The International Project Office is hosted by Lund University.
2012 Lund Conference Interview with Jan Aart Scholte
Please explain the relevance of democracy to Earth System Governance.
People want ESG to promote a good society. One of the key values in a good society is democracy. It is a core component in human dignity; otherwise you are just an object of other’s control. There is also a practical element. If everybody’s included, you get advice from everyone. Democracy makes governance more effective. If you govern without consent of the people you are governing, you have to use coercion; you have to call in the police or the army. I think that the amount of attention given to democracy in global governance is very weak. There is attention to growth, to sustainability, to security, to peace – the amount of research is enormous, while democracy and global governance has only a tiny shelf in the library.
Why is that, do you think?
I think that people’s democratic imagination hasn’t caught up. People are still caught up in the idea that the economy is transnational, but that politics are national; that the economy is beyond the scope of the nation state. We tend to think that governance ends with the nation state. Democracy has to be extended beyond the nation state.
What do you think of an organization like the EU – is it democratic?
The EU is predominantly technocratic. There are attempts to give it democratic qualities. Basically, what we’ve done in the EU is to take the institutions of the nation state and transpose them to the regional level, and mind you, the EU is the only regional organization that has even bothered to do this much (if you compare it to Mercosur and so forth) but if I ask you as a citizen of the EU how much influence you have on EU policy, you’ll probably say “not much at all.” So, we need to think of things differently. Instead of just scaling up old-style democratic institutions, we need new kinds of institutions that span from the local to the regional level. ESG doesn’t look like the nation state; so ESG democracy doesn’t look like nation state democracy.
How should we think differently?
One way to think differently is to acknowledge that people have multiple interests. People don’t necessarily have national identities, and they don’t necessarily have a “human identity.” I don’t think that we can talk about there being “one humanity” with a shared interest, as some people do. Climate change affects people in very different ways, according to class, race, where you live, when you live and so on. People don’t mobilize politically as “humans.” They might mobilize as peasants regarding land grab issues; they might mobilize as young people as in “we have to take over after you.” People act according to different identities. As peasants, as young people…
… as businessmen, as coal miners…
…yes. In national politics, we take for granted that people have all kinds of identities. Just because we are talking about global issues doesn’t mean that we’ll see a unified humanity without conflicts. Take cultural differences. There’s an assumption that people all have the same understandings, that we all use the same concepts. “People understand each other.” In global politics we can’t have that fiction. When we talk about universal values in a western, liberal way, we think that everybody will agree, but if a radical islamist said that “we have a universal understanding of what society should look like; everybody else get in line,” most westerners wouldn’t feel so comfortable.
But how do we get to a place where people can organize globally, say, something like “peasants of the world unite” or something?
It’s already happening! Of course there are huge challenges of logistics and cultural diversity, but global democratic mobilization is possible, also outside elite circles. For example, the global peasant movement, La Via Campesina, involves 80 million people worldwide. There are also global movements of disabled people, of Dalits, of women, of slum dwellers, etc., etc. If you want to find alternative democratic politics, it’s there! Unfortunately the mainstream news media rarely write about these initiatives, so that they remain little known to the general public.
Interview by Max Jerneck, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology, Lund University (email@example.com)