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Mary’s University Recent work in normative democratic theory has moved beyond the aggregate conception of democracy in favor of a deliberative conception, according to which idea of democracy requires more than allowing each citizen to vote his or her preferences and interests. On the deliberative model, the legitimate use of political power can only come about as the result of meaningful discussion and argument rather than a simple tabulation of votes. Deliberations are thought to be meaningful when the parties are willing to not only offer their views up for public scrutiny but to also revise them in the face of the response they received. But not all reasons and arguments that might be offered during discussions are really suitable for this kind of exchange. Sadly, we are too familiar with political discussions that amount to nothing more than a struggle between competing and often incommensurable interests. Thus, truly meaningful political discussions must be driven by reasons that move well beyond particular interests. In other words, the reasons the parties offer to each other must be acceptable to all who would take part in these discussions and be affected by them. This is often understood to mean that those participating in deliberations must begin from—and aim toward—an idea of the common good. For only then can it be said that the parties to deliberations are offering each other mutually acceptable reasons in support of the decisions and laws they advocate. Legitimacy requires that political decisions be the outcome of free and meaningful discussion and deliberation from which no one is excluded. The deliberative conception democracy raises several questions. The most important among these, perhaps, is the question of how exactly the deliberative conception of political legitimacy is to be understood. Indeed, the literature on deliberative democracy reveals a variety of answers to this question. Here are some examples: Joshua Cohen’s view is that “the authorization to exercise state power must arise from the collective decisions of the members of the society who are governed by that power” and further that for all those bound by the outcomes of the deliberations (i.e., all members of a political society “… the terms of their association must not merely be the results of their deliberation, but also be manifest to them as such”.1 According to Seyla Behabib, “Legitimacy in complex democratic societies must be though to result from the free and unconstrained deliberation of all about matters of common concern”.2 And for John Dryzek, deliberative—or, as he calls it, discursive, legitimacy is achieved “… to the degree that collective outcomes are responsive to the balance of competing discourses in the public sphere, to the extent that this balance is itself subject to dispersed and competent control”.3 The common thread in all three accounts is a conception of political equality—what is often referred to as deliberative 1
of political 2 . when is democracy fully realized?). this view of equality seems quite persuasive. II. One general approach to the deliberative equality focuses on the structure or process of deliberations. by which I mean both the types of reasons offered by the participants as well as the way in which the deliberations work. On this view political equality is measured by the deliberative process itself and is achieved when the procedures are set up in such a way that. we need a clearer idea of just what this conception of equality requires. My perspective in this essay reflects the view that deliberative conceptions are the closest to adequately capturing the idea of democracy. is necessary for even partial enfranchisement in political life. liberty. To be more specific. What does it mean to say that the political process is open and transparent? How do we determine if in fact all those who are affected by the deliberations had sufficient access to them? Is the opportunity for participation enough? If so. to the extent that participation. how is this satisfied? If not. at least at the level of political discussion. in the deliberations. I’ll refer to this as the procedural conception of political equality. in principle at least. and the common good. which is to say that I will not attempt to defend the deliberative orientation to democracy against the critics of this general orientation. I will discuss three general approaches to deliberative democracy which have been explored in the recent literature. In addition. I assume that equality is one of the fundamental or structural commitments of any theory of democracy. etc. That is. But questions abound concerning its meaning. these accounts of deliberative equality raise the question of not only how it is to be achieved (how we are to understand it) but by whom. participation in meaningful deliberation is closed off to no one. I then offer a brief outline of what such an account would look like.4 One version of this procedural interpretation of equality is that literally all who are affected by the actions. Answering these questions is important for it will take some way toward answering the larger question of how democracy is achieved (alternatively. what more is required? In addition. I will close with some thoughts on the responsibilities that of government and citizens toward the achievement of democracy.equality—according to which all who are affected by the outcomes be involved. Procedural conceptions judge the legitimacy of political processes and institutions by focusing solely on how political power is distributed within them. in some way. I then assess these views with an eye to developing an alternative account. policies. It is consistent with core democratic values of equality. to what extent do citizens and governments share the responsibility of enfranchisement. which enfranchisement is necessary for democracy. On the face of it. and it reflects the widely held view that a truly democratic society rests in a political system that is transparent and open to all.
