This book provides a critical, conceptual-historical analysis of democracy at the United Nations, detailed in four ‘visions’ of democracy: civilization, elections, governance and developmental democracy. ‘I know it when I see it’ were the famous words of US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on defining obscenity. It is with the same conviction and (un)certainty that liberal peacebuilders and democracy promoters have used democracy to achieve both the immediate goals of peacekeeping and the broader, global mission of the UN. Today, democracy may have gained an international dimension, yet its success as an organizational practice depends on how it has been defined. Drawing on political theory and democratization scholarship, the book questions the meaning of this well-‘known’ idea. It analyses the way in which the UN, through its Secretary-General, relevant agencies and organizational practices, have thought about, conceptualized and used democracy. The book shows that while the idea of democracy's ‘civilizing’ nature has played a prominent part in its use by the UN, an early focus on sovereignty and self-determination delayed the emergence of the democracy agenda until the 1990s. Today, a comprehensive democracy agenda incorporates not only elections but a broad range of liberal-democratic institutions. Despite this, the agenda is at an impasse, both practically and philosophically. The book questions whether an extension of the UN democracy agenda to include ‘developmental democracy’ is feasible.
This introductory chapter discusses the objective of this volume, which is to analyse how the United Nations (UN) conceptualise democracy and how far does a UN concept of democracy reach. This volume explores the process of agenda-development and identifies the drivers of the democracy agenda to understand the context in which an idea is shaped. It examines the role of the UN Secretary-General as norm entrepreneur in the conceptualisation of democracy. It also explores the extension of the concept of democracy of UN governance and discusses the concept of developmental democracy.
This chapter discusses different interpretations of democracy using the democratic continuum as analytical tool. It explains that the democratic continuum is conceptualised as ranging from minimal/procedural democracy to maximal/substantive democracy and argues that the problems influencing definitions of democracy are exacerbated by the different use and study of democracy by democracy theory and democratisation studies. This chapter contends that the democratic continuum aims to capture the nuances in defining democracy and draw out the lack of clearly set boundaries between definitions without imposing such boundaries.
This chapter analyses the philosophical foundations of United Nations (UN) democracy, including the political discourse leading up to the creation of the UN, and its place in the UN Charter. It explains that the idea of democracy features strongly as an essential element of the liberal internationalist politics out of which the UN grew. But despite a central location in the philosophy of international organisations and liberal international relations, democracy was not included in the UN Charter. It was subjugated under the pragmatics of peace and the establishment of sovereignty in the decolonisation process.
This chapter shows how United Nations (UN) democracy emerged and was shaped by the increasing democratisation of member states. It suggests that the vision of democracy—elections—which emerged in the late 1980s/early 1990s only describes a historically distinct phase of the creation and legitimisation of a new UN idea but also represents a particular institutional as well as ideological practice and understanding. This chapter also identifies the political and social changes that provided the impetus for a new international dimension of democracy, which enabled the creation of a UN democracy agenda.
This chapter explores an extended version of democracy, focusing on governance. It explains that this vision of democracy built on both the strengths and weaknesses of elections to create something more comprehensive that would better meet the challenges of an increasing portfolio of demands. This chapter analyses the state of democracy and the trajectory of democratisation in the 1990s and identifies a range of drivers which contributed to the development of this new, governance-focussed democracy agenda. It shows that as democracy was no longer confined to the constraints of a minimal definition, it assumed a greater degree of substance, thereby moving further to the right of the democratic continuum.
This chapter proposes a substantive vision of democracy called developmental democracy. It explains that the construction of this new vision of democracy is driven by an exploration of the full range of the democratic continuum. It discusses the framework for a developmental democracy and explains its five dimensions which include market development, human development, democratisation, participation and citizenship. This chapter evaluates the extent to which these five dimensions have been addressed by the United Nations and examines whether the individual parts of developmental democracy have become a greater whole or whether they remain fragmented in both theory and practice.
This chapter evaluates the potential future of United Nations (UN) democracy based on its conceptual history. It discusses how the three vehicles of definition—ideology, practice and vision—created very different realities for UN democracy. They all form essential parts in understanding what UN democracy is and how it has become institutionalised. This chapter shows how ideas and practice are intimately connected in the agenda-setting process at the UN and highlights the role of organisational actors in conceptualising ideas and creating practice. It also discusses how the vision of developmental democracy has highlighted the fact that democracy today is in a somewhat ambiguous place as it appeared to have a reached a conceptual endpoint towards the middle of the democratic continuum.