DELIBERATION: WHY WE SHOULD FOCUS ON DEBATE RATHER THAN DISCUSSION
Bernard Manin New York University Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris
Paper prepared for delivery at the Program in Ethics and Public Affairs Seminar Princeton University October 13th 2005
In this paper my focus is implementing deliberation, not justifying it. I shall assume that it is desirable for themembers of a decision-making body to argue and give reasons before making a collective decision. I shall not discuss the grounds on which deliberating about a collective decision prior to making it is superior to just aggregating individual wills unsupported by arguments. Let me note, however, that such grounds broadly fall into two categories. Deliberation may be defended on epistemic grounds. We mayhold that a collective decision is more likely to be correct, whether in terms of facts or of values, if decision makers have argued over it. Deliberation may also be defended on moral grounds, in other words on grounds of legitimacy. In this case we would say that the autonomous agents composing the community on which the decision is obligatory are entitled to have such decisions binding on themjustified by reasons. Obviously these two kinds of argument are not mutually exclusive. Once we accept the desirability of collective deliberation prior to decision, however, one question is left: how should we implement collective deliberation? Deliberation may take place in a variety of concrete settings. We should then ask ourselves: which of such settings are suitable for securing the benefitsof deliberation? Over the last years a number of studies have focused on the actual workings of collective deliberation. Some people have performed and analyzed laboratory experiments in deliberation. Others have scrutinized real life deliberation, such as occurs in trial juries, in panels of judges, or in “citizens’ juries”, –a practice that has spread over the last decade. Yet others havestudied quasi-experiments, such as the deliberative polling pioneered by James Fishkin. We now have a wealth of empirical information on how deliberation actually works. There is even a literature reviewing the empirical studies of deliberation and presenting their main results (Mendelberg, 2002; Delli Carpini et al. 2004; Ryfe, 2005). Such information should be of interest to theorists of democraticdeliberation concerned with more than ideal theory. These studies suggest that the impact of deliberation is largely context dependent. It turns out that under some circumstances discussion of an issue among members of a group brings about undesirable effects, thus disappointing the hopes of
3 normative theorists. The institutional settings of deliberation seem to be of particular importance.This gives us reason to take a closer look at the settings under which such undesirable effects occur. Even if we grant, as a matter of principle, that collective deliberation prior to decision is of value, we should be concerned by the cases in which the actual practice of deliberation seems to result into undesirable consequences. In what follows, I will be using a deliberately thin concept ofdemocratic deliberation. If we are concerned with implementing deliberation, we wish to investigate the various concrete forms it might take. Employing a richly detailed conception of deliberation would defeat this purpose. If we started from a thick definition, we would most likely end up examining a constricted, if not empty, set of feasible arrangements, with a number of options being excluded bydefinition. On the other hand, our concept of deliberation should not be so thin, and permissive, as to lose normative appeal. Trying to strike a balance between these two imperatives, I will understand by deliberation a process characterized by two features. Firstly, members of the deciding body communicate amongst themselves prior to coming to a decision. The generic notion of communication...