The legitimacy of democracy depends on some real link between the public will and the public policies and office-holders who are selected. But the model of competition-based democracy has come under threat by a disillusioned and increasingly mobilized public that no longer views its claims of representation as legitimate. This essay introduces the alternative potential of deliberative democracy, and considers whether deliberative institutions could revive democratic legitimacy, provide for more authentic public will formation, provide a middle ground between mistrusted elites and the angry voices of populism, and help fulfill some of our shared expectations about democracy.
Referendum vs. Institutionalized Deliberation: What Democratic Theorists Can Learn from the 2016 Brexit Decision
Putting aside the substantive question of whether the United Kingdom leaving the European Union was a “good” idea, Claus Offe uses the Brexit referendum to illuminate the weaknesses of plebiscitarian methods of “direct” democracy, and shows how Parliament failed to build safeguards into the referendum process. He then proposes a design for enriching representative electoral democracy with random, deliberative bodies and their methods of political will formation (as opposed to the expression of a popular will already formed).
Deliberative democracy is a normative project grounded in political theory; but it is also home to a large volume of empirical social science research. So what have we learned about deliberative democracy, its value, and its weaknesses? This essay surveys the field by discussing twelve key findings that conceptual analysis, logic, empirical study, normative theorizing, and the refinement of deliberative practice have set to rest. The authors thus free both critics and proponents of deliberative democracy to concentrate on yet unresolved issues.
Retrieving an insight dating back to antiquity, Bernard Manin argues that the confrontation of opposing views and arguments is beneficial to any political deliberation. But freedom of speech and diversity among deliberators do not suffice to secure that outcome; we must actively facilitate the presentation of contrary opinions during deliberation. Such confrontation is our best means of improving the quality of collective decisions. It also counteracts the pernicious fragmentation of the public sphere. It facilitates the comprehension of choices. And it treats minority voices with respect. This essay proposes practical ways of promoting adversarial deliberation, in particular the organization of debates disconnected from electoral competition.
Is deliberative democracy a dated paradigm for a precrisis order, maladjusted to the world of Occupy, the Pirate Party, the Zapatistas, and other antirepresentative movements? And is deliberative democracy thus at risk of becoming collateral damage of the current crisis of representative democracy? In this essay, Hélène Landemore argues that in order to retain its normative appeal and political relevance, deliberative democracy should dissociate itself from representative democracy and reinvent itself as the core of a more truly democratic paradigm, which she calls open democracy. In open democracy, popular rule means the mediated but real exercise of power by ordinary citizens. This new paradigm privileges nonelectoral forms of representation, and in it, power is meant to remain constantly inclusive of and accessible to all citizens.
Deliberative democracy has the potential to legitimize collective decisions. Deliberation’s legitimating potential, however, depends on whether those who deliberate truly enter as equals, whether they are able to express on equal terms their visions of the common good, and whether the forms that govern deliberative assemblies advance or undermine their goals. Here, Arthur Lupia and Anne Norton examine these sources of deliberation’s legitimating potential, and contend that even in situations of apparent equality, deliberation is limited by its potential to increase power asymmetries. They conclude by describing how deliberative contexts could be modified to reduce certain types of power asymmetries, such as those often associated with gender, race, or class.
Robustly defending the model of competitive democracy, Ian Shapiro argues that calls to inject deliberation into democratic politics rest on a misdiagnosis of its infirmities. Deliberation, Shapiro continues, undermines competition over proposed political programs, while deliberative institutions are all-too-easily hijacked by people with intense preferences and disproportionate resources. Arguments in support of deliberation are at best diversions from more serious threats to democracy: namely, money’s toxic role in politics. Shapiro concludes that a better focus would be on restoring meaningful competition between representatives of two strong political parties over the policies that, if elected, they will implement.
Can Democracy be Deliberative & Participatory? The Democratic Case for Political Uses of Mini-Publics
Against recent proposals to insert deliberative mini-publics into political decision-making processes, such as through citizens’ juries, Deliberative Polls, and citizens’ assemblies, Cristina Lafont argues that deliberative mechanisms could diminish the democratic legitimacy of the political system as a whole. But she does propose several uses of mini-publics that could enhance the democratic legitimacy of political decision-making in current societies.
Both politicians and citizens have the capacity to deliberate when institutions are appropriate, yet high-quality deliberation can collide with democratic principles and ideals. André Bächtiger and Simon Beste thus employ a “need-oriented” perspective, proposing institutional interventions and reforms that may help boost deliberation in ways that exploit its unique epistemic and ethical potential while making it compatible with democratic principles and ideals.
Deliberative critics contend that the deliberative process inevitably perpetuates societal inequalities and can produce distorted dialogue determined by inequalities, not merits. Alice Siu, however, presents empirical evidence demonstrating that inequalities in skill and status do not translate into inequalities of influence when deliberations are carefully structured to provide a more level playing field.
Much of the time, the U.S. executive branch has combined both democracy and deliberation, placing a high premium on reason-giving, the acquisition of necessary information, internal diversity, and debate and disagreement. Cass R. Sunstein, who served in the Obama administration, explores the concrete practices, rather than the abstract ideals, of the operation of deliberative democracy in the executive branch.
Reflecting on the first two applications of deliberative democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, James S. Fishkin, Roy William Mayega, Lynn Atuyambe, Nathan Tumuhamye, Julius Ssentongo, Alice Siu, and William Bazeyo apply the same criteria for success commonly used for such projects in the most advanced countries. They find that the projects were representative, produced substantial opinion change, avoided distortions, and achieved actionable results that can be expected to influence policy on difficult choices.
Authoritarian rule in China increasingly involves deliberative practices that combine authoritarian command with deliberative influence, producing the apparent anomaly of authoritarian deliberation. Drawing from their own research in China, Baogang He and Mark E. Warren explore two possible trajectories of political development in China in this context: that the increasing use of deliberative practices could stabilize and strengthen authoritarian rule, or deliberative practices could serve as a leading edge of democratization.