Organized Interests and the Prospects of a Global Democracy

in Democratic Theory

Abstract:

Corporatism is being reinvented in current theories about global democracy. As I see it, corporatism can be regarded as a practical way out of democracy’s intensity problem: whether those more involved in an issue should have greater say. By the same token, corporatism can be perceived as a response to the all-affected principle: whether those especially affected by a decision should have more influence. In nation-states, corporatism was to a large extent dismantled during the 1980s. In world politics, by contrast, NGOs are now called upon to play an important role in not only articulating intense and affected interests but also, in so doing, realizing a global democracy. The weakness of this argument is that today’s NGOs do not reflect the will of most people—as national organizations once managed to do—and, consequently, cannot fulfill the integrative and representative function associated with this form of interest politics.

Globalization calls into question the fate of nation-states and, thereby, the kind of representative government that has developed within their confines. What is being challenged is, more precisely, the idea of political equality on which representative government is founded—in the words of Robert Dahl: “the strong principle of equality” that implies that everybody is the best judge of his or her own interests (Dahl 1989: 97–105).

Political equality has always been a highly controversial value. Voltaire made fun of it when thanking Rousseau for his book about the noble savages: Would he be equal to them? Reading Rousseau’s book made Voltaire long to go on all fours, a practice he, however, had given up some sixty years ago (Voltaire [1755] 1971: 259–260). A more serious reaction to the advocacy for political equality is pointing out that ordinary people often lack civic competence. The average citizen is said to be strikingly ill-informed politically (Delli Carpini and Keller 1996). Ordinary people are often dupes of the “propaganda machinery” in modern mass society (Lippmann 1922). When there is no strong voice speaking truth to power, equal political voice means weak political voice, and consequently, power can transform itself into an authoritarian mass polity (Sullivan et al. 1982). Some recognize a conflict between political equality and liberty, as liberty means the opportunity to become unequal (Verba et al. 1995). Others contend that political equality leads to a “cult of incompetence” (Faguet 1911).

So runs the argument against political equality among both opponents and supporters of a democratic society. Even John Stuart Mill, the democratic pioneer and prominent advocate of popular rule, saw the lack of political capacity among the newly enfranchised as a relevant objection to political equality. Writing in the shadow of the French Revolution and deeply shocked by its bloodbath, Mill warned of the consequences of popular power when it spun out of control. According to Mill, there were two sides of democracy: even as political competence was unevenly distributed, nevertheless everyone had the right to govern themselves. He predicted that the great majority of voters in a future democracy would be manual laborers, with their “low standard of political intelligence.” Voters of that kind ought, he argued, to have less influence, and more qualified citizens should have more votes. This arrangement was not meant to be invidious to those to whom it assigned the lower degree of influence; rather, he stated, “Entire exclusion from a voice in the common concerns is one thing; the concession to others of a more potential voice, on the ground of greater capacity for the management of joint interests, is another” (Mill [1861] 1977: 473–474).

Opponents of universal suffrage saw economic performance as an indicator of individuals’ capacity to contribute to the common. Therefore, they argued, ability (measured as income) and property should be the grounds for voting rights, especially property—or in the famous words of Edmund Burke: “As ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never can be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be, out of all proportion, predominant in the representation” (Burke [1790] 1969: 140).

The introduction of universal suffrage abolished what one could call external obstacles to political equality (income, property, sex, race, religion, etc.). The current criticism of political equality argues that, instead, there are internal obstacles to political equality: even with a constitution upholding the principle of “one citizen–one vote,” individuals relate to the political system unevenly. Some are more interested in politics than others, whereas politics influences some more than others. Therefore, instead of political equality, modern political science invokes two other principles—or rather, one philosophy appearing in two different versions, which takes this variation among individuals into account. According to the first principle, the influence exerted by different citizens should be graded according to intensity: those who are more involved in a given issue should have a greater say. The other principle is that influence should be adjusted according to affectedness: individuals who are especially affected by a decision should have more decision-making influence. These internal obstacles to political equality will be discussed in this article.

In spite of the extensive debate on political equality, political scientists have not yet addressed these two discourses, intensity and affectedness, in a theoretically convincing way. Instead of trying to find a conceptual solution to the problem, corporatism was proposed as a practical answer to the problem that some are more involved in or affected by a decision. Today, considering the even greater variety in people’s competence, involvement, and commitment when the world’s demoi are fused to create a global demos, corporatism is again presented as a solution. It has, so to speak, “gone global.”

This article takes the following as its aims. I begin by analyzing the internal obstacles to political equality, consisting of intensity and affectedness, to conclude that these two principles are not only difficult to apply but also incompatible with the democratic basis of political equality: grading votes is logically a deviation from equality. I then examine how intense and affected interests manifest themselves in real political life. In my interpretation corporatism provided an opportunity within nation-states for citizens to, paradoxically, comply with two incompatible doctrines: both the equality norm of parliamentary democracy and the extra-influence norm of corporatism for especially involved or affected citizens. This article ends by asking, first, whether it is possible to export this “solution” to world politics and, then, whether nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can lead us toward a more global democracy.

