For an agonistic model of democracy (2000)
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As this turbulent century draws to a close, liberal democracy seems to be recognized as the only legitimate form of government. But does that indicate its ﬁnal victory over its adversaries, as some would have it? There are serious reasons to be sceptical about such a claim. For once, it is not clear how strong is the present consensus and how long it will last. While very few dare to openly challenge the liberal-democratic model, the signs of disaﬀection with present institutions are becoming widespread. An increasing number of people feel that traditional parties have ceased to take their interests into account, and extreme right wing parties are making important inroads in many European countries. Moreover, even among those who are resisting the call of the demagogues, there is a marked cynicism about politics and politicians, and this has a very corrosive eﬀect on popular adhesion to democratic values. There is clearly a negative force at work in most liberal-democratic societies, which contradicts the triumphalism that we have witnessed since the collapse of Soviet communism. It is with those considerations in mind that I will be examining the present
debate in democratic theory. I want to evaluate the proposals that democratic theorists are oﬀering in order to consolidate democratic institutions. I will concentrate my attention on the new paradigm of democracy, the model of ‘deliberative democracy’, which is currently becoming the fastest-growing trend in the ﬁeld. To be sure, the main idea – that in a democratic polity political decisions should be reached through a process of deliberation among free and equal citizens – has accompanied democracy since its birth in ﬁfth-century BCE Athens. The ways of envisaging deliberation and the constituency of those entitled to deliberate have varied greatly, but deliberation has long played a central role in democratic thought. What we see today is therefore the revival of an old theme, not the sudden emergence of a new one.