When, Where and Why Do We Need Deliberation, Voting, and Other Means of Organizing Democracy? A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Systems
22 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 28 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
Over the last two decades, democratic theory has grown dramatically in its power and sophistication. A central feature of these developments has been a robust debate between advocates and critics of deliberative democracy. But the debates are less productive than they should be. The reasons often have less to do with substantive claims and evidence, than with a model-based style of thinking about the roles of deliberation, voting, and other means organizing democracy into a political system. This paper is sketches an alternative way of thinking democratic systems, such that we might understand the place of the means and mechanisms we have to organize democracy into political systems. The guiding intuition is simple and straightforward: different political means and mechanisms — deliberation among them — have problem-specific strengths within democratic systems. We can theorize these problems as functional requirements of democratic systems, look at the available means for serving these functions, and then judge the mixes of means that would maximize their (systematic) democratic effects. More specifically, I proceed proceeds by framing two kinds of questions: (1) What does a political system needs to accomplish to function “democratically”? What problems does it need to solve? I suggest that there are three broad functions we need to conceptualize, which I call empowered inclusion, communication and collective will-formation, and collective decision capacity. (2) What kinds of means do political systems have to accomplish these functions? I suggest that there is a limited number of generic means: voting, association (including resistance and advocacy), deliberation, consensus, and market-like competition. Each has strengths and weaknesses with respect to the three democracy-defining problems. Ideally, political systems should use (and institutionalize) these means in ways that maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses with respect to each of the three democracy-defining functions.
Keywords: democratic theory, deliberative democracy, democratic systems
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