Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Notes on democratic sovereignty, post 3/3

(Third part of a three part post on the nature of democratic sovereignty.)

12. The discussion has thus far suggested a kind of symmetry between democratic sovereignty and liberal internationalism. I mean symmetry in the sense that in order to satisfy the ideal of democratic sovereignty, you must give up the world federalism implicit in liberal internationalism, and vice versa. The two positions are apparently obverse with respect to each other in their justifications and demands.

This does not seem to me quite accurate, however; it seems to me there is an important asymmetry as between these two. The claim of democratic sovereignty is that democracy matters for its own sake. Whereas the claim usually made by liberal internationalism is a more instrumental one, viz., that some form of global federalism is necessary in order to solve certain problems of the world that require supranational regulation, coordination, and authority – problems of the global commons, environmental problems, international peace and security, and so on.

(You can also make a non-instrumentalist claim for liberal internationalism on purely ideal and normative grounds, on the basis of the international being the historical “bearer” of the universal, but apart from noting that this position is subject to a number of attacks on the presumed identification of the merely “international” and the “global” with the transcendental “universal,” as in “universal values,” I will not deal with this further position.)

13. The democratic sovereigntist will not be satisfied with anything short of, well, democratic sovereignty in satisfaction of its claim for what constitutes political legitimacy. However, democratic sovereignty can also be quite comfortable with a robust form of sovereign state multilateralism that can, in theory, provide for mechanisms of coordination of genuinely sovereign power – and sovereign power constrained by genuinely transparent and democratic mechanisms – that can address many of the issues that the liberal internationalist believes require supranational solution. These mechanisms may be less efficient, less workable, and incomplete, but it does not seem to be the case that supranationalism is required in fact to address the long list of global issues.

(This is precisely Professor Slaughter’s point in calling not for supranationalism and global federalism, but instead “global government networks” to create mechanisms of common authority. My difficulty with her solution on this issue is not the robust multilateralism that undergirds it, but instead that it deliberately relies upon and empowers bureaucrats and judges to create this system of governance – and it does so precisely because they are less democratically accountable and, further, because the aim, it seems to me, is to undermine the unitary sovereignty of the state in favor of something ultimately becomes supranationalism created through a kind of vanguard class of global elites.)

In this sense, the two idealisms are not symmetrical because while liberal internationalism, in its instrumentalist mode, could perhaps achieve its instrumental ends with mechanisms short of giving up sovereignty, democratic sovereignty is a non-instrumentalist position, that cannot achieve its ends if it gives up sovereignty – and, moreover, has a pretty good chance of achieving most of the instrumentalist goals of liberal internationalism through robust but still sovereign multilateralism – but only if that is what the internal democratic community chooses through its democratic mechanisms.

14. The sine qua non of sovereignty, in dealings with the outside world, is the ability to withdraw from common regimes. Democratic sovereignty recognizes certain limits on this – the limit of genocide, for example. But it does not recognize the open-ended expansion of the universally binding, unconsented to, non-withdrawable from, category of customary international law, because that merely represents an end run around democratic sovereignty.

(The new ICRC study on customary international humanitarian law (which I have only had a short time to study, so this view is subject to revision) has significant methodological difficulties in that its reliance on statements rather than actual state practice of militarily significant legitimate democratic sovereigns – the United States, Britain, India, for example – gives fantastically open-ended possibilities, if taken seriously, for states which write a lot of memos to bind states which actually fight and yet attempt to take the rules of customary law of war seriously.)

15. The concept of sovereignty in relation to withdrawal is well explained in Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, delivered as southern states were seceding and shortly before the beginning of the American Civil War. Ordinarily I agree with the view that American exceptionalism precludes the Civil War from saying much in the way of broader political theory, but in this case I believe Lincoln does, for precisely the reason that the First Inaugural studiously avoids the real issue – slavery – and concentrates on the abstract issue of sovereignty and withdrawal. He makes the famous case that an unlimited right of withdrawal by a state on its own authority undercuts democracy by chopping the democratic polity into smaller and smaller pieces through each dispute. But he rests his case for indivisible union on an argument from commercial partnership law – once in a partnership, an individual member can withdraw only with the consent of the other partners, because they have placed reliance on that member’s on-going participation, commitment to remain, and consent to withdraw only with permission from other partners. Sovereignty, Lincoln notes, is not like that. Democratic sovereigns take their legitimacy from their internal political community, and their commitments to external communities of states are always contingent so long as they are sovereign, no matter how compelling those commitments may be on moral, political, practical, or other grounds.

16. The points made thus far are all broadly in the realm of political theory. But there is another kind of approach to this issue of sovereignty, democratic sovereignty, liberal internationalism and global governance. I have hinted at it in my comments about Professor Slaughter’s proposed new world order. This other approach is to look at sovereignty, liberal internationalism, and global governance from the sociological standpoint of the emergence of global elites that are committed to global governance and some version of liberal internationalism/world federalism from an ideological standpoint. Professor Slaughter makes the socialization of this new global elite – the socialization necessary to its formation and expansion – a central goal of her account of the rise of global government networks. Seen from the standpoint of what has been said above, it is the development of a global class that has power within particular societies and states but has significant, if not exclusive allegiance, to transnational institutions, ideals, and structures.

17. We are going to have to revive (and I will end with this thought) theorizing about the formation of bourgeois and professional class consciousness as a specifically sociological and social theory enterprise if we hope to understand what is going on and what many advocates hope to see go on. It is time to revive the theory of the New Class, this time applied to the rise of global elites. Political theory, indispensable as it is, will not be enough to understand the process of elite and professional formation at the global level that underlies the pressures that lead to these debates in political theory. We will need sociology and social theory, and quite a lot of it.

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