The Concept of Humane Democracy and a New Global Order

January 21, 2016

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Based on a paper presented to the Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Fellows Fifth Annual Conference, "An Ethical Dialogue between Asia and the West: Philosophical Traditions, Moral Contentions, and the Future of US-Asia Relations." The Conference took place in New York City, October 20-23, 2015.


Our world is increasingly interconnected; the scope of this interconnection is global, beyond the traditional nation-state boundaries and ideological blocs. The current refugee crisis in Europe, fueled by the ongoing Syrian political instability and the subsequent international contention among the EU nations, demonstrates a rising need for a global political mechanism to handle various socio-political, economic, or environmental issues of our world through a democratic principle and procedure. The concept of "cosmopolitan democracy" has been developed out of this context, and it has drawn significant public as well as academic attention to its theoretic establishment. Political and legal philosophers such as David Held, Daniele Archibugi, and Richard Falk, and social philosophers and phenomenologists such as Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Immanuel Levinas, and Kwame Anthony Appiah1 are widely regarded as leading scholars in this field. The purpose of this paper is threefold: first, I attempt to examine the main philosophical tenets of cosmopolitan democracy from a critical-hermeneutic perspective; second, I develop an argument that the ideological progression from liberal democracy to cosmopolitan democracy requires the transformation of the former into a new type of democracy, which I call "humane democracy;" third, I lay a philosophical ground work for the establishment of the idea of humane democracy.

The Ideological Prospects and Limitations of "Cosmopolitan Democracy"

First of all, what is cosmopolitan democracy? According to Daniele Archibugi, it is "a project of normative political theory that attempts to apply some of the principles, values, and procedures of democracy to the global political system.2 There is a historical background against which the concept of cosmopolitan democracy has been developed. It begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991). As Archibugi notes, for the first time in human history, democratic regimes have spread in the East and in the South and democratically elected governments have begun to govern the majority of the world's population, although they are not equally respectful of basic human rights. As a result, "Democracy has become, both in theory and in practice, the sole source of legitimate authority and power.3 The historical victory of the Western liberal states becomes an ideological breeding ground, in which the concept of cosmopolitan democracy has been evolved in such a way as to expand and apply the concept of liberal democracy to the global horizon.

The other background for the development of cosmopolitan democracy is what people commonly call "globalization." As David Held argues, globalization has significantly changed the basic terms of reference for politics. Various global issues in economics and politics as well as in public health, climate change, and environmental preservation have increasingly cut across domestic boundaries, creating a plethora of urgent trans-border questions. As Held points out, "Raison d'état is too narrow a set of terms of reference for addressing and meeting the challenge of climate change, water deficits, global infectious diseases, financial market reform, or security threats with a global dimension.4 The increasing level of interconnections between different nation-states created by globalization has almost rendered the ideological development of cosmopolitan democracy indispensable for the survival of humanity.

Held also lays out four fundamental principles of cosmopolitan democracy, which would promote an ethically sound and politically robust conception of cosmopolitan communities and their establishment. First, the ultimate units of moral concern in cosmopolitan democracy are "individual people, not states or other particular forms of human association.5 This principle shows us that Held's political vision of cosmopolitan democracy is deeply rooted in the Western liberal tradition. As he defines it, this notion can be referred to as the principle of "egalitarian individualism" and it makes a general claim that the basic units of the world are individual persons, as free and equal beings.6 The second principle is about the moral requirement of mutual and reciprocal acknowledgement of the equal worth of people, which he calls "the principle of reciprocal recognition." He emphasizes that this reciprocal recognition is important because "it is an attribute of every living person, and the basis on which each person ought to constitute their relations with others.7 This principle shows that the philosophical foundation of cosmopolitan democracy may be traced back to Immanuel Kant and his philosophical thesis on cosmopolitanism.8 The third principle is about peoples' political commitment to equal worth and its subsequent requirement of a non-coercive political process of decision-making. Held calls this "the principle of consent," and it purports to constitute the basis of non-coercive collective agreement and governance.9 The last principle, which he calls "the principle of inclusiveness and subsidiarity," stipulates that "those significantly (that is, non-trivially) affected by public decisions, issues or processes should, ceteris paribus, have an equal opportunity, directly or indirectly through elected representatives, to influence and shape them.10 According to Held, those affected by public decisions should be able to have a say in their making, and we can find a similar idea in Habermas, especially his ideas of discourse on ethics and deliberative democracy.

