Discourse and Democracy   /   Fall 2004   /    Report From The Field

REPORT: What Would the Public Think?

An Experiment in Deliberative Democracy

Christopher McKnight Nichols

Democratic forms of government demand the active engagement of citizens. In turn, this means thoughtful assessment of issues. Yet what form this deliberation should take is not obvious. A host of political philosophers dedicated to democratic practices, from J. S. Mill to Alexander Hamilton, openly wondered whether broad citizen commitment is actually beneficial to a democracy. They desired freedom of thought and discussion yet feared too much “populism” as being vulnerable to demagoguery. Others, ranging from John Locke to James Madison, saw an expansive engagement of the people and their interests as critical to any democratic national project. They sought an educated electorate capable of common-sense wisdom. The ongoing challenge for democracy revolves around this long-standing dispute.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).