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The Reflexive Modernization of Democracy
By Jean-Paul Gagnon Posted in Book Chapter, Conversation, Democracy on April 15, 2021 0 Comments 39 min read
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The Reflexive Modernization of Democracy

[Ulrich Beck was at the London School of Economics when I was visiting London in early 2012 (I had a conversation with David Held then, too). I have a memory of us finding an occasional room to use, some hot desk, and sprucing it up a bit with books in the background as we would be filming our conversation. ‘To make it more scholarly’ and the like. It was all done in good-hearted and jovial fashion. I remember Professor Beck being very kind, we spoke for a long time, and here’s the result: a discussion of democratic theory and reflexive modernization. This talk was first published in the book Democratic Theorists in Conversation: Turns in Contemporary Thought.]

Defining democracy

Gagnon: How do you define democracy?

Beck: Democracy is actually a narrative. Something quite weak and I think at times doubly a mistake as well as an opportunity. It is like climate change or genes or something which has a whole story behind it politically, socially and institutionally. You have to have quite a large scope of what democracy is about. Nevertheless, it would be good to start with minimum procedural definitions of democracy. I think that those are quite important. They are part of the theory of democracy. They include free and fair elections and systems of control and participation, basic human rights and political rights as well as the whole background of civil liberties. This would be the normatively conceived minimum definition.

Then there is the extended minimum definition which includes all of the aforementioned but, at the same time, a deterministic form of a clear executive position, its organization and bureaucracy which is not often something argued in the minimalist understanding. For example, in the European Union this is not the case. There are many different actors but nobody is in charge of it. We see that the European Union meets the minimalist critère. It also meets other basic criteria associated with minimalist proceduralism such as parliamentary democracy, multiparty participation in elections and so on. These are important beacons. However, and we will discuss this later, there is also the situation where people refer to the nation state as a basic unit for democracy. This is often lumped together with other national organizations and I think that this kind of assumption is becoming more predominant in the globalized world.

Then there are different forms of post-parliamentary democracy. We are beginning to engage those because of post-national constellations. There are an entire range of ideas and institutions associated with this. To some extent this is important. For example, we are beginning to see the theory and institutional practice for deliberative and discursive democracy which is mostly perceived as a universalistic democracy. I would criticize this and say we have to get to a post universalistic position. This post universalistic concept of democracy would go beyond compromise and accommodation. It would have what is called a cosmopolitan element. I think that those are elements of a right concept of democracy and, as stipulated earlier, the most important elements.

We can also argue at this stage that one of the most pressing situations is that the theory of democracy, like many other theories of the social sciences, is still to a large extent prisoner of the nation state. The main question is how we can get beyond what is called methodological nationalism which equates the nation state with society and all basic institutions. This national gaze envisions democracy, let us say, at the European level, as a homogeneous demos, not as a plurality and permanence of different demoi which constitute its parts. This is a major obstacle right now in the Euro-zone crisis. We can think of this as the biggest challenge: the cosmopolitan challenge of democracy as a practice, democracy as a theory and democracy as a word.

Gagnon: You have made use of the term ‘post universality’. It would prove beneficial to explain what you mean by Second Modernity as that is intimately connected to post universalism.

Beck: My notion of Second Modernity is more of a process than a real and fixed constellation. It can be said that my theory is actually not a theory on structures but a theory of processes, or to be more precise, the ongoing transformation of the national and international social and political order. I call this ‘meta-change’, change of the coordinates of change. The social sciences (specifically sociology and to some extent political science, as well as a lot of political theory) are more or less theories of the reproduction of order and less about the transformation of a unit of knowledge taken for granted. It is then actually about the transformation of modernity, or the self-transformation of modernity. And I think that others follow my thinking or I follow others in this direction saying that the principles of modernity are being radicalized and producing consequences. These are unseen or unwanted consequences which undermine the institutions of first modernity.

So it is a radicalization of modernity or, more specifically, of the principles of modernity. Of course we have to talk about what the principles of modernity are and how such is producing unseen consequences. But, and this requires emphasis, not general unseen consequences because we always produce all kinds of unseen (or implicit) consequences. Rather, what we are referring to here are those consequences which have a boomerang effect and undermine basic institutions. One of the institutions normative to first modernity that is undergoing radicalization is of course global warming or climate change because it is actually the radicalization or universalization or globalization of industrial capitalism and its mode of production. The motorcar is a basic symbol of this process. It is a symbol for nearly everybody, including several millions of Chinese people, where nearly everybody has his car which is then producing global warming. Or take the runaway innovations. We are facing three overlapping technological innovations – genetics, nanotechnology and robotics. They accelerate the acceleration of change with deeply intertwined promises and changes.

