Share |

Deliberative Democracy and a Vibrant Public Sphere

Preconditions to Good Politics and Good Governance

This article essentially discusses the necessity for widening the scope of electoral/representative democracy by discussing the process of deliberation and how that can lead to a better system of governance.


One of the key concepts that have been doing the rounds among political, administrative and academic circles in the last decade of the previous century and the first of this century is good governance.  One the face of it the concept seems self explanatory but is steeped in theoretical complexities and moral values and what complicates the situation is the regular aligning of the construct with electronic governance or e governance as it is more commonly called.  This association of good governance with e governance reduces the concept of good governance to the mere use of various technologies that are available to administrators, and in this context it is information technology, for the purpose of making governance more efficient.  A spanner is thrown into the works when the word good is used synonymously with electronic.  Good we should remember also incorporates into itself the ethical and moral subjects apart from efficiency while electronic is just the technology that is used to leverage data storage, data mining and data transparency to efficiently complete the task of governance.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed along with the question of the possibility of there being good governance when the politics behind it are not good at all.

Recently there has been an attempt at reconceptualizing democracy and moving it away from electoral politics into the public sphere where the issues are constantly debated.  Electoral politics based in representative democracy have not been producing the results that were expected of it mainly due to the renegade attitude of representatives and their becoming independent of their constituents that they are supposed to be representing.  This gap between the constituents and their representatives has been undermining the very idea and purpose of democracy.  In order to bridge the gap and make politics more meaningful deliberative democracy has been seen as the solution.

So the question then is what is deliberation and what is deliberative democracy?

Deliberation is an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions, and understandings. "Deliberative democracy" was originally coined by Joseph M. Bessette, in "Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government," in 1980, and he subsequently elaborated and defended the notion in "The Mild Voice of Reason" (1994). Others contributing to the notion of deliberative democracy include Jon Elster, Jürgen Habermas, David Held, Joshua Cohen, John Rawls, Amy Gutmann, Noëlle Mcafee, John Dryzek, Rense Bos, James Fishkin, Dennis Thompson, Benny Hjern, Hal Koch, Seyla Benhabib, Ethan Leib, David Estlund and Robert B. Talisse. Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, citizens influence--and can see the result of their influence on the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and their future. This approach is now becoming common. At the beginning of the 21st Century, democracy is in the midst of a particularly major shift in its development. All kinds of leaders are realizing that the traditionally distant relationship between citizens and government is inadequate for solving public problems. They are recognizing that the usual formats for decision-making often waste public resources, create unproductive conflict, and fail to tap citizen potential. They are attempting many different civic experiments - some successful, some not - to help citizens and governments work together more democratically and more effectively.

A burgeoning field of practitioners and researchers has formed to encourage, examine, and support this shift. They include public engagement consultants, dialogue specialists, conflict resolution practitioners, and academics from a wide range of disciplines. Though they come from many different vantage points, they all advocate deliberative democracy as an approach to public policy-making and problem-solving. The leaders who are launching these civic experiments are extremely diverse and largely disconnected from one another: they include mayors and city managers, school administrators, neighborhood activists, state and federal officials, and community organizers. They are focused mainly on involving citizens in a particular issue or decision; they may not even think of their work as civic or democratic. And until recently, the civic researchers and practitioners were segregated by their professional backgrounds and their attachments to particular models for deliberation. Overall, the people who are pioneering deliberative democracy are isolated from one another geographically and professionally, making it difficult for them to learn from each other or feel like they are part of a larger change.

Deliberation projects, including both temporary organizing efforts and permanent citizen structures are proliferating rapidly in North America, Western Europe, and many other parts of the world. The largest projects are now remarkable in scope, involving tens of thousands of citizens. Some efforts are exploring the enormous capacity of the Internet to distribute information, sustain far-flung networks, and make all kinds of expertise accessible to ordinary people. And while almost all of the projects a decade ago focused on local issues, there are a growing number of examples which have connected citizen voices to regional, state, and federal policy decisions.

Public deliberation can have many benefits within society. Among the most common claims are that public deliberation results in better policies, superior public education, increased public trust, and reduced conflict when policy moves to implementation. There is a growing inventory of methods to bring the public into decision-making processes at all levels around the world--from local government to multinational institutions like the World Bank. Working in groups as small as ten or twelve to larger groups of 3,000 or more, deliberative democracy simply requires that representative groups of ordinary citizens have access to balanced and accurate information, sufficient time to explore the intricacies of issues through discussion, and their conclusions are connected to the governing process.

