AR; Mind the gap

I’ve been reading about various models of democracy lately, and started to wonder about alternatives to the threefold distinction between the ideal types of liberal individualist, republican and deliberative models. This typology seems to have gained quite a bit of recognition- e.g. by Habermas himself, as well as Held, Elster, Dahlberg and others.

Gerard Drosterij offers an alternative in his article from 2005. AFAIK it’s not an especially widely cited piece, but one that introduces an interesting idea.

According to the author, Elster’s threefold distinction is based on asking two questions about politics: first, does politics have an intrinsic value, or is it purely instrumental? And second, is the political process (the process of will formation) private or public? Answers to these questions provide us with a matrix of four cells, but Elster filled only three of these cells: he doesn’t pay attention to those models that consider politics to have intrinsic value, and to manifest in a private process.

Now, liberal individualist models consider the process private – but the objective of the political process is not the process itself – it is merely instrumental to achieving the good life. In contrast, republican models consider the political process to have some intrinsic value – but that value is to be pursued in public, informed by a sense of community. How could these be reconciled, in models that consider politics to be of intrinsic worth, yet being private in their process?

Drosterij suggests that this doesn’t really make sense- at least not so far as we understand politics as will formation. Instead, he proposes to redefine politics as “jurisdiction:” dealing solely with the question of how various processes of will formation should be institutionalized; i.e. how and to what extent the formal decision making core of the state could regulate “civil” democracy.

Although it’s an interesting thought, I think it raises many more questions than it answers; the most important being: if we equate “politics” with “jurisdiction,” then what shall we call, and how should we understand, those processes of will formation that the jurisdiction is supposed to govern?

The article closes so:

Deliberative democracy does not encompass [politics as jurisdiction], since it fails to principally distinguish between the civil and the political level of democracy, and therefore unfortunately understands politics as a combination of both: politics as public will formation.

While in general this might be true, it seems to me that Habermas, for one, is well aware of this distinction, and this is why he introduces the idea of two-track deliberative democracy, with a formal decision making system in the core, and informal, unstructured, wild flows of (private, in the sense of autonomous) communication in the periphery. As he writes in Between Facts and Norms:

In contrast to Cohen, I would like to understand the procedure from which procedurally correct decisions draw their legitimacy […] as the core structure in a separate, constitutionally [=legally] organized political system, but not as a model for all social institutions […]. If deliberative politics is supposed to be inflated into a structure shaping the totality of society, then the discursive mode of sociation expected in the legal system would have to expand into a self-organization of society and penetrate the latter’s complexity as a whole. This is impossible, for the simple reason that democratic procedure must be embedded in contexts it cannot itself regulate.” (1996: 305)

One can criticize Habermas for he’s not really clear on how this core is supposed to work, but the general idea seems to be just what Drosterij focuses on: to distinguish between different levels of politics.

Drosterij, Gerard (2007): “Mind the Gap: Three Models of Democracy, One Missing; Two Political Paradigms, One Dwindling” in Contemporary Political Theory 6, 45-66.

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