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Politicizing deliberative democracy : strategic speech in deliberative systems Calvert, Aubin


When using language to resolve conflicts and make decisions, people access democratic resources inherent in the practice of communication. Making a claim implicitly appeals to another’s capacity to agree to that claim autonomously—without being coerced or bought, and based on considerations he or she takes to be valid. Deliberative democracy describes political arrangements that harness this potential as the basis for collective decision-making. To the extent that it empowers individuals, however, actors have incentives to use language strategically to influence the very judgments deliberative democrats hope will be governed by carefully weighed reasons. In political contexts, language is often a tool for political ends, bypassing rather than engaging capacities for autonomous judgment. Deliberative democratic theories respond mostly by imposing the normative condition that deliberative speech should not be strategic. But the cost of this normative line is to depoliticize the theory, since it fails to engage much—even most—of the universe of speech in politics. Where democratic institutions channel politics—characterized by conflict and competition—into communication, we should expect speech to be strategic. Yet it is still possible for such speech to underwrite democratic autonomy. To establish a better understanding of strategic speech and its implications for democracy, I develop an analytic framework for conceptualizing the force of language. Under the model of communicative influence, the democratic implications of strategic language use depend not on intentions, but on how language produces pragmatic consequences, shaping the processes by which actors reason towards judgment and action. The model generates propositions about what common features of political communication—narratives, loaded words, and exaggeration, among others—entail for the quality of political judgments. It also systematizes the specific anti-democratic hazards strategic speech that result from the frame-based, subject-based, and institutional ecologies of discourse that condition communicative influence. A democratic theory with analytic capacity around strategic speech can identify institutional interventions into these ecologies that promote autonomous judgment by targeting these specific hazards of strategic speech, without trying to work against the incentives and motivations that make problems political. The result is a politicized theory of deliberative democracy.

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