So   it can be seen now that deliberative democracy, which is sometimes also called discursive democracy, is a form of democracy in which public deliberation is central to legitimate lawmaking. It adopts elements of both representative democracy and direct democracy and differs from traditional democratic theory in that deliberation, not voting, is the primary source of a law's legitimacy. Joshua Cohen, a student of John Rawls, most clearly outlined some conditions that he thinks constitute the root principles of the theory of deliberative democracy, in the article "Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy" in the book The Good Polity. He outlines five main features of deliberative democracy, which include:

1.         An ongoing independent association with expected continuation.

2.         The citizens in the democracy structure their institutions such that deliberation is the deciding factor in the creation of the institutions and the institutions allow deliberation to continue.

3.         A commitment to the respect of a pluralism of values and aims within the polity.

4.         The citizens consider deliberative procedure as the source of legitimacy, and prefer the causal history of legitimation for each law to be transparent and easily traceable to the deliberative process.

5.         Each member recognizes and respects other members' deliberative capacity.

            This can be construed as the idea that in the legislative process, we "owe" one another reasons for our proposals.

Cohen presents deliberative democracy as more than a theory of legitimacy, and forms a body of substantive rights around it based on achieving "ideal deliberation":

1.         It is free in two ways:

          A. The participants consider themselves bound solely by the results and preconditions of the deliberation. They are free from any authority of prior norms or requirements.

            B. The participants suppose that they can act on the decision made; the deliberative process is a sufficient reason to comply with the decision reached.

2.         Parties to deliberation are required to state reasons for their proposals, and proposals are accepted or rejected based on the reasons given, as the content of the very deliberation taking place.

3.         Participants are equal in two ways:

            A. Formal: anyone can put forth proposals, criticize, and support measures. There is no substantive hierarchy.

            B. Substantive: The participants are not limited or bound by certain distributions of power, resources, or pre-existing norms. "The participants…do not regard themselves as bound by the existing system of rights, except insofar as that system establishes the framework of free deliberation among equals."

4.         Deliberation aims at a rationally motivated consensus: it aims to find reasons acceptable to all who are committed to such a system of decision-making. When consensus or something near enough is not possible, majoritarian decision making is used.[1]

These are some of the rules that have been seen as being necessary for deliberative democracy to be of any consequence.  However, it should be remembered that these are not comprehensively the rules that decide the nature of deliberative democracy.  Since Cohen, other people have given their own rules and some have gone on to add to what he had to say.  Jurgen Habermas is the person of consequence here because he has been the one thinker who has successfully brought together the notion of the public sphere and communicative action for deliberative democracy to be more comprehensive than what it had otherwise been.  It is therefore necessary to have a look at Habermas and his work here.

The Nuremberg Trials were a key formative moment that brought home to Habermas the depth of Germany's moral and political failure under National Socialism. This experience was later reinforced when, as a graduate student interested in Heidegger's existentialism, he read the latter's reissued Introduction to Metaphysics, in which Heidegger had retained (or more accurately, reintroduced) an allusion to the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism.[2] When Habermas publicly called for an explanation from Heidegger, the latter's silence confirmed Habermas's conviction that the German philosophical tradition had failed in its moment of reckoning, providing intellectuals with the resources neither to understand nor to criticize National Socialism. This negative experience of the relation between philosophy and politics subsequently motivated his search for conceptual resources from Anglo-American thought, particularly its pragmatic and democratic traditions. In moving outside the German tradition, Habermas joined a number of young postwar intellectuals such as Karl-Otto Apel.[3]

