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  • Bringing Politics (and the State) Back Into Global Justice Theorizing
  • Joseph M. Schwartz (bio)
Carol C. Gould , Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Carol Gould's Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights is an ambitious work of social theory that brings normative democratic theory to bear upon the prospects for extending democracy and human rights globally. Writing in the tradition of critical social theory, Gould discerns from contemporary social developments the potentiality for social transformation. Thus, her hopes for extending human rights and democracy within and across state boundaries is grounded in her claim that the growing interdependence of economic, cultural, and social relations is engendering "inter-societal" relationships and norms. Those working across borders on common emancipatory projects (be it fighting trafficking in women; global warming; or cross-border labor exploitation) advance cross-border demands for democratic voice in the decisions that affect them and over the common projects in which they engage.

Gould's initial chapter attempts to resolve the seeming circularity of the relationship between democracy and human rights. Gould believes that neither discourse, deliberative, nor Rawlsian conceptions of democracy establish a sufficiently independent status for human rights. Gould wishes to establish an independent basis for human rights, so that it can stand against claims that democratic decisions are inherently just. The conundrum of the "constitutional circle" is that while rights must constrain the democratic process if human liberty is to be affirmed, the authority of constitutional rights themselves derives from a democratic process of adoption. If this be the case, then one seemingly cannot establish an independent status for rights apart from democratic practice. And if democratic practices themselves are equivalent to justice itself, then how can we determine that democratic decisions that violate individual or group rights are unjust. Gould grounds the independent status of rights in the "quasi-foundationalist, but non-essentialist conception of rights" that she developed in her previous work on "social ontology." Gould argued in Rethinking Democracy and Marx's Social Ontology that while there does not exist a transcendent moral reality that justifies human rights, cross-cultural social practices ("individuals-in-relations") justifies "human freedom as the exercise of choice in pursuit of long-term projects and the development of abilities." It is this ("quasi-universalist") concept of human freedom that independently justifies democracy as the only form of just decision-making over matters that bind or affect individuals. Freedom also justifies "positive and negative" rights as guaranteeing the possibility of free choice and the effectiveness of such choices.

Gould is not just concerned with a seemingly technical conundrum of analytic philosophy. She attempts to get at the philosophical underpinnings of a real world dilemma: if democracy and human rights are inter-dependent, then how can global, regional, or national institutions hold democratic governments accountable to external criteria of human rights. In other worlds, unless we can establish some global consensus on the independent value of human rights, it will be difficult to construct regional and international institutions that enforce such rights against both democratic and non-democratic states and transnational institutions.

But is this dilemma solvable by philosophy alone? If the commitment to rights is not embedded in the dominant cultural practices of a polity or association, it will be difficult to impose them from without. Rigorous philosophical and political argument–particularly cross-cultural dialogue sensitive to internal cultural resources on behalf of democracy and rights—can expand the circle of those committed to human freedom. And we can take some heart from an emergent (but far from realized) international consensus in favor of external intervention against genocide. But even if international troops enter Darfur and stop the genocide, if the cultural relations among nomadic Arab tribes and agrarian African tribes are not voluntarily reconstituted in a just direction, massive injustice might return once foreign peacekeepers are withdrawn. The same may be true for the future of Kosovo and Bosnia. Given the unwillingness of most to live for long under the governance of foreigners, we can't imagine permanent occupations by external enforcers of human rights. Thus, Gould's work somewhat under-addresses the realist conundrums of international human rights theory. She takes heart from the...


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