Document Type


Publication Date

October 2008


This essay, intended as a chapter in a book on ethical issues in global philanthropy, analyzes the problematic relationship between the United Nations and global civil society. Offering a brief history of the ideological transformation of international NGOs into 'global civil society', it critiques the idea of global civil society as representing the world's peoples to international organizations. It notes, however, that the idea of global civil society is considered somewhat passe today as a vehicle of legitimacy for global governance - likewise, for that matter, the UN, also somewhat passe in leading intellectual circles as the chosen vehicle for the platonic ideal of global governance. Leading intellectuals of global governance today lean instead toward such ideas as global government networks and other forms of governance that look to technocratic expertise in particular, indeed narrow, areas as their source of (deliberately limited) legitimacy, rather than seeking broad-based political legitimacy for governance. The debate over the legitimacy of the UN via legitimation from global civil society, while of great importance, perhaps, to the UN and to global civil society, appears in important respects to have been by-passed by theorists of the technocracy that has no more 'global' ambition than to ensure that the internet arrives on time. (The essay proceeds through stylized, highly notional time periods as a means to offer a convenient way of characterizing different phases of conceptualization of global governance, global civil society, the UN, and legitimacy.)

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