Developing Democracy Beyond the State

58 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2007 Last revised: 4 Nov 2008

See all articles by Grainne De Burca

Grainne De Burca

New York University (NYU) - Law School; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law


This article examines the growth of 'governance beyond the state'. It highlights the problems resulting from the large number of organizations, networks and practices which are making authoritative rules and policies outside the state, and which lie beyond the control of national democratic and constitutional structures. Having set out the double dilemma of the rapid growth of transnational governance and its problematic relationship to democracy, the article criticizes existing approaches to the dilemma. The dominant current perspective, which I label the 'compensatory approach', takes the view that democracy cannot be transposed from the national to the transnational arena, and that other compensatory mechanisms must be found to regulate transnational governance. The paper takes issue with this general consensus that democratization of transnational governance is not a plausible endeavor, and argues that any convincing attempt to reform transnational governance should not avoid the democracy problem. While it is true that our contemporary understanding of the concept of democracy is very closely tied to the state context, the paper argues that we should nevertheless not jettison the concept when attempting to design more legitimate governance structures beyond the state. Rather we should acknowledge the powerful normative and social appeal of democracy as a governing ideal, and should try to identify its conceptual 'building blocks' with a view to thinking about the possible design of legitimate democracy-oriented governance processes beyond and between states.

In this spirit, the article proposes an approach to transnational governance which I call the democratic-striving approach. This approach is built on one particular building-block of democracy, which is the fullest possible participation and representation of those affected, with a view to ensuring the public-oriented nature of the norms and policies made. To illustrate the general argument in more concrete terms, the article draws on the example of the International Financial Institutions and the experience of the recent reform of their development assistance policies, known as the Poverty Strategy Reduction Program. The example demonstrates the practical potential of the democratic-striving approach to the reform of transnational governance, and suggests that it could be applied to many other instances of governance beyond the state.

Keywords: transnational governance, democracy, legitimacy, international financial institutions

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

De Burca, Grainne, Developing Democracy Beyond the State. Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2008, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1023182, Available at SSRN:

Grainne De Burca (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Law School ( email )

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University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

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