Intensity

Dinner is over. Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Smith are having coffee. The question arises: What shall we do this evening? Play bridge? Go to the movies? Listen to some chamber music from the local FM station? Sit and chat? Each, in due course, expresses a “preference” among these four alternatives but with this difference: Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith, though each has a preference, “don’t much care.” Their preferences are “mild” or “marginal.” Not so Mr. Smith. His preference is “strong.” He is tired, couldn’t possibly get his mind on bridge, or muster the energies for going out to a movie. He has listened to chamber music all afternoon while working on an architectural problem, and couldn’t bear any more. If the group does anything other than sit and chat, he at least will do it grudgingly. He “cares enormously” which alternative is chosen.

(Kendall and Carey 1968: 5)

Many readers of Kendall and Carey’s question may think Mr. Smith should have his way, especially as these authors come to ask which “choice [is] most likely to preserve good relations among the members of the group.” But “good relations” are not always the ultimate goal for political action. It is true that they generally are an asset and that “system maintenance” is often valuable, yet the rationale for many political missions has been the opposite: to destroy good relations and start a revolution, go on strike, or, as far as international politics is concerned, confront neighbor states and even go to war. There is also the risk that political goals become jeopardized if “good relations” wash out other concerns by giving certain groups greater say. In the same way, for example, as the resistance of the upper class might have thwarted the expansion of the welfare state and the equalization of incomes had its members continued to possess a disproportionate vote, the process of decolonization would have probably been stopped had the system of racial discrimination remained among Western powers. Giving those in the minority veto power or requiring a consensus imparts a pro–status quo tilt to the political order (Rae 1975). We must distinguish, in the post-Rawlsian discourse on ethics, between decisions that favor “those who are worst off” and decisions that favor “those who have most to lose” (Strasnick 1976 253, 262).

In addition, there are many methodological difficulties in measuring the intensity of preferences. How do we know, for a start, that Mr. Smith is actually more intensively involved? The only thing we can observe is how he behaves. But drawing conclusions about preferences by observing behavior is a common methodological mistake in the social sciences (Sen 1973). Perhaps Mr. Smith’s personality is such that he always loses his temper, while the other guests are more controlled. If so, there is a risk that theorists who favor granting influence according to intensity give special advantages to persons endowed with certain traits of character, which of course is not the intention.

A related problem concerns the possibility of abuse. If intensity is accorded special weight, it will be tempting to exaggerate the strength of one’s preferences. After all, even if I do not care very much about the matter at stake, it is better to have my weak preference satisfied than to have it thwarted. Making decisions on the basis of the intensity principle, therefore, can lead to political cheating.

And why should intensity alone be rewarded? Why not also knowledge, for example? One preference, although intense, may reflect prejudice; another intense preference may be based on scientific studies. But then if we grant knowledge an advantage, why stop there? Ought not other traits valuable for society (e.g., solidarity, a feeling for the common good, etc.) be put at a premium as well? Should not “ethical” preferences weigh more heavily than “antisocial” or “irrational” ones (Harsanyi 1976: 13–14)?

It is also the case that preferences can be very intense, quite intense, middling, weak, insignificant, and so on. What position ought we to take toward these varying levels of intensity? Levels of intensity can be gauged on an incline, to which political influence must be matched. Each upward step brings with it the risk that someone will try to scramble up the ladder without due cause—which brings us back to the issue of abuse.

We must also recognize that the intensity problem differs from the larger imperative of protecting minorities. The latter belongs to the philosophy of rights, ultimately founded on natural law, and it specifies human rights, which are considered so important that nobody, not even a majority, may violate them. The intensity problem, by contrast, deals with satisfying preferences and forms part of the philosophy of utility. Intensity is not a natural right of the kind that can be enumerated in a constitutional catalogue.

And what about the tepid or, as political scientists say, “apathetic” majority? As electoral researchers have shown, voters take an especially low interest in international relations, prioritizing domestic issues such as employment, welfare, and economic growth; correspondingly, politicians are more focused on these areas. There are, as they say, “no votes in foreign policy” (Williams 2016).

Here too we meet measurement problems. The act of voting not only expresses “preferences” but also concerns class solidarity, party identification, and voters’ evaluation of candidates’ traits. How a person votes does not always tell us about that person’s views on a substantive issue. Nor can we be sure that the apathetic majority’s preferences are stable. The Founding Fathers of the United States distinguished between “frivolous and fanciful” preferences, on the one hand, and, on the other, more deliberated preferences. Individuals with frivolous preferences do not much care what decisions are made; they can very well change their mind (Madison et al. [1788] 1987: 122–128).

What is more, if we only know the majority of voters’ first preference on a few issues, we will not be able to conclude much about their “less intense” opinions because doing that requires us to know the rank order of their preferences on various issues. Granted, party platforms may supply some information of that kind, but such information is brief at best. And that is something for which we can be grateful: if all the parties ranked all their proposals, the information at our disposal would be complex and likely incomprehensible.