As Archibugi and Held argue, the idea of cosmopolitan democracy is ultimately aimed at developing "global governance in a democratic direction" and for this purpose, the democratic establishment of cosmopolitan law becomes essential. The development of cosmopolitan law is specifically focused on three areas: the emerging global criminal justice system, the legal solutions to interstate conflicts, and the legal regulations for both the public and the business sectors.11 They also argue that each state can become a champion of cosmopolitanism by enabling "equal treatment of citizens and aliens and respect for minority rights within their own borders.12 Regarding the question: Who are the agents of cosmopolitan democracy?—they answer by specifically naming the following groups: the dispossessed, migrants, cosmopolitan groups, global stakeholders and global civil society, global political parties, trade unions and labor movements, and multinational corporations.13

For all its conceptual advancement of the cosmopolitan model of democracy, due to its short history of development, its philosophical formation is still in its infant stage and thus liable to various criticisms. One of the criticisms brought against the concept of cosmopolitan democracy is a pessimist critique that "Globalization has not just integrated peoples and nations, but created new forms of antagonism.14 Regarding this, Held holds that although the advocacy of cosmopolitanism may appear "like an attempt to defy gravity or walk on water" against the backdrop of 9/11, the potential gains for human security and development which cosmopolitan governance would bring are not to be ignored.15 A more formidable challenge is suggested by William Scheuerman, who problematizes Archibugi's and Held's neutral stance on the concept of "the good" with regard to the establishment of cosmopolitan democratic law. According to Scheuerman, although their neutral position on the conception of the good seems reasonable given the challenges of pluralism on a global scale, yet "it arguably compounds the weaknesses of their legal analysis by potentially opening the door to a vast diversity of alternative judicial interpretations of the basic framework of cosmopolitan law.16 The kernel of the problem is, then, "How to prevent judges from fleshing out its complex and multi-faceted charter of rights in a rich variety of potentially inconsistent ways?17

In my view, a more fundamental problem of the concept of cosmopolitan democracy lies in its basic philosophical position that its political vision is deeply rooted in the Western liberal tradition, which valorizes individual persons as the basic units of the world. This fundamental philosophical stance, then, makes it nearly impossible for us to incorporate or integrate other types of democracy such as Gandhi's Indian democratic vision, which regards "villages" as the basic units of democracy.18 Patrick Brantlinger writes, "Gandhi wanted independent India to become a democracy whose basic units were villages.19 Why should the establishment of cosmopolitan democracy be modeled after Western liberal democracy? Why cannot we adopt and incorporate non-liberal types of democratic visions, such as Gandhi's, in constructing cosmopolitan democracy?

Besides, it must be noted also that many people from Third World countries still remember that world-wide colonial domination and exploitation were planned, executed, and managed by those countries which championed liberal democracy during the colonial period. Given that post-colonial domination and exploitation are still largely reiterated and replicated by the private sectors of the liberal democratic countries, via means such as their multinational companies and financial institutions, there is a significant lack of moral-political legitimation in constructing the concept of cosmopolitan democracy on the model of Western liberal democracy. From the 1984 Bhopal disaster of India to the 1964–1992 environmental destruction of Ecuadorian Amazon by Texaco/Chevron, from the 1997 Asian financial crisis to Argentina's second default in 2014, the private sectors of the liberal-democratic countries have significantly disrupted global citizens' trust and confidence in the Western liberal democratic model of cosmopolitanism. It is my contention that Western cosmopolitan philosophers such as Archibugi and Held have failed to seriously engage in what I call the lack of moral-political legitimation in constructing the concept of cosmopolitan democracy on the model of Western liberal democracy.

A Philosophical Intervention: Constructing the Concept of "Humane Democracy"

What should be done to resolve the lack of moral-political legitimation in order to construct a more justifiable cosmopolitan democracy? I attempt to answer this question by providing the concept of humane democracy. What is humane democracy, and how does it differ from the concept of liberal democracy? In a nutshell, differing from liberal democracy whose political goal is rather negatively conceived in a sense of protecting individual rights, the concept of humane democracy is envisioned to promote humanity's higher and nobler ethical ideals such as building solidarity, upholding diversity, and enhancing the capabilities of all, beyond protecting individual rights. The ethical ideals of humane democracy are comprised of diverse and rich moral values of all humanity including, but not limited to, the Confucian moral ideal of ren (仁),  the Christian virtue of love, the Aristotelian civic virtue of equality, the Marxist anthropological vision of "species being," the Buddhist conception of compassion, etc. The concept of humane democracy also differs from the Western republican model in that the cosmopolitan civic virtue of humane democracy is not exhausted by the Western society's rather parochial Sittlichkeit; the much thicker cosmopolitan civic virtue of humane democracy comes from the varied resources of the humankind's shared wisdoms that incorporate not only its diverse philosophical traditions, but also its rich and profound religious insights. Unlike Western liberal democracy, which is often anxious and even fearful of any religious influences, humane democracy is much more hospitable to the humane values of the world’s higher religions.

Humane democracy requires each independent democratic state to reconstruct its social, political, and economic systems in such a way as to implement the shared cosmopolitan ethical values through deliberative democratic process, which Habermas exemplifies in his Inclusion of the Other.20 To achieve this goal, cosmopolitan citizens of humane democracy are also to engage in what he calls a "learning process," not only through each state's formal education system, but also through ongoing public and real life educations.

