Privatizing Democracy

Global Ideals, European Politics and Basque Territories

by Jule Goikoetxea (Author)
Monographs X, 270 Pages
Series: Nationalisms across the Globe, Volume 19


Democratization is a process of collective emancipation through self-government. Continuous political contestation is essential for emancipation but, in order to know which strategies and conditions will emancipate us, we also need to know which ones subjugate us. Political mechanisms with the capacity to modulate our individual and collective bodies and make them docile tend to be close relatives of those which make us equal and free.
Drawing on the latest theories concerning globalization and democracy, this book argues that postnational and postsovereign multilevel governance regimes, including the European Union, should be understood as mechanisms of global capitalism aimed at privatizing democracy. Through a detailed applied analysis of the Basque case, the author illustrates how democratization is closely linked to ideas about territory, collective empowerment and institutional political capacity.
Democratization always takes place partially: it never «ends». Contrary to the dominant thinking, this book argues that the incomplete nature of democratization is a positive aspect, with perpetual conflict leading to perpetual change. This is precisely what allows, and obliges, each generation to shape its own forms of emancipation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction Privatizing democracy
  • Main topics and theses of the book
  • Part I
  • Chapter 2: Global capitalism, democracy and the European Union
  • Introduction
  • Global capitalism and its private democracy
  • The European Union
  • The democratic deficit of the European Union
  • Privatizing national sovereignty: TTIP
  • Nationalism and state-sovereignty as obstacles to solve the democratic deficit
  • The postsovereign cosmopolitan world
  • The postnational cosmopolitan world
  • Global capitalist democracy and its universal morality
  • Global capitalism and its universal rationality
  • Global liberal democracy and its universal morality
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Democratization
  • Introduction
  • Freedom, equality, representation and capacity
  • Creating the demos
  • Governing the population by making it productive
  • Sovereignty and right through discipline and biopolitics
  • Democratization and technologies of power
  • Democratization and the welfare state
  • The Keynesian National Welfare State
  • Decommodification and defamiliarization
  • Which people and whose state?
  • The future of European welfare states
  • Conclusion
  • Part II
  • Chapter 4: Territory, political economy and the nation-state
  • Introduction
  • Territory as assemblage and political technology
  • Political economy and the nation-state
  • Chapter 5: Basque territories: Federation, nation and self-determination
  • Introduction
  • Federal territoriality and welfare in the Basque Autonomous Community
  • Introduction
  • Basque federalism
  • The federal parliamentary system
  • The confederal finance system
  • BAC federal system and its socio-economic consequences
  • Confrontation between the “primitive” nationalists and the “civic” constitutionalists
  • Self-determination demands
  • Liberalism, nationalism and self-determination
  • Conclusion
  • Territory in the north of the Basque Country
  • Introduction
  • Deterritorialization of the NBC
  • Reterritorialization of the NBC
  • Territorialization, territorialities and democratic assemblages
  • Diverse assemblages in Basque territorialization
  • Aquitaine-Euskadi-Navarre Euroregion
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Basque democratization
  • Introduction
  • BAC state institutions and democracy-building
  • Basque political capacities
  • Political capacity and reproduction
  • Democratization and technologies of power
  • The BSIs’ political capacity in the reproduction of Basque socio-economic classes
  • Industrial policies
  • Research and development policies
  • Employment, training and social policies
  • A brief comparison with the German corporatist welfare regime
  • The patriarchal axis
  • Authority and representation of Basque socio-economic classes
  • Basque framework for labour relations
  • Basque collective bargaining
  • Conclusion
  • Privatizing Basque democracy
  • Privatization through (Spanish) centralization and (Basque) subordination
  • Labour reform
  • Financial autonomy and budget stability
  • Financial services: Savings banks
  • Influence over autonomy powers through state-spending
  • Standardizing rules of the financial aid regime
  • Education
  • New market configurations
  • New legal regime on public servants
  • Healthcare
  • European regulation of national legislation
  • Local administrations
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7: Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


My sincerest acknowledgements go to Graham Avery for inviting me to Oxford and to Jan Zielonka, from the Centre of European Studies at St Antony’s College, for having me during the writing of this book. I am also very grateful to Maria Jaschok and Janette Davies from the International Gender Studies Centre of Oxford University for their warm and enthusiastic welcome.

