Monday, March 29, 2004
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
The article is "Deliberation Day" by Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin. It appeared in the Journal of Political Philosophy in June of 2002, and has apparently been expanded into a book.
In the article the authors argue for the establishment of a national holiday, Deliberation Day, to take place about a week before important national elections. On that day, citizens will gather in groups ranging from 15 to 500 in order to discuss the issues of the day. Those who take part in such forums, and follow up by voting, get a check for $150.
Sounds crazy, I know. In the article, but perhaps not the book, the authors seem to be aware that this plan is unlikely to find broad political support. There, they offer the proposal as an exercise in what they call 'rational utopianism.' I'm still working my way through, so no opinion yet on whether the idea stands up to scrutiny.
I can, however, say something about the conversation the book is generating online.
That conversation was prompted by this review in the WSJ's OpinionJournal (don't know how I missed it). The review has been blogged about at PoliBlog, Signifying Nothing, and Political Wire.
My preliminary impression is that none of the blog entries seriously grapples with the issues raised by Ackerman and Fishkin. But the first two bloggers at least appear to have given the matter some thought. Political Wire, though, merely notes the appearance of the OpinionJournal review and repeats one of its weaker points:
Unfortunately, the reviewer says the main problem with the book is that it "castigates Americans for their political ignorance but seeks to use their tax dollars to subsidize their re-education. It wants to guide ordinary people to the deeper democracy that they are apparently incapable of creating for themselves."
This critique might be appropriate if Ackerman and Fishkin were proposing that a benevolent dictator impose Deliberation Day on we poor voters. But that's not what Ackerman and Fishkin are doing. They are, rather, proposing to a democratic constituency that it adopt a particular policy for the improvement of democratic institutions. So this is yet another example of the right wing's tendency to conflate democratic governance and dictatorship.
Anyhow, I'll post more on this later. If the idea interests you, here's a link that will download a pdf of an earlier version of the paper. And here's an article by Ackerman and Fishkin in the Winter 2004 issue of Legal Affairs.