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Political Philosophy


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Family Name Zizys

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Given Name Joseph

2500 Words.
By Joseph Zizys

Critically discuss and analyse how diversity can (if at all) be properly represented in a democracy
and what role (if any) deliberation plays in ensuring that diversity is properly represented. Your
critical discussion and analysis should draw on Phillipss work on representation, Cohens work on
deliberative democracy, and your own relevant research.

Diversity is compatible with democracy to some extent. there are limits. It is hard to know what the
limits are.

Phillips asserts that prior to the 1980s critiques of liberalism, here taken as a catch-all for
liberalism, liberal democracy, the rule of law and the free market, fell into three categories. first that

individualism was unfairly privileged over community, second that political equality was undermined
or corroded by a lack of social and economic equality, and third that democratic institutions
obviated and weakened the utility of more dynamic citizen participation in the polity.

Phillips implies that such critiques have been muted or transformed into more subtle arguments
within feminist and post-colonial thought, and also that the liberal tradition has always been
concerned with diversity and difference. (Phillips 2006 p174)

This all seems far too apologetic for 2014, years after a disastrous banking crisis, still mired in
multiple wars in the middle east, still no closer to addressing the problems of climate change,
poverty, gender inequality and more, and political philosophy, as well as politics itself, still utterly
hegemonies by rich, white, able bodied, cis men with law firm backgrounds and those, few, women
and pops willing to instantiate their every value short of actual surgery.

Phillips argument against the liberal tradition, or rather her critique of that tradition is that the
difference and diversity envisioned by it is a difference and diversity of belief and opinion, not a
difference and diversity of persons, as in differences in class, gender, ableness, culture, ethnicity,
education, sex preference, and so on. (Phillips 2006 p175)

Phillips raises a very interesting point (ibid) along the following lines:

no amount of thought or sympathy, no matter how careful or honest, can jump the barriers of
experience. (Phillips 2006 p175)

This point gets to the heart of the question of the compatibility of diversity and democracy. Is it
possible to transcend the gulf of experience? Can diverse persons overcome the barriers to mutual
understanding and fashion democratic outcomes to contentious questions? The issue is quite
simple conceptually given universal suffrage: if there is a minority that unanimously identifies its
own best interests with one policy, and if that minority cannot effectively communicate the
desirability (for all) of that policy, then the majority of voters will act to oppress the minority.

It seems clear that if the quote above is true, then democracy is simply not compatible with the
freedom and self determination of diverse minorities. Unless minorities can communicate to and
convince majorities of the fairness and desirability of their political wishes, then democracy cannot
be compatible with the flourishing and political fulfilment of those minorities.

In fact it seems clear that democracy is precisely as compatible with diversity as it is possible for
the majority of persons to engage in rational argument and be convinced by such rational, public
argument, and even in that case, only those diversities of interest who's preferences coincide with
the possible conception of the public, rational good, can possibly be compatible with democracy.

The religious zealot, the terrorist, cannot be fulfilled in their political aspirations within the
democratic process, because they cannot convince the majority of their case.

The disturbing question is weather there exist minorities who may rationally wish for political
outcomes that are not communicable because of the fact of diversity of experience. If there are

fixed limits to the capacity of the majority of persons to understand, communicate and endorse
views originating from experience too unlike their own then to exactly that extent democracy cannot

Phillips posits a relationship, between the politics of ideas and the politics of presence (Phillips
2006 p 176), in other words, a relationship between the politics of rational public discourse, and the
politics of who gets to speak, and from what experience.