establishing such a benchmark would undermine the very deliberative process itself. be determined by the benchmark. philosophical. for example. and religion). many proceduralists argue that what fairness demands is that deliberations be conducted in terms that all affected by the outcomes of the deliberations could regard as reasonable. and moral views. liberties. (2) the belief that these rights. Indeed. and opportunities have a special standing.6 Rawls contends that the content of public reason— the values and principles citizens appeal to in the course of their public deliberations—is made up of conceptions of justice that are committed to the following: (1) basic rights. a particular moral. and the members of future generations will all be affected by the actions of political institutions. are those conducted through mutually acceptable reasons. (3) access for all to the means necessary to make use of these rights. by their nature (it is assumed). But critics of this view point out that such a controversial conception of reasonableness (even Rawls notes that it disqualifies utilitarian and libertarian reasoning) undermines the deliberative project and unduly compromises the autonomy of citizens. Rawls articulates an idea of public reason which serves as a guide for public debate and discussion in a democratic society characterized by reasonable pluralism—the existence of a plurality of reasonable religious. it may be impossible without a preestablished benchmark which all outcomes must meet in order be considered legitimate.5 But this view presents a challenge of its own: how do we determine that this standard has actually been met? Unlike the first—unrealizable—standard of legitimacy. liberties.institutions have a role to play in the deliberations that lead to these actions or policies. for example—articulate a concept of the reasonable that can serve as a procedural guide for deliberations without undermining the deliberative enterprise. and not only because of the size of most of these societies. At the same time. and opportunities. children. association. revision. It is Rawls’s view that these commitments form the basis of any reasonable position on a fundamental political matter—thereby ensuring an outcome that does not undermine political equality—without predetermining in any substantive way how the deliberations will run. Obviously. or philosophical conception of the human good. then. and opportunities (e. some deliberative theorists—John Rawls. For this reason. in large part. and 3 . Fair deliberations. Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson contend that the legitimacy of the outcomes of deliberations is undermined if commitments like those in Rawls’s account are built into the deliberative procedures. and therefore insulated from criticism. this is unrealizable in most modern democracies. Infants. But members of these groups cannot participate in any meaningful way in deliberations. In response to this worry. religious. yield outcomes that all who are affected would have agreed to had they been involved in the actual deliberations. knowing when the outcomes of deliberation have met this standard will prove to be difficult. since the outcomes of any legitimate deliberations would. freedom of speech. and cannot be compromised by. In his later work. liberties. the severely mentally and physically disabled.g.. and such deliberations would.
and policies that govern them 8. Gutmann and Thompson articulate their own view which interprets political equality as the demand for reciprocity and mutual respect. III. or it provides too much content. this would not secure the equality of political participation that is crucial to deliberative conceptions of equality. It is also the case that even if the proceduralist conception of equality had been satisfied (and this could be determined). a deliberative procedure that is consistent with both equality and democratic authority must begin without commitments to particular sets of rights or the priority of rights (whatever they may be) over other values. Following on their criticism of the Rawlsian account of deliberative legitimacy.rejection. Either the account of equality is empty because there’s no clear way of determining that it is has been satisfied. laws. both of which serve to guide the deliberations and prevent them from yielding results that would violate mutual respect—the requirement that citizens acknowledge and act on the need to justify to one another the institutions. then we are back where we started in our search for an interpretation of the demand for political equality and how it is realized in deliberations. since we would still need some way to determine that the demand for mutual respect has been met in the course of deliberations. which significantly restricts deliberations rendering them meaningless. Together. according to Gutmann and Thompson. the idea of reciprocity and the value of mutual respect reflect what is for Gutmann and Thompson a non-negotiable component of any viable theory of democracy—the requirement for some kind of justification in politics. how do we know when fair opportunity has actually been achieved? Is this simply a matter of how the deliberations run or must we also consider the results of the deliberations? If fair opportunity is just a matter of how deliberations are conducted. laws. Alternatives to the procederalist approach seek to address this gap by developing a conception of political equality that gives due consideration to the preconditions for political agency--understood as active and meaningful participation in the political process—rather than focusing 4 . That is.9 But Gutmann’s and Thompson’s view seems to succeed only by shifting the question from “what does political equality require?” to the question “what is fair opportunity”—the crucial concept in Gutmann’s and Thompson’s deliberative theory. a commitment to basic liberty and fair opportunity. and public policies that collectively govern them. And this entails. This is also the case if we identify mutual respect as the crucial component of the deliberative procedure. The preceding discussion suggests that procedural accounts of political equality have serious shortcomings. The only procedural account of equality that avoids these problems cannot be realized since it demands the participation of all who are affected by the outcomes of deliberation. Reciprocity requires that citizens justify to one another the institutions. 7 According to Gutmann and Thompson.
the measurement of the extent to which these capacities are effectively distributed or in place. and the 5 . the structure of the deliberations alone can’t really tell us much about equality.. offered by Joshua Cohen.e. Sen and Cohen claim that the ability to convert resources into meaningful political activity—the ability to take part in deliberations in a meaningful way—is the chief indicator of deliberative political equality. access to higher education or good secondary education. Furthermore. Ultimately. both Sen’s and Cohen’s view challenge the idea that political equality is simply a matter of the possession of certain specific goods that are thought to be prerequisites for meaningful participation in political deliberations. because many would-be participants are excluded de facto before deliberations ever begin. the success of that substantive approach to deliberative equality depends on certain practical questions related to the identification of capacities important for political participation. it makes no sense to make claims about the fairness of a political process without taking a close look at the requirements for meaningful political activity. Indeed.). “one person one vote” can’t get single parents with no child care options to neighborhood meetings or the local polling place.10 According to an alternative account. This is one version of what is referred to in the relevant literature as the substantive account of deliberative equality. family situation—i. the relevant standard involves a “minimally acceptable threshold of functioning” in political deliberations from which is derived a list of relevant primary goods. we can imagine situations in which factors other the amount of resources one possesses would determine the extent to which one’s voice may be heard in public discussion (e. etc. This approach to deliberative equality is persuasive because it suggests that truly deliberative decisions—those that are not simply imposed—are possible only if citizens are able to actually participate in the political life of their society. Instead. According to this approach. Understood in this way. Likewise.. Thus. this general approach draws our attention to the fact that simple equality in resources may not result in opportunity for all citizens to influence political processes. The main task for proponents of the substantive approach is to come up with an persuasive account of the requirements for meaningful political activity. employment conditions.g.exclusively on the way in which deliberations are conducted. One of the more prominent examples of such a view is Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. the need for child care. as does an enforced cap on campaign contributions. The spending cap on campaign contributions only goes so far when there are gross inequalities in wealth that will still allow some to have more access to the political process than others. one person one vote seems fair. though. according to which equality is measured in terms of the capability of persons to realize their particular goals through the resources at their disposal. But neither policy considers the other factors that would make the political process truly inclusive. Both of these views can easily be applied to questions of political equality if we think of “capability” and “functioning” in terms of participation in political decision making. For example.
