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The boundaries of transnational democracy: alternatives to the all-affected principle


Recently, theorists have sought to justify transnational democracy by means of the all-affected principle, which claims that people have a right to participate in political decision-making that affects them. I argue that this principle is neither logically valid nor feasible as a way of determining the boundaries of democratic communities. First, specifying what it means to be affected is itself a highly political issue, since it must rest on some disputable theory of interests; and the principle does not solve the problem of how to legitimately constitute the demos, since such acts, too, are decisions which affect people. Furthermore, applying the principle comes at too high a cost: either political boundaries must be redrawn for each issue at stake or we must ensure that democratic politics only has consequences within an enclosed community and that it affects its members equally. Secondly, I discuss three possible replacements for the all-affected principle: (a) applying the all-affected principle to second-order rules, not to decisions; (b) drawing boundaries so as to maximise everyone's autonomy; (c) including everyone who is subject to the law. I conclude by exploring whether (c) would support transnational democracy to the extent that a global legal order is emerging.

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1 Calhoun, C., ‘The class consciousness of frequent travellers: Towards a critique of actually existing cosmopolitanism’, in Archibugi, D. (ed.), Debating cosmopolitics (London: Verso, 2003) ; cf. Held, D., Models of democracy (Cambridge: Polity, 1996), p. 18 .

2 Whelan, F. G., ‘Democratic theory and the boundary problem’, in Pennock, J. R. and Chapman, J. W. (eds), Liberal democracy (New York: New York University Press, 1983), pp. 1347 . However, democratic theorists have long been interested in the problem of how to legitimately constitute the demos. See, for example, Näsström, S., ‘What globalization overshadows’, Political Theory, 31 (2003), pp. 808834 .

3 Dahl, R. A., After the revolution? Authority in a good society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970) .

4 For example, see Abizadeh, A., ‘Democratic theory and border coercion: No right to unilaterally control your own borders’, Political Theory, 36 (2008), pp. 3765 ; Agné, H., ‘A dogma of democratic theory and globalization: Why politics need not include everyone it affects’, European Journal of International Relations, 12 (2006), pp. 433458 ; Christiano, T., ‘A democratic theory of territory and some puzzles about global democracy’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 37 (2006), pp. 81107 ; Goodin, R. E., ‘Enfranchising all affected interests, and its alternatives’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 35 (2007), pp. 4068 ; Gould, C. C., Globalizing democracy and human rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) ; Gould, C. C., ‘Self-determination beyond sovereignty: Relating transnational democracy to local autonomy’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 37 (2006), pp. 4460 ; López-Guerra, C., ‘Should expatriates vote?’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 13 (2005), pp. 216234 ; Moore, M., ‘Cosmopolitanism and political communities’, Social Theory and Practice, 32 (2006), pp. 627658 ; Moore, M., ‘Globalization and democratization: Institutional design for global institutions’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 37 (2006), pp. 2143 ; Marchetti, R., ‘A matter of drawing boundaries: global democracy and international exclusion’, Review of International Studies, 43 (2008), pp. 207224 ; Näsström, ‘What globalization overshadows’.

5 The principle features in both cosmopolitan democracy and deliberative models of transnational democracy. See Held, D., ‘The changing contours of political community: Rethinking democracy in the context of globalization’, in Holden, B. (ed.), Global democracy: Key debates (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 1731 ; Verweij, M. and Josling, T. E., ‘Special Issue: Deliberately Democratizing Multilateral Organizations’, Governance, 16 (2003), pp. 121 ; Dryzek, J. S., ‘Transnational democracy’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 7 (1999), pp. 3051 ; McGrew, A., ‘Transnational democracy: Theory and prospects’, in Stokes, G. and Carter, A. (eds), Democratic theory today: Challenges for the 21st century (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002) .

6 Locke, J., Second treatise of government (Project Gutenberg, 2005 [1689] ), {}, chap. VIII:§95.

7 Rousseau, J.-J., The social contract or principles of political right (The Constitution Society, 2005 [1762]) , {}.

8 Shklar's, Judith ‘liberalism of fear’ is a useful expression of such a sceptical view of politics. Shklar, J. N., Political thought and political thinkers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) .

9 Saward, M., ‘A critique of Held’, in Holden, B. (ed.), Global democracy: Key debates (London: Routledge, 2000). ; cf. Zürn, M., ‘Global governance and legitimacy problems’, Government and Opposition, 39 (2004), pp. 260287 .

