Sunday, November 25, 2012

Daniel Little — Pragmatist arguments for democracy

So what are the most important beneficial consequences that make democracy a good idea? Here is their summary:
"We contend that relative to the other existing institutional alternatives, democracy is better at (1) facilitating experimentalism on institutional choice, (2) monitoring and maintaining institutional effectiveness (particularly in regard to appropriate conditions), and (3) reflexively monitoring its own effectiveness. The capacity of democracy to better satisfy these fundamental requirements of modern, socially diverse societies provides an important reason for endorsing democracy as the best means of collective governance. It grounds our pragmatist case for the priority of democracy. (261)"
In reviewing the arguments advanced by Knight and Johnson, it is striking to notice the virtual absence of the normative arguments offered by democratic theorists from Rousseau to Amartya Sen: Democracy is good because it respects the moral equality of all, it embodies the broadest realization of human freedom, and it conduces to greater human fulfillment and sociality. By putting their eggs in the pragmatist and consequentialist basket, Knight and Johnson seem to have forsaken the reasons some theorists have found democratic principles most convincing — their connection to a fully realized and socialized human life. 
How would we respond to their argument if the calculation had led to a different outcome: a benevolent all-powerful bureaucracy does a slightly better job than democracy at securing the social goods they are interested in counting? Would we then be forced to conclude that benevolent bureaucratic dictatorship is the better system after all? Probably not, for most of us. And perhaps this casts some doubt on the pragmatist method in this instance.
Understanding Society
Pragmatist arguments for democracy
Daniel Little | Chancellor, University of Michigan at Dearborn

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