Before my conclusion, let me briefly summarize the key cosmopolitan ethical ideals of humane democracy which I mentioned above. First, solidarity is a different name for universal hospitality, which is much in need of in today's world, where an increasing number of people are migrating from one place to another due to political instability, cultural oppression, or economic exigency. To illustrate this, Jacques Derrida's later work on "hyperbolical ethics" of radical hospitality and its based cosmopolitanism as well as Immanuel Levinas' phenomenological "ethics of the other" have substantively laid out the philosophical foundation of the ethics of solidarity.21 Second, diversity is another key moral pillar of humane democracy in today's multicultural society. James Bohman, in his article "From Demos to Demoi: Democracy across Borders," argues that against the liberal model of the "sovereignty of the people in either its Lockean or Rousseauian versions," we should choose an alternative democratic tradition that recognizes the possibility of demoi.22 According to Bohman, "under the conditions of pluralism and complexity" which calls for Habermasian "postnational" legitimacy, the cosmopolitan democracy should be formed as a "decentering" democracy in order to fully valorize the ethical value of diversity.

In recent years, the concept of capability has become an important cosmopolitan moral-political criterion of justice, thanks to the works of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.23 Their key argument is that in order to provide justice more fully to all citizens, society should provide a "threshold level of capabilities" to all its citizens. Nussbaum enumerates a list of ten capabilities to illustrate what they might be.24 Without substantive provision of this list, the political entitlement of "opportunity" may only have a nominal value. Humane democracy thus supports the concept of capability, and is committed to promoting the universal realization of its ideal on a global scale. The Western liberal democratic ideal of security is also an important ethical value of humane democracy. Humane democracy should be able to defend itself not just from non-humane political groups such as ISIS, but also from ideological attack on humane values by those who promote non-humane values such as violence and destruction. The ethical value of security, however, should not trump other ethical values in humane democracy.  


The concept of humane democracy is developed out of historical-critical reflection on the legacy of Western liberal democracy as well as on the changing political and economic geography of the global society. It is right for Archibugi and Held to say that cosmopolitan democracy aims to incorporate changes not just at the global level, but also at the local, national, and regional levels. What I am arguing in this paper is that the transformation of liberal democracy into a humane democracy is the awaited change they refer to.25 Given that Western liberal democracy cannot resolve its own lack of political legitimation in its progression to the global status of cosmopolitan democracy, the global society's political appropriation of the concept of humane democracy may become a more practical and justifiable pathway to the ultimate goal of establishing cosmopolitan democracy.

1 David Held, Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities, (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010); Daniele Archibugi, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Richard Falk, On Humane Governance: Toward a New Global Politics, (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 1995); Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, Trans. Max Pensky (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001); Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, Trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000) & On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Trans. Mark Dooley (London, UK: Routledge, 2006); Immanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, Trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1980); Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006).
2 Daniele Archibugi, "Cosmopolitan Democracy: A Restatement," Cambridge Journal of Education. 42.1 (March 2012): 9–20, 9.
3 Ibid.
4 David Held, "From the American Century to a Cosmopolitan Order," Social Europe Journal 6.2 (2012): 27–30, 28.
5 David Held, 'Cosmopolitanism: Globalisation tamed?," Review of International Studies 29 (2003): 465–480, 470.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 David Held's argumentation for cosmopolitan law further shows that he is deeply influenced by Kant's political philosophy of cosmopolitanism. See Kant's Perpetual Peace and Other Essays on Politics, History and Morals, Trans. Ted Humphrey (Cambridge, UK: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983).
9 David Held, 'Cosmopolitanism: Globalisation tamed?," Review of International Studies 29 (2003): 465–480, 471.
10 Ibid.
11 Daniele Archibugi and David Held, "Cosmopolitan Democracy: Paths and Agents," Ethics & International Affairs 25.4 (2011): 433–461, 444.
12 Ibid., 442.
13 Ibid., 449–54.
14David Held, "Cosmopolitanism: Globalisation Tamed?", 479.
15 Ibid., 480.
16 William E. Scheuerman, "Cosmopolitan Democracy and the Rule of Law," Ratio Juris 15.4 (2002): 439–57, 451.
17 Ibid.
18 Gandi writes, "When we have become village-minded, we will not want imitations of the West or machine-made products, but we will develop a truly national taste in keeping with the vision of a new India, in which pauperism, starvation and idleness will be unknown." Cited in Patrick Brantlinger, "A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris, and Gandhism," Critical Inquiry 22 (Spring, 1996): 466–485, 480.
19 Ibid., 479–80.
20 Jürgen Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, Trans. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).
21 Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, Trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000) & On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Trans. Mark Dooley (London, UK: Routledge, 2006). Immanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, Trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1980).
22 James Bohman, "From Demos to Demoi: Democracy across Borders," Ratio Juris 18.3 (2005): 293–314.
23 Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).
24 This list is as follows: life; bodily health, nourishment, and shelter; bodily integrity; the use of senses, imagination, and thoughts; emotional attachment and development; practical reasoning; affiliation and the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; other species; play and recreation; control over one's political and material environment.
25 Daniele Archibugi and David Held, "Cosmopolitan Democracy: Paths and Agents," Ethics & International Affairs 25.4 (2011): 433–461, 434.

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