Global Commonwealth of Citizens

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* Book: The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy by Daniele Archibugi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008,


By Jan Pieter Beetz:

In The Global Commonwealth of Citizens , Daniele Archibugi “explores the chances of increasing the legitimacy of world politics by introducing the germs of democracy and subjecting world politics to the citizens’ scrutiny” (p. 2). To achieve this aim, he argues for the introduction of a system of global governance called cosmopolitan democracy.

In part one of the book, Archibugi delineates the theoretical foundations for cosmopolitan democracy. Democratization is an evolving process, he argues, and one which adapts to specific circumstances. The exact form of democracy can therefore differ, but it has three central principles: non-violence, popular control and political equality. If these requirements are met, democratic regimes are preferable to authoritarian ones.

Archibugi debunks the myth that democratic regimes are peaceful by nature. At times they can be more violent than authoritarian ones, but they increasingly have to take heed of an emerging global public opinion and global actors other than nation-states. Archibugi takes this final point to indicate the need for a more democratic world politics – hence ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ (p. 84).

This brings us to the actual design of cosmopolitan democracy. Archibugi envisions a democratic system “more cohesive and demanding than a confederation but less rigid than a federation” (p. 11). This seems to suggest a global system of multi-level governance – a structure well known to scholars of the European Union (EU). The EU is arguably emerging as a democratic regime in its own right, but it is constantly struggling to be perceived as legitimate by its member-state populations rather than those of the wider world. This parallel raises questions about the attainability of a more legitimate world politics,

In part two of The Global Commonwealth, Archibugi moves from theory to ‘applied case studies’. Cosmopolitan democracy is applied to five current issues: the United Nations; military humanitarian intervention, the exportability of democracy; national sovereignty; and multi-lingual democracy. The cases explore the different ways in which the democratisation of world politics might give global public opinion voice; and also how the introduction of global citizenship and other mechanisms in line with a cosmopolitan rule of law might help protect individual human rights. The reforms proposed range from the realistic and practical to the unlikely (the image of a world parliament is discussed).

Chapter 7 offers an especially persuasive argument for the reform of decisionmaking procedures with regards to humanitarian military intervention. The chapter starts by discussing the painful memories of Srebrenica and Kosovo, but rather than dismissing the possibility of change on the basis of past failures, Archibugi derives lessons for the future. Cosmopolitan principles are ‘translated’ into a consistent framework for assessing arguments about whether or not to intervene. This framework could provide future missions with the authoritative dimension of proper procedure and help avoid false pretences as well as the dangers associated with excessively fast or slow decision-making.

The Global Commonwealth concludes with a somewhat curious reinterpretation of the division between realism and utopianism. The aim is to convince the reader that cosmopolitan democracy is a realistic aim. Admittedly, many chapters start with empirical observations, but the author typically moves on quite rapidly to an idealistic perspective. This is not to be held against him per se , but it becomes noteworthy with regard to his claim to realism.


In this motivation, the normative dimension of The Global Commonwealth becomes explicit. The emphasis on realism, then, is meant to acknowledge actual circumstances within and of a globalising world. This globalisation should have led, so argues Archibugi, to democratisation and the spread of human rights, but the West – or rather its states – only pay(s) lip service to these aims. Global public opinion and NGOs, on the other hand, are actually choosing the ‘democratic’ side of global issues and this is why the book argues for them to fulfil a structural role in world politics.

Overall, cosmopolitan democracy appears to be a global system of multi-level governance with an emphasis on the rule of law and democracy. But would this system of governance increase the legitimacy of world politics and enable ‘scrutiny’, as is maintained by Archibugi?


Overall, The Global Commonwealth’s main aim seems not to outline the structure of a new and more legitimate regime of global governance, but rather to convince politicians, policymakers, scholars and others in the West that their current foreign policies will not do. Archibugi’s engaged defence of a normative political theory – cosmopolitan democracy – can thus be read as an indication of how one might seek to champion the cause of a new transnational regime rather than simply as a blueprint of how that future should look. Archibugi tries to show the way towards what might be a more humane system of global governance, but perhaps more importantly, he also indicates some of the problems of the current path." (