Sunday, December 17, 2006

Deliberative democracy and conceptions of freedom (Juergen Habermas, John Rawls)


This dissertation is about the connection between democracy and freedom in deliberative democracy. I argue that deliberative democracy presupposes a theory of freedom and present a suggestion to what that theory entails. That is, I propose a new formulation of the theory of deliberative democracy that is made in terms of the dimensions of freedom it should be normatively committed to. It is my thesis that deliberative democracy aims at not one kind of freedom but at multiple dimensions of freedom. The contention is not only that deliberative democracy as a theory should be normatively committed to multiple dimensions of freedom but also that the practice of public deliberation entails, expresses, and develops the different dimensions of freedom. As a theory, deliberative democracy is in my formulation a regulative ideal that in terms of dimensions of freedom suggest what we should aspire to and in light of which we can see and criticize the deficiencies of present conditions and institutions.

The version of deliberative democracy defended here should be seen as a response to and rejection of the prevailing synthesis between Habermasian critical theory and Rawlsian political liberalism. The argument is that this synthesis obscures and neglects important concerns in terms of freedom and emancipation. The focus on a broader theory of freedom is an attempt to reinvigorate the critical edge of the deliberative democratic project. The suggested theory of deliberative democracy, however, is not blind to the importance of the dimension of freedom stressed by political liberalism. It is exactly for this reason that deliberative democracy must be seen as committed to a number of different dimensions of freedom. This dissertation develops a theory of deliberative democracy that simultaneously can serve as the basis for a critique of existing conditions and institutions and respect the individual and political freedom of citizens with divergent views of the good. I argue that this is not achieved by the prevalent synthesis on Rawlsian grounds but requires that we retrieve dimensions of freedom stressed only in earlier critical theory.

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