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War, Manipulation of Consent, and Deliberative Democracy
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War, Manipulation of Consent, and Deliberative Democracy

For many in the social sciences, the 2004 U.S. presidential and congressional elections have become oft-cited examples of the limits of procedural democracy. Pulling on public opinion from before the election as well as other data, political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, and specialists in communication have sought to explain the results of these elections (which guaranteed a continuation of the Iraq War) in terms of elites framing the political discourse; emotional, media, and rhetorical manipulation; appeal to ideology; dissemination of bad or inaccurate information; and existential triggers. That each of these causal factors in the election bypasses rational and public deliberation, that none results from inquiry into the truthfulness of the political opinions regarding the war and its justifications, and the subsequent public opinion data showing that the public has changed its opinion on the prosecution of the war and on the legitimacy of its rationale, may signal that there are fatal problems with American democracy.1 If anything, the aftermath of the 2006 congressional elections when Democratic and antiwar majorities were elected to both houses and Iraq policy failed to change may be seen as confirmation of this judgment that democracy conceived and practiced as the aggregation of preferences for representative candidates is deeply flawed.

While the social scientists mentioned above do not usually go so far in their analysis, since the 1980s political philosophers have been arguing that it is precisely these types of deficiencies that can be remedied by the adoption of deliberative democratic norms and procedures. Being in agreement with the majority of deliberative democratic theorists who argue that the adoption of deliberative norms for political decision making will make for more democratic outcomes, this article will examine the practical obstacles that deliberative democracy may not be able to overcome. Though it does not argue that deliberative democracy is, because of these obstacles, untenable, impracticable, or unworthy of pursuit, this essay does claim that one of the factors identified by social scientists and philosophers as compromising the legitimacy and practical value of political judgment is ineliminable. Perhaps surprisingly, the conclusion is not drawn from this observation that deliberative democracy is a practical impossibility. Instead, it is argued that one of these factors, ideology, is a hindrance to deliberative [End Page 266] democracy as well as a prerequisite for it and, therefore, that we should not strive for its elimination from the deliberative space.

Given the tendency of electoral, representative democracy to produce political outcomes that fail to reflect the public's will and its idea of the good, proponents of deliberative democracy have championed deliberation as that practice by which the public can come to feel responsible for its constitution and laws. Departing from Rousseau's (1987, 149, 204) insight that deliberation is the necessary process that facilitates this formation, most theorists of deliberative democracy theory have taken as their project the challenge of ensuring the legitimacy of the decisions reached by deliberation, where "legitimacy" is understood as the production of a decision that everyone can accept (Bohman 1998a, 402). This emphasis on ensuring the legitimacy of political decisions has led to a focus on the normative and procedural aspects of deliberation. Driven by these concerns and inspired mostly by the work of Rawls and Habermas, political theorists have attempted (a) to define the pure procedural structure that best allows such consensus formation, (b) to delimit the decisions that can be the subject of political deliberation, and (c) to define the type of individual that can participate in deliberation. Though there is disagreement among theorists about the specific content of each criterion for effective and fair deliberation as well as about their respective necessity, a rough consensus has developed about what deliberation requires. These criteria include, first, an institutional space or arrangement that guarantees neutrality and protects against the manipulation of the discussion and of the discussants. Second, effective and fair deliberation needs the participation of individuals who (a) are aware of the relevant features of the political world, (b) can reason about political ends, and (c) can look past their own immediate political preferences to rationally and freely choose the general good. Put...