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.