Habermas completed his dissertation in 1954 at the University of Bonn, writing on the conflict between the absolute and history in Schelling's thought. He first gained serious public attention, at least in Germany, with the 1962 publication of his habilitation, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere), a detailed social history of the development of the bourgeois public sphere from its origins in the 18th century salons up to its transformation through the influence of capital-driven mass media. In his description of the salons we clearly see his interest in a communicative ideal that later would provide the core normative standard for his moral-political theory: the idea of inclusive critical discussion, free of social and economic pressures, in which interlocutors treat each other as equals in a cooperative attempt to reach an understanding on matters of common concern. As an ideal at the center of bourgeois culture, this kind of interchange was probably never fully realized; nonetheless, it was not mere ideology. As these small discussion societies grew into mass publics in the 19th century, however, ideas became commodities, assimilated to the economics of mass media consumption. Rather than give up on the idea of public reason, Habermas called for a socioinstitutionally feasible concept of public opinion-formation “that is historically meaningful, that normatively meets the requirements of the social-welfare state, and that is theoretically clear and empirically identifiable.”[4] Such a concept “can be grounded only in the structural transformation of the public sphere itself and in the dimension of its development”. [5] His concluding sketch of such a concept already contains in outline the two-level model of democratic deliberation he later elaborates in his mature work on law and democracy, Between Facts and Norms .

Habermas's interest in the political subsequently led him to a series of philosophical studies and critical-social analyses that eventually appeared in English in his Toward a Rational Society (1970) and Theory and Practice (1973). Whereas the latter consists primarily of reflections on the history of philosophy, the former represents an attempt to apply his emerging theory of rationality to the critical analysis of contemporary society, in particular the student protest movement and its institutional target, the authoritarian and technocratic structures that held sway in higher education and politics.

Habermas's critical reflection takes a nuanced approach to both sides of the social unrest that characterized the late sixties. Although sympathetic with students' demand for more democratic participation and hopeful that their activism harbored a potential for positive social transformation, he also did not hesitate to criticize its militant aspects, which he labeled self-delusory and “pernicious”. In his critique of technocracy—governance by scientific experts and bureaucracy—he relied on a philosophical framework that anticipates categories in his later thought, minus the philosophy of language he would work out in the 1970s. Specifically, Habermas sharply distinguished between two modes of action, “work” and “interaction,” which correspond to enduring interests of the human species.[6] The former includes modes of action based on the rational choice of efficient means, that is, forms of instrumental and strategic action, whereas the latter refers to forms of “communicative action” in which actors coordinate their behaviors on the basis of “consensual norms”. Habermas's distinction in effect appropriates the classical Aristotelian contrast between techne and praxis for critical social theory. The result is a distinctively Habermasian critique of science and technology as ideology: by reducing practical questions about the good life to technical problems for experts, contemporary elites eliminate the need for public, democratic discussion of values, thereby depoliticizing the population. The legitimate human interest in technical control of nature thus functions as an ideology—a screen that masks the value-laden character of government decisionmaking in the service of the capitalist status quo. Unlike Herbert Marcuse, who regarded that interest as specific to capitalist society, Habermas affirmed the technical control of nature as a genuinely universal species-interest; unlike Horkheimer and Adorno in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, the technical interest did not necessitate social domination[7].

Habermas defended this philosophical anthropology most fully in his Knowledge and Human Interests, the work that represents his first attempt to provide a systematic framework for critical social theory[8]. In it, Habermas develops a theory of “knowledge-constitutive interests” that are tied both to “the natural history of the human species” and to “the imperatives of the socio-cultural form of life,” but are not reducible to them. There are three knowledge-constitutive interests, each tied to a particular conception of science and social science. The first is the “technical interest,” the “anthropologically deep-seated interest” we have in the prediction and control of the natural environment. Positivism sees knowledge in these terms, and naturalistic accounts of human possibilities often regard human history only from this point of view. Second, there is the equally deep-seated “practical interest” in securing and expanding possibilities of mutual and self-understanding in the conduct of life. Finally, there is the “emancipatory interest” in overcoming dogmatism, compulsion, and domination.[9]

If each interest is constitutive of a form of knowledge, then we should expect to find for each a corresponding form of cultural-institutional realization, that is, organized modes of inquiry and knowledge-production. This seems to be plausible for the interests in control of nature and social understanding: the empirical-analytic sciences are oriented toward instrumental action and technical control under specified conditions, and the cultural-hermeneutic sciences presuppose and articulate modes of action-orienting inter-personal understanding that operate within socio-cultural forms of life and the grammar of ordinary language. In retrospect, Habermas's analysis of these two interests is limited by the concerns of the day. His distinction between the sciences that take nature as their object, and interpretive modes of inquiry that depend on communicative access to domains of human life, still has some plausibility. But his view of the natural sciences still had not fully absorbed the lessons of post-positivist science studies. Nor is it clear that prediction and control exhaust the interests that drive the natural sciences (e.g., the interest in the geologic past seems to involve more than technical control).