But this means that in the course of deliberations we can expect a certain number of people to change their preferences. deliberative equality is a matter of securing a certain condition or set of goods for all those affected by the outcomes of deliberations. This will make it very difficult to determine whether the fact that a person’s original preference was not satisfied is the result her being persuaded by a discussion in which she was actively involved or a result of her arguments being ignored and effectively excluded from deliberations. In addition. What may be more difficult to determine. particularly in modern pluralistic democratic societies. but as the outcome of deliberations rather than as preconditions for them. On this view. the substantive view seems inconsistent with the fundamental idea of political freedom. the substantive view seems to be inconsistent to a certain degree with the very idea of deliberation itself. since the contours of the discussion will have already been shaped to a significant extent by a predetermined conception of the good. for example. this approach compromises the democratic authority of citizens— 6 . While the most egregious cases of exclusion will be fairly easy to indentify.11 To be sure. A metric that could be used to decide so-called hard cases of exclusion would be more difficult to come by. whether or not we’re close to achieving political equality. we should be able to come up with a basic list of resources and capacities necessary for meaningful political activity through a careful study of a society’s cultural and political history and existing socio-economic conditions. 12 A third approach to deliberative equality also focuses on particular goods or resources. Thus. First. But this turns out to be quite difficult given the nature of deliberative democracy. And this is highly unlikely. however. Without this agreement it’s hard to see where the deliberation is really occurring. This distribution would be taken as a mark of the extent to which the existing political system treats those affected by its outcomes with equal concern. For example. Because deliberation involves argument through the exchange of reasons. the participants must open to revising their position. this is not the case for many other situations in which citizens are prevented from meaningful participation in political life. otherwise their participation in the deliberations is a sham. these are not insurmountable problems.ability to deal politically with the inequalities in capacities that cannot (and perhaps should not) be eliminated. the distribution of fundamental goods. it assumes that there would be agreement on a conception of fundamental human goods or ends. In judging legitimacy by what amounts to a conception of the common good which was itself not a result of the deliberations. the most direct way of assessing political equality is to determine the effect of individual citizen’s political activity on the results of the deliberative outcome. Thus. is how widely these capacities and resources are distributed —that is. But this view runs into a fair share of difficulties. As Jack Knight and James Johnson point out. one way of measuring political equality would be a basic resources or human welfare standard. according to which the legitimacy of political processes and institutions is measured by assessing how they impact the welfare or well-being of citizens as indicated by.
Although Dworkin did not at the time intend to develop a deliberative theory of democratic legitimacy and equality. there will be those who have reason to reject the legitimacy of the outcomes of deliberations.the freedom of citizens to engage in reasoned political judgment that is not constrained by a particular understanding of the good of persons or society. the fairness of a political process is determined by the distribution political power and access within the process. Suffice it to say that each of the approaches is. it is very much like the proceduralist view that I discussed above. beset by problems that should prevent us from endorsing it entirely. we cannot expect widespread agreement on a conception of the good. Thus. as was mentioned above. even if such an arrangement would result in outcomes that better distribute collective 7 . On my view. his discussion in “Political Equality” (originally published in 1981) provides helpful insight into the challenges of deliberative democracy that I have been discussing. aims. or values that. which in fact predates much of the discussion of deliberative democracy that has taken place over the last fifteen to twenty years. the value of deliberations is a function in large part of how they serve to promote what are thought to be certain ends. this view would reject as undemocratic any arrangement whereby certain individuals were given more access to political power (e. I think. as it is reflected in the practices of democracy. These citizens would find. Finally. avoids the difficulties of the views I sketched above. I will now offer a view which. IV. the substantive view is inconsistent with the idea of equality. My aim in the first three sections of this essay was to point out the relative strengths and weaknesses of three approaches to deliberative equality.. these citizens may even reject the terms in which the deliberation was conducted. In this way. For the sake of brevity. are fundamental to the idea of democracy itself. one could argue. I will not repeat the criticisms here. According to the detached interpretation. of the most difficult of these challenges. when the legitimacy of these outcomes is measured by a view of human goods or ends that they do not endorse. As a result. This view is rooted in Ronald Dworkin’s view of political equality. more votes for citizens in poorer districts). If on this version of the substantive view the conception of the common good operates as a prior constraint on public reasoning—a constraint that is itself not the subject to deliberative scrutiny—the the substantive view is most certainly inconsistent with the freedom of citizens.g. their equal standing qua citizens would be compromised. In addition. if not all. then. Since. Dworkin distinguishes between two different interpretations of democracy: detached and dependent. and points toward an account of deliberative equality that avoids many. such as deliberation. that their political judgments are outside of the scope of proper political deliberations. in my view.
