A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Theory


Warren, M.E. (2017). “A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Theory”. In American Political Science Review, 111 (1), 39-53. New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved January 11, 2023 from https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055416000605

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ISSN: 1537-5943

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pdf file https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/136610C8C040C3D92F041BB2EFC3034C/S000305542000009Xa.pdf/agenda-seeding-how-1960s-black-protests-moved-elites-public-opinion-and-voting.pdf

Type of work: Article (academic)




Over the last few decades, democratic theory has grown dramatically in its power and sophistication, fueled by debates among models of democracy. But these debates are increasingly unproductive. Model-based strategies encourage theorists to overgeneralize the place and functions of ideal typical features of democracy, such as deliberation or elections. Here I sketch an alternative strategy based on the question: What kinds of problems does a political system need to solve to count as “democratic”? I suggest three general kinds: it should empower inclusions, form collective agendas and wills, and have capacities to make collective decisions. We can view common practices such as voting and deliberating as means for addressing these problems, and theorize institutional mixes of practices that would maximize a political system's democratic problem-solving capacities. The resulting theories will be both normatively robust and sufficiently fine-grained to frame democratic problems, possibilities, and deficits in complex polities.