Theme Panel: Realism Meets Deliberative Democracy: Diversity in Political Theory

Realism Meets Deliberative Democracy: Diversity in Political Theory

Sat, September 5, 8:00 to 9:45am, Parc 55, Cyril Magnin I

Session Description

In recent years, a movement in political theory known as realism has taken aim at what it sees as an overemphasis on ideal theory. While differing greatly Realism-Meets-Deliberative-Democracyon matters of ideology and method, realists seem unified in their focus on conflict as the basis for politics and their criticism of theories that posit normative agreement, grounded in shared reasons, as the basis of politics. Realists have often sharply faulted deliberative democracy in particular for overestimating the role of rational argument and expecting more consensus than a raucous, divided modern society can provide. For their part deliberative democrats tend to be critical of realists, arguing that they misconstrue the role of reason and consensus in deliberative democracy theory and see power and interest going all the way down, thereby leaving no room for legitimacy and normativity.

That’s the stylized division. But there are resources in recent deliberative-democratic and realist thought that present opportunities for bridging it. Deliberative democrats, for their part, have in recent years become interested in the role of interest, contestation and strategic bargaining in a healthy democracy as well as developing realistic models of deliberative democracy that can be applied to mass democracy at a messy macro level rather than focusing on one off designed citizen experiments. Realists for their part have acknowledged that demands for justification, for proving the legitimacy of political institutions and practice, are a “real” and permanent part of politics and one concerning which realists must give an account; they have also been concerned to argue that realism is not an amoral or antinormative position. This roundtable will explore these and other points of contact between these two theoretical positions, as well as points of continued disagreement.