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  • The Global Reach of Democratic Ideals:Universal Implications of Procedure-Independent Values
  • Corey Brettschneider (bio)

In my book, Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self Government, I proposed a "value theory of democracy."1 On my view, ideal democracy is best understood in reference not only to democratic procedures, but to the democratic values that underlie these procedures. I argued that when these procedure-independent standards are viewed as the primary locus of the democratic ideal, we can understand not only why procedures are potentially legitimate, but also why they are rightly constrained by certain substantive rights that are also required by the procedure-independent values. Among the many questions that have been raised by this procedure-independent account of democracy generally—and by the idea of what I call the core values of democracy—is whether these values should be understood to serve as a standard for all nations or only for those that already embrace democracy. In this brief essay, I make the case for extending the values of free and equal citizenship—values rightly understood as procedure-independent standards for democracy—internationally. On my view, the ideals of free and equal citizenship carry with them vast implications for democratic rights. These include not only traditional procedural guarantees, such as the right to vote, but a wide array of democratic entitlements including robust rights of free speech, freedom of conscience, and even basic welfare. It is the values of free and equal citizenship that are core to the meaning of democracy—and thus, to claim that these ideals apply internationally would entail that citizens throughout the world should also be entitled to a full set of democratic rights.

Specifically, I want to argue that these values are independent of any particular procedure or institution, and are relevant in evaluating the legitimacy of institutions and procedures both domestically and internationally. On my view, moreover, liberal nations rightly employ these standards in evaluating and criticizing what are supposed to be "internal affairs" of sovereign nations. I defend the implication of the global relevance of free and equal citizenship for international attempts at persuasion even in cases in which coercive intervention is not justifiable. John Stuart Mill famously argued, in regard to domestic politics, that liberty which protects a sovereign individual against coercive intervention should be accompanied by robust, reasoned defenses of the reasons that underlie liberty itself. Analogously, I argue here that sovereignty, which protects nations against forceful intervention, should be accompanied by a robust defense of the values of free and equal citizenship—values which, I suggest, underlie the very idea of sovereignty. While forceful interventions might violate sovereignty, then, "persuasive" interventions do not. The values of free and equal citizenship are thus not only procedure-independent but also "geography independent"—that is, not bounded by domestic borders.

Due to space constraints, my ambition here is limited; I focus on defending the global reach of the ideal of free and equal citizenship against several prominent objections. These objections to extending this procedure-independent ideal into the international realm are found among politicians and theorists who hold "dualist" understandings of international relations. According to dualist thinkers, while the ideal of free and equal citizenship might be appropriate to thinking about the internal governance of liberal nations, attempting to promote the ideals of democracy—including the values of free and equal citizenship, the rights they require, and the reasons for these rights—would fail to acknowledge that some sovereign peoples appear to reject these concepts. In its crudest form, the dualist objection would state that geographic borders establish limits on the ability of nations to interfere in the internal affairs of others. While relations between nations might be the appropriate subject of international dialogue, domestic matters concerning one state's relationship to its own citizens would be irrelevant, on such a view, to foreign actors. For instance, the Chinese government has often described international criticism of its human rights record as an inappropriate invasion of its internal affairs.2 In the United States, some defenders of a strong conception of sovereignty, such as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, have suggested that mere discussion at the United Nations of capital punishment and...


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