. . . for with freedom come responsibilities. Nelson Mandela True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. The world is for the public good, such is the Great Way. Confucius An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. Victor Hugo *

Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state Actors and World Governance

Elements of democracy and of world citizenship

Non-state Actors and World Governance


Pierre Calame ¤ 2 June 2008 ¤
Translations: français (original) . Español . 中文 .

It is impossible to speak about democracy and citizenship on a purely national scale. Democracy and citizenship should be exercised at the scale of real interdependencies as today our “oïkos”, our living space, is the planet. The question of democracy takes us therefore to the idea of global democracy, of global citizenship. At this level, state actors cannot teach non-state actors any lessons. State actors owe their election to the voters within a small constituency of the planet: their own state. Democracy is in a shambles. It is in crisis due to its objectives, scales and methods.

Objectives: these are not being debated by citizens as the principle choices for the future, in particular scientific orientation and technologies are not being debated on a national scale. Scales: because even in the EU the most important political scene is still on a national scale. Methods: because representative democracy, inherited from past centuries, has ceased to be in tune with today’s actual society and the complexities of the subjects under debate.

Democracy, on a global scale, is seriously bargained by the fact that after the Second World War a choice was made – there was without doubt no other option at the time – to make the United Nations an assembly of states, with the same representation. One state, one voice? This sacralization of the state does not reflect the incredible heterogeneity of the states of the world, from Bhutan to China, and India to the United States; this can only be a parody of democracy.

Therefore, comparing state regulations, which are democratic as they have been enacted by states, with regulations carried out by non-state actors, which are not democratic, relies on an exercise of style. However, the different natures of the sources of their respective legitimacies between states and non-state actors, makes it impossible to imagine co-management where state and non-state actors have to be face to face.

The role of non-state actors and their networks is decisive in building public debate and consensus. Non-state actors represent themselves and their followers, as enterprises only represent their share-holders, and I may add that states only represent their electors. But we must remember that when a system is complex, democracy changes its nature. Moments of political tension are not adequate for making decisions. Moments of political tension are defined as those when political parties are confronting their view points. Searching for a satisfactory result requires studying alternative solutions. However, in the process of finding a satisfactory solution, NGOs, and especially non-state actors, have a decisive role to play in announcing issues, exploring alternatives, conveying expertise and embodying the interests and values of their members.

It is interesting to observe that the big non-state actors, the huge enterprises or NGOs, are spontaneously organised by world regions and not by states. We cannot put China and Burkina Faso on the same scale. I have had the conviction for a long time that there will only be real world governance when regional entities are constituted; about 20 entities around the world which would negotiate among them. Clearly, the spontaneous organisation of non-state actors forecasts this regional division.

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