So here we have the logic of it. Our discussion is not about a crisis of modernity. It is rather about the success of modernity which has come to produce consequences which threatens all. What we are now seeing is the process of self-transformation of modernity which is occurring in three ways. The first process is individualization, the second is global risk and the third is cosmopolitization.

The first, individualism, means that there are some institutional designs which use the necessity for the individual to organize their own biography. It’s not by free will. It’s not a vote and an option. Individuals are forced to produce their own biography as they have to try to connect with others in many ways. The individualization institutions that do this are for example in Western countries, but in other countries as well: basic civil rights, political rights and social rights. This is because the aforementioned are addressed to the individual and not addressed to collective identities. There was a huge discussion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries about whether there should be a collective addressee for those basic rights. Nevertheless individualization, the liberal aspect, has succeeded. And it’s not only this – it’s the dynamic of the labour market, the flexibility and mobility of the labour market and union-able capitalism which produces different kinds of individualization. And, of course, globally, i.e. in China, South America or Africa, neoliberal ideology and information capitalism are de-traditionalizing and individualizing the nations, ethnic cultures and
families too.

The second process is global risk. When we talk about global risk I think climate change or kinds of environmental consequences and problems. But I also think of financial crises as well as of SARS which was one of those diseases that rapidly spread through specific regions and countries and so on. Every day we actually have news of risks, i.e. possible catastrophes. Those risks are often the bad side of the goods we are producing. These risks are globalized in the same way because first modernity is so successful. The accidents of Chernobyl or Fukushima are examples. But many other accidents or catastrophes show that the nation state cannot contain those risks any more. Those risks transcend all borders. They have a new logic and make visible that the institutions which try to handle those risks collapse or are dissolved or are not working.

This is of course the thesis of risk society. Let me give you an example: What do the Euro crisis and the food-safety problems in China have in common? Both prove, in different ways, that we live in a ‘risk society’. Both, the Euro crisis and the food-safety problems, are not anomalies caused by a few ‘bad apples’ (i.e. mistakes of politicians or corrupt individuals). Both risks, ironically, are the unintended consequences of the very advances in economics, science, technology and politics that once make the world seem more predictable and less risky, as well as, the effects of scientism, particularly its logic of control, in modern politics. More importantly, the Euro crisis and food-safety problems in China have contributed to a rapid decline of social trust, thus posing a risk of distrust that has far-reaching social and political ramifications. As the anthropologist Yunxiang Yan argues, in this sense a risk society has also already arrived in China.

The third process is cosmopolitization which means not globalization, not transnationalism and not multiculturalism. Cosmopolitization is a sense that the global other cannot be excluded any longer or, to be more precise: in being included and excluded at the same time. The global other is in our midst and that is because of, for example, global risks. If we are confronted with a financial crisis for instance, we realize that the decisions which are made some place in America or whatever do have direct effects on lives and institutions not only in America but in many other places throughout the world. It’s about the interconnectivity of the world. Yet it’s more than interconnectivity itself. It’s actually the consequences of interconnectivity: the social or political consequences of interconnectivity which shows that the global other cannot be excluded any longer. The global other is part of our own space of action. This cosmopolitan human condition is part of all of our options.

So those are the three dimensions and processes of reflexive modernization. They interact to some extent and produce constellations and a world which is beyond our current concepts. That is why we need concepts like risk society or cosmopolitization or individualization as they
are useful lights for us to shine to find out about things and make some sense of them. We need these concepts to conduct detailed research on these kinds of subjects because the old nation state concepts are not working. They are failing us.

Gagnon: That is interesting. It is a great response to the so-called ‘age of uncertainty’ (that we are all ostensibly living in). I know that John Keane is working hard in this area too – as is David Held. Keane, for example, shares your worries about the EU. He too is looking for new language – concepts – with which to safeguard democracy and dispel the contemporary political, social and economic daemons that haunt us. In many ways, what you and Keane are doing is normative. But in which way does Second Modernity impact normative democratic theory?

