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Latin America

 The Decolonisation of Global Democracy

 

Edgardo Lander

Central University of Venezuela, Caracas

 

Veritable global democracy is not possible when, as at present, one societal order is prescribed for and imposed upon the whole of the planet’s population. This single order, the world system of modernity, has been historically characterised by a Euro-centric patriarchal monocultural pattern of knowledge, the imperialism of a specific type of reason, and the primacy of particular subjects: white, European, male, educated, privileged and heterosexual. In imposing itself, particularly on the South, global modernity has resorted to violences, including colonialism, genocide and slavery. The luminous nature of modernity for the North has thus historically gone hand in hand with the dark underside of modernity for the South. A radical decolonisation of modern knowledge systems is a necessary condition for both global democracy and human survival.

 

When the so-called free markets, the pretended universality of liberalism’s political grammar, and the standards of knowledge of modern science are imposed upon other peoples, processes of extraordinary physical and epistemological violence take place, denyingotherstheir character as subjects with other cultural traditions, other conceptions of individual and community, other conceptions and practices of authority, other modalities of knowledge, and other ways of being with(in) the rest of the web of life. Others are thus deprived of the right to any historical or cultural alternative beyond the bounds of euro-centred modernity. It is not possible to speak of democracy when only a single model of knowledge is recognised as valid.

 

Yet, in spite of more than 500 years of the global imperialism of modernity, we still live in a richly pluricultural world. Tensions and conflicts continue between, on the one hand, an authoritarian monocultural world order that seeks to naturalise market society and liberal democracy as the only possible historical option and, on the other hand, the great plurality of peoples and communities all over the world that are struggling for control over their own lives.

 

The most urgent global challenge that humanity faces today is represented by the limits of planet Earth and the predatory processes of modernity that are systematically destroying the conditions that make life possible on this planet. The forms in which thinking and debating about this profound crisis have taken place constitute an extraordinary example of the authoritarian, non-democratic character of the current global institutional structure.

Yet there is also worldwide resistance against so-called free trade; against agribusiness and the model of accumulation by dispossession that has characterised neoliberal globalisation; for the defence of threatened peoples, cultures and territories; against patriarchy; and for climate justice. Together these movements constitute some of the most dynamic expressions of struggles for another possible world, bringing together local, national, regional and global struggles for a new plural democratic society.

 

Current political processes in Bolivia and Ecuador constitute significant contemporary expressions of these confrontations. In these decolonising struggles the aim is not to include the majority in the liberal state as modern citizens, but to transform these monocultural states into pluricultural and multinational states. This implies the recognition and coexistence of a multiplicity of languages, diverse forms of property, several juridical regimes, various modalities of production, plural frames of knowledge, and multiple ways of relating to the rest of the web of life.Democracy in this context does not entail equal access to one particular cultural tradition, but equality amongst a plurality of traditions.

 

In what could provide an inspiration for building global democracy, the construction of new democracy in these two countries has dealt simultaneously with these diverse histories and traditions. In Bolivia the new Constitution defines three modes of democracy that are conceived as feeding upon each other in the process of deepening democracy: representative democracy (according to the canons of western liberal democracy); participatory democracy (incorporating the demands for radical democracy and the experiences of council democracy); and communal democracy (according to the traditions of self-government of the indigenous peoples). The new constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador have as their basic organising principle the respective Aymaran and Quechuan notions of suma qamaña (a good life) and sumak kawsay (living well). These notions imply not only solidarity amongst humans, but also and equally to live in harmony with and in nature. This conception represents a radical questioning of the hegemonic anthropocentrism that is characteristic of western society, going so far as to define nature as a subject of rights.

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