Friday, November 15, 2013

Great Books From Graduate School Vol. 4 | Thinking Globally About the Future of Democratic Citizenship

Lately, at the WUW? office, the crew has been discussing a how globalization affects and will affect our understanding of democracy and citizenship. I have been preparing for my preliminary exams so not sure if this is a voluntary or coerced conversation. Nonetheless, our debates have been intriguing. In the process we have been reading a number of different books attempting to understand how American society and the world is being reshaped.

We wanted to offer y'all a few books that are helpful in working through these issues. Before we can start to theorize the effects of globalization on democratic citizenship, we must first develop a deeper understanding of what democracy is. In many ways the word democracy is an empty signifier - meaning has come to mean anything a speaker or writer wants it to mean, thus it has no meaning.

Philosophers and social theorists have developed a diverse array of definitions of democracy as far back as Aristotle, but few individuals understand the ways in which these definitions intersect and diverge in a multiplicity of ways. 

I posit that, the western conception of democracy can be better understood by defining it in five diverging and intersecting ways: a set of theoretical ideals; a historical transition; an institutional structure and method of governing; a relationship between rulers and the ruled; and a rhetorical tool to legitimate political and economic policy. Approaching democracy from these five perspectives may help to disentangle a term that sits on western consciousness as a natural phenomenon.

I would like to define Democracy as a historically specific, theoretical attempt to conceive of a societal structure, based on the will of an autonomous, rational, self-interest seeking individual, whom being considered equal with others within a well defined territory, gives legitimacy and authority to a political structure in which state-sovereignty is based on the sovereign will of the aggregate of those territorially bound individuals.

Thus, to understand what democracy means in contemporary society, we must understand the historical development of liberal political theory. Here are three books to help you out with that:

1. Pierre Manent - An Intellectual History of Liberalism

2. Michael Howard - War and the Liberal Conscience

 3. Ian Shapiro - The State of Democratic Theory

Ok, after we come to a historical understanding of liberal democratic theory, we need to start thinking about globalization and how it interacts with democratic institutions. Democratic theory, developed alongside the development of the modern nation-state, and democratic citizenship is theorized within the well defined boundaries of the nation-state which gives the government of the nation-state sovereignty over it's territory and its citizens. Max Weber explained that what made government within the modern nation-state unique was that it monopolized the means of violence or coercion. Thus, the nation-state is crucial to how we think about what citizenship is, how citizens and the state interact, and how the rights of citizens are theorized. 

The major debate about globalization and democracy, is whether or not globalization undermines the authority (monopoly of the means of coercion) of the nation-state.

Here are a three books to help understand globalization and the nation-state:

1. Jurgen Habermas - The Postnational Constellation

 Michael Mann - The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 4: Globalizations, 1945-2011

Saskia Sassen - Losing Control: Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization

Finally, if it is true that globalization does undermine the sovereignty of the nation-state and thus democratic citizenship, then it is necessary to think about what citizenship and citizen rights. Is it possible for the globalization to develop is a more democratic way? If so, how should we think about citizenship rights in a globalized context? Many authors have started to suggests that we should start thinking in terms of human rights instead of citizenship rights bound to the nation-state. 

Here are three books to help you think about citizenship and human rights:

1. Mary Ann Glendon - Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse

2. Bryan S. Turner - Vulnerability and Human Rights

3. Lynn Hunt - Inventing Human Rights: A History


Here is where I am at with the debate about globalization and the nation-state and democracy... or think of this as a working hypothesis... or as first draft of the introduction to the essay I am working on:

Contemporary democratic theorists are concerned about the danger globalization poses to the sovereignty of the nation-state and thus the ability of democracy and democratic citizenship to survive the current development of globalization. 

I contend that the question of whether or not globalization threatens the nation-state, democracy, and democratic citizenship misses a more fundamental question about democratic theory – is democracy laden with assumptions that produce globalization and thus the demise of democracy. From this perspective, I argue that the assumptions which constitute the foundation of democratic theory are fallacious leading to the conclusion that democracy never was and still isn’t a possible reality. Further, recognition of the fallacy of democracy should lead theorists away from questions of globalization and democracy and into the development of more plausible theories that reflect the irrational and diverse human experience.

In an attempt to make the case that democracy is not threatened by globalization rather democracy is threatened by its own fallacious assumptions, I first, define democracy as set of theoretical ideals, a historical transition, an institutional structure and method of governing, a set of relationships, and a rhetorical tool to justify political and economic policy. 

Second, I explore the arguments concerning whether or not globalization undermines the sovereignty of the nation-state. 

Next, I ask the question, if globalization does indeed undermine the sovereignty of the nation-state, can citizenship survive the loss of the nation-states democratic institutions. Fourth, I explore various proposed solutions the democratic deficiencies. Finally, I develop the argument that the decline of the nation-state, democracy, and democratic citizenship are not consequences of globalization, rather the decline of democracy stems from its own internal inconsistencies and fallacies. 

To conclude this essay, I will offer possibilities for a new structure of governing and citizenship based on the absence of a universal human nature, a plurality of truths instead of one absolute truth, man as an irrationality actor instead of a rational actor, communal interests instead of self interest, science as a language and way of knowing among many other ways of knowing, and diversity of human experiences.

Blogging as a citizen of the globe,

No comments: