Democracy is under siege. So begins the Summer 2017 issue of Dædalus on “The Prospects & Limits of Deliberative Democracy.” In their introduction to the issue, guest editors James S. Fishkin (Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy and Janet M. Peck Chair in International Communication at Stanford University) and Jane Mansbridge (Charles F. Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at the Harvard Kennedy School) consider the crisis of confidence in the ideal of democracy as rule by the people. If the “will of the people” can be manufactured by marketing strategies, fake news, and confirmation bias, then how real is our democracy? If the expanse between decision-making elites and a mobilized public grows, then how functional is our democracy? If political alienation and apathy increase, then how representative is our democracy?
|Audience member asks a question on the International Day of the Girl. © 2013 by Ryan Rayburn / World Bank. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).|
The essays in this issue assess the current crisis of democratic governance and explore the alternative potential of deliberative democracy, in which the will of the people is informed by thoughtful, moderated citizen engagement and discussion. But is a diverse and polarized citizenry even capable of deliberation? How likely is group deliberation to reach a well-reasoned decision? And wouldn’t group deliberation recreate the same power imbalances obstructing other kinds of discourse?
There are no consensus answers in this issue. The authors include both proponents of deliberative democracy and its staunch critics. Deliberative models are presented in theory and in practice, with case studies including the angry populism of the Brexit vote, the rise of deliberative mechanisms in authoritarian China, the first Deliberative Polls in rural Uganda, and the deliberation practiced in the executive branch of the U.S. government.
What the contributing authors do share is the recognition that the legitimacy of electoral representation suffers when people in democracies become disillusioned, disappointed, and disaffected. The authors provide competing and compelling ideas about how to restore faith in democracies by making them more resilient and responsive.
Inside the Issue
James S. Fishkin (Stanford University) and Jane Mansbridge (Harvard Kennedy School) argue in the introduction to the issue that 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. Fishkin and Mansbridge introduce the alternative potential of deliberative democracy, and consider whether deliberative institutions could revive democratic legitimacy, provide for more authentic public will formation, offer a middle ground between mistrusted elites and the angry voices of populism, and help fulfill some of our shared expectations about democracy.
In “Referendum vs. Institutionalized Deliberation: What Democratic Theorists Can Learn from the 2016 Brexit Decision,” Claus Offe (Hertie School of Governance, Germany), putting aside the substantive question of whether the United Kingdom leaving the European Union was a “good” idea, 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 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).
In “Twelve Key Findings in Deliberative Democracy Research,” Nicole Curato (University of Canberra, Australia), John S. Dryzek (University of Canberra, Australia), Selen A. Ercan (University of Canberra, Australia), Carolyn M. Hendriks (Australian National University), and Simon Niemeyer (University of Canberra, Australia) note that though deliberative democracy is a normative project grounded in political theory, 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? The authors survey 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.
In his essay, “Political Deliberation & the Adversarial Principle,” Bernard Manin (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, France; New York University), retrieving an insight dating back to antiquity, argues that the confrontation of opposing views and arguments is beneficial to any political deliberation. He proposes practical ways of promoting adversarial deliberation, in particular the organization of debates disconnected from electoral competition.
Hélène Landemore (Yale University), in “Deliberative Democracy as Open, Not (Just) Representative Democracy,” 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 – what she calls open democracy, in which popular rule means the mediated but real exercise of power by ordinary citizens.
In “Inequality is Always in the Room: Language & Power in Deliberative Democracy,” Arthur Lupia (University of Michigan) and Anne Norton (University of Pennsylvania) discuss that though deliberative democracy has the potential to legitimize collective decisions, deliberation’s legitimating potential 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. Lupia and 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.
Ian Shapiro (Yale University), in “Collusion in Restraint of Democracy: Against Political Deliberation,” argues that calls to inject deliberation into democratic politics rest on a misdiagnosis of its infirmities. Robustly defending the model of competitive democracy, Shapiro contends that deliberation 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.
In “Can Democracy be Deliberative & Participatory? The Democratic Case for Political Uses of Mini-Publics,” Cristina Lafont (Northwestern University) argues against recent proposals to insert deliberative mini-publics into political decision-making processes, such as through citizens’ juries, Deliberative Polls, and citizens’ assemblies. She suggests that deliberative mechanisms could diminish the democratic legitimacy of the political system as a whole.
In “Deliberative Citizens, (Non)Deliberative Politicians: A Rejoinder,” André Bächtiger (Universität Stuttgart, Germany) and Simon Beste (Universität Luzern, Switzerland) discuss that although both politicians and citizens have the capacity to deliberate when institutions are appropriate, high-quality deliberation can collide with democratic principles and ideals. Bächtiger and Beste 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. However, Alice Siu (Stanford University), in “Deliberation & the Challenge of Inequality,” 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. In “Deliberative Democracy in the Trenches,” Cass R. Sunstein (Harvard University), 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 (Stanford University), Roy William Mayega (Makerere University, Uganda), Lynn Atuyambe (Makerere University, Uganda), Nathan Tumuhamye (Makerere University, Uganda), Julius Ssentongo (Makerere University, Uganda), Alice Siu (Stanford University), and William Bazeyo (Makerere University, Uganda), in “Applying Deliberative Democracy in Africa: Uganda’s First Deliberative Polls,” apply the same criteria for success commonly used for such projects in the most advanced countries. They find that the projects in Uganda 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 (Deakin University, Australia) and Mark E. Warren (The University of British Columbia, Canada) explore in “Authoritarian Deliberation in China” 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 that deliberative practices could serve as a leading edge of democratization.
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“The Prospects & Limits of Deliberative Democracy”