Beck: We have already touched this to some extent. First of all one of the consequences of this cosmopolitan condition is what I would call the informalization of power. Power is getting beyond the formal structure of legitimation and this happens in all areas. All kinds of fields are getting beyond the legitimation of democracy. Take for example the G20 or G7 or whatever. They are new groups of states which do not even have institutional structure and they are becoming very important for all kinds of negotiations. They might even be the place for preparing decisions for nation states or regional authorities but they are not legitimate. These institutions are beyond legitimation. They have an informal agenda and they are a group of powerful nations. If you look into this further, the constitutions of things like the G7 are not democratic in any way. Inclusion into those institutions depends only on the actors involved: they are the ones to argue that the economic rising powers have to be included. This does not happen by election but just because new actors are economically powerful.

Facing the Euro-zone crisis you can find a most remarkable new form of informal power politics, that is the political affinity between Merkel and Machiavelli – which I think of as the Merkiavelli model. The key to this lies in the fact that Merkel links German willingness to provide credit with the willingness of the debtor nations to satisfy the conditions of German stability policies. This is Merkiavelli’s first principle: on the subject of German money to assist the debtor nations, her position is neither a clear Yes nor a clear No, but a clear Yes and No. And Merkiavelli’s power is founded on her circumspection, the desire to do nothing. This art of deliberate hesitation, the combination of indifference, the rejection of Europe and the commitment to Europe, is at the root of the German stance in a crisis-ridden Europe. Hesitation as a means of coercion – that is Merkiavelli’s method. One of the many problems with this: Merkiavelli has become the unelected queen of Europe. In reaction to Europe at risk Germany has become an accidental empire.

The second aspect is the naturalization of the national political community. The political community as a nation seems to be the natural form of the modern world and actually very few political scientists and theorists even go beyond this. It’s still the premise of most of the social scientific or political theory/science work while the international theory is opening up.

There are many attempts to open up this situation, but still there’s distinction between the national and the international basic dualism for constitution of the political field. It was Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt in Munich a few years ago who always said to us: ‘Do not concentrate on these 150 years of the nation state. Before the rise of the nation state there was an ethnic plural constellation of communities and afterwards there’s going to be something similar but different at the same time.’

What we have then is a very small period of the nation state. It has become naturalized in how we think politically. In data collection, in comparative studies, the nation state is always the basic unit for research on everything good and everything bad in this world. Most of the good (democracy, state authority, and sovereignty for example) is related to the nation state. This is the case in most of our political thinking. This is what I call methodological nationalism and it’s being challenged very much by cosmopolitization and Second Modernity.

Let me pick up the last point. Global risks do have important implications for the redefinition of political communities. If you go back to John Dewey, for example, he asked ‘how does a public become possible’? What makes a public a public? Dewey was arguing this in the 1920s: he was concerned about the problems of the public. His core argument was that the political community is not constituted by the decisions it makes or by the legitimation of those decisions. Those phenomena are not what create a public. He argues the public comes up and becomes nervous about the problematic consequences of the decision made. This produces a public and even a political community because suddenly people get concerned. They get more concerned the more the effects are felt in their own lives. Dewey didn’t know about climate change or about financial crises and he was pretty much still talking on the local and the national level. But at the same time I think he had ideas which I relate to risk and global risk.

Global risks, due to some imminent necessity, produce reflexive cosmopolitan constellations because they irritate people beyond borders and they force them to reflect upon their condition. Those consequences are mediated in the news media or in the internet or whatever. Therefore it constitutes what I would call imagined cosmopolitan communities of global risk. This imagined cosmopolitan community of global risk is related to the idea of a national imagined cosmopolitan community which has been so beautifully explained and conceptualized by Benedict Anderson when he said that there’s nothing natural about the nation.

The nation is the consequence of specific resources of communication, specific languages and bureaucratic structures. They are all based on an imagined community which means that the nation does not have to be a community which is actually founded in the past. It’s imagined as being founded in the past and as having a long history. This imagination comes up because people perceive themselves as being in the position of a common fate. This is a kind of political community. And you can use this idea to reinvent or re-explain what global risk could do under specific conditions.

Global risk can create new publics, cosmopolitan moments, and create maybe even new communities of fate that are not constructed on the basis of past but that are constructed on the anticipation of future catastrophes. This is actually one of the contributions of world risk society and Second Modernity theory. It’s a way to overcome methodological nationalism by asking for new kinds of communities that go beyond the nation state – ones that are related to cosmopolitization. And we have many examples of this.

