Res Publica

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 61–80 | Cite as

On behalf of “the participation of the people”: A radical theory of democracy

  • Avner De-Shalit


Radical Theory 
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  1. 1.
    I would nevertheless suggest that the very idea of democracy is based on the recognition of a plurality of wills, which cannot be gathered into one will.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Elster, “The Market and the forum: three varieties of political theory”, in J. Elster and A Holland,The Foundations of Social Choice Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 103–32.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Or a revised version of it, because Schumpeter may seem to assume that people are largely incapable of knowing their own interests.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    J. Habermas, “Three normative models of democracy”,Constellation 1 (1994), 1–11. But see also J. Cohen, “Deliberation and democratic legitimacy”, in A. Hamlin and P. Pettit, eds.,The Good Polity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 17–34; D. Miller, “Deliberative democracy and social choice”,Political Studies XL (1992), Special Issue, 54–67 (Miller argues that deliberative democracy is a decision-making system, which, compared to liberal democracy, is less vulnerable to the arbitrariness of decision-making rules and strategic voting); S. Benhabib, “Deliberative rationality and models of democratic legitimacy”,Constellation 1 (1994), 26–52. (Benhabib can sometimes be read as if she considers discourse rather than decision-making to be the main idea of democracy; on the other hand, she claims that the deliberative model of democracy is procedural, and therefore — I believe — she regards it as instrumental: “The more conflicts of interests there are, the more it is important to have procedural solutions” (at 34): so the deliberation is a procedure for reaching a decision which allows cooperation; it is not a good in itself.)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A. Giddens,Beyond Left and Right (Cambridge: Polity, 1995), 113–124.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The first regards politics as a procedure for achieving public priorities based on those of individuals; the second as a way of arriving at decisions by means of rational public debate.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    . Elster’s critique of this model is challenged by Joseph Chan and David Miller, in their “Elster on self-realization in politics: a critical note”,Ethics 102 (1991), 96–102.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Elsewhere, however, David Miller argues in support of internal instrumentalism (what he and Chan call “side-effects”), i.e. educative potential and the status that democracy confers on participants. See Chan and Miller,.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Notice that I amnot relating these sorts of relation to the questions of how preferences are shaped and whether they are manipulated, nor to how one measures preferences. For these two questions one may consult. I. Ajzen and M. Fishbein,Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behaviour (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1980). On the first one may also consult the theory put forward by R. Ingelhart in hisThe Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). For a rather conservative answer to the second question one may refer to W. Riker,Liberalism Against Populism; a Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1982) and to the responses of I. MacLean,Public Choice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 187ff. and A. Weale, “Social choice versus populism? an interpretation of Riker’s political theory”,British Journal of Political Science 14 (1984), 369–85.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    I elaborate on this in myWhy Posterity Matters (London: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Of course, the system he offered was more complicated, but its details are beyond the scope of this article.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    B. Ackerman,Social Justice in the Liberal State, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 323. See the discussion of this argument in I. Shapiro, “Three fallacies concerning majorities, minorities, and democratic politics”, in J.W. Chapman and A. Wertheimer, eds.,Majorities and Minorities (Nomos XXXII) (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 79–125.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    He actually though that this internal instrumentalism — and the educative effect — would, in tending to make people more altruistic, produce both a more moral participation and better decisions. For a similar view, see, B. Barber,Strong Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 42: “In a strong democratic community ... the individual members are transformed, through their participation in common seeing and common work, into citizens.”Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1958.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Chan and Miller’s argument is perhaps a more sophisticated version of this sort of position, because they distinguish between the level at which one decides to join the political process and the level at which one is already involved. The motivation for political activities in the latter is instrumental, they argue, whereas “in the context of constitutional debate, where citizens ask themselves what institutions to adopt or what changes ought to be made to their present institutions ... it would be relevant to cite psychological by-products ... [for choosing A rather than B]”. See Chan and Miller,supra Elster’s critique of this model is challenged by Joseph Chan and David Miller, in thier “Elster on self-realization in politics: a critical note”,Ethics 102 (1991), 96–102.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    M.P. d’Entrèves, “Hannah Arendt and the idea of Citizenship” in C. Mouffe, ed.,Dimensions of Radical Democracy (London: Verso, 1992), 145–68, at 146. See also H. Arendt,Between Past and Future (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 220.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Interesting comments on the “professionals” in the history of politics can be found in C. Castoriadis,Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 108–109.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Elster makes this claim: at 126–7.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See On the other hand, see R. Hardin, “Public choice versus democracy”, in Chapman and Wertheimer,supra, Majorities and Minorities (Nomos XXXII) (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 79–125. at 184–203.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See, for example, Elster’s “Rationality, Morality and Collective Choice”,Ethics 86 (1985), 136–55. Elster argues that the enjoyment of politics is simply a by-product of decision-making, and that, finally, one enjoys politics more if one is successful (at 147).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Habermas, Benhabib and Miller may still reply that the computer example does not apply to their model, which consists in reaching the best decision through deliberation. But to see why it does apply, imagine a more sophisticated computer which weighs the different arguments and even develops by itself the various possible answers each side can raise to the others’ arguments, in such a way that it eventually reaches the best decisions. It seems to me that we would still resent such a system because what we value is thatwe participateactively in the democratic game. Notice also that the computer model is different from the model put forward by James Fishkin in hisDemocracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Michael Walzer makes this sort of claim: see his “The civil society”,, at 89–97.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    See B. Crick,In Defence of Politics (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993, originally published 1962), 56.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See J. Cohen, “An epistemic conception of democracy”,Ethics 97 (1986), 27–40. For a critique of this view see T. Christian, “Voting and democracy”,Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25 (1995), 395–414.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    On the face of it, these decisions are indeed bureaucratic and hence the question of whether they are democratic or not is irrelevant. But, in fact, these decisions affect or are based on the budget, which is debated and voted on in parliament, and has the status of legislation.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    See J. Cohen and J. Rogers, “Secondary associations and democratic governance”,Politics and Society 20 (1992), 393–471; and by the same authors,Associations and Democracies (London: Verso, 1995).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Deborah Charles Publications 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avner De-Shalit
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceThe Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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