The status of the emancipatory interest, however, was problematic from the start. Habermas broadly identified it as the interest of reason as such, which underlies critical-reflective knowledge. However, Habermas soon realized he had conflated two forms of critical reflection: the critique that aims to unmask self-deception and ideology and the reflective articulation of the formal structures of knowledge. Moreover, the interest in emancipation does not clearly correspond to a specific science or form of institutionalized inquiry. Although Freudian psychology and Marxist social theory have such an interest, much if not most psychological and sociological inquiry does not have explicitly emancipatory aims, but rather is driven by interests in prediction and social understanding. Nor was it clear that psychoanalysis provided an apt model of liberatory reflection in any case, as critics pointed out how the asymmetries between patient and analyst could not represent the proper intersubjective form for emancipation. These deficits posed a challenge for Habermas that would guide a decades-long search for the normative and empirical basis of critique. Whatever the best path to the epistemic and normative basis for critique might be, it would have to pass a democratic test: that “in Enlightenment there are only participants”[10].

We can discern enduring features in Habermas's early attempt at a comprehensive model of social criticism. As a theory of rationality and knowledge, his theory of knowledge-constitutive interests is both pragmatic and pluralistic: pragmatic, inasmuch as human interests constitute knowledge; pluralistic, in that different forms of inquiry and knowledge emerge from different core interests. In Knowledge and Human Interests we can thus see the beginnings of a methodologically pluralistic approach to critical social theory, more on which below. Besides the problems described above, however, the analysis was hampered by a framework that still relied on motifs from a “philosophy of consciousness” fixated on the constitution of objects of possible experience—an approach that cannot do justice to the discursive dimensions of inquiry. In the 1970s Habermas set about a fundamental overhaul of his framework for critical theory, a process that culminated in his theory of communicative action.

The Theory of Communicative Action

Starting with Marx's historical materialism, large-scale macrosociological and historical theories have long been held to be the most appropriate explanatory basis for critical social science. However, such theories have two drawbacks for the critical project. First, comprehensiveness does not ensure explanatory power. Indeed, there are many such large-scale theories, each with their own distinctive and exemplary social phenomena that guide their attempt at unification. Second, a close examination of standard critical explanations, such as the theory of ideology, shows that such explanations typically appeal to a variety of different social theories. Habermas's actual employment of critical explanations bears this out. His criticism of modern societies turns on the explanation of the relationship between two very different theoretical terms: a micro-theory of rationality based on communicative coordination and a macro-theory of the systemic integration of modern societies through such mechanisms as the market. In concrete terms, this means that Habermas develops a two-level social theory that includes an analysis of communicative rationality, the rational potential built into everyday speech, on the one hand; and a theory of modern society and modernization, on the other. On the basis of this theory, Habermas hopes to be able to assess the gains and losses of modernization and to overcome its one-sided version of rationalization[11].

In communicative action, or what Habermas later came to call “strong communicative action” in “Some Further Clarifications of the Concept of Communicative Rationality”, speakers coordinate their action and pursuit of individual (or joint) goals on the basis of a shared understanding that the goals are inherently reasonable or merit-worthy. Whereas strategic action succeeds insofar as the actors achieve their individual goals, communicative action succeeds insofar as the actors freely agree that their goal (or goals) is reasonable, that it merits cooperative behavior. Communicative action is thus an inherently consensual form of social coordination in which actors “mobilize the potential for rationality” given with ordinary language and its telos of rationally motivated agreement.[12]

