Democracy as Meaningful Conversation
Northwestern University Law School
14 Constitutional Commentary, Fall 1997.
The article proposes a new model of democracy, in which fidelity to democracy, particularly in the United States, is secured through engagement of the electorate in public conversation about public affairs. The model is descriptive, rather than normative, though limited normative implications are drawn from the analysis, because the central phenomenon described -- electoral engagement and consequent stability of the system -- is usually counted a good thing. The model is contrasted with other models of democracy, especially with the dominant "vote-centered" model, in which outcomes are traceable to equally-weighted voter inputs transmitted through votes in candidate elections. The model is deployed to integrate a wide range of phenomena of American democracy, including bicameralism, geographically defined single member (dual in the case of the Senate) districts, the plurality selection electoral norm, popular satisfaction with the Senate and ambivalence concerning courts, the central role assumed by First Amendment jurisprudence, suspicion of interest group politics, and minority group attitudes toward majority minority districting. The article also identifies and then resolves what should be a puzzle under the vote- centered model, but has seldom been noted -- that parents are not accorded extra votes on account of their children. Implications of the conversational model are explored for term limits, campaign finance reform, legislative districting practices, sizes of legislative bodies, sizes of democracies, and other matters. To a certain extent democracy in the United States is contrasted with versions found in other countries.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: July 29, 1997
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