Let us take as an example a failed or not working community: the Copenhagen Conference of 2009. To some extent the Copenhagen Conference is an example of all the leaders of the world having to get together in order to find answers to the challenges of climate change. This hadn’t happened before so there was a moment of unification there. But at the same time all of the contradictions and conflicts about South and North, rich and poor, and all the differences of post-colonial and colonial and imperialist measures came up. Therefore this was not a community in the way we are used to seeing a community. It was, and still is, a process. I would say that it is a process of cosmopolitan dialectics. This means that on the one hand you have the necessity to unite in order to solve threats to humanity, but on the other hand because of this unification, all the differences and inequalities and injustices not only of the situation but of the whole history come up and therefore decision making is being blocked. There is tension between many different sides. As a result of that once the Conference is going in one direction the next time it’s going in the other direction.

There’s a different conference which I find quite interesting to compare with Copenhagen and it actually came around shortly after the Copenhagen Conference in early 2010. It was the Helsinki Conference which concentrated on the Baltic Sea. It concentrated on the countries that border that particular sea. They were trying to solve the environmental problems of the Baltic and it was very successful. It was successful not because people were idealistic but because they had a common interest. Powerful interests for example from Russia were involved too: its businesses wanted to use the Baltic Sea as a way of transporting oil, shipping goods and so on.

The countries at the Helsinki Conference had a common interest. So too did the combined region. The actors at the Conference combined in order to avoid falling prey to the particularistic whims of nation states. In doing so they formed a specific identity. In relation to Copenhagen, the Helsinki Conference was a constellation where the inequality of the world wasn’t present. Although there were some obvious inequalities between states, things were comparatively still pretty much equal. The society constituted by the Helsinki Conference had a similar consciousness of environmental problems. They had shared interests.

So there are conditions whereby this idea of a cosmopolitan imagined community of faith does work. And, in the same way, there are examples of where it does not work. The world risk society is something which is there structurally, but not reflexively, consciously like in a national community of fate writ large. To frame and name imagined risk communities ‘cosmopolitan’ means there will be not a homogeneous demos which would be the bearer of sovereignty and democracy. But an institutionalized cooperation between cities, regions or states, and so on that acknowledges the plurality and permanence of the different demoi which constitute its parts: but something, as I said, not devoid of its differences and conflicts.

Gagnon: One example of a transnational risk society that I would like to raise comes from a talk delivered by John Raulston Saul and Stephen Kakfwi at the University of Toronto in early 2011. Kakfwi is a former premier of the Northwest Territories in Canada and is a leader of the Dene nation. He described an indigenous method of doing politics in the North – the Arctic. This form of politics is not bi-polar. And it is not multi-polar. It is simply predicated on getting things done together. The examples of success that you described coming out of the Helsinki Conference are tied directly to what Kakfwi recommended the Arctic countries and peoples should do about regulating that ocean.

Beck: Yes and it’s right. It’s not so much of a national community where you have to die for your fatherland or something like that. There is not so much of this background which makes a national community spirit. It’s more about pragmatic causal relationships, responsibilities and getting things done which are very important for states’ own national or local interests. States redefine their interests in relation to this structure of cooperation which is necessary to solve their own problems. And let me put it the other way around: in the age of global risk nationalism has become the enemy of the nations.

Gagnon: We have talked a lot about nation states so far. I think that we would do well to focus on smaller, non-global polities, like indigenous peoples. Democratic theorists are increasingly learning about the knowledges and practices of indigenous peoples and their own understandings of democracy. Some indigenous voices in, for example, Latin America are saying that they reject the logic that comes out of Europe or Eurocentric histories. These indigenous peoples prefer to explore and explain their cultures and understand their democracy through narratives and stories from elders – through their own techniques. I think there is great value in this but I have run into other people who consider this to be waffle and possibly counter-productive. Do you think there is a place for this different type of knowledge in a cosmopolitan constellation of democracy?

Beck: I think so. But we need to ask ourselves what are these indigenous cultures really? Are they still isolated? Do you think of them as an isolated culture or do you think of them as a culture which by itself has to adapt to some interconnectivity. Are they dealing with a globalization from within? Thinking about these types of questions would be my starting point. For most indigenous peoples, we cannot think about their cultures as being isolated. They are part of the global interconnectedness which affects how indigenous peoples define their own narratives.

Some try to oppose to this experience. The whole literature for example on risk and in many other fields is about this difference. There is to some extent a conflict between scientific knowledge and expert knowledge on the one hand and local knowledge by farmers for example and indigenous groups on the other. ‘Local peoples’ know things differently and have a different perspective on the same issue as experts. These voices need to work together and not disregard one another.

