Tag Archive: deliberation

How do we get everybody to participate?

If we want to make the deliberative ideal practical in those circumstances, we apparently face an unpalatable choice. Either we have to reduce the number of people deliberating, thus involving less than the entire community; or else we have to reduce the breadth or depth of the deliberation, thus making the deliberation less meaningful in some sense or another. Representative institutions (parliaments or citizens’ juries or deliberative polls or planning cells) are flawed in the first respect. Mechanisms channelling public attention (such as mass media or referenda) are flawed in the second.

Thus, the problem with which democratic elitists began at the turn of the last century returns to haunt democratic theory in its most recent incarnations. How can we constructively engage people in the public life of a mass democracy, with­out making wildly unrealistic demands on their time and attention?

That problem becomes particularly acute when we appreciate that we are inevitably dealing with people who often take no direct interest in political affairs, as such. Furthermore, they have no rational reason to do so, at least from a narrowly instrumental perspective. After all, the odds are minuscule that any one person’s vote or voice will make any great dif­ference to the ultimate outcome among a large group of people; so it is perfectly rational for voters not to go to any great trouble or expense informing themselves. [5]

Deliberative democracy

The final decade of the second millennium saw the theory of democracy take a strong deliberative turn. Increasingly, democratic legitimacy came to be seen in terms of the ability or opportunity to participate in effective deliberation on the part of those subject to collective decisions. (Note that only the ability or opportunity to participate is at issue; people can choose not to deliberate.) Thus claims on behalf of or against such decisions have to be justified to these people in terms that, on reflection, they are capable of accepting. The reflective aspect is critical, because preferences can be transformed in the process of deliberation. Deliberation as a social process is distinguished from other kinds of commu­nication in that deliberators are amenable to changing their judgements, preferences, and views during the course of their interactions, which involve persuasion rather than coercion, manipulation, or deception. The essence of democ­racy itself is now widely taken to be deliberation, as opposed to voting, interest aggregation, constitutional rights, or even self-government. The deliberative turn represents a renewed concern with the authenticity of democracy: the degree to which democratic control is substantive rather than symbolic, and engaged by competent citizens. [1]