Phillips exemplar of the politics of presence is the women movement. This in itself is interesting,
since universal suffrage in most western democracies there have been more women of voting age
than men. Women are thus in a majority in most democracies. This demonstrates something of the
irony in exploring how compatible liberalism is with diversity and minorities when at least
empirically it has struggled to be compatible even with a majority. That land owning, educated,
white, males have kept and keep enormously disproportionate power both in their prisons in the
public political sphere but also within the politics of ideas is obvious and undeniable. That our
democracy is a democracy that is instantiated within a framework of existing power structures,
existing inequalities, that it starts from somewhere, and the somewhere it starts from is not itself
democracy, is a simple historical truth. The question then is can the democratic process overcome
its own history, its pre-existing structural inequality, and transform itself, from an institution
dominated by rich white males with law degrees to one that includes class, gender, and ethnic
diversity. And not merely in its functionaries or figure heads, but in its actual discourse and
outcomes. Empirically the answer right now seems to be hell no.

Underlying much of Phillips article, and seemingly much of the work on deliberative democracy,
and political philosophy (in its Rawlsian liberal apologia mode) is a kind of strange and seemingly
completely unwarranted faith in the capacity of democracy to somehow keep itself alive and solve
all the problems that confront it. I find this quite strange, the tone is off, there is much less talk
about the dangerous, dynamic and precarious position of democracy (universal suffrage came to
my country in about 1965 and has been substantially eroded for people existing under terrorism
laws or as refugees since). It is more like a theorising of something that is very stable and enduring
and might just need a bit of tweaking to make it more properly liberal and inclusive. It seems to
me that just the opposite is true, and that western democracies are constantly teetering on the
brink of becoming farces for the amusement of hedge fund managers and the super rich, and sans
a credible marxist critique I wonder why there is not more vitriol and incisiveness in political
philosophy. I think maybe e there must a be a lot of undiagnosed Autism in political philosophy

If several groups cannot reach accord and resort to arms, then democracy obviously fails in that
case. In countries where such wars have not recently been seen it is not obvious that functioning
democracy has had much to do with it, rather material wealth and a stability and general
compatibility of majority interests have laid the ground. That it may be possible to integrate the
interests of rich, white, educated women with the interests of rich, white, educated men is still an
open question. That it might be possible to have a functioning democracy where a tiny minority of
persons become richer and richer while a diverse majority of persons of different genders,
ethnicities, cultures and educations become hideously poor seems vastly less likely. Throw in huge
waves of forced migrations due to climate change and the robustness of democracy becomes not a

theoretical question but a practical one, one that usually gets answered by recourse to SWAT
teams and water canons.

Phillips tacitly makes the same admission; Robust democracy then becomes possible only when
economic inequalities are substantially reduced (Phillips 2006 p179) Amen.

So the question is thus framed; how can diversity be properly represented in a functioning
democracy? First economic disparity of the great majority of all participants, including those from
minorities must be ameliorated and minimised or democracy will simply fail and plutocracy will
occur in all but name. Then a continual affirmative action to create a politics of diverse presences
both in presentation and discourse, must be enacted to overcome the historical accident of landed
white gentry forming our particular democracy in the first place. Deliberation then functions to
maintain and renovate the representation of diversity in as much as rational discourse truly leads to
the good, something that is necessarily beyond the capacity of persons to determine, rationality
being the only instrument we could determine it with, although presumably, per Goedel and Turing,
there would be some scope to infer the limitations of the rational to achieve the good due to
compatibility and completeness.

Cohen describes one vision of such a democratic ideal (Cohen 1997 p69-70) enunciated by Rawls,
who argued that the political liberties must have fair value ensuring this fair value might, for
example, require public funding of political parties and restrictions on private political spending, as
well as progressive tax measures that serve to limit inequalities of wealth and to ensure that the
political agenda is not controlled by the interests of economically and socially dominant groups

(Rawls, quoted in Cohen 1997 p69). The hilarity of this quote in a post Citizens United and Global
Financial Crisis world should be lost on nobody.

