Democratizing Global ‘Bodies Politic’: Collective Agency, Political Legitimacy, and the Democratic Boundary Problem

Terry Macdonald


This article outlines a new approach to answering the foundational question in democratic theory of how the boundaries of democratic political units should be delineated. Whereas democratic theorists have mostly focused on identifying the appropriate population-group – or demos – for democratic decisionmaking, it is argued here that we should also take account of considerations relating to the appropriate scope of a democratic unit’s institutionalized governance capabilities – or public power. These matter because democratically legitimate governance is produced not only through the decision-making agency of a demos, but also through the institutionally distinct sources of political agency that shape the governance capabilities of public power. To develop this argument, the article traces a new theoretical account of the normative and institutional sources of collective agency, political legitimacy, and democratic boundaries, and illustrates it through a democratic reconstruction of the classical body politic metaphor. It further shows how this theoretical account lends strong prescriptive support to pluralist institutional boundaries within democratic global governance.


global democracy; political legitimacy; collective agency; democratic boundary problem; body politic

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