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Democratizing Global Governance*

Draft for the Big Sur CPOGG-Workshop

San Francisco, April 6, 2004

Dr. Philipp Sebastian Mueller

EGAP Monterrey

I want to thank Andreas Paulus, Ignacio Irazustra, Jörg Friedrich, Markus Lederer, and Katie Tobin who
have had important influences on this paper.

The Task: Democratizing Global Governance

Global governance is all around us. It is no longer a utopian project of UN-eggheads who
imagine that global issues can be solved by problem-oriented, multi-sectoral networks.
We encounter global governance, or more precisely the legitimizing arguments of the
global governance system of thinking and doing, every day in our lives. 1 We are
persuaded that it makes sense to build institutions through combined efforts by the
private and the public sector such as the World Commission on Dams or the “Roll Back –
Malaria” campaign. We accept civil society organizations as service providers and policy
transforming participants in our domestic politics. When local civil society organizations
are linked to global ideas or organizations their clout in local politics often increases. We
take seriously global gatherings that legitimize themselves recursively by being present in
the global media such as the World Economic Forum, the World Social Forum, or the
multi-sectoral UN-summits on any issue from women’s rights to information technology.
The system of thinking and doing that we call global governance is here and it is here to

The idea of using democracy as a basket of principles to evaluate systems of thinking and
doing is even less contested than global governance. 2 At this point in history, it does not
have to be defended against other potential baskets of principles, such as transcendent,
authoritarian or communitarian alternatives. Synchronicity calls, both concepts are dear

A system of thinking and doing is a way of imagining the world in order to analyze it and also to act in it.
Baskets of principles evaluate systems of thinking and doing, explanations for behavior, or individual
acts. Democracy could also be described as a system of thinking and doing. For the argument made in this
paper, however, I want to analyze the compatibility of global governance as a system of thinking and doing,
with the democracy as a basket of principles, as understood by mainstream liberal democratic theory –
prevalent in our time.

to us at this specific stage in time; 3 therefore, the task set out for us is clear: We need to
ask to what degree the system of thinking and practicing global governance is compatible
with the basket of principles of democracy, and if not, how such compatibility could be

Synchronicity is “the name given by the Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung (1875-1961), to the phenomenon
of events which coincide in time and appear meaningfully related but have no discoverable causal
connection.” Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

I. Global Governance as a System of Thinking and Doing

Why has global governance become such a strong contender as a system of thinking and
doing when we want to explain and imagine world order? What is global governance, and
how do we use the concept? In the following I will address these issues.

The term “system of thinking and doing” is a not very elegant shortcut for the idea that
we use a certain vocabulary to describe/explain/predict a world and at the same time to
use this vocabulary to legitimize our actions inside the world. 4 To
describe/explain/predict is to take the role of an outside observer, to legitimize actions
inside the world is to make arguments by referring to an intersubjectively accepted body
of truths (communicative rationality) or by referring to transcendental or procedural
modes of authority. The term allows us to reflect on worlds in which we need to deal with
the recursive relationship between thinking and doing and outlines the grammar of
enquiring into these types of worlds:5 it reminds us that our methods of validation that
we use when a distinction between observer and the observed exists are not applicable.

World order is the term we use to describe (inter)social relations. By focusing on the
logic of world order, we can demarcate different world orders spatially and historically.
Different logics at work allow us to describe the (generative) rules that describe/explain
modes of legitimation of actions in different systems of thinking and doing and allow us
to demarcate them from other worlds. World orders can be imagined on the continuum
from spontaneous interactions, such as the market to transcendentally- legitimized
hierarchical systems (Hardt/Negri 2001).

The word world is understood here as that part of the universe that is interesting for an observer or actor.
“The sphere within which one's interests are bound up or one's activities find scope; (one's) sphere of action
or thought; the ‘realm’ within which one moves or lives.” OED 10.
Grammar, understood here in the late Wittgensteinian sense, is constituted by all the linguistic rules that
determine the sense of an expression. P. M. S. Hacker, Insight and Illusion: Themes in the Philosophy of
Wittgenstein, rev. edn. (Oxford, 1986), 179–92.

We are in times of transformative change, where new conceptions of world order are
emerging that may or may not supersede older conceptions of world order. So the
question Why has global governance become such a strong contender as a system of
thinking and doing when we want to explain and imagine world order? Has become
salient. It can be better understood if placed in a historical framework.

Modern State System Globalization Empire? Global

based on territorial Governance? self-
sovereignty regulating Markets?