Cohen summarises the Rawlsian conception of a deliberative democracy as follows:

When properly conducted, then, democratic politics involves public deliberation focused on the
common good, requires some form of manifest equality among citizens, and shapes the identity
and interests of citizens in ways that contribute to the formation of a public conception of common
good. (Cohen 1997 p69)

It is worth remarking that we can easily conceive of the rational self interest of minorities as being
compatible with conceptions of the common good, in fact the overcoming of structural inequality,
instantiated in the oppression of particular minorities can be viewed as precisely the most
important renovations to the structure of democracy possible, hence the civil rights movement can
be viewed from one perspective as the effort of a minority to achieve a self interest, it can also be
seen as a substantive reform to the very fabric of the democracy in which it occurred.

Cohens argument contra Rawls is not in the conception of the ideal itself, but rather in the question
of what value holds primacy, for Rawls it is fairness, and the ideal democracy flows from that
concept, but for Cohen democracy itself takes the position of a foundational value. (Cohen 1997

Cohen thinks that the conception underlying an ideal democracy is not fundamentally one of
fairness, but rather an ideal about how public deliberation can best be constructed to reflect and
achieve that fairness.

How do Cohens conceptions relate to the actual question of diversity in democracy? In a practical
sense not at all. is there any reason to think that deliberation would not consist in efforts to
disguise personal or class advantage as the common advantage? asks Cohen (1997 p76). His
answer is laughable; I stipulated that the members of the association are committed to resolving
their differences through deliberation, and thus to providing reasons that sincerely expect to be
persuasive to others who share that commitment. In short, this stipulation rules out the problem.

So Cohen thinks that if he ruled the world then he would make deliberative democracy work by
stipulating that it be sincere and deliberative. Unfortunately this doesnt seem to answer his own
question, we surely would expect, in any actual instance of a deliberative democracy that is not a
theoretical toy, that it would be inhabited by people, like us, capable of insincerity, lying,
manipulation and general bad faith, and that such people would purse their own ends. One cant
simply stipulate that a democracy be made up of angelic beings from outer space and say that
saves the problem. Ridiculous.
Cohen has a second, less ridiculous argument, one that amounts to an expectation or faith in the
effectiveness of rationality publicly expressed to have a formative influence on both the conception
of the good and on the belief in that conception in the minds of those who must deliberate on the
issues. Ultimately, for deliberative democracy to work, those diverse elements that participate must

share a kind of common faith that rational public debate, resolved by recourse to a vote, is the most
reliable method of achieving there public good. That the majority of persons believe this in
contemporary democracies is to be hoped for, that they aught to, or that they have any fundamental
reason to do so beyond historical accident is an open question.

Cohens list of critiques of his conception of deliberative democracy ends with the one I think is
most cogent; Irrelevance. (Cohen 1997 p84) Cohens concept of a deliberative ideal simply finds
no purchase in any real existing democracy, it is not even an aspirational ideal, it is simply an
obscure toy model of what a classroom UN club might look like, and it fails to grapple with any
specific example of what a problem or substantial transformation, originating in diversity, might look
like. The civil rights movement, feminism, terrorism, there are a large number of recent examples of
what diversity looks like in its interaction with established democratic institutions, and Cohens
picture sails by them at a level of abstraction just high enough to miss them all completely.
Cohens way of thinking in fact instantiates pricelessly the kind of absence of a diversity political
presence that Phillips was critiquing.

30 years before Cohen wrote, and nearly 50 years ago now, Marcuse said that A comfortable,
smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilisation (Marcuse
1967 p19). This reasonable unfreedom certainly still prevails within post-Rawlsian political
philosophy, as evidenced by the happily rational, abstract and manifestly masculine conceptions of
Cohen and the hesitant, deferential criticism of Phillip. Until a diversity of voice is possible within
the framework of political philosophy, it seems unlikely that an adequate philosophical answer to
the question of precisely that diversity could be forthcoming from within its confines.


Joshua Cohen, Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy in James Bohman & William Rehg (eds)
Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, (MIT Press, 1997)

Herbert Marcuse, One dimensional Man (Sphere Books 1964)

Anne Phillips, Dealing with Difference: A Politics of Ideas or a Politics of Presence? in Goodin &
Pettit (eds) Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology (Blackwell 2006)