Deliberative Mini-Publics as a Response to Populist Democratic Backsliding

Maria Cahill, Colm O’Cinneide, Seán Ó Conaill and Conor O’Mahony, Constitutional Change and Popular Sovereignty: Populism, Politics and the Law in Ireland, Routledge, 2020

22 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2020

See all articles by Oran Doyle

Oran Doyle

Trinity College (Dublin)

Rachael Walsh

School of Law, Trinity College Dublin

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 5, 2020

Abstract

Populisms come in different forms, but all involve a political rhetoric that invokes the will of a unitary people to combat perceived constraints, whether economic, legal, or technocratic. In this chapter, our focus is democratic backsliding aided by populist rhetoric. Some have suggested deliberative democracy as a means to combat this form of populism. Deliberative democracy encourages and facilitates both consultation and contestation, emphasizing plurality of voices, the legitimacy of disagreement, and the imperative of reasoned persuasion. Its participatory and inclusive character has the potential to undermine the credibility of populists’ claims to speak for a unitary people. Ireland has been widely referenced in constitutionalism’s deliberative turn, given its recent integration of deliberative mini-publics into the constitutional amendment process. Reviewing the Irish experience, we suggest that deliberative mini-publics are unlikely to reverse democratic backsliding. Populist rhetoric is fueled by the very measures intended to combat democratic backsliding: enhanced constitutional constraints merely illustrate how the will of the people is being thwarted. The virtues of Ireland’s experiment in deliberative democracy — citizen participation, integration with representative democracy, deliberation, balanced information, expertise — have all been criticized in ways that are at least consistent with populist narratives. The failure of such narratives to take hold in Ireland, we suggest, may be due to a political system that is already resistant to populist rhetoric, as well as a tradition of participatory constitutionalism. The experiment with deliberative mini-publics may have strengthened Ireland’s constitutional culture by reinforcing anti-populist features. But it cannot be assumed that this experience would be replicated in larger countries polarized along political, ethnic, or religious lines.

Keywords: Deliberative Democracy, Populism, Constitutional Amendment, Comparative Constitutional Law

Suggested Citation

Doyle, Oran and Walsh, Rachael, Deliberative Mini-Publics as a Response to Populist Democratic Backsliding (March 5, 2020). Maria Cahill, Colm O’Cinneide, Seán Ó Conaill and Conor O’Mahony, Constitutional Change and Popular Sovereignty: Populism, Politics and the Law in Ireland, Routledge, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3549437 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3549437

Oran Doyle (Contact Author)

Trinity College (Dublin) ( email )

2-3 College Green
Dublin, Leinster D2
Ireland

Rachael Walsh

School of Law, Trinity College Dublin ( email )

D2
Ireland

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