David Held obituary

Other lives: Influential political theorist known for his work on democracy and globalisation

My friend David Held, who has died of cancer aged 67, was an influential political theorist known for his work on democracy and globalisation. His textbook Models of Democracy (1987), which has been translated into 17 languages, shaped the understanding of democracy of several generations of students and teachers, but also of many activists fighting to achieve elected governments and improve the practice of self-government in their own country.

David’s acclaimed book Democracy and the Global Order (1995) broke new ground by highlighting a basic contradiction of contemporary democracies: we live in an increasingly globalised society, but our governments are still national in scope. How could these “overlapping communities of fate” – as he called them – engage in democratic procedures to decide on issues of common concern? He boldly advocated cosmopolitan democracy: a comprehensive project to extend democratic values and procedures to the global level.

Together with Tony McGrew and Mathias Koenig-Archibugi, David also scrutinised the devices of global governance. One of his later books, Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation is Failing When We Need It Most (2013), co-authored with Thomas Hale and Kevin Young, attempted to identify why global governance works better on some matters (such as air-traffic or the internet) than others, and sometimes not at all (for instance, in preventing wars or climate change).

David was born in London, his parents, Peter Held, an industrialist, and Gisela (nee Wolff), having settled in Britain after escaping from Nazi Germany. He attended Abbotsholme school in Derbyshire and, after graduating from Manchester University, gained a PhD in political science in the US, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was professor at the Open University (1991-2000), the London School of Economics (2000-11) and, from 2012, at the University of Durham, where he served as master of University College.

David was also a successful entrepreneur and in 1984, together with his mentor Tony Giddens and John Thompson, launched a publishing house, Polity Press, which, among other things, translated into English the works of many European authors. With Eva-Maria Nag he edited the journal Global Policy. His ability to combine intellectual depth with public engagement in the cause of global justice and democracy will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his second wife, the film director Francesca Joseph, and their children Jacob and Zac; by Rosa and Josh, the children of his first marriage, to the novelist Michelle Spring, which ended in divorce, and by three sisters, Veronica, Julie and Susan.

Daniele Archibugi

The GuardianTramp

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