Is the ideal of a deliberative democracy coherent?

Cristina Lafont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


In what follows, I would like to contribute to a defense of deliberative democracy by giving an afrmative answer to the question in the title. The goal is admittedly humble. For the coherence of an ideal says nothing about its desirability, feasibility or overall appropriateness.1 And, indeed, I will not address these further issues here. But, though humble, the goal of assessing the coherence of an ideal seems to take precedence over any of the other issues. For addressing such issues with regard to an incoherent ideal would be pretty pointless. Of course, all of this assumes that the coherence of the ideal is not self-evident. It is not hard to show why this is so. According to the ideal of a deliberative democracy, political decisions should be made on the basis of a process of public deliberation among citizens. Thus, political decision-making procedures should be both democratic and deliberative. But given that not all procedures that are deliberative are also democratic and vice versa, the possibility of a clash between the deliberative and the democratic components of the ideal cannot be ruled out a priori. That is, depending on how each component is interpreted and justied, it could turn out that the best decision-making procedures from a purely deliberative point of view are not particularly democratic or that the best decision-making procedures from a democratic point of view are not particularly deliberative. If that were the case, increasing the deliberative quality of political decisions would require sacricing their democratic quality and vice versa.2 This indicates that, under some interpretations, the deliberative ideal will be clearly incoherent. Moreover, its coherence seems very much to depend on a happy coincidence, namely, that the reasons why political decisions must be deliberative and the reasons why they must be democratic turn out to be mutually compatible. But taking into account that plausible answers to each of these questions can pull in opposite directions, it seems clear that not just any defense of the deliberative ideal will do. Only a defense for the right reasons can actually lend support to the claim that public democratic deliberation can simultaneously meet our deliberative and our democratic demands. In what follows, I will argue that such a defense is possible precisely by trying to provide a mutually consistent answer to the aforementioned questions, namely, why democracy must be deliberative and why deliberation must be democratic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDeliberative Democracy and its Discontents
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781351945479
ISBN (Print)075462627X, 9780754626275
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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