There is a basic implication that comes out of Second Modernity and the cosmopolitan point of view that we have not yet touched on. In relation to science and rationality, you cannot have a universalistic perspective of the experts or the scientists who know reality and truths by their methods. Science is confronted with science. And science is studied with science. And what does science do? Science doubts science: it creates all kinds of doubts about itself to find out that science is not really as some people imagine it. It is full of uncertainty. It produces all kinds of uncertainties. And there is great value in that.

Risk is one of the examples of producing uncertainties. The concept of risk is still something which can be calculated. It has some probability and other similar properties. This is actually the main answer to the production of uncertainties in first modernity. Nowadays we know that all kinds of risk experts contradict each other. This is not because they are bad thinkers but rather because they are good scientists. They have different methods and different standpoints and take up different evidence. This results in an increase of different risk definitions and therefore an increase of uncertainty. I would even make a difference between risk and a manufactured uncertainty. Risk is about the ability and the attempt to make the uncertainty which is produced by modernization something that we are capable of managing.

There are probabilities, all kinds of methods, scenarios and so on for doing this. But if you look at the reality of the last let us say twenty years, the most important events came from nowhere in relation to risk. They were not expected. They were not part of the risk calculation. They were complete surprises, even inconceivable. Take for example the break of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the global financial and the Euro crisis and the Arabic uprisings of 2011. During the time that these events were happening people were saying that these came somehow suddenly from nowhere. These kind of basic surprises which challenge not only individual groups or nations but the whole world are becoming somehow systematic. There are more of them popping up and I would say this is exactly part of Second Modernity. We are in a situation where all the attempts to calculate the uncertainty we produce are producing new uncertainties because of plural perceptions, because of multiple methods, because of contradictions between experts, or because of the undermining of institutions in Second Modernity altogether.

It is specifically as a consequence of its successes, that modern society faces the threat of failure. The same technological advancement upon which the growth and prosperity of the industrial society are based is feeding into an increasing fear of societal collapse. Whereas experiments in the past would have been conducted in a lab or in restricted field scenarios, nowadays the whole world seems to serve as the test bed for experimentation. Whether nuclear plants, genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology – if any of these experiments went wrong, the consequences would have a global impact, would be irreversible, and would impact future generations.

Gagnon: This particular reading of Second Modernity is promising because it is identifying these risks – these uncertainties. We see in there the creation of space for indigenous or other contributions to knowledge.

Beck: Yes, that is right. It is opening up and subalterns get their chance. Of course they do not have all the answers and useful tools either. They could not. But they are part of the new game. Indigenous peoples could even, like other excluded others, be suddenly included in the power game of defining risks or of defining necessities.

Gagnon: Do you think this will eventually lead to some convergence on the human universal of democracy?

Beck: Yeah, maybe, but – as I said before – we should not think of somehow
global democracy as a national democracy writ large. We should think not about one demos humanity, which actually to me would be a horror vision, but of demoi on the regional, city, and national levels – all of them giving individuals opportunities to participate on these levels of politics. And we should not underestimate the dimension of conflict and antagonism in a world that lost to some extent at least its mechanism of excluding the distant other. This would be and will be an explosive situation. I would say the cosmopolitan perspective is a post universalistic perspective because universalism is the attempt to construct universal norms, universal tools and a universal democracy. From my point of view universalism and cosmopolitanism is not an either-or but a both-and. There must be some universalistic ‘as if’ to cope with the antagonism in a cosmopolitanized world. But the universalists oversee or devalue particularities and specific cultural backgrounds and so on. From a universalistic point of view it does not matter if you are black or if you are a woman. You are just part of one specific understanding of humankind.

In that context a real black person is a white person, or real woman if you go to the core of it is a white man because universalism has a cultural background itself. It’s a European idea. It’s an overstressed European idea from European experiences. Post universalism means that we have to go all the way in including others and maybe restructure our social theory. We need to restructure the attempt to find a common ground in many other fields as well.

