Fall 2022 (36.3) Essay

Introduction: Democratizing Global Justice

Access complete symposium following this introduction.

Global governance ought to uphold global justice, a purpose that various institutions and instruments of global governance acknowledge more or less explicitly. Yet, to be effectively implemented, ethical principles of justice must first be “translated” into concrete policy. This formative and interpretive exercise—of determining what justice means and practically requires—leaves a lot of discretion to those making the interpretations, thereby raising important ethical dilemmas.

The moral exercise of successfully translating abstract principles into concrete policy can be undermined by two factors. The first one is the strategic use of justice claims by self-interested agents. The second is the democratic deficit of global governance, which often neglects the perspectives of those most affected by it: citizens and especially the global poor. In our recent book, Democratizing Global Justice: Deliberating Global Goals, we discuss how states, international organizations, NGOs, corporations, lobby groups, and the media are all flawed agents of justice, and can, indeed, undermine global justice. We also argue that the pursuit of global justice would benefit from the democratization of global governance, involving the deliberative inclusion of the voices of citizens and the poor especially.

This symposium uses our book as a starting point to map out some of the underexplored terrain on these issues. Terry Macdonald and Kate Macdonald offer an in-depth analysis of the role played by NGOs in global justice. They argue that our expectations of NGOs should take into account the structural constraints that these organizations face, as well as the potential trade-offs entailed by a more deliberative-democratic approach like the one we encourage. While NGOs can to some extent play a communicative role in global justice, this role may undercut some of the other roles they play in counteracting power imbalances, as well as in community- and infrastructure-building.

This symposium also provides a platform for critical debate. Eva Erman’s essay casts a critical eye on our argument about the relationship between global justice and democracy. We argue that deliberative-democratic processes can help specify general principles of justice and determine what justice requires in any given context. Erman is primarily concerned with methodological questions that explore how democracy can be used as a tool for political theorists to inquire into questions of justice. She further advances this debate by proposing a three-layered view according to which global democracy is at most a partial ideal that must be grounded in fundamental principles of justice, but can also be a mechanism for specifying and socially justifying principles of distributive justice in the face of reasonable disagreement. Erman’s contribution points thus to the mutually constitutive relationship between justice and democracy; while democracy can help us to further refine and justify justice principles, democracy is itself anchored in and justified by reference to the same principles.

Finally, in the last essay of the symposium, we expand the argument presented in Democratizing Global Justice by discussing vaccine justice in the time of COVID-19. We show that general principles of vaccine justice, both at the domestic and global levels, need to be further specified to be made effective as policy. Considering that as a matter of feasibility vaccines cannot be produced or rolled out to vaccinate everyone at the same time, any domestic vaccination strategy will have to answer several ethical questions: Who should receive the vaccine first? How should we justify the duties to vaccinate of those who are low risk? And how should we balance duties to assist compatriots with universal duties to help the rest of the world? Similarly, any global strategy will need to determine why certain states have a duty to assist others, as well as which states, among many, should be prioritized. We argue that democratic deliberation can help answer these questions. To do so, we first compare the different ways that vaccines were distributed to local Indigenous communities in the United States and Australia. With these lessons in hand, we turn to what a deliberative-democratic approach to vaccine justice would require at the level of global governance.

Taken together, the essays in this symposium help to paint a more complete picture of what democratized global justice can look like.

—Ana Tanasoca and John S. Dryzek

Ana Tanasoca is Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in Philosophy at Macquarie University. She is the author of Deliberation Naturalized: Improving Real Existing Delib- erative Democracy (2020); The Ethics of Multiple Citizenship (2018); and coauthor (with John Dryzek) of Democratizing Global Justice: Deliberating Global Goals (2021).

John S. Dryzek is Centenary Professor of Political Science at the University of Canberra. He is coauthor of The Politics of the Anthropocene (2019); co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy (2018); and coauthor (with Ana Tanasoca) of Democratizing Global Justice: Deliberating Global Goals (2021).


NGOs as Agents of Global Justice: Cosmopolitan Activism for Political Realists
Terry Macdonald and Kate Macdonald

On the Relationship between Global Justice and Global Democracy: A Three-Layered View
Eva Erman

Determining Vaccine Justice in the Time of COVID-19: A Democratic Perspective
Ana Tanasoca and John S. Dryzek

More in this issue

Fall 2022 (36.3) Review

Saving the International Justice Regime: Beyond Backlash against International Courts

In Saving the International Justice Regime: Beyond Backlash against International Courts, Courtney Hillebrecht provides answers to important questions related to the backlash politics of international ...

Fall 2022 (36.3) Review

International Development Cooperation Today: A Radical Shift towards a Global Paradigm

The literature on international development cooperation tends to be dominated by scholars and policymakers based at Anglo-American universities and research institutes. It is therefore refreshing ...

Fall 2022 (36.3) Essay

The Global Liberal Arts Challenge

The democratic backsliding that has accelerated across the globe over the past decade has included a trend in education that has gone less noticed: a ...