Justice for All: The Promise of Democracy in the Global Age

| December 2015
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Interactive Democracy: The Social Roots of Global Justice, Carol C. Gould (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 303 pp., $80 cloth, $29.99 paper.

Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights, Carol C. Gould (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 290 pp., $104.99 cloth, $34.99 paper.

Two pronounced features of modern globalization are an emerging global human rights culture and the growing trend toward democratization. In her new book, Carol Gould integrates these two features to construct an interactive approach to the core democratic values of justice and political participation meant for an interconnected global world.

Gould claims that the democratic quest for justice and human dignity has failed to live up to its promise. Persistent and pervasive inequalities dominate contemporary economies. Poverty, deprivation, and conflicts are standard features all around the globe, even in the rich democracies. Though globalization offers the opportunity for the world to come closer together through various cross-border constellations of contact, communication, and participation, it has been a mixed blessing for human rights. Gould argues that to make democracy fulfill its potential, it has to be transformed from its static and formal state to a more engaged, participatory, and interactive mode of governance. It has to be embedded in social conditions and made more integrative in responding to the complexities of social justice. As democracy goes global, its focus moves from social justice to global justice, in which the emerging global human rights movement will play a key role.

All this, Gould admits, is difficult to achieve in a world of pervasive conflict, cultural misunderstanding, and entrenched power, but she is optimistic. For her, the success of global democracy would depend on new social movements that are appreciative of human rights for all, the cultivation of solidarities via cross-border participation among dispersed communities bound by common interests, and democratic dialogue and deliberation across borders aided by online networking and new social media. Today’s increasingly interconnected world needs an interactive approach to understanding democracy that goes deeper to the social roots of pressing political problems. This new understanding and practice of democracy would empower people’s lives and lead to needed institutional reforms. This, in sum, is Gould’s road map toward deepening global democracy and emboldening global justice.

Interestingly, we find a nod to Gould’s message in a new documentary film set for release next year, “Freedom for the Wolf,” featuring the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests as an essential part of a global struggle against the rise of “illiberal democracy”—which the film’s director calls “voting without rights.” Contra Isaiah Berlin, the noted Oxford philosopher, freedom for the wolf need not mean death to the sheep, yet we see democracies where the wealthy and the powerful increasingly hold sway over the majority of the population, who cast a vote but do not have a real choice. Can Gould’s interactive democracy effectively respond to this undermining of democracy?

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Category: Development, Inequality, and Poverty, International Law and Human Rights, Issue 29.4, Review Essays

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