Democracy and Disagreement (Paperback)
  • Democracy and Disagreement (Paperback)

Democracy and Disagreement (Paperback)

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Paperback 432 Pages
Published: 21/01/1998
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The din and deadlock of public life in America—where insults are traded, slogans proclaimed, and self-serving deals made and unmade—reveal the deep disagreement that pervades our democracy. The disagreement is not only political but also moral, as citizens and their representatives increasingly take extreme and intransigent positions. A better kind of public discussion is needed, and Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson provide an eloquent argument for “deliberative democracy” today. They develop a principled framework for opponents to come together on moral and political issues.

Gutmann and Thompson show how a deliberative democracy can address some of our most difficult controversies—from abortion and affirmative action to health care and welfare—and can allow diverse groups separated by class, race, religion, and gender to reason together. Their work goes beyond that of most political theorists and social scientists by exploring both the principles for reasonable argument and their application to actual cases. Not only do the authors suggest how deliberative democracy can work, they also show why improving our collective capacity for moral argument is better than referring all disagreements to procedural politics or judicial institutions. Democracy and Disagreement presents a compelling approach to how we might resolve some of our most trying moral disagreements and live with those that will inevitably persist, on terms that all of us can respect.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674197664
Number of pages: 432
Weight: 631 g
Dimensions: 235 x 162 mm


Democracy and Disagreement, by two well-known philosophers, makes a significant contribution to the debates currently plaguing us… [It is] intellectually satisfying. Gutmann and Thompson confront the culture wars head on, asking how we can deliberate our way through our disagreements. Their answers are thoughtful, original, and powerful… What gives the book so much power is not just that it thoughtfully defines the principles that should guide moral argument. Gutmann and Thompson go on to apply their framework for moral discussion to some of the most difficult and controversial questions facing Americans today, including affirmative action, health-care rationing and abortion… They do not always succeed, but they provide a stunning model of how to conduct serious moral discussion in the face of fundamental disagreement… Everyone who considers himself a responsible citizen should read Democracy and Disagreement… It actually might help us resolve our current moral crises. - Suzanna Sherry, Washington Post

In Democracy and Disagreement, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson go a long way towards filling the gap [between proceduralist and constitutional democrats]. The co-authors provide an appealing and yet not entirely unrealistic standard—called ‘deliberative democracy’—to evaluate the workings of ‘actually-existing’ democracies. This book, despite its flaws, is a landmark contribution to democratic theory. It should help to set the terms for moral debate on democratic ideals for many years to come. Its core idea is simple: when democratic citizens disagree with each other about public policy, they should continue to reason together in order to reach mutually acceptable decisions, rather than resort to power politics or interest-group bargaining. The complex part is the debate over the moral principles which should guide political argument in democratic systems. No one else has developed a systematic, book-length argument in this area. Moreover, the co-authors use examples from everyday, real-life politics to make their case. - Daniel A. Bell, Times Literary Supplement

In Democracy and Disagreement, a collaborative effort that itself represents the product of deliberative accommodation, Gutmann and Thompson lay the theoretical foundation for their political vision… [Their] study attempts to link political theory and practice, using relevant and often compelling case studies to illustrate the implications of their philosophical principles… Using the standards of reciprocity, publicity, and accountability for the conditions of deliberation and the guidelines of basic liberty, basic opportunity, and fair opportunity for its content, they offer a thoughtful and methodical analysis of recent and ongoing debates to illustrate their theory… Their book represents a thoughtful and important step towards valorizing and normalizing rational and open discussion in public policy-making. - Chimène Keitner, Boston Book Review

In a new and meditative book on America’s social conflicts, Democracy and Disagreement, Princeton professor Amy Gutmann and Harvard’s Dennis Thompson suggest that citizens owe each other a more deliberative approach to governance, where moral disagreements like affirmative action are not winner-take-all matters. - John Balzar, Los Angeles Times

In Democracy and Disagreement Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson take as their point of departure the inescapability of moral conflict—stemming from value pluralism and incomplete human understanding as well as from scarcity and limited generosity—in political life. Their proposed response is not to eliminate such conflict (this would be impossible in theory and coercive in practice) but rather to find ways of narrowing the scope of disagreements and living with those that remain… Gutmann and Thompson have long championed the use of case studies as a spur to moral reflection on contested public policy problems. In this book, they successfully integrate the discussion of case studies into a broader theory of deliberative democracy. The result is a systematic account that should serve as the point of departure for further discussions. - William A. Galston, Ethics

This is a desperately relevant and much needed book… The authors’ message is cogent and cheering. Beginning with argument on the necessary persistence of moral and fundamental disagreement, they lead the reader through temperate and illuminating analyses of the virtues of reciprocity and publicity, the value, albeit limited, of utilitarianism, the application of the principle of liberty to the decent goal of personal integrity… The book is important reading. - International Minds

The authors’ defense of deliberative democracy represents a major contribution to the discussion of the best theory and practice of democracy… [Gutmann and Thompson] develop standards for judging the quality of democratic discourse. These ‘constitutional’ principles include requirements governing both the conditions (reciprocity, publicity, and accountability) and content (basic liberty, basic opportunity, and fair opportunity) of deliberative democracy. Numerous extended examples of the meaning and interactions of these principles temper the abstract quality of the complex and sophisticated analysis… Democracy and Disagreement is unsurpassed in the critical light it casts on the nature of democratic dialogue. - Choice

An imaginative program for recasting the conduct of American political dialogue. Gutmann…and Thompson…propound a theory called ‘deliberative democracy.’ With this, they say, moral arguments over issues such as whether the government should fund abortion or enforce affirmative action can acquire a depth beyond the usual sound-bite level… They examine the ethics of surrogate motherhood, children’s rights, preferential hiring, and other ticklish issues, offering deeply considered commentaries. All this makes for fascinating, engaged reading. - Kirkus Reviews

Any reader familiar with the previous work of Professors Gutmann and Thompson…will be pleased to see they have continued to collaborate on matters central to the vitality and resiliency of our republic… Gutmann and Thompson, in their focus on ‘deliberative democracy,’ offer a detailed diagnosis and persuasive prognosis of public debate and civic virtue in contemporary America. Presenting an alternative theory to the prevailing utilitarian perspective, the authors propose a model for public policymaking that must be taken seriously by citizens and public officials alike. - Library Journal

Anyone who is concerned with democratic theory and practice will greatly profit from reading Democracy and Disagreement. The analysis of the nature and function of deliberation in a democracy is, as one would expect from these two scholars, superb. - Robert A. Dahl, author of Democracy and Its Critics

Democracy and Disagreement will much raise the level of academic and public discussion of democracy—its nature and its possibilities. This is a thoroughly clear, fair, intelligent, reasonable book, with flashes of great insight. I do not think that it will be possible to discuss deliberative democracy, in the future, without reference to this book. - Cass R. Sunstein, author of The Partial Constitution

‘Deliberative democracy’ is a mere catchword until we are provided with a theoretical analysis of its terms and an account of its meaning in practice, in detail, in real time, in actual cases. That is what Gutmann and Thompson do in this book. With clarity and verve, they turn the catchword into an important critical instrument and political project. - Michael Walzer, author of Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

An original and fresh attempt to bring the best of contemporary moral and political philosophy to bear on many important contemporary disputes and to do so not with a view to establishing the ‘right answer’ on those issues, but with a view to showing how citizenry that is committed to deliberative democracy might approach them. - Alan Wertheimer, author of Exploitation

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