The Place of Self-Interest and the Role of Power in the Deliberative Democracy

37 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2010

Date Written: 2010


DELIBERATIVE democracy has traditionally been defined in opposition to self-interest, to bargaining and negotiation, to voting, and to the use of power. Our assessment differs in two ways from the traditional one. First, we contend that self-interest, suitably constrained, ought to be part of the deliberation that eventuates in a democratic decision. Indeed, some forms of negotiation involving self-interest meet all of our criteria for ideal deliberation, in particular the criterion that in their ideal form deliberative methods eschew coercive power. We thus include such constrained self-interest and these forms of negotiation in our reformulation of the deliberative ideal, that is, the regulative standard to which real deliberations should aspire. Second, we argue for a complementary rather than antagonistic relation of deliberation to many democratic mechanisms that are not themselves deliberative. These non- deliberative mechanisms, such as aggregation through voting as well as fair bargaining and negotiation among cooperative antagonists, involve coercive power in their mechanisms of decision. Yet they can and must be justified deliberatively. Our ideal polity is diverse and plural. Its members both strive for the common good and, recognizing that diversity produces irresolvable conflicts in opinions and interests, deliberatively authorize certain non-deliberative democratic mechanisms.

Keywords: democracy, deliberation, political philosophy

Suggested Citation

Follesdal, Andreas, The Place of Self-Interest and the Role of Power in the Deliberative Democracy (2010). Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 64-100. Available at SSRN:

Andreas Follesdal (Contact Author)

Pluricourts ( email )

P.O. Box 6706
St. Olavs plass 5
0130 Oslo

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