The Consensus Paradox: Does Deliberative Agreement Impede Rational Discourse?

Political Studies, 62:S1, April 2014

34 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2013 Last revised: 27 Jun 2014

See all articles by Henrik Friberg‐Fernros

Henrik Friberg‐Fernros

University of Gothenburg - Department of Political Science

Johan Karlsson Schaffer

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies; University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

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Date Written: June 5, 2013

Abstract

This paper explores a tension in deliberative democratic theory. The tension consists in that deliberative opinion-formation ideally aims to reach consensus, while a consensus, once established, will likely impede the conditions for further rational public discourse. Hence, over time, deliberative democracy might risk undermining itself. While the tension is demonstrable in theory, we also suggest three cognitive and socio-psychological mechanisms by which consensus might hamper the rationality of public discourse: after an agreement, participants cease to develop new arguments, they tend to forget existing arguments, and their fear of deviating from the social norm promotes conformism. Existing research has largely neglected to study how consensus in decision-making affects future public deliberation. Our paper thus serves three purposes: To elaborate the consensus paradox in deliberative democratic theory, to open up a research agenda for examining the paradox empirically, and to assess the theoretical implications of the paradox.

Keywords: consensus, deliberative democracy, rationality, experiments, parliamentary discourse

Suggested Citation

Friberg-Fernros, Henrik and Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, The Consensus Paradox: Does Deliberative Agreement Impede Rational Discourse? (June 5, 2013). Political Studies, 62:S1, April 2014, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2274635

Henrik Friberg-Fernros

University of Gothenburg - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 711
Göteborg, S-405 30
Sweden

Johan Karlsson Schaffer (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies ( email )

POB 700
Gothenburg, SE 40530
Sweden

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130
Norway

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