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.

References: Archibugi, D., Koenig-Archibugi, M., Marchetti, R., (2012) Global democracy: normative and empirical perspectives, , Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Bexell, M., Tallberg, J., Uhlin, A., Democracy in global governance: the promise and pitfalls of transnational actors (2010) Global Governance, 16 (1), pp. 81-101; Buckinx, B., Domination in global politics: reflections on freedom and an argument for incremental global change (2011) Global governance, global government: institutional visions for an evolving world system, pp. 253-282. , Cabrera L., (ed), Albany: State University of New York Press; Cabrera, L., (2004) Political theory of global justice: a cosmopolitan case for the world state, , London: Routledge; Cabrera, L., The cosmopolitan imperative: global justice through accountable integration (2005) Journal of Ethics, 9 (1-2), pp. 171-199; Cabrera, L., World government: renewed debate, persistent challenges (2010) European Journal of International Relations, 16 (3), pp. 511-530; Campbell, J.L., Where do we stand? Common mechanisms in organizations and social movement research (2005) Innovation, science and institutional change, pp. 505-524. , Hage J., Meeus M., (eds), New York: Oxford University Press; Capoccia, G., Kelemen, R.D., The study of critical junctures: theory, narrative, and counterfactuals in historical institutionalism (2007) World Politics, 59 (3), pp. 341-369; Carpenter, D., (2001) The forging of bureaucratic autonomy: reputations, networks, and policy innovation in executive agencies, 1862–1928, , Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; Colgan, J.D., Keohane, R.O., van de Graaf, T., Punctuated equilibrium in the energy regime complex (2012) Review of International Organizations, 7 (2), pp. 117-143; David, P., Why are institutions the “carriers of history”? Path dependence and the evolution of conventions, organizations, and institutions (1994) Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 5 (2), pp. 205-220; Deere, C., (2008) The implementation game: the TRIPS agreement and the global politics of intellectual property reform in developing countries, , Oxford: Oxford University Press; Dryzek, J.S., (2006) Deliberative global politics: discourse and democracy in a divided world, , Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Dryzek, J.S., Two paths to global democracy (2008) Ethical Perspectives, 15 (4), pp. 469-486; Dryzek, J.S., Stevenson, H., Global democracy and earth system governance (2011) Ecological Economics, 70 (11), pp. 1865-1874; Erman, E., In search of democratic agency in deliberative governance (2013) European Journal of International Relations, 19 (4), pp. 847-868; Falk, R., Strauss, A., Toward global parliament (2001) Foreign Affairs, 80 (1), pp. 212-220; Goodin, R.E., Global democracy: in the beginning (2010) International Theory, 2 (2), pp. 175-209; Grant, R., Keohane, R.O., Accountability and abuses of power in world politics (2005) American Political Science Review, 99 (1), pp. 29-43; Habermas, J., (2006) The divided West, , Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; Held, D., From city-states to a cosmopolitan order? (1993) Prospects for democracy: north, south, east, west, pp. 13-52. , Held D., (ed), Oxford: Polity Press; Held, D., (2006) Models of democracy, , Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; Ikenberry, G.J., (2001) After victory: institutions, strategic restraint, and the rebuilding of order after major wars, , Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; Jessop, B., Obstacles to a world state in the shadow of the world market (2012) Cooperation and Conflict, 47 (2), pp. 200-219; Johnson, T., Institutional design and bureaucrats' impact on political control (2013) Journal of Politics, 75 (1), pp. 183-197; Kahraman, F., World government (2012) Wiley–Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Globalization, ,,  < >, accessed 22 November 2013; Kant, I., Perpetual peace: a philosophical sketch (1995) Kant: political writings, pp. 93-130. , Reiss H., (ed), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Koremenos, B., Lipson, C., Snidal, D., The rational design of international institutions (2001) International Organization, 55 (4), pp. 761-799; Krisch, N., (2010) Beyond constitutionalism: the pluralist structure of postnational law, , Oxford: Oxford University Press; Leebron, D., Symposium: the boundaries of the WTO: linkages (2002) American Journal of International Law, 96 (1), pp. 5-27; Little, A., Macdonald, K., Pathways to global democracy: escaping the statist imaginary (2013) Review of International Studies, 39 (4), pp. 789-813; Macdonald, K., Macdonald, T., Democracy in a pluralist global order: corporate power and stakeholder representation (2010) Ethics & International Affairs, 24 (1), pp. 19-43; Mahoney, J., Thelen, K., A gradual theory of institutional change (2010) Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency and power, pp. 1-37. , Mahoney J., Thelen K., (eds), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Marchetti, R., (2008) Global democracy, for and against: ethical theory, institutional design, and social struggles, , London: Routledge; Patomäki, H., Review of Global democracy: for and against: ethical theory, institutional design and social struggles by Raffaele Marchetti (2009) Millennium, 38 (1), pp. 193-195; Peters, A., The merits of global constitutionalism (2009) Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 16 (2), pp. 397-411; Pierson, P., (2004) Politics in time: history, institutions and social analysis, , Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; Rodrik, D., How far will economic integration go? (2000) Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14 (1), pp. 177-186; Roederer-Rynning, C., Daugbjerg, C., Power learning or path dependency? Investigating the roots of the European Food Safety Authority (2010) Public Administration, 88 (2), pp. 315-330; Schabas, W.A., (2007) An introduction to the International Criminal Court, , Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Stone, R.W., (2011) Controlling institutions: international organizations and the global economy, , Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; Tallberg, J., Squatrito, T., Sommerer, T., Jönsson, C., (2013) Explaining the transnational design of international organizations, , paper prepared for the workshop ‘Design and effects of international institutions’, ECPR Joint Sessions, Mainz, 12–15 March; Tännsjö, T., (2008) Global democracy: the case for a world government, , Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Tilly, C., (1984) Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons, , New York: Russell Sage Foundation; Tsebelis, G., (2002) Veto players: how political institutions work, , Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; Walker, N., The idea of constitutional pluralism (2002) Modern Law Review, 65 (3), pp. 317-359; Weiss, T.G., The illusion of UN Security Council reform (2003) Washington Quarterly, 26 (4), pp. 147-161; Weiss, T.G., What happened to the idea of world government? (2009) International Studies Quarterly, 53 (2), pp. 253-271; Wendt, A., Why a world state is inevitable (2003) European Journal of International Relations, 9 (4), pp. 491-542


Dive into the research topics of 'Transformative pathways to world government: a historical institutionalist critique'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this