building a constituency for the Commons | Main | two contributions to the Commons

June 10, 2003

deliberation and the scope of the public sphere

I spent the day at the semi-annual meeting of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium's steering committee. We were brainstorming about what would compose the infrastructure of a deliberative democracy in the United States—everything from physical meeting spaces, to networks of trained facilitators, to formal mechanisms for injecting the results of citizen deliberations into government decision-making. An interesting philosophical question arose at one point. Assume that you want a fully deliberative democracy. Which path seems better?

  1. Make governmental institutions more deliberative. They alone represent everyone, and they are already committed to egalitarian deliberation (a form of "voice") as a method of decision-making. Allow the market to remain mostly non-deliberative, because it reflects other values (such as efficiency and freedom of "exit.") However, remove any arbitrary constraints that would prevent the state from regulating the market if that's what people want. They may choose market solutions, and that's fine. But we should consider democratic institutions to be plenipotentiary, and leave it up to the public to decide how to use the state.
  2. Try to make market institutions as well as the state more deliberative. Perhaps even seek to reform other institutions too, such as families, religious congregations, and nonprofits. Do not consider the state to be sovereign or plenipotentiary. Imagine, instead, that power ought to be divided into several distinct sectors (state, market, and civil society), none of which rightly rules the others. But make all these sectors as deliberative and democratic as possible.

In my view, this is really a difficult choice, and there are numerous reasons for and against each option.

Posted by peterlevine at June 10, 2003 03:25 PM

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