If one is interested in thinking the modern state system in terms of its logic, then one can
make a surprisingly simple argument (that has been repeated often, e.g. Osiander 1994,
Walker 1995, Kratochwil 1989, Friedrich 2002, Wendt 1999, etc.). The figure of
sovereignty with its binary distinctions of the domestic/international and state/society has
a generative function that has structured world order (Bartelson 2001).

Hierarchy Anarchy
(Security provided (Self-help System,
by the state, Domestic International no specialization)

Locus of Authority (civil) Legitimacy


Global governance then is the world order that goes beyond these institutions. It includes
however not only the dissolution of the boundaries, but a positive construction of a
system of thinking and doing out of different original distinctions. 6

Why Global Governance?

There are three historical forces that are confronting us with the need to reconceptualize
world order: The emergence of global issues, the contestation of the legitimacy of
political entities, and changes in how we think and do things in the world are forces that
are leading to a re-evaluation of how to imagine world order.

The first historical force consists of events in our “material” world, such as global
warming, the integration of the global financial and trade flows, and cultural
globalization that have led to the emergence of the idea of global issues as legitimate
arguments in policy debates on domestic, international, and global levels (Kaul 1999).
The idea of global issues is being circumscribed by a number terms such as globalization,
global commons, global public goods, and global public bads.
The second historical force is the crisis of modernity that comes to bear on our
understanding of the nation-state both internally (blurring of the boundary between
private and public spheres) and externally (blurring of the boundary between the inside
and the outside).

Domestic International


It is not clear if Jens Bartelson would agree. His main argument in the Critique of the State is that we do
not have the vocabulary to think beyond the nation state, because or the critical stance we are taking in
order to develop this vocabulary. He argues that any critical mo

And the third is a shift in our understanding of instrumental rationality, i.e. how we get
things done in the world, from institutional to functional solutions of problems. By ‘shift
of our understanding of instrumental rationality,’ I mean that a shift can be observed from
the idea of dealing with problems through ex ante legitimated institutions, where
legitimation of any problem solution is achieved by referring to mechanisms of
procedural justice (Rawls 1971) to an understanding where problems legitimize the
institutions that are built around them. The following picture visualizes this development:

Problem solving in the Modern Nation State


Problem Solution

Input legitimated

Global Governance: Multi-sectoral
Policy Networks



Civil Society
Output -legitimated

These three discrete forces together are presenting us with the problem of governing the
post-nation-state world. One world order framework that seems to be able to address
these three forces is global governance. Therefore, as a political idea, global governance
has the chance to supersede other understandings of world order, such as the modern
nation state system, world government, or ad hoc ‘coalitions of the willing.’ In academia
the concept is emerging as an important framework to imagine the global realm, and for
policy makers global governance is a political project and an emerging background
conditio n.

What is Global Governance?

No single definition of global governance exists that is accepted by all or even by the
majority of scholars or policy makers. The reason for this is not the incompetence or
incoherence of scholars and policy makers, but lies in the type of concept that is
involved. Already the act of defining global governance involves political moves and
therefore unanimity cannot and should not be achieved. In contemporary global

governance literature, three strategies to categorize global governance emerge. The first
is the denial that something like global governance exists at all; the second is to offer a
positive definition that assumes that a new form of managing global affairs has developed
that can be characterized through specific actors, instruments or practices. The third is
juxtaposing global governance to a more familiar term.

Mainstream international relations theory continues to have difficulties with global

governance because of its foundational conceptualization of the international system as
an anarchic realm (Jahn 2000). Thus, for many, global governance is nothing new per se,
but merely a continuation of the interdependence literature of the 1970s or of the
discussion about regimes in the 1980s. Given the strongly state-centric focus of
international relations theory (especially regime theory), this position makes sense
(Hasenclever et al. 1997; for an exception see Haufler 1993). Even those who have
started to take other actors more seriously do not conceptualize them as independent
agents, but still define their roles in relation to the nation-state or to the
intergovernmental system of the UN (for example Messner and Nuscheler 1996). It is
therefore no surprise that James Rosenau – an early and vivid contributor to the debate –
has rather pessimistically concluded that the discussion on global governance has not
really abandoned the notion of an anarchic international system and has not yet
contributed to a global political order (Rosenau 2000, 189). Following the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, the strategy of denial has again gained influence. It should
not be discounted, because such a perspective can be crowned by success, as long as
these scholars and policy makers are able to persuade the rest of the world (on the policy
level) that only a security-centered perspective resonates with the ‘brute’ facts of
international life.

