Is There A Human Right to Democracy?

Joshua Cohen looks at the question, in Christine Sypnowich, ed., The Egalitarian Conscience:Essays in Honour of G. A. Cohen.

Is there a human right to democracy? My answer, in brief, is ‘no’. Five interconnected claims will play a role in my argument for this conclusion:

1. Justice requires democracy.

2. Human rights are a proper subset of the rights founded on justice: so a society that fully protects human rights is not ipso facto just.

3. A conception of human rights is part of an ideal of global public reason: a shared basis for political argument that expresses a common reason that adherents of conXicting religious, philosophical, and ethical traditions can reasonably be expected to share.

4. That conception includes an account of membership, and human rights are entitlements that serve to ensure the bases of membership.

5. The democracy that justice requires is associated with a demanding conception of equality, more demanding than the idea of membership associated with human rights.

An underlying thought that runs through the argument is that democracy is a demanding political ideal. The thesis that there is a human right to democracy—while it may seem to elevate democracy—threatens to strip away its demanding substance.