Global Community, Global Citizenship? – Paulina Tambakaki

Democratic practice has traditionally been linked to bounded communities. A bounded community denotes, with respect to democratic politics, two specific ideas: an exclusive community of citizens, a demos, held together by a common bond, and a kind of commonality which differentiates its members from the non-members. Furthermore, it speaks of a demarcated space, a delimited territory, within which the citizens–the members of the demos–pursue and further the affairs they deem to hold in common. On both terms, as an exclusive community of citizens and as a bordered space, community is increasingly being put into question by the intensification of exchanges and interactions across borders. What are the implications of this development1 for democratic practice–given that democratic practice rests on, precisely, the idea of a bounded community?

In addressing this question the paper has been divided into three sections. Section one contextualises the enquiry into democratic practice by sketching the way in which a community is necessarily linked to a politics and a democratic politics linked to a community. It illuminates the challenges confronting bounded communities in the face of globalisation and shows how these challenges, which pertain specifically to the aspect of membership–in an identification with the ‘common’–implicate as well as challenge our conception of democratic practice, of citizenship. The suggestion that the notion of citizenship appears increasingly problematic rests on the following premise: if processes of globalisation increasingly challenge the notion of a bounded community, then perhaps we need to think of the community as global. This view has been a growing trend among many theorists who speak of a global, borderless, community. If, however, the community is reconceived as global and all-inclusive, then the notion of citizenship, which has so far been perceived as exclusive–attained only by the members of the demos and practiced exclusively within delimited spaces– appears problematic and needs to be reformulated. Within the literature on citizenship, the predominant idea has been to analogously reformulate citizenship as global.

Section two of the paper elucidates the argument for a global citizenship by concentrating on the writings of David Held (1995; 2002; 2003; 2004). The rationale underpinning Held’s call for a global citizenship is straightforward: the fact that we live in and increasingly speak of a global community entails that we also participate in the affairs of this community as individuals who are interested in global developments and who are affected by global developments. We participate as cosmopolitan citizens, as individual citizens of the world–detached, by implication, from affective ties and attachments to particular communities.

The emphasis in this argument, we can notice in a preliminary fashion, is on the notions of common and global, on individuals and participation, and on interests versus risks. This is to say that in reformulating citizenship as global, Held, but also other advocates of cosmopolitanism (see, for instance, Archibugi, 2003; and Habermas, 1996; 1999; 2001), retain a (thin) idea of something in ‘common’, a threat/interest, and claim that boundaries are no longer important and that the community is, in its spatial sense, global. Held moreover retains the notion of citizenship as a participatory practice and loosens the tie, the commonality, which holds the citizens together. Therefore his idea of a (global) demos consists of autonomous individuals deliberating in institutional procedures which are fair and equal.

A deliberative and consensual understanding of democratic politics underpins Held’s thesis of a global citizenship. The second section brings this understanding to the fore and highlights its limitations. From an antithetical perspective on democratic politics, Mouffe’s agonistic perspective (1993; 2000; 2005), the section shows that the argument for a global citizenship is anti-political. But where does this leave us? How can we so reformulate citizenship as to also take into account the challenges which processes of globalisation pose to it?

In its final section, the paper employs an agonistic conception of citizenship developed from the writings of Chantal Mouffe and shows how this conception reformulates citizenship in such a way that it takes into account the challenges which processes of globalisation pose to it. Importantly, this is a conception which upholds and precisely builds on the idea of a political community, of a demos. As we suggest toward the end of the paper, democracy presupposes a political community which is a delimited demos, held together by the democratic tradition it holds in common. If we are to respect and strengthen this tradition, the popular argument which envisages the community as global and citizenship as cosmopolitan must be resisted. We are thus brought back to our point of departure.

Framing the enquiry: globalisation, bounded communities and democratic citizenship

As we have already pointed out, the idea of a bounded community appears problematic within the context of an increasingly globalised world. Particularly, it is the notion of boundedness which current processes of globalisation have put into question. Associated with the concept of community, boundedness or boundary-drawing becomes increasingly undermined by the intensification and multiplication of border-transcending exchanges, interactions, and networks. These ongoing processes of globalisation also put into question the notion of community. Denoting collectivity and ‘we consciousness’ and often carrying premodern connotations of cultural and/or national homogeneity, community appears in the first instance contestable as an idea and perhaps even outdated. It seems contestable because the bond that holds the community together and the good that is common to all–two of the features which enable us to identify and speak of communities–seem increasingly difficult to delimit.

A bond which does not invest in exclusive national/cultural affiliations and which is stronger than an overlapping interest–highlighted by the global flow of risks, goods and services–is challenging to imagine. A national bond is potentially explosive in the face of the exchanges and interactions intensified and accelerated by globalisation. Moreover, delimiting a good that is common to all appears more complex in the face of the growing intermeshing of different, and often conflicting, conceptions of the good. While therefore processes of globalisation efface boundaries and unite, they also heighten differences and, arguably, divide.