Gagnon: Absolutely. Post universalism is a useful tool. It helps us to break that imperial mentality. I think democratic theory itself has been colonized by Europe and her offshoots: the USA, Canada and Australia for example. We are resisting that colonization of the discourse. We are recognizing it, naming it and recontextualizing the global discourse of democracy through post universalism. We are inviting the others – seeking them out, identifying gaps, and celebrating common democratic practices or knowledges that are emerging from disparate societies. I think, as a result of this and recent political phenomena (like the Arab Spring), that democratic theory is taking off as a research interest, as a growing body of literature, and as a shared trans-disciplinary space for thought. This space is where secret histories are uncovered, where forgotten democracies are revealed, and where new thinking, practices and directions are taking shape for all things democratic. I have certainly got work for an army of researchers – and I think this is true of many of us working in this context.

Second Modernity is such a recent contribution to our understandings of methodologies in the social sciences. In late 2010 you called, with Edgar Grande, for a cosmopolitan methodology – a cosmopolitan turn in the social sciences. Can we identify this call as a point of demarcation between ‘old’ democratic theory for example and ‘new’? Does post universalism trigger the Second Modernity of democracy as a discourse? I think it does. I think, in regards to democracy, that we have opened a door to an entirely new world: one that does not disregard the important contributions of European democratic histories, presents and futures, but rather recontextualizes them and balances them on the global and human whole.

Beck: I think so, yes. We touched this question in our discussion before. I think the ‘old’ theory on democracy is very much still the prisoner of the nation state. It is part of what I criticize as methodological nationalism. I think this is a very important constellation but it lost its own historical background and its openness to new developments and evolutions. Of course I’m not the only person who’s argued this: it’s quite a common argument for all of those for example who discuss theories of cosmopolitan democracy.

But I would like to be a little bit more specific about the second constellation of the theory of democracy. It is just starting. We do not have
very many resources so far. We do not have very many ideas because it is so fixed by methodological nationalism. I would say, coming back to this constellation of Second Modernity and the redefining of political community, that one of the interesting points is that we can observe and analyse this process of transformation. This is not happening from the outside of globalization but from the inside of all kinds of institutions.

Globalization gives us the idea that something from the outside is changing us but what I’m talking about is what happens on the inside of all kinds of institutions. Cosmopolitization is making a difference between cosmopolitanism as the philosophical normative tradition and cosmopolitization as something which is related to facts and to social scientific analyses. Look at certain phenomena like the family, class, schools, universities and industries. In all of them there is, what I call, the cosmopolitization from within. They are changing their whole framing in a cognitive sense but also in a more social scientific sense. I wrote, for example, a book on religion called A God of One’s Own just a few years ago. It was published in English in 2010 (with Polity). In it I tried to show how nowadays religion cannot be territorialized in specific units. When religion was territorialized specific conflicts were being perceived and the universalism of a specific religion was related to specific regions. These regions were dominated by their religion.

Nowadays territories interact and this territorially-bounded geography of religion is collapsing into all kind of mixtures. Challenges come up. Today you find what Nietzsche in the nineteenth century was talking about: he was saying that the age of comparing is set because you cannot exclude the other again. You have to compare with the other.

The other religion; the religious other is all over. You can exclude him but it does not matter, he is there in a discursive way by internet, by public and so on. The Danish conflict about Mohammed caricatures is a good example. They thought this is a Danish thing but it exploded all over the world. So actually you cannot exclude the other. Religious communities or communities altogether are being cosmopolitanized from within.

Take another example: the family. Family and love was supposed to be a specific field for interaction, direct interaction and face to face communication. This was actually the belief or functional necessity for intimacy. But now we find out that distant relationships are getting quite common and not only that: there are bi-national couples, there are all kinds of world families I would say, voluntary and involuntary, being constructed which do not live in one national context but beyond national contexts; see my book with my wife, Professor Elisabeth Beck- Gernsheim on Distant Love (Polity 2014). Or to take another example we should consider the way reproductive production opens up spaces. You could order your child by a surrogate mother in India. This is a new method for the division of labour or the division of birth. It is the division of actual labour at birth. That is being cosmopolitanized even if people do not want to talk about it – even if they still say ‘I want a child in this national context’. The child will find out about its background, it will have all these cosmopolitan questions coming up: ‘who is my mother?’, ‘why is she this mother?’ and so on. What’s happening in all areas is this cosmopolitization from within. This means that there’s a normative element in there as well because suddenly in all the separated worlds which did not need to communicate they are now forced to do that. We cannot be excluded from a part of one family or a part of one community.