I pointed out that this approach was problematic because it effectively predetermined the course of deliberations by judging the deliberations according to a standard that was not arrived at through deliberations. there is nothing else relevant to the evaluation of democratic processes. how power is distributed in the political process). Unlike the view I sketched earlier. The difference between these approaches is clear: the detached interpretation puts a premium on political power and its distribution. the best form of democracy— that is. which focused on outcomes.. both Sen and Cohen are in effect arguing for what Dworkin refers to as equality of political influence—the ability to make a difference in politics by leading other to vote in a certain way—since the point of deliberations is to offer reasons to others in defense of your view. But is this a goal we should be pursuing? Reducing overall influence in politics.13 According to dependent conception of democracy. and the more concrete goods that make this access possible. But a closer look reveals an important difference. As Sen and Cohen point out. In some cases. this may be funding for adequate day care or a scholarship to attend a college or other institution which provides the knowledge necessary to both understand political processes and adequately express one’s own views on the most important political issues of the day. Rather. which I discussed above.benefits and burdens. the outcomes I have in mind are resources and opportunities that are essential to the very idea of democracy itself. it might appear that the dependent interpretation has the same flaw.14 For these and other reasons. I discussed another general approach to deliberative equality. This seemed to undermine the entire deliberative enterprise. with the aim of influencing those who initially disagreed with you to embrace your view. In defending their conceptions of deliberative equality. The dependent interpretation focuses on outcomes as a way of evaluating democratic processes. focused on this gap as it relates to the ability to have some effect on political decision-making. One might argue that promoting a more egalitarian distribution of resources such as those I mentioned above may not. while others—training people not to try to influence others—would be completely ineffective. Dworkin suggests that equality of influence really 8 . The view I will defend is a version of a dependent conception because it supposes that the clearest measure of deliberative equality is given by the results of deliberations rather than by the way in which deliberations are conducted (i. in the end. the procedure most consistent with democracy—is the one that is more likely to result in outcomes that yield a more equal distribution of the resources and opportunities valued by democracy. Earlier in the essay. there is an important difference between having the resources necessary for political participation and having the ability to make adequate use of these resources. An example of such a resource is access to meaningful discussions. for example— would conflict with deeply held democratic values. promote real political equality. Their argument.e. the approach I defend is focused not on resources that reflect a general—what might be called comprehensive—conception of the good or human ends. At first glance.
has no place in a conception of democracy. While addressing these issues will not guarantee an equal share of influence for all citizens. since it will go some way to guaranteeing some political influence for each person who desires it. for that matter—is dependent on more than the process by which outcomes are determined fits with the worry that fully open deliberations may be more prone to serious error. making meaningful political activity a reality for an increasing number of persons does not in any way guarantee or even ensure that the deliberations will produce good results. the view I am defending avoids the measurement problem associated with the views of Sen and Cohen. it does make sense to think of political participation itself as an important democratic good. and a meaningful one at that. We have already seen that this is an unrealizable goal—when taken literally—and. following Dworkin. on my view—following Dworkin—an ideal. More on this a bit later. and therefore argue. we surely do not commit ourselves to the reasonableness or acceptability of the outcomes of these deliberations. Although I don’t agree with Dworkin’s final assessment of equality of political influence. An interesting implication of this view is that it would be possible for a deliberative procedure that was fully open and inclusive—allowing all members of society to participate —to fail to achieve political equality. the idea that equality—or justice in general. we focus on managing or moderating those inequalities that we know clearly do impact the ability of some citizens to access in a meaningful way and influence political decision making (for example. But this is only if we assume the political equality is satisfied by ensuring universal access to deliberations. To be sure. This is because the 9 . for the ability to have at least some influence (not necessary equal with others) as a crucial indicator of deliberative equality. this may seem counterintuitive. Continued efforts at addressing these and other issues will prove useful in responding to the frustration and alienation that arises when citizens are convinced that they lack any real political power or influence. campaign financing and adequate funding for day care). I share his skepticism about conceptions of democracy that embrace the equality of political influence as a realizable goal. Furthermore. This approach I have sketched here avoids the problem of realizability and circularity that the proceduralist deliberative views give rise to. The key aim here is to eliminate those easily documented inequalities that clearly prevent certain members of the society from having any influence whatsoever. Because equality of influence is. while at the same time accommodating equality insofar as it posits a standard of legitimacy that does not give greater weight to particular groups or interests that are not shared across the society. Simply put. Instead. the failure to develop an adequately and uncontroversial way of gauging the distribution of influence is no longer a problem. At first glance. as I discussed above.15 In addition. But even if we believe that the fundamental democratic commitment to equality is most clearly satisfied when deliberations are as open as possible. it is no doubt a step in the right direction. there are good reasons to think that other versions of this conception of political equality fare no better.
