An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2017

Deliberative Democracy in the Trenches

Cass R. Sunstein
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In the last decades, many political theorists have explored the idea of deliberative democracy. The basic claim is that well-functioning democracies combine accountability with a commitment to reflection, information acquisition, multiple perspectives, and reason-giving. Does that claim illuminate actual practices? Much of the time, the executive branch of the United States has combined both democracy and deliberation, not least because it has placed a high premium on reason-giving and the acquisition of necessary information. It has also contained a high degree of internal diversity, encouraging debate and disagreement, not least through the public comment process. These claims are illustrated with concrete, if somewhat stylized, discussions of how the executive branch often operates.

CASS R. SUNSTEIN, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1992, is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the author of, most recently, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017), Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas (2014), and Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (2014).