the existing framework. But this does not make public opinion that has been formed in this way somehow more rational according to some non-political and ultimately undemocratic standard. Morality and science are tempting standards by which to judge the vagaries of public opinion, especially in comparison with "higher" moral laws or "scientific" truths. But such ideals prove difficult if not impossible to institutionalize, given the facts of pluralism and complexity. Too often such appeals to external standards may violate the demands of the norm of publicity. Moreover, it is hard to see how these independent norms of rationality actually operate in already-existing and more or less successful democratic practices. In contrast to such overly strong reconstructions of rationality which ignore existing practices, Rorty argues for a "priority of democracy over philosophy.6 By this phrase, Rorty means that stronger epistemic and moral standards that are established independent of the historical conditions and thus not addressed to a specific society-like those sought by philosophers from Plato to Hegel-cannot meet the practical demands of democratic politics. My more pragmatic and non-skeptical view of public reason also leads us to rethink what is required by reasonable agreement. In contrast to stronger and ultimately non-pragmatic norms of rationality, my account accepts deliberatively formed compromise as a crucial feature of democratic life in which norms of reason themselves are publicly contested. Citizens, I have argued, have no other choice but compromise when public deliberation fails, and not to recognize the limits of public reason would be a sign of excessive rationalism.
Besides answering the skeptic, the motive for devising a more pragmatic and less idealizing account of deliberation is the recognition of heterogeneous standards of justification operating in democratic practices. Democratic deliberation ought not depend on any single epistemic or moral norm, such as liberal neutrality or moral impartiality, to define its rational character or to delimit the range of reasonable forms of cooperation. The basic task of critical public reason should be thought of in more practical terms: the point of political deliberation is to solve social problems and to overcome political conflicts. The criterion for successful deliberation is, therefore, that it restore the conditions of ongoing cooperation in problematic situations, I have identified the mechanisms of dialogue and the conditions
Deliberative Democracy and Its Critics
of equality needed for public deliberation to be successful. When successful, deliberation produces outcomes that all might reasonably accept and also expect to be able to revise in the future.
The success of public deliberation should be measured reconstructively-that is, in light of the historical development of democratic institutions and practices-rather than by external standards of justification. I have employed such an approach in my philosophical reconstruction of deliberation, analyzing existing practices for their potential for rationality rather than constructing new ones on the basis of a practice-independent standard. The test of this reconstruction should be pragmatic: its proposed norms have to be able to overcome the obstacles that democratic deliberation now faces. Many philosophical approaches to public reason still have very little to say about reasonable disagreement; they suggest that contentious issues simply be excluded. The re constructive approach that I have taken here argues that deliberation guided by public reason can answer such questions in ways that promote cooperation.
While I do not offer institutional blueprints, my reconstructive approach is not silent about possibilities of reform. Rather than a utopia projected into the future, it provides a way to think about improving actual deliberative practices as they currently exist. In the periods of learning and change initiated by social critics and collective movements, innovations and reforms of this kind have already occurred. Democracy creates the social conditions for such learning by facilitating a flexible relationship between institutions and their constitutive publics. Whatever the consequences of social complexity, this flexibility is possible with democratic institutions of any scale. Against Marx, "real" democracy, on this account, does not require the complete transformation of society; rather, it is a project of piecemeal reform that builds upon the constitutional and institutional achievements of past frameworks.
In this reformist democratic practice, the role of critical social theory is to provide a critique of public reason, an analysis of the potentials and limits of the public and autonomous employment of practical reason. On this view of participatory democracy, public reason is exercised not by the state but primarily in the public sphere of free and equal citizens. In the American civil rights movement, for example,