To support his conception of communication action, Habermas must specify the mechanism that makes rationally motivated agreement possible. Toward that end, he argues for a particular account of utterance meaning as based on “acceptability conditions,” by analogy to the truth-conditional account of the meaning of sentences. But rather than linking meaning with representational semantics, Habermas takes a pragmatic approach, analyzing the conditions for the illocutionary success of the speech act. According to the core principle of his pragmatic theory of meaning, “we understand a speech act when we know the kinds of reasons that a speaker could provide in order to convince a hearer that he is entitled in the given circumstances to claim validity for his utterance—in short, when we know what makes it acceptable”. With this principle, Habermas ties the meaning of speech acts to the practice of reason giving: speech acts inherently involve claims that are in need of reasons—claims that are open to both criticism and justification. In our everyday speech (and in much of our action), speakers tacitly commit themselves to explaining and justifying themselves, if necessary. To understand what one is doing in making a speech act, therefore, one must have some sense of the appropriate response that would justify one's speech act, were one challenged to do so. A speech act succeeds in reaching understanding when the hearer takes up “an affirmative position” toward the claim made by the speaker.  In doing so, the hearer presumes that the claims in the speech act could be supported by good reasons. When the offer made by the speaker fails to receive uptake, speaker and hearer may shift reflexive levels, from ordinary speech to “discourse”—processes of argumentation and dialogue in which the claims implicit in the speech act are tested for their rational justifiability as true, correct or authentic. Thus the rationality of communicative action is tied to the rationality of discourse[13].

The rationality of communicative action can bring about a significant change in the rationality of discourse.  It can create a new discourse or a new discursive process that brings people on to a platform of rational deliberation. This is what a deliberative democracy and a public sphere can do and should do.  Now if we were to take the case of India, is there any indication whatsoever, of a situation which is anywhere near what deliberative democracy should be?  On the contrary what we see in India are the ills of a representative democracy that has somehow lost its way.  In India, we know the various machinations and manipulations of voters that bring leaders into power as elected representatives.  It could be anything from distribution of money, distribution of liquor to plain intimidation that can bring a person into power.  Over and above that if one sees the performance of the elected representatives it is very clear that what we have today is a mockery of democracy rather than democracy.  Otherwise how will one explain the fact that pan Andhra Pradesh political parties like the Congress and the Telugu Desam have people in their ranks (Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly) clamouring for both separate Telangana and United Andhra Pradesh at the same time?  What do these parties stand for?  Are they mere aggregation of individuals? 


Given the fact that political leadership in the country by and large consists of lumpen elements, it is difficult to believe that only electoral politics and a democracy based only in them can find solutions to the problems of this country, be they demands for separate statehoods or corruption or anything else.  I do not want to be misunderstood here.  Electoral politics cannot be done away with.  But in themselves, they are inadequate.  Deliberative democracy has to come into the picture in order to question the wrong doings of elected leaders and also to suggest appropriate amendments to various failed public policies. Most problems of the country today are the doing of elected representatives, so to expect them to solve them is akin to expecting a thief to catch a thief.  


However, it is not enough to only state the obvious.  One will also have to find the reasons why the nature of politics in India is what it is.  In order to understand that, one will have to look into the origins of representative or liberal democracy.  It is not unusual for even teachers of political science to confuse liberal philosophy with liberal democracy. It is usually this confusion that leads to misplaced opinions on the nature of democracy and its operation. I would like to locate this particular discussion in the context of how democracy is perceived in India and the problems that are associated with that perception. In fact, I would like to premise my present argument in one of the aspects of the previous post and also another one where I talked about the political will of the people combined with economic necessity. One of the big problems that exists in India today is a concentration on all things political while neglecting or ignoring the economic aspect. In fact, the moment one invokes the economic category most are happy to brand that as Marxist or Communist thinking. Nothing can be farther from the truth. If one were to look at the philosophies of John Locke and Adam Smith, they have been associated with the beginnings of liberal philosophy. And in this philosophy it is strikingly evident that economy and economic well being is of paramount importance.


The work of Adam Smith usually gets categorized as economics. By doing so the philosophical and political dimensions of his work are ignored. In the case of John Locke exactly the opposite is done. He is primarily categorized as political thinker with smatterings of economic thinking reduced to his defence of private property. However, these days it is well known that both fit into the category of classical political economists.  Now that the category is invoked let me use this opportunity to clarify that political economy is not to be associated with Marx and Marxism alone. Marx only took the perceptions of free market economy that were used by Smith and Locke, turned them upside down in order to construct the stateless community. The stateless community of Marx can be seen in substance as the same as the free market. Marx felt that from within the confines of liberal philosophy and liberal democracy the goal could not be reached[14]. Therefore, he suggested the communist society as 'viable'alternative. But that is digressing from the question on hand. Liberal philosophy establishes an indelible link between private property and the well being of citizens. Its basis becomes even more obvious when it is seen in conjunction with the idea of the 'protestant ethic' as described by Max Weber. Weber opined that Protestantism in Christianity removed the intermediary which was the church in the process of identification of noble and valuable members of society[15]. When faced with this situation, people looked to the proving of their ability and productivity through private property accumulation. So a person with large private property was a reference point for everyone else; a person who reached his status through sheer hard work and perseverance.


