We can evaluate the justification of democracy along at least twodifferent dimensions: instrumentally, by reference to the outcomes ofusing it compared with other methods of political decision; orintrinsically, by reference to values that are inherent in themethod.
Other arguments question the coherence of the idea of intrinsicallyfair collective decision making processes. For instance, social choicetheory questions the idea that there can be a fair decision makingfunction that transforms a set of individual preferences into arational collective preference. The core objection is that no generalrule satisfying reasonable constraints can be devised that cantransform any set of individual preferences into a rational socialpreference. And this is taken to show that democratic procedurescannot be intrinsically fair (Riker 1982: 116). Ronald Dworkin argues that the idea of equality,which is for him at the root of social justice, cannot be given acoherent and plausible interpretation when it comes to thedistribution of political power among members of the society. Therelation of politicians to citizens inevitably gives rise toinequality; the process of democratic deliberation inevitably givesthose with superior argument making abilities and greater willingnessto participate more influence and therefore more power, than others,so equality of political power cannot be intrinsically fair or just(Dworkin 2000). In laterwork, Dworkin has pulled back from this originally thoroughgoinginstrumentalism (Dworkin 1996).
Another non-instrumental justification of democracy appeals to theideal of public justification. The idea behind this approach is thatlaws and policies are legitimate to the extent that they are publiclyjustified to the citizens of the community. Public justification isjustification to each citizen as a result of free and reasoned debateamong equals.
However, it is hard to see how this approach avoids the need for acomplete consensus, which is highly unlikely to occur in any evenmoderately diverse society. The reason for this is that it is notclear why it is any less of an imposition on me when I proposelegislation or policies for the society that I must restrain myself toconsiderations that other reasonable people accept than it is animposition on others when I attempt to pass legislation on the basisof reasons they reasonably reject. For if I do restrain myself in thisway, then the society I live in will not live up to the standards thatI believe are essential to evaluating the society. I must then live inand support a society that does not accord with my conception of howit ought to be organized. It is not clear why this is any less of aloss of control over society than for those who must live in a societythat is partly regulated by principles they do not accept. If one is aproblem, then so is the other, and complete consensus is the onlysolution (Christiano 2009).
Instrumental arguments for democracy give some reason for why oneought to respect the democracy when one disagrees with its decisions.There may be many instrumental considerations that play a role indeciding on the question of whether one ought to obey. And theseinstrumental considerations are pretty much the same whether one isconsidering obedience to democracy or some other form of rule.
There is one instrumentalist approach which is quite unique todemocracy and that seems to ground a strong conception of democraticauthority. That is the epistemic approach inspired by the CondorcetJury Theorem, which we discussed in section 220.127.116.11 above. There, we discussed a number of difficulties with theapplication of the Condorcet Jury Theorem to the case of voting inelections and referenda in large-scale democracies, including lack ofindependence, informational segmentation, and the existence ofideological biases.
This account of the authority of democracy also provides some helpwith a vexing problem of democratic theory. This problem is thedifficulty of persistent minorities. There is a persistent minority ina democratic society when that minority always loses in the voting.This is always a possibility in democracies because of the use ofmajority rule. If the society is divided into two or more highlyunified voting blocks in which the members of each group votes in thesame ways as all the other members of that group, then the group inthe minority will find itself always on the losing end of the votes.This problem has plagued some societies, particularly those withindigenous peoples who live within developed societies. Though thisproblem is often connected with majority tyranny it is distinct fromthe problem of majority tyranny because it may be the case that themajority attempts to treat the minority well, in accordance with itsconception of good treatment. It is just that the minority neveragrees with the majority on what constitutes proper treatment. Being apersistent minority can be highly oppressive even if the majority doesnot try to act oppressively. This can be understood with the help ofthe very ideas that underpin democracy. Persons have interests inbeing able to correct for the cognitive biases of others and to beable to make the world in such a way that it makes sense to them.These interests are set back for a persistent minority since theynever get their way.