10 Kant, I., Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1984 [1795]), p. 24 .

11 Sangiovanni, A., ‘Global justice, reciprocity, and the state’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 35 (2007), pp. 339 , Eckersley, R., ‘From cosmopolitan nationalism to cosmopolitan democracy’, Review of International Studies, 33 (2007), pp. 675692 .

12 Arrhenius, G., ‘Vem bör ha rösträtt? Avgränsningsproblemet i demokratisk teori’, Tidskrift för politisk filosofi, 9 (2005), pp. 4763 .

13 Held, D., Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995) .

14 Nozick, R., Anarchy, state, and utopia (Basic Books, 1974) .

15 Waldron, J., Law and disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 344 ; Barry, B., Culture and equality: An egalitarian critique of multiculturalism (Cambridge: Polity, 2001) .

16 But this oversimplifies matters: Consider, for example, people who benefit from welfare services without contributing to their production. Those people might still have legitimate claims to participate in deciding on such issues. Furthermore, benefiting from political decisions might indirectly create a right to participate in their making, if people who receive public goods by the cooperative efforts of others have an obligation to do their fair share by obeying the law. David Mapel argues that situations where public benefits cross borders demonstrate why this fairness account of obligation is insufficient (Mapel, D. R., ‘Fairness, political obligation, and benefits across borders’, Polity, 37 (2005), pp. 426442) .

17 Tännsjö, T., ‘Future People, the All Affected Principle, and the Limits of the Aggregation Model of Democracy’, in Rønnow-Rasmussen, T., Petersson, B., Josefsson, J. and Egonssson, D. (eds), Hommage à Wlodek: Philosophical papers dedicated to Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund University, 2007) .

18 Shapiro, I., Democratic Justice (London: Yale University Press, 1999) .

19 Some suggest that basic human rights provide the baseline criterion for inclusion: Political institutions and decisions affect you in the sense relevant for democratic inclusion if they have an impact on your basic human rights. See Gould, Globalizing democracy; Gould, ‘Self-determination’; Held, D., ‘Democratic accountability and political effectiveness from a cosmopolitan perspective’, Government and Opposition, 39 (2004), pp. 364391 ; Caney, S., Justice beyond borders: A global political theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) . However, human rights do not provide a clear-cut, uncontroversial standard of affectedness, and it seems implausible that democratic inclusion would ever be a sufficient redress for violations of basic human rights.

20 Saward, ‘A critique of Held’.

21 Marres, N., ‘Issues spark a public into being’, in Latour, B. and Weibel, P. (eds), Making things public: Atmospheres of democracy (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005) .

22 Dewey, J., The public and its problems (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988 [1927]) ; Lippmann, W., The phantom public (London: Transaction, 1993 [1927]) , Lippmann, W., Public opinion (Project Gutenberg, 2004 [1921]), available online at: {} .

23 Schumpeter, J. A., Capitalism, socialism and democracy (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 245 .

24 Dahl, R. A., Democracy and its critics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), chap. 9 .

25 Whelan, ‘Democratic theory’.

26 Furthermore, it might be difficult to reach agreement on what the issue is, since constructing the policy problem is a political issue in its own right. For example, Brian Barry disputes Iris Marion Young's claim that women exclusively should control ‘reproductive rights policy’, noting that already this terminology takes for granted what is at stake: whether abortion is entirely a question about a woman's right to control her fertility: ‘Whether or not some issue affects only the member of a certain group is itself normally a matter of controversy, and that controversy is itself one on which everyone can properly take a position.’ (Barry, Culture and equality, p. 303.)

27 Goodin, ‘Enfranchising’. The all-affected principle is also indeterminate in another way, because it seems to assume that causation and responsibility can easily be determined too, and that such causal responsibility grounds moral obligation. But there are many issues and problems that escape nation-state borders and which thus might require transnational governance, without being clearly caused by a particular group of decision-makers. For instance, David Held cites the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a paradigm case of an issue that suggests a border-transgressing political community of stakeholders. But who are the decision-makers responsible for the epidemic whom those affected should hold to account? Where the responsibility for cause or solution is dispersed and diluted over many different actors, the all-affected principle seems even more difficult to apply. And, as Robyn Eckersley (‘From cosmopolitan nationalism’, p. 681) argues, ‘in seeking to establish culpability via a direct or indirect causal connection between perpetrators and victims, this [cosmopolitan] approach displaces the simple appeal to our common humanity as the motivator for institutional change. If no causal connection can be shown, or if the causal connection appears weak and tenuous, then there is no residual argument to suggest that those with the capacity to assist should still take responsibility anyway.’

