia" of the West which aims to promote democracy in other countries but which is by no means ready to apply the principles of democracy to the management of global affairs. The present challenge for the world community is to meld the lofty Western Enlightement ideals of cosmopolitanism and democracy.

Part I focuses on "The Theory of Cosmopolitan Democracy." Its third chapter explores the tensions between democracy and the present global system while the fourth chapter addresses the "institutional architecture of cosmopolitan democracy." Here Archibugi discusses confederations and federations and then raises the question at the base of his own view, namely, whether there might be a third type of structure "more cohesive and demanding than a confederation but less rigid than a federation."(p.11 and pp. 101-112) That third type would be something like the ever evolving U.N. and the current European Union if they just don't move on to become centralized federations.(p. 110) Archibugi's model for a federation is a strong federation that has existed over a period of time and one strengthened by wars with external enemies: the United States of today, not as it was when first created. The result is that the third type of structure which he champions is vitually the same as the limited federation that most world federalists support.

Part II, "The Practice of Cosmopolitan Democracy," focuses on what needs to be done to promote cosmopolitan democracy in particular cases, such as how to make the U.N. and other international organizations more democratic. Military actions for humanitarian purposes should be based on cosmopolitan democratic principles rather than just the interests of a few dominant countries. Decisions on how best to spread democracy into new areas, how to advance ethnic self-determination, and how to protect the rights of linguistic minorities require democratic decision-making at the global level. Ultimately global democracy requires a global language that is accessible to all, and on page 260 he says that "democratic politics must be in Esperanto."

Archibugi admits that there are other issues that he has not discussed which need to be addressed by a global commonwealth of citizens rather than the oligarchy of rich countries which now exists. But he has discussed the central issues and has made his main point in a cogent way. The democratic nation-states which are so dominant in the world must apply their democratic principles of universal inclusion, responsibility to the governed, and rigorous impartiality beyond their national borders to the whole global community.

Ronald J. Glossop is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Peace Studies at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and author of Philosophy: An Introduction to Its Problems & Vocabulary (1974), World Federation? (1993) and Confronting War (4th ed., 2001)