This second implication of globalisation–that it can also be a divisive force– challenges the datedness of the idea of community. But here this divisiveness (which we here suggest impacts on the notion of community), is somewhat differently conceived; it is seen as an effect of an individualist and self-interested pursuits of the good and not of proclaimed differences, as we earlier noted to be the case. This means that by reinforcing an individualistic and instrumentalist ethos, especially in its neo-liberal form, globalisation displaces and even undermines the collectivism which fundamentally underpins the notion of community. Without collectivities in a strong sense, however, that is collectivities which are bound together by a common bond and which participate in shared practices so as to constitute and delimit the good which is common to all, it is doubtful whether we would still speak of communities.

Of course, another way of expressing this same idea is to say that communities fundamentally rest on and presuppose collective identification and membership: who has a part, to use Ranciere’s expression (1999), and who does not, who participates in the affairs of the community, and who does not. They therefore presuppose boundaries or frontiers of some sort; thus the earlier association of the notion of community with boundedness. Collectivities draw boundaries or frontiers in one and the same process: that of defining and separating themselves from others. This implies that collective identification and membership, membership in and identification with the ‘common’, necessarily involves distinguishing a ‘them’, a difference which both conditions the emergence of the collectivity and concretises its commonality (Mouffe, 1993; 2000; 2001). Second, and closely related, communities rest on a bond, a kind of ‘we consciousness’, which holds the members of the community together. And third, they involve a good which is common to all. The common good does not have to be conceived in substantive terms, as a single conception of eudaimonia, but can be theorised alternatively as a horizon within which the members of the community inscribe their demands (Mouffe, 1993)–a theorisation which indeed makes room for diversity.

In a certain sense therefore, communities rest on and presuppose a politics, if by politics we understand a discourse which, within a context of diversity, is concerned with creating unity, a ‘we consciousness’, by determining a ‘them’ (Mouffe, 2000: 101). Assuming politics to be a collective activity which binds the members of the collectivity to a common ground whilst distinguishing them from the non-members, leads us thus to suggest that communities necessarily engage with politics–precisely because communities draw on both the collective ‘we consciousness’ which politics aims at creating, and on the frontiers upon which politics rests. We can go further by saying that, according to this approach which links politics to the community, the latter is considered as the model site for the making of specifically democratic politics.

Democratic politics involves relations of both inclusion and exclusion–defining who is part of the demos and who is not. A demos, an entity which is held together by something in common, has been essential to the making of democratic politics. A delimited or bounded space, a topos, has also been seen as a requisite for democratic politics, mainly because democratic unity has traditionally taken place within delimited spaces, within bounded communities. To the extent therefore that communities connote boundedness and embody the unity necessary for democratic politics, they have been considered, and to a degree still are, model sites for democratic practice.

If we moreover reverse this same idea and emphasise that democratic practice requires a delimited political community (demos), then we are in a position to see that the challenges confronting bounded communities in the face of globalisation are also challenges to the very conceptualisation of democratic practice. This is the case precisely because these are seen to pertain or, to be more accurate, they have been framed in such a way that they pertain to collective unity, to the ‘we consciousness’ which holds the (political) community together and, of course, to boundedness, to the frontiers which democratic practice requires.

Developing our discussion in this manner leads us to pose the following question: within the context of an increasingly global community, of a borderless community, in what way can we reformulate our conception of citizenship, of that collective ‘we consciousness’ which holds democratic communities together? The next section explores one answer to this question: that of a global citizenship.

The global citizenship thesis and its implications

In the introduction to the paper, we highlighted that the notion of citizenship appears problematic because of its exclusive nature. While we increasingly live in and speak of a global, all-inclusive, community, democratic citizenship is attained exclusively by the members of a demos and it is practiced within delimited, exclusive, spaces. David Held, whose writings will be relied on in this section, has attempted to demonstrate that the problems confronting citizenship in the light of globalisation must be addressed through a recourse to global or cosmopolitan citizenship, conceived as an all-inclusive activity, practiced within international fora and institutions. Cosmopolitan citizenship comprises a tenet in the case that Held makes for a global democracy. His notion of a global/cosmopolitan democracy builds on (i) the principle of autonomy; (ii) the notion of a democratic legal state; and of course (iii) the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship, which significantly interests us here. Autonomy expresses the idea of self-deliberating subjects or, as Held puts it, autonomy denotes ‘the capacity of human beings to reason self-consciously, to be self reflective and self determining … [and] involves the ability to deliberate, judge, choose and act upon different possible courses of action in private as well as in public life, bearing the democratic good in mind’ (1995:146). For Held, the principle of autonomy reflects both the idea of self-determining, free and equal individuals, and the idea of limited government. Held specifies that he speaks only of democratic autonomy–that of a collectivity. From the idea of democratic autonomy arises the question of the democratic legal state. This refers to the entrenchment of democratic public law. By specifying the individual rights and obligations necessary for the empowerment of citizens as autonomous agents, the democratic public law provides for a common structure of political action, which promotes and enhances, in its own turn, the principle of autonomy.

