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Den aggregativa demokratin: Hur Jürgen Habermas, John Dryzek och Stephen Elstub använder termen liberal demokrati
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.
2010 (Swedish)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesisAlternative title
The Aggregative Democracy : Jürgen Habermas’s, John Dryzek’s, and Stephen Elstub’s Usage of Liberal Democracy (English)
Abstract [en]

“Liberal Democracy” is a common term in political theory, and it is used as if it had a commonly accepted referent, with both normative and descriptive content. This is certainly the case in democratic theory, where it on the one hand seems to refer to a normative democratic model; on the other hand it is used descriptively, to refer to real-life democracies. The deliberative democratic sub-field is not an exception; on the contrary, the term is frequently used albeit rarely defined; yet the concept it refers to is supposedly developed enough to allow detailed propositions about its citizens’s political behaviour.

This essay is an attempt to analyze how Liberal Democracy is used by three deliberative democrats (Jürgen Habermas, John Dryzek and Stephen Elstub), in order to understand the democratic model (or models), whether normative or descriptive, they refer to. It is an analysis of how the term is used in some of the authors’ texts, what it denotes and connotes. This is done against the backdrop of their respective deliberative theories; Habermas, Dryzek and Elstub were chosen qua Deliberative Democratic theorists, not just democratic theorists.

Habermas’s usage of Liberal Democracy is inconsistent. On the one hand it is a rather “open” democracy (i.e., more Dahl than Madison) dependent on active citizens in the public sphere; on the other hand it is a rights-based society where the market forum serves as an imperative, where isolated individuals make political choices as if they where choices at the market forum and even the social interactions are market-structured. My conclusion is that the latter model takes precedence.

The following chapter analyzes John Dryzek’s usage of the term. The democratic model Dryzek calls Liberal Democracy shares some similarities with Habermas’s model – the market forum serves as a model for the citizens’ political behaviour. Following Horkheimer and Adorno, Dryzek connects Liberal Democracy to an instrumental rationality considered to be repressive. The instrumental rationality (and the behaviour it creates) leads to a political strait jacket – the citizens’ preferences get reduced to their interests, and politics is nothing but a battle of the interests. Dryzek’s usage of the term is more consistent than Habermas’s.

For Stephen Elstub, upholding autonomy is the telos of democracy, irrespective of model. In his discussions of liberal democracy he equates liberal theory (J.S. Mill and John Locke) with liberal democratic theory, and sees the real-life democracies as realizations of the theory. Elstub's discussions of liberal democracy focus primarily on the demos, citizens with endogenous preferences. Contra Habermas and Dryzek, Elstub’s model lacks the behavioural model based on the market forum. An important inconsistency in Elstub’s model is the State’s capacity for institutional changes; the “representative structures” are incapable of the changes necessary to deal with social pluralism, but at the same time the Liberal Democratic system is flexible enough to accommodate his dualist model of democracy.

The last chapter sums up the results and places the liberal democratic model in a taxonomy of democratic theories. I argue that in spite of the differences of the authors’ models, they are basically one and the same, normatively and descriptively. It is not primarily a model of democratic institutions – more than anything it is a conception of demos. The demos consist of citizens focused on their self-interest as a basis for their political actions. The democratic taxonomy used in the essay is fairly inclusive, but I conclude that Liberal Democracy does not fit in; it is not so much a theory of institutionalised democracy as a psychological theory.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. , 53 p.
Keyword [en]
democracy, liberal democracy, Lockean, aggregation, autonomy, economic man, liberalism, self-interest, communication, interests, preferences, democratic theory
National Category
Social Sciences Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-14162ISRN: ORU-HUS/STK-AS-2011/1--SEOAI: diva2:398196
Örebro Universitet, Örebro (Swedish)
Social and Behavioural Science, Law
Available from: 2011-10-14 Created: 2011-01-23 Last updated: 2011-10-14Bibliographically approved

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