Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A New Deal Exemplum of Deliberative Democracy

Poster announcing formation of educational study groups for workers at the Henry Street Settlement, 263 Henry Street, New York. Federal Art Project (between 1936 and 1941).
Poster announcing informal study groups among workers. New York: Federal Art Project, 1936 or 1937.  

Critics of minimalist or elitist democracy (with its singular focus on the aggregative method of voting) believe democracy “should be designed in such a way as to encourage people to come together to discuss common problems and agree to solutions. Democracy should be designed in such a way as to enable citizens to see things from each other’s point of view, understanding others’ interests and arguments as well as one’s own. Democracy should be designed in such a way as to encourage citizens to engage actively with one another in the joint management of their collective affairs, and in that way to develop their own capacities and perspectives.”—Robert E. Goodin

“To stress the importance and feasibility of deliberation does not mean, of course, that democracy should consist only of deliberation. It is also an essential element of democracy that preferences are aggregated, in particular in elections and parliamentary votes. It is also proper in democracy that sometimes bargaining takes place. Finally, street protests, strikes, and the like belong in a democracy.”—Jürg Steiner

Face-to-face deliberation” is perhaps best or realistically seen as “the province of small groups.”—Robert E. Goodin

Democratic deliberation could plausibly be understood as beginning with talking, with conversation, with discussion and disputation, with information-pooling, with interpersonal communication generally that is discursive and dialogic in form. Thus understood, such deliberation is “external” and involves “internal” and reflective deliberative processes as well: “Internal-reflective processes of ‘democratic deliberation within’ are relatively more central to the processes of democratic deliberation, and external-collective processes of formal discursive interactions less central, than commonly supposed” (Robert E. Goodin). This reminds one of the beliefs and values intrinsic to the community created out of the radical social circles in which the anarchist philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) circulated in the late eighteenth century. The members of this community shared Godwin’s belief “that it is through the practice of private judgment and public discussion that we come to recognise and act upon moral truths, [....] the community thus provided a discursive realm in which the right and duty of private judgment [i.e., Goodin’s conception of ‘democratic deliberation within’] and their exercise in public discussion were the dominant norms governing association” (Mark Philp).

“Deliberative democrats need to find ways of linking the virtues of small-scale deliberation with decision-making for larger-scale societies.”—Robert E. Goodin

“All people should have the chance of a full life and not have to constantly worry about economic misery and social discrimination. There is some empirical evidence that deliberation helps social justice defined in this way.”—Jürg Steiner

Images found here or here.
Suggested Reading: 
  • Bohman, James and William Rehg, eds. Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.
  • DeNoon, Christopher. Posters of the WPA. Los Angeles, CA: The Wheatley Press, 1987. 
  • Dryzek, John S. Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 
  • Dryzek, John S. (with Simon Niemeyer). Foundations and Frontiers of Deliberative Governance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Elster, Jon, ed. Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Goodin, Robert E. Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice After the Deliberative Turn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Kennedy, David M. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Kennedy, Roger G. When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy. New York: Rizzoli, 2009. 
  • Philp, Mark. Godwin’s Political Justice. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.
  • Steiner, Jürg. The Foundations of Deliberative Democracy: Empirical Research and Narrative Implications. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Taylor, Nick. American-Made—The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work. New York: Bantam Books, 2008.


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