Democracy and Association

Democracy and Association

Democracy and Association

Democracy and Association


"The first political theorist to attempt this sort of comprehensive analysis, Mark Warren takes a welcome, generous view of the democratic consequences of associational life. He defines his purposes carefully and fulfills them admirably. His critical moves are sharp and almost always dead on, and his excellent use of social theory is surprisingly rare among political theorists."--Nancy Rosenblum, Brown University, author of "Membership and Morals: The Personal Uses of Pluralism in America"

"This is a well-organized and executed discussion of a neglected aspect of an important topic. Contemporary political theory is replete with claims about the democratic effects of associational life, but this book is the first attempt to distinguish analytically the various possible democratic effects of associational life and, in particular, to hypothesize how each effect is related to specific forms and instances of associational life. As such, it is an original and genuine contribution to our developing understanding,of the associational bases of democratic politics."--Stuart White, Jesus College, Oxford University


There is a growing literature on association, much of it concerned directly or indirectly with its relationship to democracy. At least three broad kinds of issues now divide the literature. The first concerns whether or not it is possible to generalize about associations at all, given the diversity of their kinds and purposes. I shall argue that it is possible to generalize, if we make the right distinctions. The second has to do with the kinds of normative purposes that are attributed to association. Here I consider three: communitarian, liberal, and democratic, distinguished by their dominant purposes: community, freedom, and political self-governance. My analysis follows those who have placed the democratic effects of association in the foreground—a topic to which I return in chapter 4. This choice, however, should not be understood as implying a normative commitment to democracy rather than to freedom or community. No general trade-offs exist at this level of abstraction; conflicts tend to be specific, and should be treated as such. So, initially, my choice should be understood as a hypothetical: if we want to know what associations do for democracy, then we should foreground the question of their democratic effects. We should then be able to see how enabling the democratic effects of associations might affect their contributions to community and freedom—although I do not address these issues systematically in this book. Finally, democratic approaches are distinguished by the social theories within which they are embedded. In particular, Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America has been centrally important but sometimes overwhelming. For this reason, I shall comment upon the strengths and weaknesses of the Tocquevillian paradigm, and suggest how we might go beyond it.

For and against Theoretical Generalization

A remarkable feature of much of the recent literature is the very general nature of claims for the desirable effects of association. John Rawls, for example, conceives of associations as venues for a generalized “morality of association,” which includes the virtues of “justice and fairness, fidelity and trust, integrity and impartiality,” virtues that will tend to be enforced . . .

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