By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Glimpses of the Deliberative Public

The often tumultuous, always unstable democratic urge does not introduce a workable notion of the people, or of the public interest…. It leaves behind the underlying conditions it found: a political economy of self-seeking interests pushing ahead within a complex welter of political rules that advantage some citizens, disadvantage others, and seem almost invisible to all.

James A. Morone, The Democratic Wish

American government embodies different political traditions. In the view of the historian James Morone, the clash between Thomas Jefferson's democratic populism and James Madison's liberal republicanism has continued through two centuries of political debate. Morone argues that American government embodies the Madisonian vision, yet the public periodically acts upon a “democratic wish” for “reform and change, a legitimate, populist counter to the liberal status quo. ” When successful, democratic reform begins with a political stalemate, in which existing institutions and elites thwart any efforts at change. Different social groups then answer a call for the people to come forward, and these diverse groups converge on a single set of ideas or symbols of change. The resulting institutional changes create the image of a united public, but that soon “evaporates into the reality of classes and interests scrapping for partisan advantage…. When the people and their consensus fail to materialize, the aspirations of the democratic wish are done in. ” The new institutions, however, remain. The new political configuration may temporarily break up the preexisting stalemate, but the fundamental Madisonian rules remain the same—“a political economy of self-seeking interests pushing ahead within a complex welter of political rules that advantage some citizens, disadvantage others, and seem almost invisible to all. ” 1

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