Démocratie cosmopolitique

Publié en mars 2014
Définition de l'entrée

An attempt to apply some of the norms and values of democracy also to international institutions in order to increase accountability, transparency and participation in global politics

Pour citer cet article :

Archibugi, D. (2013). Démocratie cosmopolitique. In I. Casillo, R. Barbier, L. Blondiaux, F. Chateauraynaud, J.-M. Fourniau, R. Lefebvre, C. Neveu, & D. Salles (Éds.), Dictionnaire critique et interdisciplinaire de la Participation, DicoPart (1ère édition). GIS Démocratie et Participation.


Notice bientôt disponible en français


Cosmopolitan democracy is a project of normative political theory that attempts to apply some of the principles, values and procedures of democracy to the global politics.Well-known academic advocates of cosmopolitan democracy include David Held, Mary Kaldor, Richard Falk and Daniele Archibugi. Many civil society activists and peace movements have also supported the idea of cosmopolitan democracy.

The basic aim of cosmopolitan democracy is to expand some of the principles, values and procedures of democracy also at the global level. This implies to devolve more powers and functions to the existing international organizations and to generate new ones. Cosmopolitan democracy does not aim to substitute existing states with a world political power. Rather than being an attempt to concentrate force in a single source, it aims to subjugate coercive powers by developing more advanced constitutional rules.

Cosmopolitan democracy can be seen as a modern revival of some peace theories. In particular, it is an attempt to refine and apply in the current political landscape some of the insights of institutional pacifism. Peace can be achieved through a variety of methods and one of them is strengthening international norms, covenants and organizations. Several peace projects of the past, including those of Émeric Crucé, William Penn, the Abbé of Saint-Pierre, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, already designed international organizations with the function to sort out conflicts through peaceful means rather than through war. This body of thought had a crucial role in the creation of modern international organizations, including the League of Nations, the United Nations and the European Union.

But the contemporary historical conditions should allow a more decisive role for international organizations. Democracy has become the inspiring political system all over the world. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, democratic regimes have spread across the East and the South. For the first time in history, elected governments administer the majority of the world’s population. Although not all of these regimes are equally respectful of basic human rights, there is significant pressure to achieve representative, accountable and lawful administration. Democracy has become, both in theory and in practice, the principal source of legitimate authority and power.

However, global politics continues to be dominated by raison d’etat. Issues concerning war and security are still in the hands of national governments that, as in the past, can take decisions autonomously. Could globalisation affect industry, finance, media and fashion, but not the institutions of the international political system? In front of this paradox, cosmopolitan democracy is an attempt to combine the globalization of democracy with the democratization of globalization. This democratization of globalization means not only to constrain undesired effects of globalization through the traditional instruments of territorial states (such as controls on capital flows or labour standards), but also to create forms of democratic control at new levels of decision-making (such as negotiations and agreements on transnational flows of capital and labor), with the active involvement not only of governments, but also of nongovernmental organizations.

While international organizations have introduced some of the key elements of legality, since they are based on norms (such as charters, treaties and statutes), transparency and accountability, they do not conform to the basic norms of democracy. Not even the European Union, in spite of the fact that it is composed by democratic states only, can be considered fully democratic. All international organizations can be made more accountable, participatory and transparent through appropriate reforms that will give voice and representation not only to national governments, but also to citizens, minorities and their organizations.

Cosmopolitan democracy is based on two assumptions. The first is the empirical observation that, while states are sovereign according to legal principle, they are in practice non-autonomous. Environmental threats, contagious diseases, trade, terrorism and migration make it more and more difficult for states to be truly independent. Each political community has to cope with phenomena that take place outside its territorial jurisdiction and for which it has no direct accountability and control. In these circumstances is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve meaningful democratic decision-making within states. If the democratic principle of involvement and equality of all members affected by decision-making is to be preserved, the boundaries of political community need to be re-thought.

This, in turn, requires reconsideration of some of the basic principles of democratic practice and organization. After all, until now democracy has been developed in relation to territorially delimited communities. In this situation the individual belongs to community A or to community B, but not to both, and therefore can participate in the democratic process of either A or B, but not both. Cosmopolitan democracy is therefore an attempt to re-imagine the boundaries of political communities in order to make them inclusive towards the “other”. Who are these others? They may be aliens, migrants or refugees living or seeking to live in an established political community, or citizens living in community B that are directly affected by facts or decisions taken in a community A.

The second assumption underlying ideas of cosmopolitan democracy is that the foreign policy of democratic states is not necessarily more virtuous than that of non-democratic states. Even the most democratic states can be aggressive, selfish, and prepared to defend their vital interests by all means. History provides large abundance of aggression wars perpetuated by democratic regimes as well as by despotic ones. The hypothesis according to which “democracies do not fight each other” (the so-called peace among democracies) is widely debated in international relations. According to this hypothesis, even if democracies are often war-prone, there have never been wars among consolidated democracies. Not everybody agree with this fact, but those that do agree also claim that if all states of the world were democratic, war may disappear. The normative implication is that to achieve the goal of peace it is necessary to develop internal democratization. Some policy-makers of democratic nations misunderstood the implications of this hypothesis and went so far to wage war against despotic regimes with the aim to force a regime change and to induce these countries to become democratic. The Iraq war started in 2003 is the most recent example.