I am particularly obliged to John Dunn and Will Kymlicka for their support and confidence throughout my short but intense academic career so far and I am also very grateful to Michel Burgess not only for his feedback on Basque federalism, but for being so encouraging and nice.

Thanks to my doctoral and Master’s students for sharing their questions and thoughts.

I want to express my gratitude to Karl Cordell and to Ethnopolitics and Nationalities Papers for letting me reproduce the articles published in their journals.

The most intense and intimate acknowledgement goes to all those women who publicly confront social normality with perseverance in order to make this world less miserable by turning our communities and our bodies into politically wealthy battlefields for emancipation.

| 1 →


Introduction Privatizing democracy

Democracy is neutralized by allowing political communities without territorial and political capacity for self-government.

Democratization is a process of collective emancipation through self-government. Continuous political contestation is essential for emancipation, but we never know which mechanisms and conditions can empower us until we know which ones subjugate us. Those capacities and power techniques that modulate our individual and collective bodies and make them docile tend to be the relatives of those which make us equal and free. The question, after reading this book, will still be how.

The title, Privatizing Democracy, may seem an oxymoron, for democracy is a process whereby the public sphere widens, while privatization goes in the opposite direction by transferring rights, decision-making capacities and public institutions along with public wealth, knowledge, sanitation, education, natural resources, territories and political authorities to private hands (in the sense of non-elected, non-accountable and not popularly legitimated). Thus, the book focuses on how Western democratization takes place in this era of global capitalism, which obstinately continues to privatize the mechanisms and structures that provide people with empowerment and capacitation for self-government.

However, politicization and political contestation are as perseverant as the privatization and moralization carried out by neoliberal economic rationality and liberal cosmopolitan universal and teleological morality, respectively. Privatizing democracy refers thus to the process whereby ← 1 | 2 → all those mechanisms and strategies used to empower and capacitate the population end up privatized and empowering only the holders of capital.

The rationalist conception of the individual, proposed by Descartes in the seventeenth century and developed further by Kant, together with the new political economic theories of the eighteenth century and the technical developments of the nineteenth, led on the one hand to what we call homo economicus and, on the other, to the industrialized and bureaucratized society from which the modern state originates. These new conceptions and material capabilities did not eliminate previous political goals, such as conquest; they just rationalized the discourse of conquest in other directions. It is within this context that the discourse of nationhood and democracy acquired its strength. So, the major short and medium term changes in the socio-political arena came not from the new attitudes towards natural rights and the moral self-determination of the free individual, but rather from the economic efficiency that the new techniques and technologies offered in an increasingly industrialized and productive society. It was the Physiocrats, not Kant, who wanted to regenerate the world economically and morally and for that purpose insisted on universal education, not precisely for its value as a natural or universal right, but because the new economic order could only be created simultaneously with a new political order, which could be spread only through universal education.

The standardized education and bureaucratization that led to a high degree of efficiency and cultural homogenization form one of the main principles from which modern statehood and, eventually, industrialized nations emerged. For a particular economic and political order to expand, a large, patriotically minded population (from which to recruit military forces that would spread the principles of the new enlightened civilization) was necessary. Consequently, warfare was an essential element if the new political and economic order was to survive and modern industrial and commercial wars could only be waged with highly trained (literate), patriotic armies. At present, many things have changed. Many others have not.

All in all, the principles of nationhood and modern statehood were the product of highly effective institutions which produced high culture by means of standardized education, which prepared the people of a given territory to be efficient, in the sense of productive, in order to constantly ← 2 | 3 → foster economic growth. This continuous economic growth needed, at the same time, new markets around the world, which were acquired by conquest or occupation. Liberty in the liberal sense, was and still is, a concept attached not only to propriety but also to rationality and the latter entails not only regularity, but also efficiency. This allegedly enlightened, civic and morally superior “Western nationalism” led to highly rationalized and cruel Empires, which were, according to liberal scholars and elites, the most effective way of imposing peace. This discourse can today be seen reflected in any North American political TV drama or in any European macro-economic policy brief.