In total contrast to the strategy of denial is the attempt to catch all new practices that have
developed within the global realm in one positive definition. The most prominent
example of such an exercise is the definition of the Commission on Global Governance,
which states that global governance is “the sum of the many ways individuals and

institutions, public and private, manage the ir common affairs. It is a continuing process
through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and co-operative
action may be taken” (1995, 2f). This all- inclusive perspective gave respectability to
global governance studies as an academic field and a policy area; however, because of its
over- inclusiveness it cannot suggest research avenues, operationalizable hypotheses, or
policy recommendations.

A scholarly, more ambitious project is James Rosenau’s attempt to focus on “spheres of

authority” which are able to set norms on various levels. For Rosenau, global governance
compromises “all the structures and processes necessary to maintaining a modicum of
public order and movement toward the realization of collective goals at every level of
community around the world” (1997, 367). However, even though such a broad
understanding of the term allows accounting for the evolution of new instances and forms
of governing, the price to pay is that the definition itself becomes so open that it is bound
for theoretical over-stretch.

Another way to define global governance in this manner is to use the term only in relation
to the empirical fact that actors other than governments have become important agents on
the international scene. Because of this, a large portion of the debate over global
governance is dedicated to conceptualizing which actors are influential in international
life and how they exert their influence and legitimize it in relation to their principals.
Sub-state groups or regions, supra-national organizations as well as intergovernmental
groups, transnational corporations (TNCs) and their associations, individual non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) of all aspects and civil society as a whole have all
been identified as relevant actors (see especially Messner and Nuscheler 1997). To grasp
the interdependence of these various agents, network analysis (Pierre and Peters 2000),
multilateralism (Ruggie 1993), multi- level analysis (Jachtenfuchs and Kohler-Koch
1996), questions of subsidarity (Reinicke 1998), informal control mechanisms (Mürle
1998), and discussions about ‘steering’ (Scharpf 1999) are often used and even
combined. While these actor-centered approaches have convincingly shown that new

actors have indeed become relevant agents in global affairs, they nevertheless could not
capture the logic of what defines global governance as a practice.

Because many scholars dismiss defining global governance in positive terms as fruitless,
some researchers have taken to juxtaposing it to a “k nown” term. Examples are
considering global governance as not government at all, or the idea of global governance
as a political answer to economic globalization.

One early notion of defining global governance as a linkage comes from Rosenau and
Czempiel, who speak of Governance Without Government (Rosenau and Czempiel
1992). Similarly Lawrence Finkelstein states that global governance is “governing,
without sovereign authority, relationships that transcend national frontiers” (Finkelstein
1995, 369).

The second juxtaposition is to argue that global governance is the political answer to an
economically-determined process of globalization (for example Messner 2001, 3f). This
argument defines global governance in opposition to the post-war compromise of
“embedded liberalism” (Ruggie 1983) in which the increase of international trade flows
was accompanied by protective measures to ensure social stability. Global governance is
being offered as an alternative to the neoliberal Zeitgeist: “In such a situation the concept
of global governance presents itself. It is related to the demand to resolve the problems of
a neoliberal globalization. The concept is presented as a progressive alternative to
neoliberalism” (Brand et al. 2000, 13 – own translation). The argument is that embedded
liberalism has been abandoned and that global governance is the only viable alternative.

As sympathetic as this usage might be, by juxtaposing political global governance and
economic globalization, the political aspects of both are lost. Globalization is not the
naturally determined fate of humanity, but instead has often been advanced by states.
This can be seen even in the critical case of international financial markets (Helleiner
1994). Thus, important developments are missed whe n one overestimates the economic

forces of globalization and simply takes global governance as being the ex post reaction
to the naturalistic force of the market. This perspective depoliticizes both processes.

In summary, one can say that no single accepted definition of global governance exists
today. The lack of such a definition should, however, not disqualify global governance as
an academic or political project; in fact it should not even be seen as a problem. There are
some things we can say about how we use the concept.

What can we say about Global Governance?

Even if no authoritative definition of global governance exists, there are some things we
can say about how the concept is used in the discourse. Global governance combines the
move to dissolve the barriers between inside and outside, the domestic and the
international, by considering the world as a totality, thereby enabling it to conceptualize
global problems with the move from thinking about problem-solving in terms of ex ante
legitimated institutions to building institutions around problems. It is therefore able to
address global problems. In the following matrix I relate our understanding of
instrumental rationality to the principles of organizing international/world systems. We
can then distinguish between different worlds that have different capabilities to deal with
our third force, namely the emergence of global issues.