Cosmopolitan democracy has a rather different view: although it shares the desire to increase both the quantity of democratic states and the quality of their democratic procedures, it does not assume that the goal of peace can be achieved acting on the internal constitution of individual states only. Moreover, it argues that “exporting” democracy through war is contradicting the very nature of the democratic process since this requires to be built from below and not from above. For these reasons, cosmopolitan democracy suggests that an international system based on cooperation and dialogue is a fundamental condition to foster democratic progresses inside individual countries and also to allow peoples living under dictatorship to change endogenously their own regime. While the “peace among democracies” hypothesis tends to stress the causal link from [ internal democracy ] -» to [ international peace ], cosmopolitan democracy points out at an equally important link: from [ international peace and cooperation ] -» to [ internal democracy ].

Unfortunately, democratic states are not prepared to deal with the preferences and needs of individuals of other political communities as they deal with those of their own citizens. To encourage the adoption of a more just and fair foreign policy (as advocated by the political theorist John Rawls and a growing literature on global justice) and to increase the number of democratic states is certainly important. But something more is needed to safeguard the basic democratic principles of equality and participation, namely the willingness of states to undertake agreements that enshrine procedures of democracy among and across states. These agreements sometimes involve states, as in the case of international organizations, but in other circumstances they could and should also involve individuals, who would then concurrently be citizens of a state and citizens of the world.

Recent literature has introduced other terms similar to cosmopolitan democracy. For example, the sociologist Jürgen Habermas has spoken of ‘post-national’ democracy in relation to forms of political organization different from traditional state-centred ones. Others have invoked notions of ‘transnational democracy’ with reference to connections across non-governmental organizations and sub-state political units. Still others have talked of ‘global democracy’ to denote the need to democratize the institutions of global governance.

To imagine that conflicts can be solved on a global level by constitutional and juridical procedures, rather than by force, is visionary. But it rests on the assumption that norms can be respected even in the absence of a coercive power of last resort. The project of cosmopolitan democracy is thus identified with a much broader ambition: that of turning international politics from the realm of antagonism into the realm of agonism, that is, preserving conflicts but also addressing them through non-violent dialogue. Achieving these goals in global politics would mean taking a decisive step towards a superior level of civilization.


ARCHIBUGI D., 2008, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens. Towards Cosmopolitan Democracy, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

ARCHIBUGI D., 2009, La Démocratie cosmopolitique. Sur la voie d'une démocratie mondiale, Paris, Éd. du Cerf.

ARCHIBUGI D., HELD D. (dir.), 1995, Cosmopolitan Democracy. An Agenda for a New World Order, Cambridge, Polity Press.

ARCHIBUGI D., HELD D., et al. (dir.), 1998, Re-Imagining Political Community. Studies in Cosmopolitan Democracy, Redwood, Stanford University Press.

ARCHIBUGI D., KOENIG-ARCHIBUGI M., et al. (dir.), 2011, Global Democracy. Normative and Empirical Perspectives, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

BENHABIB S., 2004, The Rights of Others. Aliens, Residents and Citizens, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

FALK R., 1995, On Humane Governance: Towards a New Global Politics, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press.

GOULD C., 2004, Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

HABERMAS J., 2001, The Postnational Constellation, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

HEATER D., 2002, World Citizenship. Cosmopolitan Thinking and Its Opponents, Londres, Continuum.

HELD D., 1995, Democracy and the Global Order, Redwood, Stanford University Press.

HELD D., 2004, Global Covenant. The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus, Cambridge, Polity Press.

KALDOR M., 1999, New and Old Wars, Cambridge, Polity Press.

KOENIG-ARCHIBUGI M., 2002, « Mapping Global Governance », in HELD D., MCGREW T. (dir.), Governing Globalisation, Cambridge, Polity Press.

LEVI L., FINIZIO G., et al. (dir.), 2013, The Democratization of International Institutions, Londres, Routledge.

MARCHETTI R., 2009, Global Democracy. For and Against, Londres, Routledge.

MURPHY C.F., 1999, Theories of World Governance. A Study in the History of Ideas, Washington DC, Catholic University of America Press.

PATOMäKI H., TEIVAINEN T., 2004, A Possible World. Democratic Transformation of Global Institutions, Londres, Zed Books.

RAWLS J., 2001, The Law of Peoples, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

ZWEIFEL T.D., 2005, International Organization and Democracy. Accountability, Politics, and Power, Boulder, Lynne Rienner Publishers.