The conception of democracy as grounded in public equality can shedlight on this problem. It can say that the existence of a persistentminority violates public equality (Christiano 2008: chap. 7). Ineffect, a society in which there is a persistent minority is one inwhich that minority is being treated publicly as an inferior becauseit is clear that its fundamental interests are being set back. Henceto the extent that violations of public equality undercut theauthority of a democratic assembly, the existence of a persistentminority undermines the authority of the democracy at least withrespect to the minority. This suggests that certain institutions oughtto be constructed so that the minority is not persistent.
Some modern theorists of democracy, called elite theorists, haveargued against any robustly egalitarian or deliberative forms ofdemocracy in light of the problem of democratic participation. Theyargue that high levels of citizen participation tend to produce badlegislation designed by demagogues to appeal to poorly informed andoverly emotional citizens. They look upon the alleged uninformednessof citizens evidenced in many empirical studies in the 1950s and 1960sas perfectly reasonable and predictable. Indeed they regard thealleged apathy of citizens in modern states as highly desirable socialphenomena.
So the elite theory of democracy does seem compatible with some of theinstrumentalist arguments given above but it is strongly opposed tothe intrinsic arguments from liberty, public justification andequality. To be sure, there can be an elite deliberative democracywherein elites deliberate, perhaps even out of sight of the populationat large, on how to run the society.
A third approach inspired by the problem of participation may becalled the neo-liberal approach to politics favored by public choicetheorists such as James Buchanan & Gordon Tullock (1962). Againstelite theories, they contend that elites and their allies will tend toexpand the powers of government and bureaucracy for their owninterests and that this expansion will occur at the expense of alargely inattentive public. For this reason, they argue for severerestrictions on the powers of elites. They argue against the interestgroup pluralist theorists that the problem of participation occurswithin interest groups more or less as much as among the citizenry atlarge. Only powerful economic interests are likely to succeed inorganizing to influence the government and they will do so largely fortheir own benefit. Since economic elites will advance their owninterests in politics while spreading the costs to others, policieswill tend to be more costly (because imposed on everyone in society)than they are beneficial (because they benefit only the elites in theinterest group.)
But the neo-liberal account of democracy must answer to two largeworries. First, citizens in modern societies have more ambitiousconceptions of social justice and the common good than are realizableby the minimal state. The neo-liberal account thus implies a veryserious curtailment of democracy of its own. More evidence is neededto support the contention that these aspirations cannot be achieved bythe modern state. Second, the neo-liberal approach ignores the problemof large private concentrations of wealth and power that are capableof pushing small states around for their own benefit and imposingtheir wills on populations without their consent.
A considerable amount of the literature in political science and theeconomic theory of the state are grounded in the assumption thatindividuals act primarily and perhaps even exclusively in theirself-interest narrowly construed. The problem of participation and theaccounts of the democratic process described above are in large partdependent on this assumption. When the preferences of voters are notassumed to be self-interested the calculations of the value ofparticipation change. For example, if a person is a motivatedutilitarian, the small chance of making a difference is coupled with ahuge accumulated return to many people if there is a significantdifference between alternatives. It may be worth it in this case tobecome reasonably well informed (Parfit 1984: 74). Even more weaklyaltruistic moral preferences could make a big difference to therationality of becoming informed, for example if one had a preferenceto comply with perceived civic duty to vote responsibly (see section 4.3.1 for discussion of the duty tovote). Any moral preference can be formulated in consistent utilityfunctions.
A compromise can be understood as an agreement between parties toadvance laws or policies that all regard as suboptimal because theydisagree about which laws or policies are optimal (May 2005). While itis widely accepted that there are sometimes compelling instrumentalreasons to compromise, whether there are intrinsic moral reasons tocompromise is more controversial. Some defend intrinsic reasons tocompromise based on democratic values like inclusion, mutual respect,and reciprocity (Gutmann and Thompson 2014; Wendt 2016; Weinstock2013). However, Simon May argues that such arguments fail and that allreasons to compromise are pragmatic (May 2005). 2b1af7f3a8