Held views the rights which are entrenched by the democratic public law as entitlement capacities that enable individuals to act unhindered within the community’s framework. They provide for equality of status and, in effect, for equality of deliberation. Moreover, these capacities can be identified with neither citizenship nor with human rights. Behind the question of whether empowering rights can be seen as linked to citizenship or human rights, says Held, ‘lies the pressing issue of the proper form and nature of political community; that is, the most appropriate and feasible political anchor for rights … I prefer to call rights “empowering rights” or “entitlement capacities” because they are integral to the possibility of democracy itself’ (1995: 222-23).

Although at the first sight it is not clear exactly how empowering rights are linked to democracy, an insight into Held’s understanding of democracy enables us to further explain the link which he draws between the two. Held understands democracy in procedural terms. He argues that democracy needs to be rethought as a deliberative process: as the participation of autonomous and self-determining individuals in neutral procedures of deliberation. These procedures, rather than a substantive common good, provide for a common structure of political action entrenched in a legal framework. In effect, the rights, which entrench and further these processes of deliberation, cannot be anything other than democratic and empowering rights. From this understanding of democracy issues Held’s notion of a cosmopolitan citizenship.

Held derives his notion of cosmopolitan citizenship from an argument for the extension of the principle of autonomy into the international realm. Under the rubric of a cosmopolitan democratic law, which will be established both within and across communities, autonomous agents will actively participate in the political affairs directly affecting their lives. Cosmopolitan law, according to Held, ‘transcends particular claims and extends to all in the “universal community”. It connotes a right and duty which must be accepted if people are to learn to tolerate one another’s company and to coexist peacefully’ (1995: 228). Under such a legal framework, cosmopolitan citizenship will be conceived of not as unitary but as multiple–individuals will enjoy multiple citizenships, ‘being citizens of their immediate political communities and of the wider regional and global networks impacting on their lives’ (1995: 233). The growing institutionalisation of world politics would thus provide cosmopolitan citizens with ample opportunities for participation in the democratic process, thus restoring democratic legitimacy. Cosmopolitan citizens would then be able to deliberate on issues which are not confined to specific territorial borders.

This notion of a cosmopolitan citizenship relies both on a liberal and a civic republican understanding of the term. It is perceived both as an activity and a set of rights, which will be extended to the globe. Held accepts the dominant, liberal and civic republican accounts of citizenship and simply extends the scope of the concept’s application. Citizenship is retained as a notion but is extended to the entire globe. In this way, the possibility is held out

that the conflict between a person’s obligation qua citizen to obey the regulations of a particular community, and his or her obligation to obey internationally recognised rules, might eventually be overcome, as more and more communities and agencies affiliate to the new democratic order …. In consequence, the rights and responsibilities of people qua citizens and qua subjects of cosmopolitan law could coincide, and democratic citizenship could take on, in principle, a truly universal status. (Held, 1995: 232-33)

How convincing is Held’s argument for a cosmopolitan citizenship? In the first instance, we might point out that a citizenship which would take on ‘a truly universal status’ would not in fact differ from human rights. Held’s idea of self-determining individuals, which underpins his principle of autonomy and his advocacy of the democratic legal state, points indeed to basic empowering rights, which in the absence of a delimited political community come across as human rights. If humans, and not a particular demos, take on the role of active participants in institutions and practices of deliberation, how can their rights be seen as anything other than human rights? Human rights, besides, have a point of contact with the ‘global’ and the ‘cosmopolitan’ which Held emphasises and privileges. As rights which pertain to human beings by virtue of their humanity, they apply to everyone.

Suggesting that Held’s case for a cosmopolitan citizenship collapses into a case for human rights leads us to explore a more important implication of his argument. As we have seen, Held aims at democratising the global level. To this end, he both ‘extends and expands’ citizen participation: he extends it beyond borders, to the globe, and he expands it beyond delimited citizenries, to all human beings who live in the ‘global village’ and who face common problems. In the final analysis, through citizenship, he argues for an all-inclusive and consensual, as will shortly be shown, politics facilitated through a cosmopolitan framework of law and the institutionalisation of all-inclusive processes of participation. Therefore a specific understanding of democratic politics underpins his argument. Earlier in the section we pointed out that Held understands democracy in deliberative terms. Here we further explore this understanding.

