Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi has always been His Father's Son

It was reported some time ago how interesting it was that Saif al-Islam Qaddafi's (SAQ's) wrote his dissertation on the role that civil society could play in making the institutions of global governance more democratic. Now it's being reported that, following his "civil war" speech of the other night, LSE is trying to distance itself from Qaddafi's son. This is not at all surprising. What's more surprising is that SAQ ever achieved "Media Golden Child" status on account of his liberal, reform oriented dissertation.

SAQ's dissertation appears to neatly sidestep the question of creating more democratic domestic political institutions, as if international institutions were the ones doing all the oppression. That issue alone should have at least sounded a few alarm bells back when the world discovered the "reformer" that was Saif al-Islam Qaddafi. Not that he wasn't a reformer, but he certainly isn't now, and his dissertation--at least, the title, abstract, and descriptions offered--appear to sidestep this issue all too cleanly.

In his dissertation, SAQ says "I shall be primarily concerned with what I argue is the central failing of the current system of global governance in the new global environment: that it is highly undemocratic."

A broader summary:
This dissertation analyses the problem of how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions, exploring the approach of a more formal system of collective decision-making by the three main actors in global society: governments, civil society and the business sector....
The thesis explains and adopts three philosophical foundations in support of the argument. The first is liberal individualism; the thesis argues that there are strong motivations for free individuals to seek fair terms of cooperation within the necessary constraints of being members of a global society. Drawing on the works of David Hume, John Rawls and Ned McClennen, it elaborates significant self-interested and moral motives that prompt individuals to seek cooperation on fair terms if they expect others to do so. Secondly, it supports a theory of global justice, rejecting the limits of Rawls’s view of international justice based on what he calls ‘peoples’ rather than persons. Thirdly, the thesis adopts and applies David Held’s eight cosmopolitan principles to support the concept and specific structures of ‘Collective Management’. (hat tip to Alex Tabarrok).
 As an approach to international organizations, SAQ neglects the fact that international bureaucracies--the form that nearly all international organizations take--are inherently undemocratic. Bureaucracy, as an organizational form, is necessarily non-majoritarian. That is, bureaucracy isn't inherently democratic. That's why both democratic and authoritarian states use it so frequently. This isn't a problem because we need these institutions to implement policy, and we like the Weberian rationality that embodies their decision-making (although autocrats don't always take advantage of this aspect of bureaucracy). Any "democratic-ness" that a bureaucracy inherits comes from the nature of the institutions (in this case, the states) giving the bureaucracy its marching orders. There is no "democratic deficit" in international institutions (I'm borrowing somewhat from this Andrew Moravcsik article).

This suggests, then, that if we can call international organizations "undemocratic," we can only do so because many of the governments who participate governing these institutions are themselves undemocratic. While I don't think most of the people who are sympathetic to SAQ's argument are themselves autocracy boosters, in SAQ's case, neglecting this point reveals that he has always been his father's son.

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