ABSTRACT

On February 15, 2003, across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia as many as 30 million people took to city streets to express opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq.1 It seemed an extraordinary moment for global civil society, perhaps for the first time living up to its name. The anti-war movement appeared to accomplish in a day what four years of transnational activism against neoliberal globalization could not. It brought together constituencies from East and West, North and South into a broad-based movement with a common clear objective: Stop the US-led drive for war. The next weeks saw what was, in effect, a pyrrhic victory for global civil society. The protests no doubt contributed to the Bush administration’s defeat in the UN Security Council. But, in the end, they also contributed to the heightened sense that the United Nations and global civil society were impotent next to the hegemonic power of the United States. President Bush made clear the US would follow its own course regardless of global public opinion. My concern here is not with the intricacies of such high-stakes diplomacy,

nor with the hard realities of the long conflict in Iraq, but rather with what these events reveal about the state of politics in the international sphere. Global public opinion, as best it could be determined, was overwhelmingly opposed to the war, and yet by most accounts war seemed nearly inevitable from the very start. For all the advances in international communications and the spread of international law in the twentieth century, there remains no institutional mechanism to effectively channel the transnational communicative power of an emerging global civil society. Popular sovereignty, it would seem, carries no purchase in the transnational domain. What is more, these events reveal the extent to which the historic trend

toward a greater consolidation – even “constitutionalization” – of international law is increasingly at risk. From the establishment of the League of Nations, through the founding of the United Nations and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the twentieth century developed along a path pointed toward a future cosmopolitan juridification of international affairs. The early

twenty-first century, however, has already established troublesome countertrends. The project of international law is now challenged by more than its tradi-

tional skeptics – those national isolationists or doctrinaire realists who have long claimed that effective law is possible only within the confines of states armed with the power of sanction, and not within the international domain itself. Regrettably, challenges have also come recently from a once proud sponsor of international law: the United States. The US under George W. Bush challenged the cause of international law, however, without denying the need or possibility of a rule-governed international order. The vision of the Bush Doctrine was by no means isolationist; it was equally global in scope, and it recognized the need for the establishment of international security. Yet it represented a counter-vision of world order and global governance, premised not upon legal procedures, but upon the supposedly “benevolent” might of a global superpower.2 According to this view, the rule to govern the world is not that of international law but that of liberal imperialism. And as the doors closed on the Bush administration, the extended disaster in Iraq, the moral stain of Abu-Ghraib, and the legal black hole of Guantánamo Bay all provided strong indications to where such unilateral extra-legal “benevolence” must lead. Meanwhile, the emerging – or reemerging – powers of Russia and China promise to alter the calculus further. As we move beyond a brief unipolar moment in international affairs, dominated by a declining liberal democratic power, to a multipolar moment characterized by economic uncertainty and the emergence of the authoritarian giant China and the newly assertive Russia, the cause of democratically legitimate global governance will be challenged further. Such developments, I argue, continue to make clear the stakes of globali-

zation’s challenge to popular sovereignty. Recall that, for Rousseau, the prevention of tyranny was an important function of popular sovereignty. In that spirit, I argue that the normative claims and practices of popular sovereignty represent vital mechanisms to counter the threats of transnational militarism, ascendant authoritarianism, and liberal imperialism. Thus it is all the more imperative to ask: In an increasingly globalized world, where political, military, social, financial, and environmental policies have transnational effects, how do we address the need for an invigorated transnational capacity for democratically legitimate collective action? We are living at a time of transformation in which new political arrange-

ments are being formed and old political arrangements appear insufficient. In this context one can perceive alternative forms of authority gaining strength, putting pressure on the normative currency of democratic politics. The authoritative weights of security, functionalism, and religion are all advancing, representing potentially profound antidemocratic tendencies. Fears of vulnerability and calls for tighter security can trump critical opposition and overwhelm public debate. Technical elite rule by bureaucracy, technocrats, and a stubborn faith in the long-term efficiency of the market –

notwithstanding global financial crises – poise to take over steering functions once reserved for processes of democratic representation. And appeals to the “higher” authority of religion threaten to legitimate exclusionary practices. At the start of the twenty-first century we can see that the end of the Cold

War did not bring about an “end of history” with the triumph of liberal democratic regimes the world over, as Francis Fukuyama once predicted.3

Rather, we see the proliferation of “hybrid” regimes: China and Russia have opened to capitalism, but continue to develop their own distinct forms of authoritarianism; Europe balances between social democracy and neoliberalism, as the well known democratic deficit becomes increasingly entrenched after the defeat of the EU constitution; politics rooted in religious-based authority is becoming only stronger throughout the Middle East; populism is on the rise in Latin America; and in the United States, even after the historic election of Barack Obama, the legacy of eight years of assertive militarism after a bitterly disputed election reveals the potentially precarious status of democratic legitimacy even in the world’s oldest republic.4