This is of course a very difficult situation because these peoples are not used to handling these kinds of situations. But on the other hand there is a moment or an opportunity to consider the perspective of the other as part of your own thinking. Otherwise you’ll be making all kinds of mistakes and you are not going to be very successful. This is happening all over in all areas. So I think this is a way of transformative transformation, self-transformation, consciousness in the relation between the self, the family or the group and the world which is now changing. Change is happening in all kinds of fields. We are not only heading to a cosmopolitan perspective but also to the opposite: to anti-cosmopolitan perspective. We are finding many instances of this in areas of Europe and in many other areas of the world as well.

But this anti-perspective is a reaction to the situation of cosmopolitization. By not being able to exclude the other any longer we are seeing a new way of political community-building arising which we have to get sensitive to. This could be part of a new institutional design about what democracy means because these kinds of cosmopolitanized communities have different ways of inclusion and exclusion and different ways of defining their interests and maybe finding solutions for their interests.

So democracy could mean maybe something different because what is political about these communities is simply beyond those borders which so far really define participation in democracy. As I said before, it is about plurality of demoi.

Gagnon: When we take democracy into consideration how could cosmopolitanized societies and new kinds of political communities affect
current politics? Would it cause, for example, shifts in power?

Beck: Yes, well it does already. I think it could of course go much further. What we are experiencing now is a process which on the one hand could be conceptualized and understood as a disillusion of the nation state and its basic institutions, but at the same time a reformation and redefinition of those institutions. This happens behind the façades of ongoing national politics because one of the basic elements of democracy is still national; elections are national. And therefore all the logic of politics seems to be only national. Politicians have to take account of this structural background. At the same time we have to look at different fields of politics – for example environmental politics is transnational politics. Tax politics, so far, is not. And therefore tax politics has to be cosmopolitanized in order to make the nation state effective to meet its core national interest: execute tax law in the black whole of the world economy.

Pick whichever example you want. This is happening everywhere in national politics. To offer one example, I recently had a discussion on how to react to terrorism and new threats. How can we use existing security resources, what are they, and so on. The discussion converged on whom, in Germany, is taking care of this security in the government? Is it the foreign minister? Is it the minister of the interior? Current positions and the conventional approaches of their actors do not fit into the schemes we have in mind. Tax politics in Germany, for example, is de-centralized in the hands of the regional governments – in the globalized economy with its tax heaven! So in this case of terrorism it was the minister of the interior who had the responsibility but who needed to relate to many others in order to find out about terrorism and its networks which of course comes from all over the world. The minister of the interior had to change reflexively in response to this global problem and work in ways not previously experienced in this office.

So under the surface politics is basically changing. It’s becoming more and more transnational and politicians often have a double play. On one hand they say we are victims of globalization. It’s the others that are doing all the negative things which are injurious to the things we care about. On the other hand, politicians are part of producing these kinds of changes and fundamental new forms of reacting. This double play happens on the national, transnational and global level of politics. We have to ask: who’s in charge? Is it still nations or other nonpolitical actors like mobile capital and private corporations? These other actors are not political but they are affecting politics by just making their decisions. They do not have to legitimate their decisions in public arenas, yet they still change the whole game of politics because it is so important to have this capital or this business in your own country. You have to follow their basic definitions of what is right and what is wrong.

There are also new actors from transnational civil society which have power resources of their own. Have we mentioned Wikileaks yet?

Gagnon: No we have not.

Beck: It’s a good example of what I’m talking about because this very small organization is a sub-political actor on the global scale. It brought up information and the whole system of what is secret and what is not secret collapses no matter how powerful the states really are. Wikileaks and similar transnational civil society groups are not only changes of power, but meta-changes of power. By meta-changes of power I mean that there are power games that change the norms of power, the frames of power.

It is not just about who is the winner anymore. It’s also about what the norms of the game are going to be. Are we still playing chess or are we playing a completely different game? And are these rules of the game being changed ‘in game’ by for example trying to find reactions to the financial crisis? Are there only national reactions or are there new ways of regulation and transnational cooperation between states? This would be a completely different frame for power than the ones we have so far.

All of this does have a very important implication for power. It has implications for meta-power games. I would say this cosmopolitization which is going on is in its core a power game: a meta-power game. Who is defining what is right and what is wrong? Who is defining the rules of the game in relation to economic resources and facilities but also in relation to cultural norms? Who has the image of the good family? Is it the Western image or is it the Muslim image or the indigenous image? This is what the cosmopolitan constellation is about. It is very difficult to find norms on how to handle the kinds of conflicts we are now involved in.


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