variety of perspectives. Usually, such discussion and dialogue, however critical, is more mundane and concerns particular beliefs and practical goals. But in periods of great innovation and change, basic understandings and assumptions that underlie institutions are called into question. In well-ordered societies characterized by the rule of law, such periods of change will be marked by reflection on constitutional essentials, since the current understandings are no longer an adequate basis for planning and cooperation. Such changes begin as "legitimation crises" that can be resolved only through public deliberation on the basis of political life. Without this possibility of radical change built into constitutional democracy itself, it is difficult for democracies to maintain the dialectical interplay between emergent publics and institutions that is the key to their vitality. Such periodic renewals of popular sovereignty keep institutions from acquiring independent forms of power that merely organize public opinion from above. They may also challenge the assumptions that guide even the most participatory and local arrangements, the hidden anti-democratic biases and exclusions of the operative public culture that could emerge unchecked in direct democracy.
I began this book with Max Horkheimer's claim that a society is democratic only if it is guided by the ideal of rational agreement, that is, to the extent that it makes "all conditions controllable by human beings depend on real consensus." Many critics have claimed that the problems of complexity and pluralism cannot be solved democratically and that their consequences cannot be controlled by consensual means. The cumulative argument of this book is that such claims are false. Such conditions do not necessarily "overburden" institutions and the capacities of deliberating citizens, nor do they make the ideals of deliberative democracy obsolete. Rather, they show how important it is that the principles of democracy be applied across the board to all institutions. Certainly, many of the utopian hopes of radical democratic transformation have to be revised once the many dilemmas of pluralism and complexity are faced more squarely. These unresolved problems show the dependence of some participatory democratic theories on false anti-institutionalism as well as on excessive political will and hyper-rationality about political decision making. Without a doubt, the fall of bureaucratic socialist regimes in 1989
Deliberative Democracy and Its Critics
has been a sobering experience for proponents of thorough democratic reform. But there are other traditions and practices of radical democracy to draw upon in implementing the ideals of public deliberation. These historical failures and successes show that these ideals should now be located within modern institutions and their publics, rather than outside of them and opposed to them. Once we look to already-existing practices and their potential for deliberation, we can see that increasing the scope of democratic participation and equality in decision making is still an indispensable goal for pluralistic and complex societies.
When facing the current challenges of complexity, inequality, and pluralism, citizens do not encounter insuperable obstacles to deliberative democracy. Just the opposite is true: what is most significant in our historical period is the potential to expand the ways in which citizens cooperate in the public sphere. Cultural pluralism, social complexity, and growing inequalities represent the greatest challenges to democracy today, and they have brought about many popular anti-institutional and anti-democratic movements. These challenges can be met only by inventing new forums and reformed institutions in which citizens deliberate together and make public use of their reason in new ways. When understood pragmatically as the results of these historical experiences, democratic consensus, equality, and participation are not only the most appropriate norms for Critical Theory today; they are also achievable political goals to be realized in feasible practices of actual public deliberation.