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The Provisionality of Deliberative Democracy

Open Panel

Abstract

In this paper I will evaluate the issue of ''provisionality'' in Gutmann and Thompson''s account of deliberative democracy. They point out that most proponents of Deliberative Democracy neglect that the results of the decision-making processes are ''provisional''. This reflects two facts about human nature. First, the decision-making processes and our understanding (of right reason), on which they rely, are often imperfect. Second, even in deliberative politics most decisions are not consensual. There are two aspects to Gutmann and Thompson''s account of provisionality. The insight that we may get it wrong, in spite of extensive deliberation, requires that the deliberation may continue after the decision has been taken. And secondly, accepting the provisionality of decisions in DD makes it more likely that dissenters would support the present decision, if they can continue to debate and possibly reverse the decision in the future. Gutmann and Thompson believe that the element of provisionality makes their account of deliberative democracy superior to others. I will argue that it masks a fundamental problem for democracy: the moral gap between deliberation and decision. Even in the face of (considerable) opposition, a decision must be taken, and taking that decision, it is claimed, is morally justified. Apart from the provisionality of Deliberative Democracy, Gutmann and Thompson also rely on the self-critical power of the deliberative process in order to eliminate gradually any deliberative bias or even a bias regarding the principles of DD. I will argue that such optimism is out of place.