Another problem we face in connection with voters’ rank order of preferences is the well-known voters’ paradox. When voters rank various alternatives, the resulting comparisons sometimes fail the test of transitivity: if someone prefers x to y and y to z, she must also prefer x to z. But that is not always the case. In such instances we cannot know what the priorities of the majority really are (Arrow 1963).

Can we not then simply ask members of the majority what their preferences are? That is what we have opinion polls for, but their weaknesses are well known: polls do not try to reflect the thinking of individuals in all its complexity; the answers depend on how we formulate the questions, and there are well-known methodological problems with the margin of error and the percentage of answers. Opinion polls are just studies, which in principle differ from how voters will behave at the polls (Mendelsohn and Brent 2001).

However, all these problems associated with intense minorities and apathetic majorities must not lead us to deny the intensity problem. There are indeed great variations in people’s involvement in different issues. But we seldom know how to handle or measure this variation. The fact that people’s feelings about political questions differ in strength is certainly real, but it is also elusive. My own view on this matter coincides with that expressed by Robert Dahl: that an analysis of the matter “strongly suggests, although it does not prove, that no solution to the intensity problem through constitutional or procedural rules is attainable” (Dahl 1956: 119).

Affectedness

Dahl often cites another remark that serves as the point of departure for the idea that influence should be graded according to how much a decision affects an individual (1970: 67).1 He found reason to ask whether there was, after all, some wisdom in the comment of a friend in Latin America who said that his people should be allowed to participate in US elections, for what happened in the politics of the United States was bound to have profound consequences for his own country. “Do not dismiss his jest as an absurdity,” Dahl concluded. “In a world where we all have a joint interest in survival, the real absurdity is the absence of any system of government where that joint interest is effectively represented.”

However, Dahl recognized several methodological problems with representation according to affectedness, just as he did with representation according to intensity. First, the set of people affected varies from one decision to another. Decisions about schools affect some, whereas decisions about urban redevelopment affect others. For each different set of people affected, there would need to be different decision-making units. How could anyone mobilize enough time and energy to participate in all these units? Second, people are by no means affected equally. Should those who are more affected have a greater say? That touches back to the problem already discussed—how to handle intensity. Third, there is a difference between having one’s interests affected and having a preference about something. Take a liberal East Coast professor who thinks that black southerners’ right to vote in elections should be safeguarded. Is that a preference? Certainly it is. But are the professor’s interests affected? Hardly. The professor may also have a preference regarding social conditions for peasant villagers in Vietnam or India, but again, his interests are not affected. So “the Principle of Affected Interests, which at first glance looked as bright and clear as Sirius on a winter’s night, has turned out to be a diffuse galaxy of uncountable possibilities” (Dahl 1970: 64–67).

But again, the problem at hand here, that of affected interests, does indeed exist. Shouldn’t Danes, for example, be given a say in decisions regarding a nuclear power plant in the far south of Sweden, which is close to Denmark? Ought not countries situated on the lower course of a river be granted influence over the discharge of effluents in countries located upstream? Should nations facing the same sea be empowered to influence the environmental policies that their maritime neighbors follow?

One proposed solution to this problem is “reciprocal representation” (Schmitter 1997): states could agree to accord each other seats in their respective national legislatures. The number of seats—perhaps two or three—could vary, depending on the total number of deputies in each legislature, the degree of interdependence perceived by the populations of the countries affected by an international issue, and so forth. These representatives would have the same salaries, services, and perquisites as ordinary members of the host country’s parliament. They would have the right to speak on the floor, would serve on committees (except those dealing with sensitive security matters), and would receive information on drafts and hearings just like “native” members of the legislature in question. While neighboring states are most likely to participate in such arrangements, “nothing would preclude polities as far away as the United States and Japan or the United States and the European Community from exchanging representatives.”

Another solution to the problem of international affectedness comes in the form of “fuzzy citizenship” (Koenig-Archibugi 2009). Currently, people affected by decisions may not have influence over those decisions (i.e., underinclusiveness). An equally problematic situation arises when individuals not affected by a decision are allowed to take part in making it (i.e., overinclusiveness). What is more, citizens may be affected only partly by decisions in other countries and to varying degrees on different issues. Affectedness is also often asymmetrical: the citizens of Nicaragua, for example, are affected more heavily by US government policies than American citizens are by Nicaraguan policies. Any form of governance must be adequately designed to accommodate such variations. An excessive focus on territorial authority exacerbates the problem of overinclusiveness by allowing affected parties a say on any question rather than on questions relating to specific areas. As for underinclusiveness, extraterritorial entitlements are necessary in order to reduce it because decisions by a state-like authority may significantly affect not only the residents of the territory in question but also people elsewhere. In a properly designed system the degree of political rights will vary. Fuzzy citizenship allows for full citizenship, no citizenship, and various degrees of citizenship. It aims to democratize existing decision-making units rather than create a wholly new global decision-making unit.

