Human rights do not make global democracy

Contemporary Political Theory 10 (4):463-481 (2011)
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Abstract

On most accounts of global democracy, human rights are ascribed a central function. Still, their conceptual role in global democracy is often unclear. Two recent attempts to remedy this deficiency have been made by James Bohman and Michael Goodhart. What is interesting about their proposals is that they make the case that under the present circumstances of politics, global democracy is best conceptualized in terms of human rights. Although the article is sympathetic to this ‘human rights approach’, it defends the thesis that human rights are not enough for global democracy. It argues that insofar as we hold on to the general idea of democracy as a normative ideal of self-determination (self-rule) that is, of people determining their own lives and ruling over themselves, the concept of democracy accommodates two necessary conditions, namely, political bindingness and political equality. Further, it argues that neither Bohman's nor Goodhart's accounts fulfills these conditions and that one explanation for this could be traced to a lack of clarity concerning the distinction between democracy as normative ideal and democracy as decision method or rules (for example, institutions, laws and norms) for regulating social interactions. This ambiguity has implications for both Goodhart and Bohman. In Goodhart's work it manifests itself as a vagueness concerning the difference between political agency and democratic agency; in Bohman's work it becomes unclear whether he contributes a normative democratic theory or a theory of democratization. Although this article develops both a conceptual and a normative argument against their proposals, the aim is not to find fault with them but to point to questions that are in need of further elaboration to make them more convincing.

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