|Edited by Stephen L. Esquith
Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1996
Bruce Ackerman and now John Rawls have argued that the primary political virtues of liberal democratic citizens are tolerance and conversational restraint. While these virtues are important for a constitutional politics that strives to keep certain divisive moral, religious, and philosophical issues off the political agenda, they are not sufficient to see democratic citizens through the political conflicts that they ordinarily confront. Ackerman also has argued that the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe should seize the current “constitutional moment” by developing these political virtues. I argue, with references to Adam Michnik, that the West has as much to learn from these new democracies about the virtues required for participation in democratic dialogues where power is unequally distributed, as they have to gain from liberal constitutional theories of restraint.
Building upon Locke’s view of toleration, it is possible to elaborate a liberal theory of political dialogue. Tolerance is more than simply a grudging admission that coercion is often ineffective; it is a practice of communication that constrains and disciplines what can be effectively said.
Lockean individualism is a crucial value for developing a theory of dialogical practical reason. Any discourse ethic, including a Habermasian one, must avoid collectivism and ground its principles on an individualist conception of human action.
Rousseau can help us understand the differences between private feminine and masculine dialogues, and also their implications for political dialogue on a more public scale. He analyzes three forms of gender relations, not just one as is commonly believed. By grasping the complexity of this theory, it is possible to clarify the nature of the dilemmas of social association which men and women, privately and also publicly, face. Rousseau’s failure is that he does not adequately problematize the patriarchal family.
Dialogue is a major tool in the resolution of conflict situations. Its effectiveness is a function of our ability to utilize elements within the conflict situation that draws the participants into discussion. The goal is practical: to work toward the resolution of the problem. Effective dialogue uses the authority of the life process as a guide. It takes up any facts or aspects of the situation that are relevant to the solution of the conflict. Theoretical inquiry and face-to- face dialogue are not divorced from each other. They are factors in a continuum of inquiry that eventually leads us to focus upon the practical problem.
Many political disagreements are deeper than mere differences of opinion. People who simply differ in their opinions can understand and argue with one another, but between liberals and conservatives there is a often a kind of mutual incomprehension. Employing different rules of relevance and inference, they find the views of their opponents to lack plausible grounds. By describing these forms of thinking in some detail, it is possible to better analyze intransigent problems of political dialogue and competing ideals of political association. The results of analysis also indicate that it is possible to describe further forms of thinking in addition to those that have enjoyed dominance in the past, in particular a form of democratic thinking that is distinct from the conservative and liberal forms. It is not possible to show that one form of thinking is inherently superior to the others, so that problems of dialogue will continue, but democratic thinking has resources that permit discussion to yield a firmer practical consensus than the alternatives.
This paper examines how contributors to the dialogical turn in ethics understand the relationship between the private and public spheres of meaning and value; how, if at all, conflicts of values (or interests) can be resolved; and the significance of the notion of dialogical consensus that has come to the fore in applied ethics as an important criterion of ethical justification in the public sphere. I argue the positions can be schematized as two positions with four partners. I call the two positions proceduralism and contextualism. Proceduralists argue that the justification of normative judgments lies in the basic structure and form of moral argument such that the validity of ethical or value judgments is justified by the procedures of discourse. Contextualists argue that justification of normative judgments lies in the context of moral dialogue about substantive norms or values in or between traditions.
Objections to political dialogue, especially in forms influenced by Habermas’s discourse ethics, often turn on a charge of practical emptiness: no meaningful results are generated by the transcendental regulations of the ideal speech situation. The solution to this difficulty is just as often thought to be some form of the Aristotelian virtue of phronesis, or practical wisdom. The hope is that phronesis will bridge the gap between formalistic justification and political application. In this paper I assess this charge against Habermas, his attempted refutation, and the prospects that exist for recovering phronesis in political dialogue.