Taking affectedness into account can also help explain the policies that nations pursue. In spite of the fact that free trade is a superior welfare-improving policy, many countries often practice trade protection. An important factor explaining this phenomenon is “the competitive position of affected economic sectors in global markets.” Producers who are globally uncompetitive generally back protectionism, whereas those who are globally competitive support free trade (Moravcsik 2010: 4).

The decisive weakness of the proposal to grade influence according to affectedness is that it is unclear how the relevant group of citizens is to be delineated. Imagine a democratization of the old feudal order, Robert Goodin writes (2007). The question here is whether commoners alone should be enfranchised or if nobles ought to have a say as well. If the latter are excluded, their interests will certainly be affected. If nobles are included, however, their interests will not be affected because they will have, Goodin stipulates, sufficient voting power to block the seizure of their lands. Or imagine a referendum in the United Kingdom on whether the UK is to transfer 5 percent of its GDP as restitution to its former African colonies. Should citizens of the former African colonies be allowed to vote in that referendum? Their interests will certainly be affected. Or take a decision about schools: parents might seem especially affected, but, on second thought, so are many other groups, including employers, retired people, university representatives, all of whom depend on what kind of education children get as preparation for their future activities. Thus, instead of singling out a special group entitled to extra influence, the affectedness rule points to universality. Or, in Goodin’s words: the principle of affectedness means “giving virtually everyone everywhere a vote on virtually everything decided anywhere.” On closer examination, then, influence according to affectedness leads us to recommend a power distribution that accords the same influence to everybody—the very principle of political equality that the affectedness principle was meant to replace.

The Practical Solution: Corporatism

Obviously we cannot structure the parliamentary channel so as to satisfy everyone. There is, however, a practical solution to the intensity/affectedness problem: we can open up another channel for citizen influence over political decisions—a corporate channel. A two-channel system makes the political process less predictable than it tends to be if only conventional votes are counted. This uncertainty is a precondition for the continued cohesion of the system because it offers minority groups a reasonable chance of getting their proposals through. Such groups can continue to hope, so they do not immediately give up. In a system with both universal suffrage and freedom of association, rational individuals have reason to remain loyal to the system and to hope for the best, even if they find themselves in a parliamentary minority. Consider, for example, those who strongly favor subventions to homeowners or who deeply oppose pornography and seek its prohibition: it may be that neither group sees any prospect for gaining a parliamentary majority for its proposal, but both can hope to influence policy through pressure exerted by the Homeowners’ Association or the People’s Organization against Pornography, respectively. Such groups may be discontent yet remain confident.

Corporatism set its stamp on the development of the democratic welfare state during the twentieth century (Berger 1981; Cox and O’Sullivan 1988; Gregg 2007; Wiarda 1996). A combination of parliamentary decisions and corporatist agreements reshaped society. Contrary to expectations, the labor movement was not able to achieve a political majority in most European countries; however, it was able to wield additional influence through the pressure exerted by trade unions and other organizations. The same was true of business. Although its ideas were seldom represented in parliament on a majority basis, its interest organizations played an important political role. Both the state and the organizations gained from this arrangement. The state could take satisfaction in the fact that social peace was largely maintained and that decisions were implemented with competence and loyalty, while the organizations, to their gratification, saw their specific proposals eventually gaining acceptance in one way or another. Society held together because corporatism functioned as a safety valve for strongly committed minorities.

“Corporatism,” as Phillippe Schmitter points out in his definitions (which are as famous as they are detailed), differs from “pluralism.” The former is a system of interest representation in which organizations are united into a limited number of singular, compulsory, noncompetitive, hierarchically ordered, and functionally differentiated categories, recognized or licensed (if not created) by the state and granted a deliberate representational monopoly within their respective categories. In exchange they must observe certain controls on how they select leaders and articulate their demands and supports.

Conversely, pluralism refers to a system in which organizations appear in an unspecified number of multiple, voluntary, competitive, nonhierarchically ordered, and self-determined (as to type or scope of interest) categories. They are not specially licensed, recognized, subsidized, created, or otherwise controlled by the state in leadership selection or interest articulation, and they do not exercise a monopoly of representational activity within their respective categories.

Under corporatism, in other words, organizations are coordinated and integrated into the political system. Under pluralism they are independent of both the state and each other (Schmitter 1974). In her discussion of how to design a democratic global order, Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, takes up the gauntlet and confronts the problem of intense and affected interests. As she sees the matter, voice can complement vote within world politics in the same way it has within domestic politics. “Corporatism Goes Global!” she proclaims in the title of her widely noted article:

Corporatism was invented in the 1920’s as a response to the problem of how to incorporate into the political system new political actors that could not be eliminated or ignored but that were also threatening to the political status quo. It was a response to the growth of a strong labor movement, which, together with the socialist and communist parties to which it was affiliated, had the potential to subvert the existing economic and political system. Corporatism in its authoritarian version sought to eliminate independent unions and socialist parties altogether. In its liberal version, corporatism sought to promote social peace by giving the labor movement a role in governance, but also by co-opting its leadership and diluting its influence through the formation of tripartite councils.

