Towards a 'Glocal' Concept of Democracy
In democratic theory (or: in political philosophy), an opposition has gradually taken shape between, on the one hand, proponents of a universal model of democracy (usually organized the notion of Free, Fair, Frequent, Univeral, Competitive, and Secret elections) that would be applicable, at least in principle, to the whole world, and, on the other hand, pluralistic and relativistic positions that either suggest that “democracy” can mean something different in many places or, alternatively, that its relevance may be limited to particular parts of the world, leaving other parts to more traditional, authoritarian or despotic forms of government.
Combining the concepts of glocalization (Robertson, Roudometoff) and of repertoire (Tilly et al.), this paper argues for a conceptualization of democracy that does allow for worldwide relevance, but without developing a universally applicable model. A first step in this direction is a detachment of the liberal and the democratic element in the (normatively) hegemonic concept of liberal democracy: starting from authors like Chantal Mouffe, it will be argued that liberal democracy is a both historically and logically contingent (though, of course, not accidental) combination of democratic and liberal principles.
The democratic principles can be summarized in the idea that, in any given political situation, all concerned (which is not the same as “all affected”!) are entitled to have some kind of “say” in the decisions that shape their lives. Since this “say” can range from an obligation on the part of those who govern to consult their population or its representatives, via an obligation to seek consent, a right to be somehow represented, and active and passive voting rights, to form of “direct” democratic self-government, it leaves space for a wide range of democratic repertoires.
The central argument of the paper will be that the key democratic idea – the entitlement to have a say - is indeed universal and, both empirically and historically, exists in most, if not all political traditions and cultures (whether in institutionalized or in oppositional form). At the same time, however, its implementation will always have to be grafted to a specific situation with its local conditions and traditions. This applies even in the present-day world, despite the existence of global networks of exchange of democratic repertoires. The idea of democracy is indeed a “travelling concept,” but not one that travels “from the West to the rest” with greater or lesser “success” – it rather is an idea that already exists in a variety of forms and, as such, is travelling in many directions at the same time.