The key idea is that the principle of enlightened and civic nationhood dressed up imperialistic aspirations and it informed the modern notion of empire, but it also informed, though political contestation against this very notion and the set of practices it implies, the modern idea of democracy. This is why we never know beforehand what will emancipate us until we know what subjugates us, amongst other things, because emancipation and subjugation are discursive practices that articulate the world in its perpetual conflict and transformation. This is also why one of the main dimensions of every political conflict is about the meaning and significance of “conflict”, “freedom”, “democracy”, “dignity”, “political community” and “self-government”.

I describe (and establish hence the meaning of) democratization as a process that consists of the inclusion of as many people as possible in the governance of their political and socio-economic system by empowering them through specific technologies of power that in our place and time are public disciplinary and biopolitical techniques and institutions, which subjugate but also capacitate the people so that they can gain as equal access as possible to resources and opportunities in order to govern themselves.

The aim is to go forward and backward, once and again, through two notions of democracy.

In the first one, democracy refers to individual and collective empowerment for (self-) government through public institutions and strategies in which the core idea is that there is no democracy without people being able and hence capacitated, to govern themselves, whatever people, public or govern refer to at each historical moment. ← 3 | 4 →

The second notion, more specific to the last few centuries, focuses on current public disciplinary and biopolitical techniques and institutions and considers the concepts and practices of state – and popular – sovereignty as basic elements which, thanks to politicization, have led to diverse democratization processes within industrialized, patriarchal and capitalist societies.

The more we lay down the location and timing of concrete democratization processes, the more detailed descriptions we are able to offer. Nevertheless, the more precise the description, the fewer similarities we will encounter among collective processes of empowerment and capacitation for (self-)government throughout history.

As Hobsbawm always said, we belong to a concrete historical moment and place. I participate in the drama of history, insignificant as this participation may be, so the twentieth and twenty-first centuries shape me, doubtless more than I shape them and therefore, there is no impartial approach to anything. But partiality is to conflict what conflict is to change and freedom, for partiality means politics and politics is the effect of what we are able to politicize in each historical moment.

Deleuze, Bourdieu and Negri said that their generation was supposed to be one in which the atomistic subject and the philosophy of consciousness along with the notion of continuous historical progress of (dialectical and analytical) rationality were finished. Instead, here we are, one generation later, with the same autistic, atomistic and patriarchal subject as the sovereign of human and social sciences, pathologically attached to the same historical teleology and the same monotheistic morality, where truth is still considered to be opposite to power and hence not produced through power but somewhere out there to be discovered by a universal (pragmatic) rationality. Intersubjective fashions do not change this anti-political and a-historical certainty whereby free trade is the leading economic truth and liberal universal ideals the leading moral truth, both assembled within the old – too old – liberal state-phobia, in which the state is a horrible, violent agent or site, unlike society, community, family and the individual.

Our approach runs in the opposite direction and one of our main premises is that the state is not per se more violent than society, community and family, among other reasons because the state is neither a thing nor a subject. As a result, it is neither bad nor good, since it has no heart. ← 4 | 5 → The complex of structures, practices, techniques and relationships we call the state can in any case be much more effective in creating and reproducing violence and therefore it can also be much more effective in creating welfare, inclusion and equity. This difference in approaching not just the state, but the regime of existence of any social object is highly significant when analysing power relations and the effects of these relations in shaping society, individuals and any type of community.

Democratization processes are discontinuous and multi-dimensional, but above all, very slow and highly uncertain. Since we cannot foresee all the consequences a particular strategy, institution or power technology will have in terms of empowerment, capacitation, docility or subjugation, democratization never ends. Democracy, or whatever name future generations give to collective empowerment for self-government, will never be achieved completely and this eternal lack of closure is what freedom is about. It cannot be known, beforehand, what is going to be privatized, moralized and naturalized and what, therefore, will have to be politicized. Therefore, we can never foresee the contents of politicization, but we can always choose to politicize.


X, 270
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
Democratization Globalization Nationalism Basque Country
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 270 pp., 8 tables, 3 fig.

Biographical notes

Jule Goikoetxea (Author)

Jule Goikoetxea is a member of the European Studies Centre at St Antony’s College and the International Gender Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She was previously the academic director of the Master’s in Governance and Political Studies at the University of the Basque Country, where she was appointed a professor of political theory. She is also a columnist and a regular contributor to national media.


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