(Ottaway 2001: 270)
Today, Ottaway declares, “global corporatism is being reinvented…for the same reason.” Established institutions are being challenged by NGOs, particularly those that have formed transnational networks, which have proven skillful in pushing new agendas and stopping or delaying projects they don’t approve. Global corporatism differs from the old domestic variant in that NGOs are highly decentralized and based on networks rather than being centralized and hierarchical as old-fashioned socialist movements were. But like the socialist movement, NGO networks claim to represent the true voice of the people—“civil society,” in the current terminology—against those of indifferent or repressive governing institutions and greedy private businesses.

The number of NGOs has grown greatly. Whereas 134 NGOs attended the Stockholm Environmental Conference in 1972 and as many as 1,100 showed up at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, today no fewer than 4,360 NGOs have consultative status to the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In the European Union (EU) the number of participating organizations has likewise increased: in September 2015 they numbered 4,158. Around thirty thousand individual lobbyists are reported to be active in Brussels (United Nations 2015).

So the old corporatist game—in which organizational influence is exchanged for societal stability—is being played again, now at the global level (Ottaway 2001: 265–292). Many prominent scholars and politicians share Ottaway’s view. In current world politics there is a general trend for international organizations to try to strengthen their democratic legitimacy by cooperating with NGOs; the UN is a good example (Thérien and Dumontier 2009). Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has argued that NGOs are “a basic form of popular representation in the present-day world” and that, accordingly, their “representation in international relations is, in a way, a guarantee of the political legitimacy of those international organizations” (Krut 1997: 18). Kofi Annan regarded NGOs as “indispensable partners” contributing to “better and more legitimate decisions” (Paul 1999). Ban Ki-moon has underlined that “without the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups, no initiative, however visionary, can be fully achieved” (United Nations 2016).

In political science the most elaborate argument for the claim that global democracy can be achieved via NGOs has been presented by Terry Macdonald, the Australian specialist in international politics. Her point of departure is that democratic citizenship should not be bound to territory. For a global “stakeholder,” nationality is not so important. Citizens of the future, she states, are ideologically driven: rather than being Americans or Brazilians or Germans, they are environmentalists or feminists or defenders of the freedom of speech. Cutting the ties with territory is a dramatic step, as territory has always been the bedrock of representative democracy. Still, it is possible that Macdonald is right: this really is the future for a global democracy. It is important to underline just how dramatic Macdonald’s step is, however. Both scholars and politicians, after all, have always underestimated the strength of nationalism; three American presidents—Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon—famously did so in the case of Vietnam, and President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union did so in connection with the consequences of glasnost and perestroika. In a globalized world, Macdonald avers, the nation-state, with its old-fashioned method for ensuring accountability through representative democracy, is increasingly “obsolete.”

What she finds particularly worrying is representative democracy’s inability “to take account of the differing intensity of individuals’ preferences” (Macdonald 2008: 131) and the propensity of “closed democratic societies” [that is nation-states] to allocate the entitlement of political participation “to all individuals equally” instead of, as she recommends, according participatory entitlements to individuals in relations “to those forms of power that impact in problematic ways upon their autonomy” (Macdonald 2008: 41).

Macdonald proposes that a global democracy should be constituted through boundaries of a very different kind from national borders. Her choice is the NGOs or, in her vocabulary, a “stakeholder model of democracy” or, even more precisely—to underline the varying pattern in citizens’ relations to politics—a “multi-stakeholder model of democracy,” stating, “The fact that the multi-stakeholder model represents individuals by issue-area rather than by territorial locations or nationality ensures that it is better equipped than the nation-state model to accommodate the empirical reality of territorially dispersed interests within global society” (Macdonald 2008: 158).

Macdonald would like to replace traditional electoral accountability with another system. “Elections are not intrinsically valuable,” she claims. Instead, she looks for nonelectoral mechanisms for democratic accountability because, for one, “the intensity of the autonomy-constraining interests that members of their stakeholder communities possess is usually not uniform across individuals.” What is more, she states, the demands of free and fair elections would be impractical to establish within many NGOs’ territorially and politically dispersed constituencies. Instead of centralized sanctions of the sort afforded by lost elections within nation-states, she proposes a less transparent disempowerment process that implies “a successive withdrawal of support”—economic and moral—from the public, as these are mechanisms for disabling public political agents’ capacity to continue exercising public power (Macdonald 2008: 164, 185–186, 192).

There is one big problem with Macdonald’s model, however: NGOs do not represent ordinary people. They do not reflect the will of the world’s population—as, oddly enough, both Macdonald herself and Ottaway admit elsewhere in their works (Macdonald 2008: 221; Ottaway 2001: 11). Nor do NGOs meet democratic standards of accountability.

