Transformative pathways to world government: a historical institutionalist critique

J. Kuyper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Proposals for world government (WG) have come from a variety of sources including international relations (IR) scholars, economists, normative political theorists and global justice academics. In general, these visions are couched as ideal models to be approximated as closely as possible. The key argument of the article is that, in evaluating the democratic potential of these proposals, we should focus upon the process of designing and building a WG. This is because there is an ineluctable gap between ideal conceptualization and non-ideal realization that emerges through institutionalization. I employ a historical institutionalist lens to describe and problematize potential institutional shifts along a WG pathway. I argue that institutionalizing these ideal visions in our current, non-ideal context would actually exacerbate the democratic deficit. Specifically, building a WG would likely entrench existing inequalities, expand the authority of unaccountable bureaucrats and limit institutional improvements over time. These three points respectively undercut three core values of democratization: equal participation, accountability and institutional revisability. Given this argument, I conclude that an incremental approach—which focuses on advancing values rather than moving towards an ideal model—represents a more productive pathway for global democratization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-679
JournalCambridge Review of International Affairs
Issue number4
Early online date22 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Export Date: 19 September 2018

Correspondence Address: Kuyper, J.; Stockholm UniversitySweden

Funding details: Department of Education, Australian Governement

Funding details: Princeton, Princeton University

Funding text: I thank John Dryzek, Jonas Tallberg, Scott Dawson and Terry Macdonald for discussion surrounding this research. I gratefully acknowledge the Australian Department of Education Endeavour Award, which made this research possible, and the Center for Human Values at Princeton University for providing an academic home. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2012 Earth Systems Governance conference in Lund. Most importantly, I thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of this journal who provided valuable and extensive comments. All remaining errors are, of course, mine.

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