28 Tännsjö, ‘Future People’.

29 Held, , Democracy and the Global Order, p. 237 .

30 Saward, ‘A critique of Held’.

31 Cf. Kuper, A., Democracy beyond borders: Justice and representation in global institutions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 15ff . See also, Abizadeh, ‘Democratic theory’; Moore, ‘Globalization and democratization’.

32 Dryzek, J. S., Democracy in capitalist times: Ideals, limits and struggles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) .

33 Although Held sometimes talks about cosmopolitan democratic reform as a project of building new political institutions around his ‘seven sites of power’, the concrete proposals for international reform that he puts forward seem more based in a layered territorial state logic (Dryzek, ‘Transnational democracy’; Saward, ‘A critique of Held’; Coleman, W. D. and Porter, T., ‘International Institutions, Globalisation and Democracy: Assessing the Challenges’, Global Society, 14 (2000), pp. 377398) .

34 Whelan, ‘Democratic theory and the boundary problem’, p. 19; Dahl, , After the revolution? p. 64 .

35 Scheuerman, W. E., ‘Cosmopolitan democracy and the rule of law’, Ratio Juris, 15 (2002), pp. 439457 .

36 Coleman, and Porter, , ‘International Institutions’; Keohane, R. O. and Nye, J. S., Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1977) .

37 Held, D., ‘Kan globaliseringen regleras? Att återuppfinna politiken’, in Amnå, E.; (ed.), Bör demokratin avnationaliseras? (Stockholm: Fakta info direkt, 1999) .

38 Saward, ‘A critique of Held’, p. 38.

39 Cf. Chandler, D., ‘New rights for old? Cosmopolitan citizenship and the critique of state sovereignty’, Political Studies, 51 (2003), pp. 332349 .

40 Agné, ‘A dogma’, cf. Agné, H., Democracy reconsidered: The prospects of its theory and practice during internationalisation: Britain, France, Sweden, and the EU (Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2004) .

41 Goodin, ‘Enfranchising’.

42 Beckman, L., ‘Citizenship and voting rights: Should resident aliens vote?’, Citizenship Studies, 10 (2006), pp. 153165 .

43 Agné, , Democracy reconsidered, p. 59 .

44 Näsström, ‘What globalization overshadows’.

45 Hellström, A., Bringing Europe down to earth (Lund: Lund University, 2006) .

46 Lippmann, ‘Public opinion’, chap. XVII:4.

47 Arrhenius, ‘Vem bör ha rösträtt?’.

48 Kymlicka, W., Modern politisk filosofi (Nora: Nya Doxa, 1995), p. 38 .

49 Pogge, T. W., ‘How to create supra-national institutions democratically: Some reflections on the EU's “democratic deficit”’, in Føllesdal, A. and Koslowski, P. (eds), Democracy and the EU (Berlin: Springer, 1998), pp. 161185 .

50 Dahl, , Democracy and its critics, p. 148 .

51 Hurley, S. L., ‘Rationality, democracy and leaky boundaries: Vertical vs. horizontal modularity’, Journal of Political Philosophy, 7 (1999), pp. 126146 .

52 Agné, ‘A dogma’.

53 Agné defines autonomy as ‘the possibilities of an actor – individual or collective – to take action in regard to itself while free from domination by other actors’ (Agné, ‘A dogma’). That is, the more and the more different actions an actor can perform, the more autonomous it is. Cf. Abizadeh, ‘Democratic theory’; Marchetti, ‘A matter of drawing boundaries’.

54 Abizadeh, ‘Democratic theory’, p. 49.

55 Abizadeh, ‘Democratic theory’.

56 Kuper, Democracy beyond borders.

57 Arneson, R. J., ‘Democracy is not intrinsically just’, in Dowding, K. M., Goodin, R. E. and Pateman, C. (eds), Justice and democracy: Essays for Brian Barry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 4058 .

58 Cited in Arneson, ‘Democracy is not intrinsically just’.

59 Dahl, , Democracy and its critics, p. 122 .

60 López-Guerra, ‘Should expatriates vote?’, p. 220; Habermas, J., The inclusion of the other: Studies in political theory (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998), chap. 9 .

