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The Reality of Democracy and how to deal with it (in theory)

Martin Ebeling
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Martin Ebeling
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Open Panel

Abstract

Focusing in my criticism on Rawls and Habermas, I argue that these two main strands of contemporary political theory are both normatively and descriptively inadequate for modern pluralistic societies in that they fail to reconcile the ideal of justification with the reality of disagreement in democratic societies. Consequently, I develop a disagreement model of democracy which rejects both justice and (ideal and/or actual) consensus as a standard of legitimacy of a political order and reinstates disagreement at the center of democratic politics. This greater descriptive-analytical adequacy, however, brings into question the possibility of normative claims within the model developed. Explicating the normative dimension of the model, I subsequently argue that a theory of democracy needs to accord normative weight to the disagreement about conceptions of the common good itself and construct a conception of equality on this basis (which, I claim, in turn underlies any plausible theory of democracy which aims to transcend the analytical level). I then argue that while the so understood procedural disagreement model of democracy can provide a response to the challenge of disagreement regarding the common good, it can only do so by invoking substantive normative claims at the foundational theoretical level which underlie the normative significance of disagreement. These substantive claims, however, can only be defended if the disagreement about them is normatively void. This constitutes a self-immunization of the liberal doctrine and points to a certain paradoxical foundational structure of liberal universalism qua universalism. Consequently, I claim that liberal approaches face a dilemma between the self-immunization of the liberal doctrine which moves it into the direction of ideology and the renunciation of universalistic ambitions.