Without elections, the disempowerment process will never live up to democratic criteria for citizens’ right to choose and dismiss their leaders. Daniele Archibugi, a leading theorist of global democracy, has, for example, ventured the restrained judgment that even if NGOs grow in numbers and power, they will always be less representative than traditional forms of political representation, and even if they bridge some aspect of the democratic deficit, they will in fact also generate new problems (Archibugi 2008: 82–83).

Among the NGOs, business is heavily overrepresented. An analysis of the EU some years back, for example, showed that business accounted for 66 percent of the organizations seeking to influence the EU. Public-interest groups accounted for 20 percent, professional groups 11 percent, trade unions 3 percent, and public-sector bodies 1 percent. The typical pressure group interacting with a global institution such as the UN or the EU is not a traditional nonprofit organization (even if such can also be found) fighting for health, disarmament, the environment, gender equality, or freedom of speech; instead, it is a law firm or other professional lobby hired by big business to propose made-to-order policies on its behalf. Nor are the leaders of the NGOs always chosen or dismissed in a transparent way; these organizations suffer from serious accountability problems. Many registered NGOs are more similar to business firms than to democratic institutions: they speak more for narrow, owner interests than for the broader sector of society they pretend to represent; their purpose is more often to influence a certain proposal than a general policy; and there is seldom one that can be observed using a popular feedback mechanism to reflect on their actions such as is commonly seen in popular movements or political parties (Civitas 2015; McCormick [2011] 2015; Thérien and Dumontier 2009: 355–377; Traynor et al. 2015; United Nations 2015). By the definition stated above, global corporatism functions more as “pluralism” than “corporatism”: the organizations in question are neither coordinated among themselves nor integrated into the political system; rather, they are competitive, independent, and nonhierarchically ordered.

It is hard to see, then, how such organizations can live up to corporatist expectations unless they abandon the role of lobbies altogether and transform themselves into people’s movements. This would require mobilizing the world’s silent majority—the billions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—and articulating their dreams and demands, which would, of course, be an enormous challenge.

But could that not happen, after all? Is that not what Ottaway and Macdonald have in mind? Utopia is certainly worthy of our respect. Utopia is, as E. H. Carr once taught us, necessary for political scientists, as realism has its limits. Realism, Carr develops, excludes four things essential for political theory: a finite goal, an emotional appeal, a right of moral judgement, and a ground for action. “Any sound political thought,” Carr concluded, “must be based on elements of both utopia and reality” (Carr [1939] 2001: 84, 87). Stating that the NGOs could lead us toward a global democracy if only they were representative and accountable seems to me to be precisely unrealistic, at least in the foreseeable future. It would be something like saying that cars would solve the problem of how we could get to Mars if only they were super-power rockets.

Conclusion

Global democracy, in the sense of a supranational order, is a remote utopia. This does not mean, however, that it never will be realized. Democratization is a nonlinear and sluggish process for which it is necessary to take a long view (Lewin 2012; Saward 2011). Nobody denies the process of economic globalization since 1945, but its political equivalent is more questionable. However, on closer examination such phenomena as the International Criminal Court as an embryo to a common international law (even if fragile), the European Union as a step toward the formation of one Europe (albeit nontransparent), and the dramatically rising number of UN Chapter VII resolutions (except that the great powers keep their veto) might be seen as signs that such a development beyond the nation-state has in fact already begun.

Is corporatism, built on NGOs, a way toward the same goal? My thesis is that it is not. History repeats itself, Marx says, first as tragedy and then as farce. To say that this is what characterizes the current debate on “corporatism going global” would perhaps be somewhat of an exaggeration, but there is really a world of difference between the old, domestic corporatism and today’s interest representation on the international scene. Current NGOs are not representative or accountable, and consequently, the old corporatist experiment is not being repeated on the global scene. Contrary to democratic ideals, the effect instead strengthens the voices of those who are already strong.

Democracy within a new world order cannot be built on special interests—just as it could not be founded on special interests within the nation-states. Democracy, if it is to deserve its name, should have its basis in political equality among citizens. It is true that interest representation can complement the parliamentary representation in order to make the system coherent and legitimate according to the corporatist model, but the prerequisite is that the organizations function as tools for ordinary people. If we ever will see a global democracy, it should mean a regime where all citizens have the same right to political influence regardless of how decisions taken in common involve or affect them.

NOTE
1

It is worth noting that all three sources mentioned in this article for citizens’ legitimate influence––political equality, intensity, and affectedness––originated with Dahl.

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    • Export Citation
  • DahlRobert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • DahlRobert A. 1970. After the Revolution?: Authority in a Good Society. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • DahlRobert A. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Delli CarpiniMichael X. and Scott Keller. 1996: What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FaguetÉmile. 1911. The Cult of Incompetence. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company.

  • GoodinRobert E. 2007. “Enfranchising All Affected Interests, and Its Alternatives.Philosophy & Public Affairs 35 (1): 4068.