According to deliberative democrats, democracy is a model that is defined in procedural terms. It is an impartial and institutionalised process of communication and participation, which brings about rational results, a rational agreement, on the terms of common coexistence. Any procedure that meets these conditions is accordingly democratic. Two interrelated presuppositions underpin this understanding of democracy. First, it strongly relies on a conception of democratic deliberation as a reason-giving process. Reason, a necessary prerequisite for deliberative democracy, ensures that (institutional) procedures are fair, impartial and legitimate. Second, this model of democracy assumes that rational deliberation resolves disagreements and leads to consensus on the rules of democratic cooperation.

In this context, Held’s understanding of democratic practice as a reason-giving and impartial process is precisely, as we have already pointed out, what enables him to argue for empowering, all-inclusive, rights. These rights, which accompany his notion of democratic autonomy, are, as he affirms

part of a structure and process people could live with … on condition that all others have played their part by the same rules. Thus, [the arrangement that democratic autonomy represents] can be thought of, following Kant, as ‘the practical idea’ of reason, or, as it should now be put within the terms of the arguments offered here, as the practical idea of an ideal deliberative discourse. (Held, 1995: 222)

Further, the only precondition for democratic participation as an impartial reason-giving process is that the rights of the participants be both respected and protected. This can be taken to refer to what Pettit (2003: 139) designates as the three constraints that all deliberative democrats share with reference to the procedural practice of democracy: that the procedures be inclusive, judgmental and dialogical in character: inclusive in terms of the equal participation of all. The are to be judgmental in terms of the common issues to be deliberatively resolved, and dialogical in terms of the forms and contexts of deliberation. But this precondition can also be taken to refer to particular rights. Held accords priority to autonomy. He says:

the idea that people should be free and equal in the “determination” of the conditions of their own lives means that they should be able to participate in a process of deliberation, open to all on a free and equal basis, about matters of public concern. A common structure of political action, articulated by the principle of autonomy and its related cluster of rights and obligations, specifies the framework of possible participation in and through which people may enter and take a position in the fray of public debate. (1995: 155)

Again we can see how the focus on autonomous, self-reflective and self-deliberating individuals, which is how Held defines autonomy, connects with a case for human rights. If the precondition for both democratic participation and global citizenship revolves only around the basic rights of the participants– their respect and protection–then human rights, which are basic rights of this kind ,can potentially take on the political function of citizenship. If democratic participation is understood as all-inclusive participation in procedures or as a basic right to procedural participation, then there is nothing that theoretically stops this conception of democratic participation from taking on a universal dimension. Although Held, we should add, makes a point in differentiating individual from collective/democratic autonomy and to link his argument for a common structure of political action with the latter, it is not clear how this autonomy, which he defines as ‘the capacity of human beings to reason self consciously, to be self reflective and self determining’ (1995: 146) refers only to the collectivity and not to the individual, since there are no boundaries to make this collectivity something more than a simple aggregation of individuals.

Turning to the second presupposition that the deliberative model of democracy relies on, that is, the idea of a consensual politics, we can see that it also applies to Held’s case for a cosmopolitan citizenship. What does a consensual approach to the political mean? On the one hand, it means that deliberative politics, if rationally and impartially conducted, resolves disagreements and results in consensus on the terms of common coexistence. On the other hand, it indicates that there is a necessary prior agreement on the advantages of such politics: precisely because it resolves disagreements, deliberative politics leads to cooperation. A double consensus therefore underpins this conception: consensus of origin, as the political emerges because of a prior agreement, but also consensus of results as a net agreement on the terms of common coexistence, a resolution of all disagreements, is considered both feasible and desirable.

It follows that the procedural approach to democracy has a point of contact with this understanding of the political. Democratic processes ensure and facilitate a consensual or harmonious being-together by reinforcing the rights of deliberating subjects and by setting up and enhancing the legal framework and the institutional forums of deliberation. Is this not precisely what Held sets out to accomplish through his notion of a cosmopolitan citizenship: an all-inclusive activity, entrenched under the rubric of a cosmopolitan law, and practiced within institutional forums? Moreover, is not consensus, an agreement on the terms of coexistence, the desired net-result of a cosmopolitan, all-inclusive citizenship?

From the antithetical perspective on the political that Mouffe’s conflictual standpoint puts forth the argument for an all-inclusive consensus in politics, for an all-inclusive, cosmopolitan citizenship is anti-political. Specifically, Mouffe argues, pace deliberative democrats such as Held, that the political always has to do with the formation of an ‘us’ as opposed to a ‘them’, with conflict and antagonism; its differentia specifica, as Schmitt puts it, is the friend-enemy distinction (2002: 5). The political rests therefore on the delimitation of a frontier for Mouffe, on the distinction between friends and enemies, and on conflict and antagonism–as the friend/enemy relation is always constitutively antagonistic. Politics by contrast, which Mouffe sharply differentiates from the political, is all those discourses and institutions which attempt to ‘domesticate’ hostility, to tame the constitutive antagonism of the political. For Mouffe therefore ‘the novelty of democratic politics is not the overcoming of the us/them opposition–which is an impossibility–but the different way in which it is established’ (2000: 101).

