The Value Added of Theories of Deliberative Democracy: Where (Not) to Look
DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY AND ITS DISCONTENTS, pp. 57-72, S. Besson and J.L. Martí, eds., England: Ashgate Publishing, 2006
13 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2006
Theories of deliberative democracy (TDDs) now enjoy widespread academic and political attention. Their popularity and policy relevance may in part stem from their express current disquiet with current conditions for political debate in Western democracies. Yet scrutiny reveals that TDDs differ as to their aims and diagnoses of these various democratic deficiencies. It should not surprise that different theories aspire to address quite different yet important questions. A greater cause for concern is that what unites TDD may fail to set them apart from other, competing democratic theories. This is not to deny the laudable objective of some TDD to emphasize areas of agreement with rival theories (Gutmann and Thompson, 2004, 138). Yet when we seek to bring the insights of some TDD to bear on institutional assessment and design we find that some of the prevalent theoretical ideal types and distinctions must be reconsidered and revised. In particular, research on TDD with an eye to empirical implications should not focus exclusively on the ideal types Jon Elster and Jürgen Habermas introduce for other purposes. The most plausible alternative democratic theories do not assume completely self-interested voters with exogenously formed preferences engaged in 0-sum bargaining with only threats and promises. To disconfirm that ideal type does not lend support to a TDD, and does not exhibit its value added compared to the best alternatives.
Keywords: Deliberative democracy, Habermas, political theory, democracy, democractic theories
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