The Interaction of Democratic Mechanisms

The Good Society, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2009

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-22

11 Pages Posted: 8 May 2009 Last revised: 28 Aug 2009

Date Written: May 8, 2009


The Good Society, a journal of political theory, will publish a symposium issue on Mechanisms of Democracy: Institutional Design Writ Small (2007). The issue contains commentaries by Robert Goodin and Mark Tushnet, and also this response.

Mechanisms identifies tools of institutional design “writ small” that promote democratic values. Those tools include the veil of uncertainty, submajority voting rules, absolute majority voting rules, rules of delayed and selective transparency, and institutions for promoting legislative deliberation on constitutional questions. In this response, I go beyond the book to consider the complex interaction of democratic mechanisms, both on the demand side (what mechanisms are desirable?) and on the supply side (what mechanisms will political actors have the capacity and incentive to supply?). On the demand side, I consider cases in which mechanisms relate as complements, as substitutes, or in a fashion that is uncertain from the standpoint of the institutional designer. On the supply side, I consider the optimal scope of democratic reforms, the optimal majority for obtaining reform, and problems arising from the general theory of second best.

Suggested Citation

Vermeule, Adrian, The Interaction of Democratic Mechanisms (May 8, 2009). The Good Society, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2009, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-22, Available at SSRN:

Adrian Vermeule (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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