0

Seeking Sovereignty in Europe and Iraq

Two very different efforts at "nation building" are galvanizing world attention: America's struggle to construct a viable polity in Iraq and the EU's ambitious project of making Europe into a true "Union." While many issues involved are distinct, a "democratic deficit" looms large in both undertakings. Why and what will it take to overcome it?

Sovereign regimes require a political identity. To understand this, lets reflect on a few considerations with a Rousseauian flavour. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the conflicted genius who first articulated many basic themes of modernity, from democracy through authenticity, with all their contradictory demands. He is a great thinker, whose advice is always disastrous to follow.

The first modern, democratic revolutions transferred power from monarchs to the "nation" or the "people." But this required inventing a new kind of collective agency that could decide and act together, to which one could attribute - a la Rousseau -- a "will." This new entity requires strong cohesion, because popular sovereignty means more than simply the will of the majority.

After all, many sorts of bodies, even the loosest aggregations, can adopt majority decision-making. Suppose that during a public lecture, some people feel hot and ask that the windows be opened; others disagree. One might decide the matter by a show of hands, with the minority accepting the outcome favored by the majority as legitimate. Yet the audience might be comprised of individuals unknown to one another, without mutual concern, brought together only by the lecture.