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Journal of Democracy 13.3 (2002) 68-79

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Democracy in Real Time

Zaki Laïdi

Specifying the relationshipbetween globalization and democracy is not easy. One can identify a whole series of reasons to think that globalization is good for democracy, especially in the world political context at the end of the Cold War. At the same time, it is quite easy to come up with factors that tend to weaken democracy: the globalization of capital, with its tendency to scant or ignore national public spaces; the growing imbalance between economics and politics to the advantage of the former; and the rise of such disturbing phenomena as organized crime, money-laundering, and trafficking in organs, children, or drugs. One thinks also of all those jobs that are wiped out on the basis of global economic considerations, without the persons affected ever being consulted.

Of course, one could argue that these various dislocations really have nothing to do with democracy, since they occur in nondemocratic countries as well. It is difficult, for example, to attribute economic "downsizing" to a democratic deficit, except by assimilating democracy to the idea of justice. Yet this aspect of globalization does foster a sense of dispossession among individuals, who may directly or indirectly lose confidence in democracy as a meaningful forum for the expression of choices and preferences. Moreover, since the end of the Cold War, the wealthier countries have often argued in favor of a link between democracy and the market: This is the famous "market democracy." In this light, it becomes tempting for others to mix together factors traceable to the market with those that are imputable to democracy. [End Page 68]

We propose to examine the relationship between democracy and globalization by introducing an essential distinction between two dimensions of democracy: democracy as procedure, that is, as a mechanism capable of securing a change in governments through free elections; and democracy as culture, that is, as a collection of formal and informal rules, ensuring over time the free expression of opinions and interests and their interplay under equitable conditions. To simplify, one might say that democracy as procedure entails respect for certain rules of the game, while democracy as culture corresponds to internalized rules of life that reflect a reasonable confidence in democracy's ability to guarantee pluralism and fairness.

The hypothesis that we wish to advance is the following: While globalization undoubtedly boosts the legitimacy and at times the efficacy of democracy as procedure, it in no way guarantees the development of democracy as culture. One can even go further and say that globalization reinforces democracy as procedure to the detriment of democracy as culture. One of the main reasons for this differentiation results from the relationship that each of these two dimensions of democracy has with time. Democracy as procedure fits perfectly with the dynamic of global time, which values the present, the immediate, and the readily visible. Democracy as culture, on the other hand, is not synchronous with global time, for it needs a longer period to develop. Moreover, it is not immediately or clearly identifiable. It is always relative and as such even contestable. The international community's assumption of responsibility for matters relating to democracy reinforces this differentiation. One can more or less tell whether elections in a particular country have been free—and, if they have not been, stigmatize the offenders. It is rather more difficult, however, to evaluate the reality of a democratic culture. It is not hard to imagine a delegation of the U.S. Congress admonishing a foreign leader for not respecting democratic procedures. It is less easy to imagine it evaluating the democratic culture of that same country.

The Contours of Globalization

Before exploring more deeply how globalization relates to democracy both as procedure and as culture, it might be useful to offer a succinct definition of the term "globalization." The word may be defined as a process of intensifying social relations on a worldwide scale that results in an increasing disjunction between space and time. What does this mean? It means that the places...