94 • Democracy After Liberalism


Although they recognize that communities can share and promote a defective moral vision, the antiliberals offer a deliberative theory according to which the aim of public discourse is to align separate wills with the social "we". Deliberation is thus not a mechanism by which the shared moral vision of a given community can be critically evaluated, corrected, or revised. Certain that dichotomies and divisions between "me," "us;' and "them" can ultimately be transcended (Barber 1998a, 116-117), the antiliberals propose no deliberative mechanism for dealing with the fundamental disagreements which will inevitably arise in a modern democracy.

In this lies the most serious difficulty with the antiliberal view. As they believe that the material necessary for harmonious, cooperative co-existence lies dormant within citizens, public deliberation is seen by the antiliberals as a prelude to politics, a process by which the latent common political will comes to realize itself in the form of shared purposes, commitments, and ideals. But where there is widespread agreement and a shared moral vision, there is no need for deliberation. Deliberation is a merely instrumental, temporary value to the antiliberal; once a truly political community is achieved through deliberation, deliberative processes may be discarded. This Rousseauian fantasy offers little by way of guidance to citizens who every day confront real disagreement in the public arena. When the promise of a politics of communal "we-ness" fails, as it inevitably will, what shall citizens of modern democracies do?

Whereas the liberals offer a theory of deliberation which restricts vocabularies and agendas to such a degree that there is ultimately nothing left to deliberate about, the antiliberals promote a view according to which deliberation, understood as the process of excavating a shared political will, is ultimately unnecessary. Neither style of deliberativism is satisfactory. The liberal conception cannot supply the liberal with the theory of citizenship and participation which his view otherwise lacks. The antiliberal conception does not respond effectively to legitimate worries concerning majority tyranny and community-sanctioned oppression. Furthermore, both types of deliberative theory present a false image of our political situation. The liberals begin from the assumption of irreducible social pluralism and insurmountable difference; they promote a deliberative politics that attempts to ignore such differences so that politics might proceed peacefully despite them. The antiliberals begin from the opposite assumption of a deep but unrealized political community of shared values and common ground; they promote a deliberative politics that places morality at the fore of public discourse. Public discourse is supposed to dissolve differences and transcend disagreement, revealing a shared political will that was there all along.

The Deliberative Turn in Democratic Theory • 95

Just as we cannot determine a priori the depth of our disagreements, we cannot begin from the premise that all disagreements are shallow or illusory. Both presumptions represent a dangerous oversimplification of contemporary politics; citizens' interests, values, moral visions, and purposes intersect, overlap, diverge, and conflict in a variety of complex ways. The degree to which citizens are divided at fundamental levels is an empirical matter; it is something which can only be determined in the actual course of citizens coming together to confront each other, neither as sanitized political personae programmed to obey the percepts of reasonable discussion, nor as segments of an immanent communal whole predestined to realize the general will. But rather as persons, with all the attendant complexity, who, for better or worse, share a common political sphere and destiny. What is required, then, is a conception of democratic deliberation and citizenship that can recognize that our political life is characterized neither by irreconcilable difference nor by immanent commonality. There are real conflicts of ideas and purposes that might be ultimately intractable, but are nonetheless legitimately political, and therefore, unavoidable. Likewise, there can be, and sometimes are, real convergences of interests, purposes, and values among persons who may seem hopelessly divided.

In formulating conceptions of deliberation, liberal and antiliberal theorists have put the cart before the horse. Beginning from within a given political framework with antecedent commitments and principles, theorists have conscripted the idea of public deliberation to help repair weaknesses in their general framework of political philosophy. Not surprisingly, we have found that liberal deliberative theories tend to promote or favor decidedly liberal deliberative outcomes, and antiliberal theories do the same with respect to antiliberal outcomes. In neither case is deliberative democracy understood as a political theory in its own right. The deliberative turn in contemporary democratic theory is as yet incomplete. What is needed is a deliberative account of democracy that is not precommitted to liberal or antiliberal goals; we cannot rely upon deliberation to complete an otherwise faulty political program, and we cannot expect deliberativism to resolve the series disputes known as the "liberal-communitarian debate." A viable account of deliberative democracy must be a political theory in its own right.