The problem of democratically generated power is here addressed in terms of a communications conception that responds to issues posed by the contemporary division of labor. In the wake of Communism, the power of bureaucrats and experts has not been adequately addressed by triumphant liberalism, since liberalism promotes its own version of knowledge politics. Moreover, contemporary liberalism has not adequately responded to the productivist assumptions it shares with traditional socialism or to the limitations inherent in a nation centered politics in the age of multinational capital and global mass culture. A rethinking of the social organization of agency and the distinctive reflexivity on agency inherent in contemporary politics requires a critical account of the division of labor. On the basis of such an account, a historically minded democratic reflection can and must explore forms of social mediation that combine an unavoidable reliance on the specialization of tasks with means by which democratic citizens can hold experts responsible. The logic of such a process is discussed with reference to Habermas’s discourse ethic; social and practical questions raised by the contemporary division of labor are then discussed with reference to multiculturalism. The idea of a democratic multiculturalism helps concretize the democratic response to the division of labor and thus provides a relevant alternative to traditional socialism and liberalism.
Four years after unification, German intellectuals are still debating how to overcome the burden of Germany’s troubled past and, with the merger of democratic and socialist societies, how to solve the pressing problem of political education. Some have proposed that Germany’s common cultural heritage, its Kultur, might draw the once severed nation together as a cultural nation. However, different conceptions of culture in East and West, along with divided political attitudes, mitigate against cultural union. The impossibility of consensus about the past and about politics is illustrated in the controversy over East German literature that has politicized the protected sphere of art. Overall, a meeting of minds is frustrated by asymmetrical power structures in the East and West. With socialism defunct, West Germans enjoy the authority of their institutionalized democracy. Their dominance inhibits agreement on political and cultural matters and thwarts joint endeavor, whether economic, political, or aesthetic — all of which have become entwined.
The purpose of this essay is to pursue the consequences of the premise that political participation requires a degree of actual power over an outcome — not merely an attempt (which might be unsuccessful) to shape outcomes. If participation requires power, then does more political participation for one individual or group necessarily entail less participation for another? Or is a multi-sided expansion of participation possible even where there are significant conflicts among participants? I argue that political participation (and political power itself) can be expanded for all even under conditions of conflict. Political outcomes are not like pies of fixed size but can themselves expand or contract. Changes in the aims and perceptions of citizens, not just laws passed or legislative seats gained and lost, must be included in our description of a political outcome. Better (or worse) political dialogue among citizens produces “greater” (or “lesser”) political outcomes and thus expands (or shrinks) the pool of political power from which all must draw.
Although normative political theorists have argued that citizens talking with other citizens about public affairs is essential in a democracy, empirically oriented political scientists have tended to ignore political discussions. This paper reviews what normative theorists have said about political conversations and then draws on National Election Studies and General Social Surveys to plumb the extent and breadth of political conversations in the United States. The paper also explores who talks about public affairs, with whom they speak, and why some people discuss politics while others do not.
This paper explores the ways we learn about value in deliberative settings. In planning and many kinds of participatory processes more generally, such learning occurs not just through arguments, not just through reframing of ideas, not just through the critique of expert knowledge, but through transformations of relationships and responsibilities, of networks and competence, of collective memory and memberships. The argument assumes neither that planning is participatory nor that it is democratic, just that deliberative conversations about value, about the interpretation and aptness of goals and means are inescapable aspects of practical action. Four very different case studies are used to bring the argument into focus.
How should punishment be justified and carried out in emerging democratic societies as well as their established models? I argue that liberal theorists have not been able to reconcile their attraction to retributivist theories of punishment with an otherwise strategic conception of social cooperation and control. As one aspect of a more general functionalist understanding of politics, I advocate a trust-based approach to crime handling. At least in the case of the practice of punishment, democratic politics cannot be morally grounded in a participatory and dialogical way. Democracy, like any other political system, must function to control human nature. A democratic system of crime handling that inculcates trust, not one that Quixotically attempts to separate politics from criminal justice, is most likely to avoid the deliberate infliction of pain. In a society caught in the difficult transition to democracy, punishment should aim at building trust and avoiding the infliction of pain, not at retribution. Dialogues about who is responsible for past crimes inevitably are turned into strategic, self-serving contests.