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The Global Democracy Manifesto: A Critical Appraisal

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The well-known "Global Democracy Manifesto" (reproduced below) has been signed by a number of prominent thinkers and is collecting ever-more signatures through its website. According to the website, it was primarily written by David Held and Fernando Iglesias and was "subscribed by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as well as by many distinguished authors and scholars all around the globe" ( In this commentary, which examines the Manifesto paragraph by paragraph, I try to make clear why this manifesto does more harm than good, why it gives the illusion of action for a better world while in reality doing nothing, and in what ways it is proposing nothing significant or even minimally adequate in relation to the global crises that we are facing.

In fact, this widely publicized manifesto is a disaster for humanity and for the future. It is vague and idealistic, like the empty Millennium Development Goals of the UN and like the pious and entirely ineffectual Earth Charter. Such empty pronouncements of some vague ideal with no concrete plan of how to get there (or analysis of why we cannot get there) serves only to delude people into thinking something is being done when, in fact, the polluters, the war-mongers, the systems of private profit and exploitation love these kinds of statements. Like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which nearly every rights-violating nation-state affirms, such empty idealistic statements allow for broad affirmation among the destroyers of our planet since they require no concrete actions or fundamental changes in their behavior.


Politics lags behind the facts. We live in an era of deep technological and economic change that has not been matched by a similar development of public institutions responsible for its regulation. The economy has been globalized but political institutions and democracy have not kept pace. In spite of their many peculiarities, differences and limitations, the protests that are growing all over the world show an increasing discontent with the decision-making system, the existing forms of political representation and their lack of capacity for defending common goods. They express a demand for more and better democracy.

This paragraph neglects to point out that the economy has been globalized by undemocratic multinational corporations, global banking cartels, and superpower militarism with immense power to coerce nation-states into "trade agreements" that destroy the planetary ecosystem, enrich the 1%, and bring down the wages of workers everywhere, eliminating the hopes of a decent middle class income everywhere on the planet. While worldwide people are indeed demanding a system "for more and better democracy," these words are dangerously vague and meaningless in the face of these immense forces of domination and exploitation. "Demanding democracy in protests" is surely not an effective strategy for global system transformation. We need a concrete, specific document that embodies how things could really be different.

Global welfare and security are under threat. The national and international order that emerged from the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall has not been able to manage the great advances in technology and productive systems for the benefit of all humanity. On the contrary, we are witnessing the emergence of regressive and destructive processes resulting from the economic and financial crisis, increased social inequalities, climate change and nuclear proliferation. These phenomena have already affected negatively the lives of billions of human beings, and their continuance and mutual reinforcement menace the peace of the world and threaten the survival of human civilization.

This statement uses the passive voice, as if social inequalities, climate change, and nuclear proliferation were merely oversights in a system that "has not been able to manage the great advances in technology and productive systems" that have emerged since the 20th century. If we do not analyze the causes of our current planetary disaster, or if we p*ssy-foot around examining how and why the current world anti-system is designed as the antithesis of planetary democracy, then we cannot hope to solve our dilemma. This paragraph makes it seem as if the dominators in the world system just overlooked these changes. But in fact they have actively resisted and systematically organized against any transformation that would eliminate social inequality, protect the climate, or eliminate nuclear weapons. (The completely innocuous nature of this document is revealed in its complaint that the current system has not prevented "nuclear proliferation." It appears to quietly accept the possession of huge arsenals of nuclear weapons by the superpowers, who remain poised to destroy the planet at a moment's notice, and merely complains that we have not prevented "nuclear proliferation.")

Global crises require global solutions. Within a social universe determined by globalization, the democratic capabilities of nation-states and international institutions are increasingly restricted by the development of powerful global processes, organizations and systems whose nature is not democratic. In recent years, the main national and international leaders of the world have been running behind global events. Their repeated failures show that occasional summits, intergovernmental treaties, international cooperation, the multilateral system and all the existing forms of global governance are insufficient. The globalization of finance, production chains and communication systems, and the planetary power reached by destructive technologies, require the globalization of the political institutions responsible for their regulation and control, and the global crises require coherent and effective global solutions. That's why we call for the urgent creation of new global agencies specialized in sustainable, fair and stable development, disarmament and environmental protection, and the rapid implementation of forms of democratic global governance on all the issues that current intergovernmental summits are evidently incapable of solving.

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Glen T. Martin is professor of philosophy and chair of the Peace Studies Program at Radford University in Virginia. President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), the Institute on World Problems (IOWP), and International (more...)

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