61 Dahl, Democracy and its critics.

62 López-Guerra, ‘Should expatriates vote?’.

63 Beckman, ‘Citizenship and voting rights’.

64 Habermas, J., ‘Remarks on legitimation through human rights’, Philosophy & Social Criticism, 24 (1998), pp. 157171 .

65 A colonial power imposing a legal system on a colony springs to mind as an illustration of such illegitimate exclusion (of the colonials subject to the law) and inclusion (of colonial power legislators not themselves subject to colonial law).

66 On the other hand, just like that version of the all-affected principle requires citizens to be equal and uniform, so that they cannot shield themselves from being affected by political decisions, equality before the law may require that citizens are fairly equal in socio-economic terms: ‘in a society characterised by great inequality, the rich and poor do not enjoy genuine equality before the law. Laws will often impact differently on people, depending on their wealth and income’ (Bertram, C., ‘Global justice, moral development, and democracy’, in Brock, G. and Brighouse, H. (eds), The political philosophy of cosmopolitanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 7592) . Furthermore, even legislation approximating Rousseau's requirement that all laws be general in form may serve narrow interests (Goodin, R. E., ‘Institutionalizing the public interest: The defense of deadlock and beyond’, American Political Science Review, 90 (1996), pp. 331343) .

67 See, for example, Brunkhorst, H., Solidarity: From civic friendship to a global legal community (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005) ; Habermas, J., Der gespaltene Westen: Kleine politische Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2004) ; Tännsjö, T., ‘Cosmopolitan democracy revisited’, Public Affairs Quarterly, 20 (2006), pp. 267331 .

68 Brunkhorst, H., ‘Globalising democracy without a state: Weak public, strong public, global constitutionalism’, Millenium: Journal of International Studies, 31 (2002), pp. 675690 ; Held, D. and McGrew, A., ‘The end of the old order? Globalization and the prospects for world order’, Review of International Studies, 24 (1998), pp. 219243 ; Held, D., ‘Law of peoples, law of states’, Legal theory, 8:1 (2002), pp. 144 .

69 Brunkhorst, , Solidarity, p. 129 .

70 Brunkhorst, , Solidarity, p. 130 ; cf. Teubner, G., ‘Global Bukowina: Legal Pluralism in the World Society’, in Teubner, G. (ed.), Global Law Without a State (Brookfield: Dartmouth, 1997), pp. 315 .

71 Hence, just as the all-affected principle usually is thought to concern burdens rather than benefits of political decisions, the subject-to-the-law principle might be taken to focus on the negative aspects of being subject to law, and similarly resonates with a sceptical view of politics.

72 Cf. Nagano, T., ‘A critique of Held's cosmopolitan democracy’, Contemporary Political Theory, 5:1 (2006), pp. 3351 .

73 Zürn, M., ‘Law and compliance at different levels’, in Zürn, M. and Joerges, C. (eds), Law and governance in postnational Europe: Compliance beyond the nation-state (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) .

74 The principle thus suggests a counter-argument to the so-called no demos thesis, which claims that EU democracy is futile in the absence of a pan-European demos.

75 Thompson, H., ‘The modern state and its adversaries’, Government and Opposition, 41 (2006), pp. 2342 .

76 Cohen, J. L., ‘Whose sovereignty? Empire versus international law’, Ethics & International Affairs, 18 (2004), pp. 124 ; cf. G. Teubner, ‘Global Bukowina’; Teubner, G., ‘Societal Constitutionalism: Alternatives to State-Centered Constitutional Theory?’, in Joerges, C., Sand, I.-J, & Teubner, G. (eds), Transnational Governance and Constitutionalism (Portland: Hart, 2004), pp. 329 .

77 Cohen, ‘Whose sovereignty?’.

78 Leydet, D., ‘The ideas of 1789 or solidarity unbound: A sceptical appraisal’, Philosophy & Social Criticism, 32 (2006), pp. 799807 .

79 Brown, C., ‘The borders of (international) political theory’, in O'Sullivan, N. (ed.), Political theory in transition (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 190208 .

80 Näsström, ‘What globalization overshadows’.

* I wish to thank Göran Duus-Otterström, Piki Ish-Shalom, Mikael Persson, Fabienne Peter, Birgit Schlütter, Michael Zürn and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

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