The conflation of the protestant ethic with liberal philosophy shows the direction that Western Society especially in the Anglo-phone parts of Europe and later the United States of America took. A turn in this direction led to the pursuit of private property and with that respect in society. John Locke believed that nature had created everyone equally; but there is a difference in the notion of equality. Locke believed that all human beings were equal to the extent that God had endowed all with rationality or reason. However, this does not mean that Locke felt that all human beings had rationality in equal amount. For him it is quite possible that some were more rational than others and those who were more rational performed better than others and that could be gauged from the amount of property that they had successfully amassed[16]. Locke was using the metaphor of a race while saying this. It is well know that in a race everybody has an 'equality of beginning' but not necessarily equality at the end. Races are won and lost on the basis of ability. Those who can run faster, better and longer than others are likely to do well in the race whereas the others are not. The Lockean twist here is that he is clearly specifying that in the process of equality the role of society ends with the provision of an equal start to all. The end of the race which leads to inequality is an "inequality of consequence". Those better equipped win because of their being better equipped and society has nothing to do with how 'nature' has enabled people differently. So inequality of beginning is unacceptable but the inequality of consequence which is seen at the end of the race is acceptable[17].


The notion of democracy that was proposed by Locke was fairly consistent with this philosophy. For Locke and people like Smith democracy never meant Universal Adult Franchise or Adult Suffrage. These are notions that have been added to democracy over a few centuries as a result of many people's struggles. For Locke and company, democracy or the right to decision making was to be the exclusive preserve and privilege of the propertied[18]. This conception stemmed out of his idea that the propertied had demonstrated that they were rational and capable of taking care of themselves and hence could be empowered. The unpropertied had also demonstrated a lesser rationality by not amassing wealth and also had proved that they were incapable of taking care of themselves. If they were not capable of taking care of themselves, how could they be entrusted with the task of taking care of society? So these people were left out of the process of empowerment. This then is the Liberal Democracy that is consistent with Liberal Philosophy. However, with the passage of time and with the change in perceptions about property after taking the accident of birth into consideration, it soon became obvious that the power of decision making could not be the exclusive prerogative of some. Hence movements for universal adult suffrage came into being all over Europe and in the United States of America leading to the slow and gradual empowerment of all. In India however, the situation was different. India had no democracy till 1947 when it became independent and immediately gave suffrage to all without exception.


Democracy that was drawn out of liberalism but was altered in Europe already had become even more altered in the case of India. India's exposure to principles of liberalism was through colonial rule and the democracy that Indians envisioned for themselves had very little do with the principles of liberal philosophy and the original democracy derived from it. This newer form of democracy ran successfully in the hands of original freedom fighters that also in a way constituted an elite of sorts. The acceptance of this leadership was in a way a continuation of an old Indian tradition of respecting the educated and also those who were seen as well wishers of the whole of Indian society (like the Universal Legislator proposed by Rousseau)[19]. Leadership crises of different varieties started in India with the gradual passing of the generation of educated elites and freedom fighters. With this a great disjunction happened between democracy and its substance. People took their freedom without taking the responsibility that came along with it and began identifying democracy only with procedures, hoping that the content would be taken care of by politicians. This suited the purposes of the upper castes (not to be confused with educated elites) who once again established their social hegemony by subverting the substance of democracy, which is participation in decision making through the process of deliberation. In this attempt to re-establish caste hegemonies, some of the intermediary castes were used for the building of lumpen power. Democracy in India therefore took a lumpen turn, something from which it is unable to free itself from. The apathy of the educated has only added to this situation with politics now becoming the domain of leaders and the lumpen powers that prop them up. In this situation, it is unsurprising that issues of politics are manufactured by politicians and their lumpen support structure. Even the consent behind these politics which is every once in a while demonstrated through agitations or public meetings is not a true indication of what people want. It is well known today that the same set of people attend various public meetings organized by different political parties.


