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  • Introduction:Beyond Utopophobia
  • Steven Douglas Maloney and Joshua A. Miller

The temptation of all political theory is to forgo deliberations about end-states and first principles in the name of fostering tolerant and pluralist political dialogue. We do this to avoid getting bogged down in debates about allegedly incommensurable moral intuitions. Rather than work towards a perhaps utopian consensus on such matters, proceduralists opt for the decisive legitimacy to be gained by granting citizens fair access to the complicated machinery of the state, with a heavy emphasis on the steering mechanisms of voting and elections. As a result, contemporary political theory is sometimes indistinguishable from game theory, and domestic politics has followed suit in orienting citizens' political attentions to processes, strategies, and movements. We have developed an allergy for the moral contentiousness of questions of substantive justice in both citizen action and scholarly inquiry, and there has been a corresponding atrophy in our capacity to give and respond to each other's reasons on the matters of greatest importance.

New work in deliberative democracy places a high value on the grounds for collective decisions that are independent of the decision procedures themselves. This new work mounts a strong defense of democratic practices, but is no longer willing to entertain purely factional democratic politics. Some deliberative democrats offer an institutional framework to defend a procedure independent value (or set of values) that legitimate democracy. On this view, political liberalism cannot be satisfied with a truce that prioritizes toleration over truth or legitimates decisions through incentive and coercion—relegating persuasion to irrelevance. We must embrace utopian inquiry despite the obstacles.

In this symposium, we asked contributors to discuss the types of political decisions and institutional arrangements we might imagine differently in a polity animated by democratic norms independent of procedures. Three of the contributions comment directly on David Estlund's recent Democratic Authority , and two address other features of procedure-independent standards in democratic decision-making.

James Bohman offers a critique of David Estlund's concept of epistemic proceduralism in the form of a "complex reconstruction of the epistemic value of democratic practice." He argues that Estlund conflates the demands of fairness and epistemic validity without acknowledging that the largest part of democracy's epistemic advantages are derived from, and structured by, fairness itself. We ought, he suggests, to prefer a social epistemology that embraces multiple perspectives, challenges framing biases, and encourages experimentation over one that simply deplores errors and seeks to avoid them at any cost.

Corey Brettschneider argues that basic democratic rights are the "primary locus of the democratic ideal." Brettschneider challenges the view held by John Rawls and Joshua Cohen that democratic rights are the only standards for democratic regimes. Given the procedure-independent significance of democratic rights, Brettschneider argues that the intrinsic value of rights that recognize free and equal persons must be persuasively advanced by liberal states to illiberal counterparts. In making his case, Brettschneider draws upon Mill to distinguish persuasion from coercion, and insists that liberal states are bound only to persuade on behalf of the "discrete principles of equal citizenship and their implications for policy."

Noëlle McAfee challenges the Aristotelian model of means-only deliberation using examples from deliberative polls run by James Fishkin. McAfee sets out to show that well-structured deliberative opportunities deepen inquiry and direct it towards ends without threatening cherished commitments. Simply by supplying facts and taking the contributions of ordinary citizens seriously, deliberative polls foster decisions within a context that is not agnostic on matters of substantive justice. McAfee concludes that this demonstrates one problem with claims to normative expertise or privileged access to independent normative standards.

Robert Talisse and Michael Harbour challenge the grounds on which David Estlund's Democratic Authority supplies polities with normative authority at all. They argue that having authority over someone implies that they will obey even if they have no independent moral reason to obey. The examples provided in Estlund's account of normative consent, Talisse and Harbour argue, do not meet this standard. They contend that in all of Estlund's examples, normative consent is given by agents who already possess an independent reason to obey, meaning that they are "deferring" to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 26-27
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-31
Open Access
No
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