Book review: Democratism as a new research paradigm?

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For those who strive to make global politics more democratic and inclusive there are several academic works that serve as helpful resources. Authors such as Andreas Bummel, Oded Gilad, Dena Freeman, David Held, Daniele Archibugi, Luis Cabrera, and Augusto Lopez-Claros have made significant contributions. More could surely be mentioned. The common denominator for these works is a normative claim that international politics ought to be democratized so that global threats and challenges could be dealt with in a more responsible manner. 

Review of “Democratism: Explaining International Politics with Democracy Beyond the State” by Hans Agné, Edward Elgar, 2022. Published as open access.

Although the reviewed work joins in this research agenda it also differs in its approach. Rather than making a normative claim, it makes use of democracy beyond the state as an analytical concept aimed at explaining global and international politics as is and poses a question that embraces the whole discipline of International Relations (IR): “what does a territorially expanded concept of democracy mean for the problem of explaining political issues of global and international study?” (p. 3) 

Agné calls this approach Democratism which is defined as “an approach to global and international politics in positive and empirical terms from the perspective of democracy beyond the state” (p. 9).

Contrary to what could be expected, democracy in global and international politics has been largely neglected in research to explain outcomes. In IR, research on democracy is typically limited to the domestic politics of individual states. For Agné, this is stunning and motivates his attempt to launch democratism as a new research paradigm. Considering its potential, it is an important undertaking.

The book has four parts. In the first part the concept of democracy beyond the state is defined. The second part discusses why elements of democracy beyond the state may be expected to influence a broad range of phenomena in global and international politics, thereby generating new explanations and predictions of international political processes. In the third part the concept is tested on a range of empirical cases to explain empirical observations, examining the usefulness of the theory. Part 4 discusses the potentials of democratism as a new research paradigm in IR, comparable to liberalism, realism, Marxism, and constructivism. 

The work tests 25 hypotheses covering a wide range of issues and space does not allow to render them all. One example that shows how the concept can be used concerns the decline in international wars from 1945 to 2010. According to hypothesis 5.1 “the declines in violent conflict were preceded by increases in democracy in global politics.” (p. 149) There is a correlation, Agné shows, between the decline in interstate wars and battle-deaths during this period, and gradually higher levels of democracy in global politics.

Is the work helpful for activists? Yes and no. The work clearly has an academic purpose, and its language is rather theoretical and dense, expecting the reader to be familiar with IR terminology. On the other hand, it offers sound arguments. Research with this approach has a potential for explaining why democracy beyond the state is worth striving for. In addition, students that are trained in democratism will arguably be more interested in promoting it. 

Hans Leander
Hans is a board member of Democracy Without Borders-Sweden