Last time we covered the legal-theoretic considerations that give rise to a principle of democracy based on procedural deliberation. Since law is not a self-enclosed system, we need to consider the implications of the communicative process of opinion- and will-formation from actual social interactions. In this entry, we will cover some ideas of the theory of pluralism that tries to link the liberal normative model of democracy to “realist” approaches, then we will cover economic theory of democracy and the system-theoretic approach to democracy, and identify their shortcoming. In order to solve the shortcomings of current sociological theories of democracy, it will be necessary to introduce something that tries to solve the Hobbesian problem (i.e. how can self-interest yield a motivation to consider the interest of the whole society?), this something will prove to be the public sphere. Then, next entry will talk about the two-track model of deliberative democracy and will, hopefully, be the last post of the series. For this entry I will base the considerations on Jürgen Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms (Chapter 8. Sections 8.1 and 8.2).
The early theory of pluralism considered the political and administrative power to be manifestations of social power. In this manner, organized social interests translated into political power through competition and elections, a political power that is then constitutionally allocated in binding decisions, that affect parliamentary will-formation and organized social interests, thus acting in full circle. However, there is an assumption that social power is more or less equally distributed between social organizations (there is a circulation of power). In addition, the aggregation of individual interests withing large organizations assume equal opportunities, influence by members of such organizations, and, in turn, a compromise of organizations that is pushed by members. As these assumptions are falsified, this theory of pluralism becomes a theory of political elites. These political elites work as an administrative system that operates independently of society and procures the necessary mass loyalty to establish policy (i.e. is not steered by society but has sensitivity for its interests). However this is also not the case, as the administrative system has narrow limits of operation and limited steering, restricted by the unpredictability of voters. It is thus, that two derivatives of the theory of pluralism arise, both trying to incorporate a “realist” view to the liberal model (although reducing, perhaps too far, the normative content): these are the economic theory of democracy and the systems theory approach to democracy. The economic theory of democracy asserts that voters translate their enlightened self-interest when casting ballots, and elected officials exchange these votes against the offer of specific policies. This somehow produces rational decisions and, according to Habermas, most recent revisions say that institutionalized procedure can foster “responsible” political action. On the other hand, systems theory views society as a network of autonomous subsystems. With this assertion, only modes of operation are decisive for intersystem interactions. As society is not centered in the state, opinion- and will-formation is dominated by party competition where citizens are incorporated in the functionalized political system. Somehow, this combination of autonomous subsystems (the political system one of them) allow an integration of society as a whole. These theories were revised by John Elster and Helmut Willke, respectively, the former considering rational choice theory and the latter expanding the considerations of systems theory.
Jon Elster tries to solve the problems of the economic theory of democracy by using rational choice theory, which still revolves around the Hobbesian problem (i.e. how can strategic actors are capable of stabilizing their social relations solely on the basis of rational decisions). In addition, some considerations need to be accounted for while using rational choice theory: opportunities and preferences change in the political process, polled preferences might differ from actual preferences, and it is unrealistic to assume that all social behaviour is strategic action. The last point implies that, besides strategic action, there must be norm-regulated action. However, this norm-regulated action is defined as a form of action that only differs from strategic action by the lack of an orientation to expected consequences, a definition that either implies moral norms to not have an obligaory character or that they are binding norms without rational character. Given that this proposition implies that the rational agreement becomes bargaining with norms as empirical constraints or irrational self-bindings, Elster introduces ‘argumentation’ alongside ‘bargaining’. Furthermore, originally, parliamentary opinion- and will-formation cannot be adequately explained on the empiricist premises of a balance of interests steered exclusively by power. From Elster’s Storr Lectures (Arguing and Bargaining in the Constitutional Assembles of Philadelphia and Paris), Habermas asserts that ‘the will of the constitutional lawgiver’ is to enact a system of rights with the intention of guaranteeing the citizens’ political autonomy by institutionalizing an impartial opinion- and will-formation. This supports the assumption that the discursive observable political communication is a standard for effective procedural reason.