  • GreggSamuel. 2007. The Commercial Society: Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

  • HarsanyiJohn C. 1976. Essays on Ethics Social Behavior and Scientific Explanation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.

  • KendallWillimoore and George W. Carey. 1968. “The ‘Intensity’ Problem and Democratic Theory.American Political Science Review 62 (1): 524.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Koenig-ArchibugiMathias. 2009. “Fuzzy Citizenship in Global Society.” Paper presented at the Transdemos Workshop Department of Political Science Lund UniversityLund, Sweden1–2 December.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KrutRiva. 1997. Globalization and Civil Society: NGO Influence in International Decision-Making. Geneva: UN Research Institute for Social Development.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LewinLeif. 2012. 2119: The Year Global Democracy Will Be Realized. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.

  • LippmannWalter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

  • MacdonaldTerry. 2008. Global Stakeholder Democracy: Power and Representation beyond Liberal States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • MadisonJamesAlexander Hamilton and John Jay. [1788] 1987: The Federalist Papers. Ed. Isaac Kramnik. London: Penguin Books.

  • McCormickJohn. [2011] 2015. European Union Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • MendelsohnMatthew and Jason Brent. 2001. “Understanding Polling Methodology.IsumaSeptember.

  • MillJohn Stuart. [1861] 1977. Considerations on Representative Government. Ed. J. M. Robson. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MoravcsikAndrew. 2010. Liberal Theories of International Relations: A Primer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • OttawayMarina. 2001. “Corporatism Goes Global: International Organizations, Nongovernmental Organization Networks, and Transnational Business.Global Governance 7 (3): 265292.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PaulJames A. 1999. “NGOs and the United Nations.” Global Policy ForumJune.

  • RaeDouglas W. 1975. “The Limits of Consensual Decision.” American Political Science Review 69 (4): 12701294.

  • SawardMichael. 2011. “Slow Theory: Taking Time over Transnational Democratic Representation.” Ethics & Global Politics 4 (1): 118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SchmitterPhillippe C. 1974. “Still the Century of Corporatism?Review of Politics 36 (1): 85131.

  • SchmitterPhillippe C. 1997. “Exploring the Problematic Triumph of Liberal Democracy and Concluding with a Modest Proposal for Improving Its International Impact.” In Democracy’s Victory and Crisis ed. Axel Hadenius 297307. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SenAmartya. 1973. “Behaviour and the Concept of Preference.” Economica 40 (159): 241259.

  • StrasnickSteven. 1976. “The Problem of Social Choice: Arrow to Rawls.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 5 (3): 241273.

  • SullivanJohn L. James Piereson and George E. Marcus. 1982. Political Tolerance and American Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ThérienJean-Philippe and Madeleine Bélanger Dumontier. 2009. “The United Nations and Global Democracy: From Discourse to DeedsCooperation and Conflict 44 (4): 355377.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TraynorIanBartłomiej KuraśGazeta Wyborcza et al. 2015. “30,000 Lobbyists and Counting: Is Brussels under Corporate Sway?Guardian8 May. www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/08/lobbyists-european-parliament-brussels-corporate.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • VerbaSidneyKay L. Scholzman and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • VoltaireFrançois-Marie Arouet [1755] 1971. The Complete Works of Voltaire. Vol. 100Correspondence and Related Documents XVI March–December 1755. Ed. Theodore Besterman. Oxfordshire, England: Thorpe Mandeville House, Voltaire Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WiardaHoward J. 1996. Corporatism and Comparative Politics: The Other Great “Ism.” Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

  • WilliamsJohn. 2016. “The Poverty of Foreign Policy Debate in the UK General Election.Durham University. www.dur.ac.uk/sgia/wwsa/foreign.policy.uk (accessed 2 August 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • United Nations. 2015. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: NGO Branch. csonet.org (accessed 2 August 2017).

  • United Nations. 2016. “UN Chief Opens DPI/NGO Conference with Call for Cooperation on Education.” United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 30 May. http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/un-chief-opens-dpingo-conference-with-call-for-cooperation-on-education/.

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Contributor Notes

Leif Lewin, now professor emeritus, held the Johan Skytte Chair of Eloquence and Government at Uppsala University, Sweden, from 1972 to 2008. His research interest is democratic theory and practice, and he has published about 35 books and many articles in English and Swedish, including Governing Trade Unions in Sweden (Harvard University Press, 1980); Ideology and Strategy (Cambridge University Press, 1988); Self-Interest and Public Interest in Western Politics (Oxford University Press, 1991); Democratic Accountability: Why Choice in Politics Is Both Possible and Necessary (Harvard University Press, 2007), and 2119: The Year Global Democracy Will Be Realized (Cambria Press, 2012). Professor Lewin is the founder of the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science. E-mail: Leif.Lewin@statsvet.uu.se

Democratic Theory

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • ArchibugiDaniele. 2008. The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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  • BurkeEdmund. [1790] 1969. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

  • CarrEdward Hallert. [1939] 2001. The Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. London: Palgrave.

