Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy vol:49 issue:3 pages:265-289
How does public discussion contribute to the reasonableness with which power is exercised in a democracy? Contemporary answers to this question (such as formulated by Rawls or Habermas), are often based upon two interconnected preconceptions. These are, 1. the idea that the value of public discussion lies primarily in the fact that citizens can reach a reasonable consensus through argumentation and discussion and, 2. the belief that the exercise of power is legitimate only if it is determined by a reasonable consensus among citizens. In this sense, ‘reasonable consensus among citizens’ eliminates, under ideal conditions, the ‘autonomy’ of the exercise of power. However, these ideals of democracy appear to conflict with certain aspects of democratic society; aspects, moreover, which we tend to value quite highly. I therefore advance an alternative account of the reasonableness of power in democratic societies; one which acknowledges both the characteristically unlimited scope of public discussion in democratic society and the fact that such discussion rarely or perhaps even never ends in a general consensus. In order to elucidate the democratic character of society we must explain the relationship between discussion and power in such a way that we understand both the need for discussion and the necessity of an autonomous exercise of power.