On the other hand, systems theory asserts that, a fortiori, communicative power is impotent, viz. the political system should be able to forego independent sources of legitimate law. Habermas discusses Helmut Willke’s attempt to construct a modern system-theoretic version of the Hegelian Ständestaat. As such, the political system is one of many subsystems, the ‘state’ is the guarantor of a neocorporatist social integration. There is no perception of society as a whole, so there is no resolution of society’s problems, but the subsystems become autonomous with a code-specific language. With this view, legitimacy becomes a matter of the political subsystem, and Willke translates the problem of legitimacy to a ‘total system rationality’ defined through a politically mediated process. This requires a ‘supervisory’ state, i.e., a society that would be both integrated by, and under the guardianship of, an intersystemic balance; which is established by three proposals: non-hierarchical bargaining systems (an options approach to steer a given system), this approach avails itself ‘as a catalyst for self-monitored modifications’, and constitutional democracy is transposed from persons to systems. Therefore, conversation is no longer based on norms, values, and interests, but on the goal of enhancing systemic self-reflection. However, Habermas identifies problems with these proposals: the Hobbesian problem becomes analogous to constructing an intersubjectively shared world from the egological achievement of trascendental monads, bound to the grammar of the transfer of comprehensible information and, thus, requiring of a new common language; there is no system with the ability to supervise other systems, therefore, law is no longer anchored in an individualistic system of rights and, given that the citizens are represented as members of subsystems, conflict arises ‘between the neocorporatistically negotiated policies and the constitutional protection of underorganized parts of the population at the periphery of society’, viz. the systems must become paternalistic (thus, endangering legitimacy); and the steering knowledge is provided by experts, but the normative character of the political problems cannot be overlooked. From these objections, it becomes evident that the politically mediated process cannot be done independently with respect to the political public sphere and the parliamentary will-formation.
The problem of intersystemic communication necessary for opinion- and will-foration requires of a common language that reflects the context of the lifeworld (i.e. “real life”). Since autonomous subsystems are not capable of dealing with the tasks of social integration, a system-theoretic approach of constitutionalization for the different spheres of society. As it is the case with Elster’s rational choice theoretic approach, the system-theoretic view requires some sort of communicative action to achieve opinion- and will-formation. This ‘network of communicative actions’ is formed by the lifeworld, where society and specialized systems interact by a common language of law, which translates the special codes of the autopoietic systems into ordinary communication and vice versa.
Habermas uses Bernhard Peters’ model from Die Integration moderner Gesellschaften (The Integration of Modern Societies) to explain the establishment of constitutionally regulated circulation of power. this model involves an administrative institutionalized center of policy making, an inner periphery of autonomous institutions, and an outer periphery that branches into ‘customers’ and ‘suppliers’. Policy is implemented by the networks between public agencies and private organization through bargaining processes; and by groups, associations, etc., that attempt to influence the political process in a rather normative point instead of from particular interests. These latter groups belong to a public sphere that forms the periphery of the process of communication and decision making in constitutional systems. It is Peters the one that argues that legitimacy depends on opinion- and will-formation at the periphery, which does so by going through democratic and constitutional procedures.
We should not, however, ignore the fact that countercirculation of power serves to relieve the burden of the complexity of the official circulation of power. It is necessary to consider that the central element of the political system goes according to routine, but also that this routine can be changed by the periphery. This implies two modes of operation for posing and solving problems: normal and extraordinary. Habermas notes that these modes of operation can only avert an illegitimate independence of social and administrative powers only to the extent that the periphery has some set of capabilities and the ocassion to exercise them. The latter requirement is easily solved procedurally, whereas the former places a good part of the expectations of deliberative politics on the periphery (since it requires capacity to identify and thematize problems and introduce them into the political system). Habermas proposes that in order to satisfy these expectations, networks of noninstitutionalized public communication should make possible some sort of spontaneous processes of opinion formation. These public spheres, then, require a rationalized lifeworld. It follows, that a public sphere will satisfy the normative expectation of deliberative politics only by a procedural informal discursive element.