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Deliberative Forms of Democracy


Okay, I have managed to get my head around the many different forms democracy takes, I think.  

Now I have to dig deeper into the deliberative theories that have taken shape since Carol Pateman (1970) raised the issue of creating a more participatory form of democracy to address those groups excluded from exerting any influence on policy decisions.

The important thing about many of the new theories surrounding deliberation is the focus on the increased involvement of as many citizens as possible, not only surrounding the voting for elite representatives, but also in making collective decisions about policies.

Encouraging more groups of diverse individuals, perhaps representatives from the different interest groups, coming together to discuss and decide on matters of policy, is said to lead to a greater understanding on many levels. In empirical research they have asked groups to vote before deliberation (and before being given the relevant information) and after deliberation. The results show that it not only brings about a change in attitudes, and greater consensus, but also generates new ways of approaching the issue that had not been known when individuals were concentrating on winning for their side. In other words, those voting are forced to hear about, and thus think more about the consequences and outcomes for people outside their particular interest group.

To counteract such problems it is important that deliberation happens, not only in the public sphere of politics, but also in the private sphere: currently politics is viewed as a taboo topic in private social discourse because it leads to disagreement, it should be encouraged, not frowned upon: as argued by Habermas – we all need to learn how to think more critically about social and political issues..

Yes, we have a vote but more often than not, we are following a herd mentality, or as in the case of working class voters who vote conservative, voting irrationally for the party focused on maintaining the status quo. By this I mean they aspire to be members of the wealthier class, they see the wealthy members of society voting conservative, so they vote conservative because they want to be like them, not realising that doing so makes it, arguably, harder for them to achieve their aspirations.

Deliberation is certainly an important part of politics already. We have deliberation currently with public consultations and policy committees. However, more and more, this deliberation is being carried out exclusively by an elite group of people who have little in common with the majority of the populace and, as members of the wealthy class, they carry their own agenda. Fearful of the tyranny of the majority, we appear to be accepting the creation, or recreation, of a tyranny of a single minority.

This highlights the current focus on protective/legal forms of democracy, winning over the more progressive, developmental forms we saw following WWII. The first is focused on the protection of private property and ensuring the more negative forms of freedom; the latter is interested not only on the instrumental values, but also on the more intrinsic values of democracy.

We need wider participation in the deliberative process to make the system more democratic and inclusive. This would, so argue deliberative democrats, lead to the populace becoming better informed about politics, about what is in their own particular interests, and improve thinking and communication skills, leading to a fairer outcome in the general elections. The wider the participation, the less likely it is that some interest groups remain excluded. So it is a mix of participatory democracy and deliberative democracy that some are arguing is the most democratic, although yet to be proved viable, in large states with a diverse population.

After comparing the different theories of deliberative – and one reflective form of – democracy, I have to assess the practicalities.  If it is a more legitimate form of democracy, that realises all it’s intrinsic claims, is it ever going to be possible to achieve it?  I believe my answer will rely, to some extent, on the requirement for the creation of a more equal society, in order for as full a participation as possible.  It will need to take up people’s time: unlike the Greeks and Romans, we will not have a large workforce of slaves, and women, if we are to have a full version of democracy.


A worrying bill was recently passed in the UK – the lobbying bill. It was called for to stop the influence of corporate lobbying, but a sinister element in the actual bill, (I’ve yet to get my head around fully as it is extremely complicated and full of legalese), has led to many referring to it as the gagging bill: aimed at stopping small interest groups and charities from campaigning during elections. Very worrying abuse of power if that is the case – and extremely anti-democratic.

If anyone can make sense of the second part of the bill, I’d be grateful for some input..


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