Democratic Agents of Justice

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JUSTICE and democracy are two of the more central topics in political theory, whose connection remains contested. The subject of justice is the allocation of benefits and burdens (such as rights and obligations), as well as factors (such as recognition or oppression) that either enable or inhibit particular allocations. The subject of democracy is the collective construction, application, distribution, and limitation of legitimate public authority. Institutions that are democratically defensible will not necessarily conform to the demands of justice, and there is no guarantee that more democracy means more justice. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. Dowding, Goodin, and Pateman claim that ‘The central questions about the relationship between democracy and justice … remain largely unaddressed.’1 If that is still true, it is not through want of trying,2 though the fact that even the most recent such treatments generally begin with a lament about disjuncture suggests that no completely compelling connection has yet been established.

I will argue that justice requires democracy by looking at the agents who are necessary to put justice into practice. I show why the action and interaction of these agents must take democratic form to be effective (though that does not release agents from the obligation to promote justice should they find themselves in undemocratic settings). I will argue that democracy provides mechanisms to correct for problematic features of agents of justice, and that democratic theory is needed to provide standards to evaluate claims to particular kinds of agency. The connection between justice and democracy then deepens to the extent the promotion of justice requires the interaction of different categories of agents. I will address global justice, a hard case for the argument given that global governance is still widely seen as a democracy-free zone. I therefore conclude that global justice requires global democracy (though certainly not anything like a global state). The particular agents I scrutinize are those looming large in existing treatments of global justice: states, international organizations, the rich, the poor, advocacy groups, public intellectuals, corporations, and citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-384
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Political Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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