To establish the us/them opposition in a way that is compatible with pluralistic democracy, Mouffe differentiates between agonism and antagonism, and says that within the context of a democratic politics, antagonism should be transformed into agonism. While antagonism takes place between enemies, agonism takes place between adversaries. The category of the adversary is essential to Mouffe’s conception of democracy as agonistic. An adversary is not an economic competitor but someone with whom we have something in common–the symbolic framework of liberal democracy–yet we disagree on the way we interpret this framework and how we want to organise it. Through the notion of the adversary Mouffe is able to account for conflict and antagonism, not only to account for their potentiality in a democracy, but also to provide for their expression through an agonistic confrontation, a democratic outlet.

An agonistic confrontation, therefore, frontiers, power and antagonism, are defining features of Mouffe’s agonistic viewpoint on democratic politics. From this agonistic standpoint, Held’s case for a cosmopolitan citizenship appears anti-political, precisely because the political as Mouffe understands it denotes frontiers, power and antagonism. Because moreover the global citizenship thesis draws as we have seen on a common humanity, an all-encompassing notion, it negates frontiers, eradicating power relations and refusing antagonism. It designates a non-exclusive consensus on what people share in common, while for Mouffe there can never be a consensus–a political unity– without exclusion.

Where does this leave us? How can we reformulate citizenship so as to take into account the challenges which processes of globalisation pose to it, without thereby undermining democratic politics, the idea of a delimited political community, of a demos? The next section argues that citizenship must be reformulated as agonistic.

The agonistic conception of citizenship

Mouffe defines citizenship as a political identity that consists of an identification with the principles of liberty and equality for all. In a preliminary respect, we can notice that this definition diverges from the dominant approaches in the literature, which depict citizenship either as a unitary and overriding practice (civic republican conception) or as a fixed legal status (liberal conception). Indeed, the liberal and civic republican conceptions of citizenship prioritise either the individual or the citizen. Liberal citizenship is a formal and legal status that gives the individual access to a set of civil, political and social rights. These rights protect individual liberty and they endow also the individual with a capacity to define and further her own conception of the good. Citizen identity does not therefore affect the individual pursuit of self-interest. Rather, it is one identity among others, according to liberals. Civic republican citizenship, by contrast, is an overriding activity. It is a practice that constitutes both subjects as citizens, and the good which is common to all. Civic republicans do not thereby prioritise the individual. Instead they place emphasis on the political association, the collectivity, which obtains and practices its rights by participating in the affairs of the community.

Yet civic republican citizenship has both strengths and shortcomings, according to Mouffe. While it focuses on the democratic ‘we consciousness’, it conceives it in such a way (i.e. as homogeneous) that makes it incompatible with modern pluralistic politics. A similar discrepancy applies of course to liberal citizenship. While it respects individual liberty, it disregards the necessity for a political association, for a common bond among the citizens, which amounts to something more than a mere agreement on procedures. It follows that, in order to formulate a new conception of citizenship that is compatible with modern democratic politics, Mouffe must build on the strengths of both dominant conceptions while avoiding their shortcomings.

From the liberal tradition Mouffe retains the emphasis on individual liberty and acknowledges that it is this emphasis which has contributed to making modern democracy into a pluralistic regime. From the civic republican tradition, she retains the emphasis on the political association and argues that it is fundamental to recognise that individuals acquire their rights and sense of identity through their inscription in a political community. Yet Mouffe does not seek to simply reconcile the strengths of the dominant conceptions but rather to articulate them together.

Mouffe forges a conjunction of (liberal) pluralism with (civic republican) unity by dispensing with the idea of a fixed and unitary identity of the citizen. On a theoretical level, it is precisely the idea of citizenship as a unitary identity, which carries the danger of returning us to a pre-modern view of the political association that does not respect pluralism (the civic republican shortcoming). At the same time, the idea of citizenship as a fixed identity, one among others, individual and legal, has the implication of downplaying the ‘we consciousness’, of constituting and consolidating it (the liberal shortcoming). By contrast, Mouffe takes citizenship firstly as constructed and secondly as a form of identification with the principles of modern democracy: liberty and equality for all. She notes:

What we share and what makes us fellow citizens in a liberal democratic regime is not a substantive idea of the good but a set of principles specific to such a tradition: the principles of freedom and equality for all … To be a citizen is to recognise the authority of such principles and the rules in which they are embodied, to have them informing our political judgement and our action. To be associated in terms of the recognition of liberal democratic principles: this is the meaning of citizenship that I want to put forward. It implies seeing citizenship not as a legal status but as a form of identification, a type of political identity, something to be constructed, not empirically given, (Mouffe, 1993: 65-66)

Understanding the identity of the citizen as constructed is important because it enables Mouffe to alter the terms of the debate on citizenship and to approach the latter not as a notion that is given but as a structure that can at any moment be hegemonised and articulated differently. It follows that it is Mouffe’s anti-essentialist perspective that enables her to advance a conception that respects (liberal) pluralism. Pluralism is taken seriously in her approach because the constructed character of citizenship ensures that both different articulations and plural interpretations of what it means to be a citizen are always possible.

Citizen identity is constructed or constituted, according to Mouffe, through chains of equivalence. This means that by annulling their differences and identifying with a common purpose, subjects collectively construct their identity as citizens. A corollary feature therefore of a constructed citizenship is that it is also a collective identity. Politics is a collective activity for Mouffe: it arises the moment when a ‘we’ becomes constructed and differentiated from ‘them’. This us-them relation is moreover potentially antagonistic as we have seen, and it is within the context of an agonistic democracy that the potential antagonism is transformed into agonism. Citizenship as a collective identity plays a useful role precisely to this end. On one hand, it ensures that the emerging citizens, who have collectively identified as ‘we’, share some common ground. On the other hand, it ensures that these citizens are adversaries: although they collectively identify as citizens, they disagree on how they interpret their identity as citizens. This occurs alongside the defining feature of the agonistic debate: that it is a debate among the different interpretations of democratic citizenship–radical democratic, social democratic, conservative etc.

The second way in which Mouffe moves beyond the liberal and civic republican conceptions is by considering citizenship in terms of a common form of identification with the principles of modern democracy, that is, liberty and equality for all. Defining citizenship as a common form of identification enables Mouffe to argue that the necessary bondage among democratic citizens, their political association and common good, can revolve around the liberty and equality of all. Importantly, moreover, these principles, the rules of the respublica with which democratic citizens identity, are not simply procedural specifications of conduct. They are constitutive of our way of life and emerge out of common practices and discourses rather than out of procedures and rational argumentation. In other words, what Mouffe is saying here is that the ‘we consciousness’ emerges precisely out of common practices, out of ‘what Wittgenstein likens to a “passionate commitment to a system of reference”. Hence although it’s a belief, it is really a way of living or of assessing one’s life’ (2000: 97).

We will hold onto this idea in order to prove that Mouffe’s conception of citizenship is relevant within the context of globalisation. In one respect, we can say that passion, understood as a strong commitment to a system of reference–to democracy that is–is precisely that which grounds democratic practice according to Mouffe. The commitment to the democratic way of living (passion), determines that citizens both define and practice their rights. It follows that a demos, a collectivity which is bound together by its commitment to the democratic system of reference, is necessary for democratic practice– a point which leads us to the second, interrelated, respect in which we can approach passion in Mouffe’s writings. As we have just seen, the concepts of liberty and equality with which the demos identifies, are not simple procedural specifications of conduct but emerge out of common practices and discourses. Moreover, common practices and discourses bond moreover democratic citizens. Passion describes, within this context, the type of bondage which pertains among democratic citizens: the defining mark of citizenship is not a simple following of certain procedural rules, but a collective and passionate identification with the liberty and equality of all. This means, of course, that the citizens identify with liberty and equality as a way of living –and here we can see the connection with the first sense in which Mouffe uses the notion of passion in her writings.

The idea that ‘a passionate commitment to a system of reference’ secures allegiance to democratic institutions is useful because it enables us to isolate an important aspect of Mouffe’s work that applies to levels other than the local, namely to community. Another aspect of her work, which proves the relevance of her approach within the context of an increasingly global community, concerns a defining feature of agonistic citizenship–that it is a constructed form of identity, open to many different interpretations.

Earlier in our enquiry into the agonistic conception of the political, we mentioned that Mouffe’s overarching concern, which she also integrates in her approach to citizenship, has been to articulate (liberal) pluralism with (civic republican) unity in such a way that neither is unity asserted at the expense of pluralism nor pluralism at the expense of unity. We can say that while her focus on passion suggests that, when viewed against the background of global processes, an agonistic citizenship has to designate unity, a demos that is, and a specific type of bondage among its members, her focus on the many different interpretations of citizenship suggests that against the same background, an agonistic citizenship has to respect pluralism. Pluralism, we need to clarify here, implies irreconcilability and conflict for Mouffe; it is that which keeps an agonistic confrontation alive. An agonistic confrontation therefore and a debate among the different and conflicting interpretations of democratic citizenship has also to apply within the context of a global community. How can we then secure a passionate commitment to a common system of reference, a democratic unity, while simultaneously respecting plurality, so as to keep the democratic contestation alive at the global level?