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  • Civitas. 2015. “Pressure Groups and Lobbying in the EU.http://civitas.org.uk/content/files/CIT7.-Pressure-Groups.pdf.

    • Export Citation
  • CoxAndrew and Noel O’Sullivan eds. 1988. The Corporate State: Corporatism and the State Tradition in Western Europe. Aldershot: Edwar Elgar.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DahlRobert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • DahlRobert A. 1970. After the Revolution?: Authority in a Good Society. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • DahlRobert A. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  • Delli CarpiniMichael X. and Scott Keller. 1996: What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FaguetÉmile. 1911. The Cult of Incompetence. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company.

  • GoodinRobert E. 2007. “Enfranchising All Affected Interests, and Its Alternatives.Philosophy & Public Affairs 35 (1): 4068.

  • GreggSamuel. 2007. The Commercial Society: Foundations and Challenges in a Global Age. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

  • HarsanyiJohn C. 1976. Essays on Ethics Social Behavior and Scientific Explanation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.

  • KendallWillimoore and George W. Carey. 1968. “The ‘Intensity’ Problem and Democratic Theory.American Political Science Review 62 (1): 524.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Koenig-ArchibugiMathias. 2009. “Fuzzy Citizenship in Global Society.” Paper presented at the Transdemos Workshop Department of Political Science Lund UniversityLund, Sweden1–2 December.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KrutRiva. 1997. Globalization and Civil Society: NGO Influence in International Decision-Making. Geneva: UN Research Institute for Social Development.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LewinLeif. 2012. 2119: The Year Global Democracy Will Be Realized. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.

  • LippmannWalter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

  • MacdonaldTerry. 2008. Global Stakeholder Democracy: Power and Representation beyond Liberal States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • MadisonJamesAlexander Hamilton and John Jay. [1788] 1987: The Federalist Papers. Ed. Isaac Kramnik. London: Penguin Books.

  • McCormickJohn. [2011] 2015. European Union Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • MendelsohnMatthew and Jason Brent. 2001. “Understanding Polling Methodology.IsumaSeptember.

  • MillJohn Stuart. [1861] 1977. Considerations on Representative Government. Ed. J. M. Robson. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MoravcsikAndrew. 2010. Liberal Theories of International Relations: A Primer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • OttawayMarina. 2001. “Corporatism Goes Global: International Organizations, Nongovernmental Organization Networks, and Transnational Business.Global Governance 7 (3): 265292.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PaulJames A. 1999. “NGOs and the United Nations.” Global Policy ForumJune.

  • RaeDouglas W. 1975. “The Limits of Consensual Decision.” American Political Science Review 69 (4): 12701294.

  • SawardMichael. 2011. “Slow Theory: Taking Time over Transnational Democratic Representation.” Ethics & Global Politics 4 (1): 118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SchmitterPhillippe C. 1974. “Still the Century of Corporatism?Review of Politics 36 (1): 85131.

  • SchmitterPhillippe C. 1997. “Exploring the Problematic Triumph of Liberal Democracy and Concluding with a Modest Proposal for Improving Its International Impact.” In Democracy’s Victory and Crisis ed. Axel Hadenius 297307. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SenAmartya. 1973. “Behaviour and the Concept of Preference.” Economica 40 (159): 241259.

  • StrasnickSteven. 1976. “The Problem of Social Choice: Arrow to Rawls.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 5 (3): 241273.

  • SullivanJohn L. James Piereson and George E. Marcus. 1982. Political Tolerance and American Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ThérienJean-Philippe and Madeleine Bélanger Dumontier. 2009. “The United Nations and Global Democracy: From Discourse to DeedsCooperation and Conflict 44 (4): 355377.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TraynorIanBartłomiej KuraśGazeta Wyborcza et al. 2015. “30,000 Lobbyists and Counting: Is Brussels under Corporate Sway?Guardian8 May. www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/08/lobbyists-european-parliament-brussels-corporate.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • VerbaSidneyKay L. Scholzman and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • VoltaireFrançois-Marie Arouet [1755] 1971. The Complete Works of Voltaire. Vol. 100Correspondence and Related Documents XVI March–December 1755. Ed. Theodore Besterman. Oxfordshire, England: Thorpe Mandeville House, Voltaire Foundation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WiardaHoward J. 1996. Corporatism and Comparative Politics: The Other Great “Ism.” Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

  • WilliamsJohn. 2016. “The Poverty of Foreign Policy Debate in the UK General Election.Durham University. www.dur.ac.uk/sgia/wwsa/foreign.policy.uk (accessed 2 August 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • United Nations. 2015. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: NGO Branch. csonet.org (accessed 2 August 2017).

  • United Nations. 2016. “UN Chief Opens DPI/NGO Conference with Call for Cooperation on Education.” United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 30 May. http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/un-chief-opens-dpingo-conference-with-call-for-cooperation-on-education/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation