Praesidium

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GPTW: Defining the Demos

This afternoon I'm presenting at the Graduate Political Theory Workshop on the appropriate boundaries of the demos. Abstract follows:

Democracy is an inclusive ideal but, until recently, little attention has been paid to who should be included. Democratic practice takes constituencies, such as the nation-state, for granted, while democratic theory has little to say on the topic. Among those who have explicitly addressed the issue (Arrhenius, Dahl, and Goodin) a popular answer has been the ‘all-affected principle’, which claims everyone affected by a decision should have a say in making it. This raises several well-known problems, such as defining who is relevantly affected.

This paper argues that the all-affected principle effectively gets things back to front. I argue that it is important to understand democracy as a system of collective agency, not simply equal respect for each person as a moral patient. Since not all patients are agents, this in itself suggests that not all with interests at stake should be enfranchised. I go on to discuss the importance of democracy in allowing us to impose costs and benefits on each other in order to achieve coordination in ways that are, in the long-run, presumptively beneficial to all. While any given agent may lose from any given decision, all have reason to comply to the system as a whole because, provided that it is fair, it not only ensures coordination but gives them a chance to have their way in future. The collective decision procedure therefore allows some members of the demos to impose costs on other members of the demos as if they were parts of a collective agent. This power is, however, limited to imposing burdens on other members of the demos, not outsiders.

Agents are normally responsible for the consequences of their actions and so, I suggest, it is for the demos conceived of as a collective agent – what a group do, the group is responsible for. The group are legitimately entitled to distribute internal costs according to their own mechanisms of justice and democracy, but they are not thereby entitled to impose costs on outsiders. Collective agency is therefore limited by something like Mill’s harm principle – the demos are not entitled to negatively affect outsiders through their agency, and if they do are presumably liable to pay compensation. Whereas Goodin conceives of such reparations as an inferior substitute for enfranchising those others, however, I argue it is the ideal. We do not think you are entitled to a say in whatever I do if it may affect you, merely that I am debarred from negatively affecting (harming) you in certain ways. Similarly, the demos is not required to give any affected outsiders influence in its decisions, simply not to inflict certain setbacks on those outsiders (or to compensate them), because they are not automatically compensated by being part of the democratic distribution of benefits and burdens. I conclude that being affected does not entitle one to influence in decisions and the boundaries of the demos must be settled prior to democratic decision.

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