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The Quasi-Sovereign People: Public Opinion and the Challenges Facing Deliberative Democracy


Deliberative democracy has become the dominant framework for theorizing the political

relationship between citizens and the state. In particular, many have turned to this conception

of democratic politics in debating the proper role that public opinion should play in the broad

scope of politics, while also comparing these aspirations to empirical democratic realities. This dissertation considers and challenges optimistic accounts of the place for deliberative public opinion in contemporary democratic politics. The argument which emerges alleges that deliberative theorists have failed in defending the theory from critiques of inconsistency and/or incoherence. In preparing the critique, I first locate deliberative democracy within the historical outlines of political theory more generally. I then describe generational statements of the theory and accompanying critiques, drawing upon empirical literature which provides a sobering portrait of the inefficacy of the average (non-deliberative) citizen. The upshot of the discussion suggests that the twin goals of obtaining a ‘deliberative’ and ‘democratic’ political culture confront dim prospects. I draw upon recent debates revolving around the ‘Systemic Turn’ to suggest that deliberative democracy risks running its course as a useful theory of political life. I conclude by considering whether deliberative democracy can be salvaged as a regulatory ideal as it becomes married to political realism, given changing political contexts and socio-political malleability.

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