Mouffe notes: ‘passion is a double-edged sword: associative and dissociative’ (Mouffe and Laclau, 2001: 24). By this she means that although a common citizenship identity can emerge out of common practices, discourses and language games, out of ‘a passionate commitment to a common system of reference’, this same passionate commitment also has dissociative effects. On the one hand, it bonds the members of the demos, as we have seen. On the other hand, it does this by determining a ‘them’, by distinguishing the members of the demos from the non-members. The argument therefore that passion has both associative and dissociative effects links with Mouffe’s approach to the political: it emerges the moment that a frontier is delimited between friends and enemies. The us-them distinction is potentially antagonistic, as we have seen, and it is the aim of an agonistic pluralism to transform the potential antagonism between ‘us’ and ‘them’ into agonism. It follows that, if within the context of agonistic pluralism the objective is to transform the potential antagonism into agonism, by ‘providing channels through which collective passions will be given ways to express themselves’ (2000: 103), within the context of an interconnected world the objective is, or should be, to multiply passions. Mouffe explains:

One of my ideas about how we can [make an agonistic struggle possible] is by multiplying us/them relations. Because the most likely condition for the emergence of antagonism … is when there is very strong separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’… If on the other hand, the us/them is multiplied, so that for instance you and I constitute an ‘us’ with respect to ‘them’, but then a different you and I constitute a different ‘us’ then it is less likely that there will be antagonism. This is a way to defuse the potential antagonism, which is present in the construction of collective identity. That is what I understand by multiplying passions. (Mouffe and Laclau, 2001: 26)

The key to this argument is the idea of multiplying. There are two reasons why Mouffe’s emphasis on multiplying is significant for us at this point. The first reason justifies why an agonistic citizenship is relevant and important, functionally, within a setting where processes of globalisation have intensified. To see this point through, we need to explain that when Mouffe argues for the multiplication of us/them (us-them) relations, she suggests that we politicise levels other than the state. We can politicise those levels through democratic practice, through citizenship that is, which by virtue of its inclusion/exclusion dynamics, creates unity by determining a ‘them’. Mouffe does not say that democratic practice needs to be entrenched and legitimated at the global and regional levels, as Held for instance does, but that we need to be political also at the regional, sub-regional, and other levels, which have come to the fore as a result of global processes. And we are political when we delimit and multiply frontiers – when we become constituted as citizens.

But there is a second reason why the idea of multiplying is important. We earlier linked Mouffe’s point on the associative and dissociative effects of passion with her standpoint on the political and suggested that she puts forward an argument for politicising spaces other than the state via multiplying us/them (us-them) relations. There is another interrelated aspect to this idea which further clarifies Mouffe’s approach to democratic practice. Citizenship has a distinctively political function for Mouffe: it constitutes unity, a ‘we consciousness’ by determining a ‘them’. It follows that by arguing for the multiplication of us/them (us-them) relations, she argues also for the multiplication of ‘we consciousnesses’, for the multiplication of demoi –something which can of course be achieved by multiplying the discourses and language games, the passionate commitments in other words, which construct collective identifications, and which have both associative and dissociative effects. Therefore through the idea of multiplying, Mouffe is able to retain the idea of a political community, of a demos, but also to suggest a way in which a demos can be defined and secured at the global level. She comments:

The demos doesn’t need to be the nation-state; that’s important to understand … There will be a plurality of forms of demos. Some lower than the state, some higher than the state. I think that’s a way in which we can reintroduce meaning into democratic practice. By multiplying the forms of demos in which the citizen could exercise his/her rights of citizenship. But a demos is always implied –it could be the European Union, or it might be the region, but it can’t be the world. (Mouffe and Laclau, 2001: 23)

A global demos is an impossibility, for Mouffe, as we have already indicated because politics and democratic practice always involve frontiers, acts of inclusion/exclusion and power relations. The moment that frontiers are negated, the political evaporates. This is also the reason why it is problematic, to suggest a cosmopolitan citizenship. But, for Mouffe, the idea of entangling the demos with the ethnos is equally problematic. This is important to specify and stress because a potential objection to her work concerns the emphasis she places on the passionate commitments out of which citizens emerge. Do not such commitments reinforce the focus on the nation? In other words, is not the commitment to the nation a kind of ‘passionate commitment to a system of reference’?

