Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 37–57

Rationality and deliberative democracy: A constructive critique of John Dryzek's democratic theory

  • Adrian Blau

DOI: 10.1057/cpt.2010.3

Cite this article as:
Blau, A. Contemp Polit Theory (2011) 10: 37. doi:10.1057/cpt.2010.3


John Dryzek's justification of deliberative democracy rests on a critique of instrumental rationality and a defence of Habermas's idea of communicative rationality. I question each stage of Dryzek's theory. It defines instrumental rationality broadly but only criticises narrow applications of it. It conflates communicative rationality with Habermas's idea of ‘discourse’ – the real motor of Dryzek's democratic theory. Deliberative democracy can be better defended by avoiding overstated criticisms of instrumental rationality, by altering the emphasis on communicative rationality, and by focusing more on different models of politics than different models of rationality. Dryzek's theory can thus present deliberative democracy as a better means to better ends – a more powerful and more positive position.


communicative rationalitycritical theorydeliberative democracydemocracyHabermasinstrumental rationality

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian Blau
    • 1
  1. 1.Politics, School of Social Sciences, University of ManchesterManchesterUK