Thursday, September 26, 2013

Contemporary Democratic Theory: A Bibliography

What follows is by way of forming the proper frame of mind for examining our latest bibliography: “Contemporary Democratic Theory.” 

“A democracy is more than a form of government, it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. [….] A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic.”—John Dewey
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“When we discuss democracy perhaps nothing gives rise to more confusion than the simple fact that ‘democracy’ refers to both an ideal and an actuality.”—Robert A. Dahl
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“There is no simple dichotomy between liberal and participatory democracy. [….] As one moves toward the participatory pole of the spectrum…politics becomes increasingly discursive, educational, oriented to truly public interests, and needful of active citizenship. In contrast, the liberal pole is dominated by voting, strategy, private interests, bargaining, exchange, spectacle, and limited involvement.”—John Dryzek 
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“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 secure social justice defined in this way. [….] 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 [e.g., civil disobedience] belong in a democracy.”—Jürg Steiner
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“Modern democracy is the tradition in which the implications of human responsibility for human arrangements are gradually made explicit—not only in cities and states, but also in civil society, in corporations, and in families. It consists in the attempt on the part of human beings to exercise collective responsibility over the arrangements governing them. Exercising this responsibility in the public sphere is a matter of holding rulers responsible for the arrangements they make on one’s behalf and holding one’s fellow citizens responsible for the role they play in determining who rules and what the arrangements are going to be. In the ancient world democracy meant direct rule by the commons. In the modern world it refers in the first instance to formal procedures that allow citizens to turn them out of office in favor of someone else. As Oliver O’Donovan points out, the modern legislature or parliament is supposed to conduct its deliberations against the background of, and in response to, a public discussion in which all members of the society are entitled to participate. In this respect, it differs from medieval councils, which served at the pleasure of monarchs and gave their advice to them privately.

But the meaning of democracy in the modern world is hardly exhausted by the procedural structures of government. Indeed, the structures of government, being largely administrative, tend to be largely bureaucratic in nature. They tend also to be large, hierarchical, and to some extent corrupt. As such, they are also resistant, for a variety of reasons, to being held responsible by the societies they are supposed to serve. It therefore makes sense to say that modern governmental structures are democratic only to the extent that they are actually responsive to a public discussion and an electoral process in which members of the society in question actually participate. Hence Dewey’s claim, in his early essay ‘The Ethics of Democracy,’ that ‘Democracy is a form of government only because it is a form of moral and spiritual association.’

In other words, a form of government ceases to be democratic insofar as the public life surrounding it ceases to be animated—ethically inspirited—by a concerted attempt on the part of citizens to hold one another responsible for the condition of the government and to hold governmental officials responsible to the governed. The activity of holding rulers and one’s fellow citizens responsible by offering reasons to them and demanding reasons from them places citizens in a moral association with one another—an association the spirit of which is mutual recognition and accountability. By allowing all citizens to express their own most deeply felt commitments and aspirations, as well as their interests, in the public discussion, a genuinely democratic community also implicitly affirms its members as spiritual beings. The spirit of democracy resides in a citizenry that practices accountability and mutual recognition.  Where the spirit of democracy is lacking, the rhetoric of democracy becomes mere ideology, a decoration draped over institutions to enhance their authority by disguising their nondemocratic reality.

Democratic discussion cannot proceed from perfect agreement in spiritual outlook, because the most deeply felt commitments expressed in it are various, conflicting, and constantly in flux. Still, many are the citizens who aspire, in expressing their concerns, to bring about a more perfect union by their own lights. The United States of America is full of perfectionists bent on perfecting both themselves and the life that citizens share together. But democracy in this time and place has had to come to terms with a plurality of perfectionisms. American citizens are conscious to the extent to which their ideals of perfection conflict. While modern democracy has deep religious roots, and retains a perfectionist impulse, it should not be viewed as a species of religion. It has become an attempt on the part of human beings to take responsibility for shared arrangements, despite (and in light of) the differences in religious outlook that divide one person from another. Its wise defenders value it without proposing it as an object of worship in its own right. To bow down before democracy, or any other product of human effort, is idolatry.”—Jeffrey Stout (From a transcript—sans notes—of a 2004 lecture, ‘The Spirit of Democracy,’ to general audiences at the University of Tennessee and the University of Notre Dame.)
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“For democracy to be truly deliberative, there must be uptake and engagement—other people must hear or read, internalize and respond—for that public sphere activity to count as remotely deliberative. Furthermore, for that public sphere to count as richly democratic, it must be the case that most people are actively engaged in this sort of give-and-take with most other people. [….] Deliberation, on this account, is less a matter of making people ‘conversationally present’ and more a matter of making them ‘imaginatively present’ in the minds of deliberators. [….] Such internal dialogues can never wholly substitute for public ones. However well informed our imaginings, we will always need to cross-check the views we attribute to others against the views they actually profess themselves to hold. However astute our imaginings and extensive our internal dialogues, at some point or another we must let others speak, and vote, for themselves if our deliberations are to carry any genuinely democratic warrant. [….] ‘Democratic deliberation within’ never in itself settles things, and cannot in itself provide full democratic legitimacy to any outcomes. [….] It should thus be seen as an important concomitant to ordinary democratic processes, an essential supplement but nowise a substitute.”—Robert E. Goodin
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[The epistemic case for democracy argues that] “there are good theoretical reasons to believe that when it comes to epistemic reliability, under some reasonable assumptions, the rule of the many is likely to outperform any version of the rule of the few, at least if we assume that politics is akin to a complex and long enough maze, the knowledge of which cannot reside with any individual in particular or even just a few of them.”—Hélène Landemore

“Distributed intelligence…refers to an emergent phenomenon that can be traced not to individual minds but rather to the interaction between individual minds and between those minds and their environment. [….] [A] notion of democratic reason as distributed collective intelligence of the people is relevant for the epistemic argument for democracy in a least three ways. First, the idea of collective distributed intelligence is particularly useful to describe democracy as a system channeling the intelligence of the many and turning it into smart outputs. Democratic reason denotes a certain kind of distributed collective intelligence….

The concept of collective distributed intelligence also explains how the individual citizen cognitively unburdens him or herself by letting others, as well as the environment, process parts of the social calculus. From that point of view, the idea of democratic reason as collective distributed intelligence offers an answer to the apparent paradox of the right of the people to rule themselves and the simultaneous belief that they lack the cognitive competence for it.

Finally, combined with the concept of cognitive artifacts that contain the wisdom of the past, the idea of collective intelligence distributed not only through space over people and artifacts but over time as well introduces a temporal dimension to the concept of democratic reason. Democracies can learn, particularly from their own mistakes, how to immunize themselves against the worst forms of cognitive failures and to embody in durable institutions the lessons serve from such past failures and mistakes.”—Hélène Landemore


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