Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
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Democracy beyond the State. On the (Im-) Possibilities of Transnational Democracy

Anton Pelinka (Innsbruck)


An Attempt in 20 Paragraphs

1. Democracy has been developed as a concept of the state - the polity. Beginning with the "polis" in Athens, the concept democracy offered the state a specific set of order and rules: participation and co-determination of all who belonged to "the people" in all affairs of the state.

2. The definition of state includes two necessary elements: territory and people. A state is "sovereign" in governing "the people" in its territory.

3. It is exactly this understanding of sovereignty which has been weakened by the reality of globalisation. The economy does not know borders - and the culture (media, entertainment, etc.) does neither.

4. Globalisation has eroded the meaning of statehood and of national sovereignty. By doing so, globalisation has eroded the meaning of democracy as long as the concept of democracy is based on the existent of traditional and sovereign states.

5. The decline of nation-state based concepts of public welfare is the consequence of this development. As the state is losing its general power of sovereignty and its special power to control the economy, the welfare state is going to die.

6. The decline of the state implies the decline of democracy as long as democracy cannot be dissociated from the state - from the nation state in the sense of a sovereign entity in full ("sovereign") control of people and territory.

7. To save democracy, it is necessary to develop a post-, trans-, sub- and inter-national understanding of democracy. Democracy will be possible beyond the nation state - or democracy will cease to be possible at all.

8. Democracy will always need a consensus about the "demos": Who are the people who decide - directly, indirectly - their own fate by participating freely and equally in a decision making process? Who is included into, who is excluded from the "demos"?

9. Democracy will always need a consensus about the power, the "demos" is entitled to use: What is included into the realm of politics - and what is excluded from it? Which social spheres are legitimate "political" - and which are beyond politics.

10. Contemporary democracy is limited to the power a narrowly defined "demos" is allowed to practise - over a narrowly defined realm of policies and over a narrowly limited territory. To reinvent democracy, it is necessary to transgress these limitations.

11. By the very nature of democracy, an ethnic (or religious) definition of people reflects reality - but not necessity. "Demos" is not a God-given natural but a historically developed cultural entity permanently developing.

12. The rise of a "demos" beyond traditionally understood ethnicities does neither contradict the principles of democracy - nor is it pure wishful thinking as the case of India and (to a lesser extent) the cases of the US and Canada are demonstrating.

13. The rise of a European "demos" integrating (and not excluding) the still existing traditional national identities is a possible - not yet existing - answer providing the concept of democracy with a transnational perspective.

14. The consequence of a European "demos" would be European democracy, based on a transnational European identity and using a set of political tools as established within national democracies as discussed in the European Convention.

15. European federal democracy would be the most important laboratory for transnational democratic governance. Its results would deliver the experience necessary for the development of global democratic governance.

16. Transnational democratic governance - European, global - is the only possibility to counterbalance transnational economic power. But transnational democratic governance cannot come into existence from above - it must come out of a broadly accepted need, of the interest to answer economic with political power.

17. This interest can be rooted in a tradition of grass-roots democracy as articulated by the concept of communitarian democracy and by the "good practice" of self-organising societies and sub-societies who act without waiting for "the state".

18. Communitarian democracy underlines that democracy beyond the state can be democracy above as well as democracy beneath the state. As the state is able to control less and less non-state power, democracy has to be established on different non-state levels.

19. To develop the democracy of the future - which only can be a democracy more and more dissociated from the nation state, the interests, working in favour of democracy, have to live with the method of "try and error". As we have no case of a stable version of non-state democracy, such a democracy needs time to rise out from experience.

20. The democratic response to globalisation cannot be the insistence on a democratic model based on 18th and 19th century conditions of the nation state, but on the non-, inter-, sub- and transnational conditions of the 21st century.

© Anton Pelinka (Innsbruck)

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For quotation purposes:
Anton Pelinka (Innsbruck): Democracy beyond the State. On the (Im-) Possibilities of Transnational Democracy. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

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