To address this potential objection we need to recall that Mouffe says that citizenship identity consists of an identification with the political principles, which are constitutive of modern pluralist democracy. She talks about liberty and equality–principles of politics, not ethnic principles. Besides, she focuses on political principles precisely in her attempt to move beyond the civic republican conception of citizenship, which often collapses citizenship with nationality, as we have seen. At the same time, her argument for multiplying suggests the approach she takes to nationality. Namely, although she disentangles citizenship from nationality, she does not completely dismiss nationality. Instead she approaches it as a ‘libidinal investment’ and argues for the creation and in effect multiplication of other forms of identification that people could feel strongly about, perhaps as strongly as about their nationality.

How is an agonistic struggle secured at the global level? This is the second idea which we earlier isolated and retained from Mouffe’s work on citizenship. Focusing on this idea is necessary, firstly, because it is important to show that a defining feature of her approach, when read against the background of an increasingly globalised setting, applies also to levels other than the state. Secondly, an agonistic confrontation which is secured at a variety of levels, as we have endeavoured to show, provides us with an insight as to the task ahead: keeping the democratic contestation alive instead of resolving it by privileging consensual solutions, such as reinforcing the participatory rights of humanity.

The idea of multiplying is again suggestive as to the way in which Mouffe makes sure that an agonistic debate will take place in contexts other than the state. As a notion, ‘multiplying’ implies and presupposes plurality, a plurality of demoi which define and practice their rights; otherwise it would be theoretically impossible to sustain an argument for multiplying. Thus, by arguing for the multiplication of the demoi Mouffe ensures that a conflicting pluralism will be respected and reinforced in many different settings. That this conflicting pluralism would be conducive to an agonistic confrontation follows precisely from the fact that it is being articulated together with unity. As we have already seen, Mouffe talks specifically about the multiplication of the demoi, the necessary units for practicing democratic politics. This is to say that, just as an agonistic debate is kept alive through citizenship (an identity which provides both for common ground and dissent), it is also maintained when facing a global politics, and there are multiple and competing demoi which define and practice their rights. The demoi provide for common ground, for unity, and their multiplicity reinforces pluralism, conflict and an agonistic confrontation–and here we need to recall an earlier point that a defining feature of an agonistic confrontation is that its participants are adversaries, people (units in our case) who are somehow bonded (a demos) but who disagree on how they interpret their bond (multiple ways of playing the democratic game).

In reading Mouffe’s account of politics against the background of global processes, we can see how her argument for multiplying democratic practices connects with her approach to citizenship. On one level, it provides a link between her focus on citizenship as a collective political identity, which emerges out of ‘a passionate commitment to a common system of reference’, and her focus on citizenship as a constructed identity open to many different interpretations. Because in arguing for multiplying passions, us-them relations or the demoi, Mouffe tells us in fact to make the emerging global layer of governance political: to constitute and delimit collectivities, which are bound together by political principles and to pluralise their interactions, to make these agonistic. On another level, her argument for multiplying democratic practices demonstrates that the articulation between democratic unity and (liberal) pluralism, which defines her approach to citizenship, should also inform our approach to democratic politics at the level of the city, the region or the sub-region.

To concretise her position Mouffe cites Cacciari’s views on ‘federalism from the bottom’. Cacciari suggests that in order to deal with the pressures which the community faces from the inside–regionalist and tribalist movements–and from the outside–supranationalism and transnationalism–we need to differentiate between the different regions, sub-regions and cities in order to reinforce their autonomy but also to multiply, in effect, their relations of exchange. In this way, we would be in a position to combine unity, as each region or city would be considered unified and autonomous, with a conflictual diversity, as there would be multiple and inevitably conflictual relations of exchange among the different autonomous regions. With reference to Cacciari’s views, Mouffe notes:

Such ideas of course require further development, but I find them very suggestive. If our project is to contest the imposition of a single, homogenising model of society…. it is urgent that we imagine new forms of association in which pluralism would flourish and where the capacities for democratic decision-making would be enhanced. Against the anti-political illusions of a cosmopolitan world governance, and against the sterile and doomed fixation on the national state, I believe that the type of federalism advocated by Cacciari provides promising insights. By allowing us to envision new forms of solidarity based on recognised interdependence, it might constitute one of the central ideas around which democratic forces could organise in a plurality of democratic public spheres. This would breathe life into the agonistic struggle … Moreover, this new federalism should not be seen as being specific to Europe –it could stimulate the development of other regional units with their specific identities, units in which the global and the local could be articulated in many different ways and in which diverse types of links could be established within a context that respects differences. (2002: 96)

In this paragraph Mouffe’s intentions are clear: to secure a plurality of democratic public spheres so to breathe life into the agonistic struggle. And the agonistic struggle should indeed continue within the context of increasingly global politics. Could this be possible through a global demos? This paper concludes by suggesting that this is not the case.


1 Although globalisation is not a new phenomenon, it is so distinctive and intense in its present phase as to approach it as a new development.


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