some information about candidates is clearly irrelevant. of course. Assuming that structures are put into to place to address the inequalities I have described above. surely we can consider citizens to be under a moral obligation—an obligation owed to their fellow citizens—to contribute as far as is possible to the work necessary to support a democratic society. It is not a stretch to claim that the promotion of a robust democracy requires an informed citizenry making careful considered judgments. 10 . Insofar as we can consider the government’s responsibility to eliminate or ameliorate relevant inequalities a moral obligation (in that it is a condition of political legitimacy). Further. is to whenever possible. Most fundamental of these. of course.success of such efforts can be evaluated in a fairly straightforward and uncontroversial way. This of course brings up the age-old question (first raised by Plato) of whether most citizens in a democracy are really capable of carrying the moral responsibilities that I have just argued they have. this would place additional responsibilities on media outlets to carefully vet the political advertisements they’re sent. citizens must recognize important obligations of their own to contribute to the realization of democracy. citizens of a democracy should consider it their responsibility to avoid or ignore information that would taint their decision. This assumes. they are likely to be more motivated to participate in the public political life of their society. participate directly in the political process. The obvious avenue for such participation is. Assuming that citizens should be casting their ballots with a well considered view of what is best for society in mind. And when evidence of the success of such efforts is made available to citizens. But this requires more than simply casting a ballot on election day. voting. that citizens can know what information should be avoided. [I liken this to jury service—just as jurors are forbidden from discussing or further researching a case on which they will deliberate. of course. so as to avoid contributing to a situation in which citizens are prevented from voting in a way that clearly privileges a considered view on what is best for the society as a whole].
pp. where the parties to the OP are conceived of in such a way that they could not rationally have chosen any principles but Rawls’s two principles. since we can imagine a dictatorship. Democracy and Disagreement. in Bohman and Rehg. and the second from “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy.1 The first quote is taken from “Procedure and Substance in Deliberative Democracy”. in Sovereign Virtue. that democracy is valuable apart from its results. 133-34. 73. ed Samuel Freeman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 12 “What Sort of Equality Does Deliberative Demcracy Require”? 13 “Political Equality”.” in Bohman and Rehg. I take it. Dworkin also points out that equality of impact—the difference a person can on her own—can be meaningless. pp. 651-669 at 652. NJ: Princeton University Press. 67-94 at 68. Gutmann and Thompson claim that some kind of reason-giving process.” in Rawls. 407. 6 “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited. vol. The idea here being that political equality is much more likely under democratic institutions. Rawls’s standard in Theory of Justice. 9 Put otherwise. or their political leaders. pp. this would not meet the demands of reciprocity (or mutual respect) as they understand it. p. 10 Inequality Reexamined 11 “What Sort of Equality Does Deliberative Democracy Require?”. 2 “Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy. Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge. 29. held by some democratic theorists. Rawls moves away from this conception of the OP in his later work (look into this).” in Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political. . 1996) 8 Why Deliberative Democracy. in Bohman and Rehg. must be part of the decision-making procedure in any democracy. ed. 7 For one such criticism see Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson. It is not enough that we be able to say about our institutions. 15 The substantive view also challenges the idea. 573. 1999). and adopts the latter standard (see his discussion of democratic legitimacy in Political Liberalism). As is well known. 5 This is not the same as the claim (which I do not endorse) that the outcomes of the debate must be such that all those affected by those outcomes would have chosen them.” Political Theory. Deliberative Democracy. laws. MA: Harvard University Press. no. 188. For Gutmann and Thompson. This is. 2001). benevolent or otherwise. their representatives. 52-53. whether it be the exchange of reasons between citizens. Proponents of the substantive hold that the value of democracy is primarily—though not exclusively—a matter of the results it produces. 1996). 14 Ibid. 3 “Legitimacy and Economy in Deliberative Democracy. and policies that they would be agreed to in a hypothetical reason-giving process. 5 (Oct. “Political Equality” in Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton. 4 See Ronald Dworkin. as opposed to simply being able to accept them. Collected Papers. 195-197. in which impact would be equal: zero for everyone.