Is Democracy Possible Beyond the State?

by John Fonte

Just returned from Peter’s talk at the Woman’s National Democratic Club. Peter gave a fine talk and it was a very enjoyable event. The questions were submitted in writing and my question wasn’t asked, so I will ask it now.

Is it possible to have democratic self-government without a nation-state or some other entity like a city-state, that has restrictions between who is and who is not a citizen: between “us” and “them” as you put it in your talk? It has nevered happened in history that democracy has extended beyond the state. Marc Plattner has a fine new book out, Democracy Without Borders: Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy. As Plattner states on the page 3, “Very crudely stated, the contention of this book is that we cannot hope to enjoy liberalism (at least in today’s world) unless it is accompanied by democracy, and we cannot enjoy liberal democracy outside the framework of the nation-state.”

Later in the book on Page 107, Plattner quotes political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan as follows: “Without a state, they argue, “no modern democracy is possible….Modern democratic government is inevitably linkned to stateness. Without a state, there can be no citizenship, without citizenship, there can be no democracy.”

I agree with Plattner, Stephan, and Linz. Please explain how it is possible to have liberal democracy without a nation-state composed of citizens or is what you are talking about in the book (as I stated in my first post) a new type of political regime that is “post-democratic.” That is the regime comes in the historical period “after democracy.”

One other question. The tone of your book appears to be a little “determinist” to me. You are saying certain trends are inevitable and there is nothing that we can do about it. This sounds like a negation of free will and democratic self-government. You appear to be saying that there is nothing that a free people (who would be upset) by the decline in the meaning of citizenship can do about reversing this negative trend. We are not free, we can not exercise democratic self-government appears to be the message. This is the opposite message of Federalist No 1, which says our government is based not on “accident and force” but on “reflection and choice.” We just had lunch at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, isn’t the slogan of one of the Democratic candidates “yes we can.” Which appears to be an affirmation of free self-government. Suggesting that if there are negative trends on the significance of citizenship or anything else, “we the people” can get together and fix the problem? According to this view, no political policy or trend is inevitable and the final decision is made by “we the people,” not impersonal forces of history. A related question would be can’t “we the people” determine our immigration policy and decide who ought and ought not to enter and remain in the United States. In this sense, people who are here illegally are here without the “consent of the governed.” Surely we can take measures to redress this situation, including deporation policies decided by the political branches of the government. It is an issue of democratic self-government.

What do think Peter? Good seeing you today.

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