Tuesday, March 30, 2004
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
Ackerman and Fishkin, the guys proposing the adoption of Deliberation Day, aren't crazy.
The democratic ideal, as they see it, is for the policies and practices of the state to be guided by the considered opinions of the public. When the public is not well-informed about political matters this ideal will not be realized - either elites will manipulate public opinion to serve their own ends or the nation will be guided by unreflective public preferences. That is, an uninformed citizenry yields either bread and circuses as the whole of public policy or bread and circuses as a mask drawn over public policy by a decision-making elite.
Since these results seem to be a bad thing, you might expect that each citizen has good reason to become informed and to deliberate about public policy. But doing so has a cost. Time spent reading newspapers and debating the finer points of NAFTA could instead be spent on other projects and interests. Moreover, the influence any individual citizen has on the direction of policy is likely to be quite small. As a result, unless an individual happens to find politics intrinsically interesting, the utility of civic engagement is quite low.
If all this is right, then we face a serious dilemma. Our democratic ideal requires that the state be responsive to the considered preferences of citizens, but individual citizens have little reason to acquire such preferences. Deliberation Day is intended to dissolve this dilemma by providing incentives for citizens to become informed.
Now, this wouldn't be much of an improvement if what it led to were an informed choice between the Democratic and Republican platforms as currently constituted. But Ackerman and Fishkin argue that a public commitment to deliberative practices would have a transformative effect on political discourse with the result that the parties would become more responsive to the genuine concerns of citizens.
There seem to me to be three legitimate strategies for objecting to this proposal. First, you might argue that we really don't face any such dilemma. This line of objection would do best, I think, to focus on the ideal that Ackerman and Fishkin identify and to argue that their articulation of the democratic ideal doesn't identify what we ought to value about democratic institutions. A second line of objection would admit that the dilemma is real, but deny that Deliberation Day represents a workable solution. And, lastly, one might admit that the dilemma is real but deny that it is solvable.
That's all for now. Later, I'll go through a few of the objections that are floating around cyberspace* and develop my own critique of the proposal.
* does anybody even say 'cyberspace' anymore?