Democracy and Disagreement

ISBN 10: 0674197658 / ISBN 13: 9780674197657
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The din and deadlock of public life in America--where insults are traded, slogans proclaimed, and self-serving deals made and unmade--reveal the deep disagreement that pervades our democracy. The disagreement is not only political but also moral, as citizens and their representatives increasingly take extreme and intransigent positions. A better kind of public discussion is needed, and Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson provide an eloquent argument for "deliberative democracy" today. They develop a principled framework for opponents to come together on moral and political issues.

Gutmann and Thompson show how a deliberative democracy can address some of our most difficult controversies--from abortion and affirmative action to health care and welfare--and can allow diverse groups separated by class, race, religion, and gender to reason together. Their work goes beyond that of most political theorists and social scientists by exploring both the principles for reasonable argument and their application to actual cases. Not only do the authors suggest how deliberative democracy can work, they also show why improving our collective capacity for moral argument is better than referring all disagreements to procedural politics or judicial institutions. Democracy and Disagreement presents a compelling approach to how we might resolve some of our most trying moral disagreements and live with those that will inevitably persist, on terms that all of us can respect.

Review: Well-situated at the nexus of several trends in political theory and academic publishing, Democracy and Disagreement addresses contemporary theories of "deliberative democracy" in a highly accessible style intended to bring this important topic to the attention of a wider audience. "Deliberative democracy" is a term used (often rather loosely) to describe a mode of decision-making which privileges participation in debate or dialogue (as opposed to mere polling or casting ballots) as the desirable means for arriving at public judgment. Like another book published this year by a professor of political theory, Democracy's Discontent, by Michael Sandel, the intended audience of Gutmann and Thompson's book is the thoughtful general reader who is concerned with reducing the divisiveness of contemporary political debate. For that reason, Democracy and Disagreement leaves behind many academic points of disagreement between liberals, communitarians, and civic republicans, and takes on topics like welfare reform, affirmative action, and health care rationing. The result is an intelligent book, unlikely to completely satisfy academic audiences, but one that generally succeeds at bringing the topic of "deliberative democracy" to the attention of lay readers through clear and lucid prose and well-chosen examples of practical policy issues.

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Title: Democracy and Disagreement
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Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson
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