Conceptualizing transnational democratic networks: a case study of world wide views on biodiversity



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(Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy

(Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy emerges from the liberal-institutionalist approach to democracy observed in democratic nation-states but seeks to ‘scale it up’ to accommodate the international sphere. Proponent of Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, David Held supports the formation of democratic procedures to conform to a role within international institutions and institution-building (Held 2003, 173; Held and Patomaki 2006, 121). Similar to Eckersley, Held adopts a cosmopolitan ontology in that all those who are affected should be represented in the democratic process. Moreover, the theoretical tradition is strongly communitarian6 and liberal in its pursuit of justice (Rawls 1997; Goodin 2003). Recognizing cosmopolitan elements embedded in global institutions, Held believes they have not served the purpose well to date and have “. . . by no means generated a new deep-rooted structure of cosmopolitan accountability and regulation” (Held 2003, 172). The primary actors within Held’s theory are representative of public cosmopolitan liberal ideals, including concepts of liberty, prosperity, and individualism, devised from agreed upon notions of justice.

Liberal democracy is fundamentally based on the reasoning of rational decisions made by the public and entrusted in elected leadership. Institutions such as courts and legislative bodies of which directly contribute to constitution-building are the main forums for democratic development and influence (Dryzek 2000, 12-14). Institutions responsible for democratic evolution require and constitute liberal rights as means to influence the democratic processes (Dryzek 2000, 10; Held and Patomaki 2006, 116, 123). In building a foundation for democracy on these agreed upon principles, higher-level institutional venues (and officials) advise the democratic process with the rationale of common good in mind. Citizen deliberation is, therefore, not a normal process of government arrangements but may effectively contribute to the democratic process through mechanisms of voting and prioritizing the pluralistic components of a democratic society (Rawls 1997; Dryzek 2000, 14; Held and Patomaki 2006, 129). Held offers the opportunity to increase legitimacy in international institutions, such as forums and subdivisions of the United Nations and international courts. Furthermore, legitimacy is given to particular populations affected by events or phenomena, and accountability is provided through constitutions supported by institutions and judicial processes.

Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, as adopted by Held, finds reasoning through Rawlsian ideals of public reason and ration (Rawls 1997). Rawls highly emphasizes the concept of justice as means to verify democratic procedures, and democratic institutions reciprocally verify justice through the belief and ability of the public to establish and constitute reason (Baber and Bartlett 2005, 50). In consideration of the conditions of transnationalism, public reason would be demonstrated and reflected in regional and international institutions in response to legal procedures founded by public reasoning and shared ideals. “A cosmopolitan polity can only be satisfactorily entrenched if a division of powers and competencies is recognized at different levels of political action and interconnectedness – levels which correspond to the degrees to which public issues stretch across borders and significantly affect diverse populations” (Held 2003, 174). Bridging institutional structure and cosmopolitan ideals, Held (2003) recognizes international institutional fallacies, but at the same time, is optimistic of powers of deliberation, reason, and common good to reshape political space.



Transnational Discursive Democracy

Rather than embracing liberalist notions of democratic formation, including reliance on traditional liberal institutions, John Dryzek is an advocate for a bottom-up based response to transnationalism through methods of discursive democracy (Dryzek 2000). Transnational Discursive Democracy theoretically bridges the critical components of Habermasian democracy, such as the relevance and significance of communicative action, with Chantal Mouffe’s discussion of agnostic pluralism (or radical democracy) (Dryzek 1990; Habermas 1992; Mouffe 2000). Prominence is given to values of inclusion and pluralism within the ideal of democracy as people come together through experiences and interactions. Similar to Habermas, Dryzek suggests public spheres remain an important venue for democratic discussions (Dryzek 2000, 23, 103, 131). Dryzek, though, establishes a much more flexible structure and expectation for democratic processes – unconstrained by institutional foundationalism and relevant in social and cultural life in forms of public action including protests to formal deliberations (Dryzek 2000, 60, 100). Discursive Democracy is not bounded by institutions of state or identity, but rather, is founded in a communicative base of similar interests.

Civil society takes prominence as venue by engaging in discourse to breakdown barriers of intersubjectivity, generating public opinions as outcomes of contestations (Dryzek 2000, 56). The communicative power of citizen discourse has direct influence on the process and can inform and transform democracy as it finds appropriate, unbounded by institutional expectations (Dryzek 2000, 131). Moreover, there are no vivid distinctions and expectations for what democracy should look like, rather, it is embraced as a continually evolving process (Mouffe 2000, 17). Here is where the bridge between Habermas and Mouffe is built as the approach adopts a post-structrualist understanding of discursion in consideration and pretense to understanding a transforming democratic system. Consensus, in the Habermasian prescription, is not theoretically sound as citizens’ deliberation is constantly within a paradigm of antagonism, contestation.

Essential to Transnational Discursive Democracy is its deliberative and communicative core (Dryzek 1999, 44). The deliberative component not only fosters democratic evolution but also perpetuates democratic identity as that of which reaches beyond boundaries of nation-states and encompasses contesting ideals of identity (Dryzek 1999, 48; Dryzek 2000, 60). The process of reasoning is founded on the politics of identity, contestation, and dialogue as citizens work through differences to address social disputes, and consequently, evolving the democratic process. Civil society organizing in forms of networks, protests, and deliberations is legitimized as it dialectically influences institutions and push for changes. Discursive Democracy embraces transnationalism and envisions it as the most radical democratic shift as it separates itself from formal institutionalization and cosmopolitan ideals but finds home in civil society – inclusive of networks, non-governmental organizations, and social movements.

Cosmopolitan Nationalism, (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, and Discursive Democracy all present distinct approaches to pursue or conceptualize transformations into transnational democracy. With different values prominent – ecological justice, global liberalism, and pluralism – each pave a different path with different goals for how to readdress the limitations of state-based democracy. The three approaches to transnational democracy are presented to inform the World Wide Views project as a phenomenon. The process of analysis will be elaborated on in the following section as I present the typology as an analytical tool and attempt to shed light on the practicalities of transnational democratic exercises in lieu of the authors’ discussions.




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