Democracy and Dissent

Democracy and Dissent

The Challenge of International Rule Making

Frank Vibert

Frank Vibert expertly examines the fundamental issues involved in attempts to rethink international institutions and their rule making procedures. He analyses the basic problems with the existing system and the main approaches to its reform. The book rejects the idea that there are any simple institutional ‘fixes’ for current problems – such as relying on the G20 to coordinate global rule making and also rejects more ambitious attempts to prescribe new general organizing principles for world governance. It calls instead for specific remedies for specific problems. The author recommends new procedures for all international rule making so that both expert groups and governments are subject to much stronger external checks on what they do.

Chapter 9: Dissonance and Democracy

Frank Vibert

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics, international relations


The diagnosis of the democratic deficit in international rule making concluded on the need to recognise the fundamental importance of the way in which dissonance and dissent are treated in international rule making. Citizens are not usually the instigators or prime movers behind international rules, they are receivers and most often, in the eyes of the rule makers, they are simply acceptors. This ‘role reversal’ is not unique to international rule making. Within democratic countries the public is often permissive in its attitudes to government, electors often do not bother to vote and public engagement in political debate is often weak. If, however, citizens are seen as a necessary starting point for legitimising authority in democratic societies, some form of recognition of public attitudes towards international rule making is necessary. The ability to express dissent and the capacity of systems of government to take account of dissent are integral to democratic forms of government. They constitute a minimum or ‘least standard’ for democracies. The treatment of dissent also marks the dividing line between democratic and authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes simply suppress dissent. Hence, this chapter looks at the different ways in which dissent is treated as a foundation value in democracies and how these different approaches apply to international rule making. It looks at three approaches. The first approach is labelled ‘transformational’. According to this approach, dissent marks out those policy issues that need to be treated as political issues rather than simply technocratic issues. Dissent thus signals the differences...

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