World Order frameworks and their ability to deal with Global Issues:

How we do things

Input legitimated Output legitimated

System Based on
Modern State Coalitions of the
System Willing
Ordering Sovereignty (cannot do Global (cannot do Global
Issuess) Issues)

System Based on
World Government Global Governance
Awareness of
(could do Global (can do Global
Global Totality Issues) Issues)

In short, global governance offers an alternative perspective from which to imagine world
order and is becoming a serious contender for explaining how we see the world and it is
guiding us in acting in the world.

The ability to think and act on global issues, however, comes at a cost. The legitimacy of
issue-specific institutions can only come from the success or effectiveness of the
problem-solving mechanism. There is therefore a democracy gap: Effectiveness does not
address the question of who are the stakeholders that have the right to decide if a
problem-solving mechanism was both effective and efficient. And if all conceptions of
democracy maintain that democracy is about collective self-determination by free and
equal citizens (Held 1995), global governance as a system of thinking and doing is
clearly inconsistent with this requirement: Who are citizens? How can they be equal?
What are the spatial and temporal boundaries of the self-determining collectivity?

Now it could be argued that global governance as a system of thinking and doing is more
compatible with democratic principles on the global level than the modern nation state
system, because it at least allows ‘parapolitical’ contestation. However, this argument
makes a category mistake. The modern nation state system demarcated political spaces
inside the nation state and paid for that by depoliticizing the international. Global
governance as a system of thinking and doing dissolves this demarcation and therefore
has to answer the questioning of the basket of democratic principles on the global, i.e. the
formerly domestic and international levels.

The inability to address these questions means that global governance is not able to deal
with democracy. Global governance offers a functionalistic vocabulary that can offer
solutions to problems conceived as coordination or technical problems but is blind to
fully developed (democratic ) politics.

This means we are exposed to an empirical aporia, where a fashionable system of

thinking and doing clashes with a just as fashionable basket of principles. So what can we
do? As unattached observers we should be curious and ask how this is possible and how
this will play out, as engaged observe rs and policy makers we should find some type of
patchwork solution that lets us reconcile global governance with democratic principles.
As an engaged observer I therefore aim to offer an uneasy solution on what type of

patching is necessary in order to enable global governance to comply with the democratic
requirements. It must be clear that any patch will only be a patch: it will not be elegant,
but it also does not have to be because it is synchronicity and not the World Spirit that
has brought global go vernance and democracy together. And any patch will always
remind us of the arbitrariness of our solution and the underlying incompatibility of the
two concepts.

II. The Politics of Global Governance

At this point in time, it seems paradoxical to be talking about a world order conception
that cannot internally talk about politics. Especially, if we assume that the ability of
talking politics is the precondition for any democratization of global governance. In order
to better understand this statement, we need to explain what we expect from a world
order conception that can talk about politics.

Politics is that vocabulary that deals with questions that are described as questions of
choice for collectivities. It can be circumscribed by the terms community and authority
that can be ostensibly related to the questions “Who is member?” and “who gets to

Community: Who is member?

Who gets to make
policy decisions?

So saying the politics of world order allows us to ask about who gets, what when, and
how and how expectations are structured in a world. Then a framework to think politics is
to distinguish between different aspects of politics. It must be able to address (a) who is a
member, what questions we may talk about, and what are the ground rules, (b) how
conflicts between competing interpretations of collectivity are actually solved inside the
accepted system of rules, and (c) instances of partial compliance, the sometimes unfair
haggling cases that fall outside the accepted system of rules. This can be described in the
following framework:

What we want to talk about when we talk about politics:
How can we delineate political space?
What is considered political?
How can we adjudicate between conflicting
interests when we accept certain rules?

How can we legitimize specific acts, on a

case-by-case basis?

In the empirical practice of global governance, we mainly encounter instances of

parapolitical arguments and some efforts at meta-politicking. It is clear that this does not
satisfy our political needs. Therefore, the task is cut out for us: we need to figure out,
how we can integrate politics into global governance.

Political A-Political

ORGANIZING Problems dealt with by Multi-sectorial networks

PRINCIPLE// politically legitimized functionally built
APPROACH TO Institutions around Problems
PROBLEMS (input-legitimated) (output-legitimated)

System Based on
Territorial Modern State System Coalitions of the Willing
System Based on
Awareness of Idea of World Government Global Governance

In order to get global governance to be compliant with more than parapolitics – and that
is a necessary precondition if we want it to be compatible with our democratic basket of
principles, we need to address the two main variables that distinguish global governance
from other forms of order: its deconstruction of spatial boundaries and its de-legitimation
of ex ante created institutions. And this needs to be done from two sides: we need to

critically evaluate the necessity of spatial boundaries and ex ante created institutions for
democratic theorizing and on the other hand we need to critically reflect upon the all-
inclusiveness paradigm and the ex post functional legitimation of global governance. And
because a patch will always be a patch, we should not want to change democratic theory
or global governance. We do not want to let the patch change the nature of either concept,
but rather simply bridge the gap (to mix metaphors).

