Democracy, legitimacy and reconciliation
This thesis aims to recover the central importance of the deliberative aspect of democracy which recent liberal theorising has neglected, and to capture common intuitions about the foundational nature of democratic institutions. The fundamental problem of political philosophy is that of justifying principles or institutions which can reconcile individuals and the political community on a moral basis. The use of political authority is morally legitimate when it is grounded upon such a reconciliation. Attempts to justify as legitimate a liberal constitutional framework are shown to fail, whether carried out on the basis of membership of a community, or as given by principles of justice, or on the grounds of utilitarianism or a perfectionist ideal. All these approaches must rely ultimately on a claim that there is or can be a consensus around some conception of morality or the good. However, none of them is entitled to claim that such a consensus can be reached without there already being in place a political process through which we can discover or construct a consensus, or find a way to go on when disagreement persists. The question then arises of how such a ground-level political framework can be justified and precisely what form it takes. The starting point is a notion of agents each with their own views about social and political issues. An argument is constructed from the logic of having such views to the conclusion that each agent has obligations to be prepared to participate in public discussion, and to accept democratic political decisions which are based upon such discussions. Failure to do so is self-undermining. Political legitimacy resides in the achievement of reconciling individuals to collective decisions. The practical implications of this notion of deliberative democracy for institutions and for individuals are drawn out.