III. Democratic Patching: Politicizing Global Governance and Tweaking
Democratic Theory

In order to make global governance as a system of thinking and doing compatible with
the democratic basket of principles, we will have to work on both sides. The questions
that need to be addressed are: How can we politicize global governance? and how can we
tweak democratic principles so that they can deal with the “imperfect” politicization of
global governance?

As I have shown above, the vocabulary of global governance cannot talk about politics
internally. So the strategy is clear: if we want to talk politics but cannot, because the
internal logic of the concept allows only meta- and parapolitical questions, we need to
integrate perspectives from the outside into the discourse; this is the same as saying, we
need to take a critical perspective on the concept. If this is they only strategy imaginable
that does not give up the concept of global governance, we need to ask which forms of
critique are possible? A distinction between three different modes of critique are
imaginable that are distinguishable by the level of engagement with the discourse that is
to be criticized. 7

In the first mode, the author assumes the role of an external observer who claims to be as
distant from the object of inquiry as possible. Through the methodology of alienation it is
then possible to foreground the inability of the global governance discourse to talk
politics. The second way of criticizing is the strategic engagement within a debate. The
critic is still trying to distance herself from the project she is facing; however, contrary to
the first one she now takes part in the criticized discourse attempting to hijack existing
structures and injecting a new vocabulary and a new direction within it. The method is
thus one of colonization or the one of the Trojan horse. The third mode of being critical is
the attempt to improve theory and practice within the field being criticized. The

The notion of the modes of critical engagement with the global governance discourse was introduced into
the debate by Thomas Skouteris at the Harvard Law School CPOGG-workshop in October 2003.

presupposition of such a strategy is that existing theories and practices are already of
much value and only need some refinement to work even better. In pursuing such a
project, one will choose such methods as are already used within the mainstream.

Different critical modes have different (meta-)political consequences, but all are
necessary sometimes. We do not need to accept any one specific mode of critical
engagement. However, the strategy of integrating critical perspectives into the pre-
existing discourse on global governance will always only be a patch to functionally deal
with a fundamental problem: the inability of global governance to think and do politics.
But as a patch that is evaluated not for its elegance, but its function it looks great.

Up to now I have said surprisingly little about liberal democratic theory: the basket of
democratic principles. By black-boxing the internal debates on democracy, I am able to
concentrate on the task, namely patching global governance. Perhaps I can get away with
that. From the one substantive statement I made that all theories of democracy agree that
democracy is about collective self-determination by free and equal citizens (Held 1995),
enough can be derived to make a few suggestions in the direction of liberal democratic
theory. Most liberal democratic theories share two base assumptions (a) a conception of
space as bounded territory, and (b) a reliance on ex ante defined stakeholders in
processes, i.e. citizens. These two base assumptions need to be tweaked--not given up or
supplanted--in order to be able to evaluate the compliance of specific acts of global
governance with the democratic basket of principles. And with any tweaking there can be
no one once-and-for-all strategy, so here are several:

• Lose the fear of loosing territory, start thinking in terms of functional space. Read
some Luhmann. Relax! The world is still out there. Deliberately imagine
deliberation that is not territorially bounded. Think of Habermas in your Windows
• Be pragmatic about participation. Only the modernist idea of territorial
sovereignty has led us to believe that the question of identity or being inside to
some outside is the first question that ‘we, the people ’ ask. Think of working in

another country, a different university, think of consultants working on different
projects in similar companies, or similar projects in different companies. It can be


Global Governance as a system of thinking and doing and democratic theory as a basket
of principles to evaluate systems of thinking and doing are both here to stay. Global
governance in itself is not compatible with democratic principles. However, because of
the synchronicity of the two concepts, a patch to make the two compatible becomes
necessary. This type of patch will never be perfect and always will be a local,
temporalized solution and will stand in tension to the inherent logics of the concepts.
However, it is feasible and can be achieved through two moves. By politicizing global
governance by integrating an external, i.e. critical perspective, into the discourse on
global governance and by restraining democratic theories from being over-demanding, by
offering different metaphors to think space and ex ante legitimation, it can be done.


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