This manufacturing of consent is different from the manufactured consent that Noam Chomsky talked about[20]. Chomsky's main worry is the intervention of lobbies of the corporates who can influence politics to fulfill their corporate agendas at the expense of people. In India the situation is more about caste hegemony and for now the capitalist intent has to play second fiddle to this. Lack of proper education and now the collapse of the education system have only added to this problem. One can safely say that in India now there is a new class of lumpen, the lumpen teacher. Armed with degrees that mean nothing and having curried favour with the powers that be to find themselves in the education system as teachers, these people have turned lumpen in order to protect themselves from teaching. Almost all teachers in most universities are unfit to teach even kindergarten students and carry with them biases of caste and religion and now region. Therefore the destiny of the country is in the hands of a lumpen nexus that involves students, teachers, goons and politicians. Politics are played out by these elements to suit their purposes. The rich have nothing to fear straight away and therefore can remain contented with their pursuit of fashion and Botox. It is the people at the bottom who have remained untouched by development even sixty three years after independence and it seems will continue to bear the brunt of these pragmatic politics that are dissociated from anything and everything meaningful. It is just a matter of time before the tolerance of these unempowered sections dissipates and India faces challenges afresh.


The failure of electoral politics (relatively speaking) and the limitations on representative democracy in India make it all the more necessary to re-engage with concepts of politics so as to bring about changes that contribute to the emergence of good politics in the first instance.  Good politics will be sustainable both as the Rousseau’s General Will and Kant’s Good Will.  A vibrant public sphere and properly deliberative democracy which will see stake holders (the people) coming together in various forums in a non-combative way and rationally deliberating is  the way forward. Rawls claims that the rich of the society should allow for a more equitable distribution of "primary social goods"[21] (education being one of them) so that the traditionally backward can come into the sphere where they can compete with others and survive. That for him is justice and in more ways than one his whole writing is an extension of Lockean liberalism through Rousseau and Kant[22].    In fact, modern democracy has been conceived of by many a thinker such as Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to name a couple, as an extension of an organic process of growth in society due to rational mechanisms that bring people closer together based in the notion of consent and agreement[23]. That is a possibility which can come about when the public sphere is alive and democracy is deliberative.  In that instance there is a transformation of politics from the bad and the listless to vibrant and good.  This meaning of good encompasses not just the efficient aspect of things but also the more important moral dimension as well.  With people keeping a strict vigil on policy making and execution, the process of governance can only be good.  Governance therefore will primarily be good in its intent and then it will be good in the technologies and devices it chooses to be efficient and to be answerable to the people.

[1] Cohen, Joshua Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy, in The Good Polity: Normative Analysis of the State, Alan Hamlin and Phillip Petit, editors, New York: Blackwell, 1989.

[2]  See: Heidegger, Martin.). An Introduction to Metaphyics, R. Manheim (trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press.


[3] Baynes, Kenneth. Democracy and the Rechtsstaat: Remarks on Habermas's Faktizität und Geltung. In S. White (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Habermas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 201–232. 1995.


[4] Bohman, James Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996 p 96

[5] ibid


[6]  See Bohman, James  Theories, practices, and pluralism: A pragmatic interpretation of critical social science, 1999.

[7]See Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment, G. Schmid Noerr (ed.), E. Jephcott (trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2003

[8] See Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004

[9] ibid


[10] White, Stephen K. The Recent Work of Jürgen Habermas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989.


[11] See Heath, Joseph, Communicative Action and Rational Choice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. . 2001. 


[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14]  See Morrison, Ken, “Marx, Durkheim and Weber”, London, England, Sage, 2006

[15] ibid

[16] See Chappel, Vere, “Locke”, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1994

[17] ibid

[18] See Locke, John, “Two Treatises of Government”, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1988

[19] See Strong, Tracy B., “Jean Jacques Rousseau-The Politics of the Ordinary”, London, England, Sage, 1994

[20] See Rai, Milan, “Chomsky’s Politics”, London, England, Verso, 1995

[21] See Rawls, John, “Collected Papers”, New Delhi, India, Oxford University Press, 1999

[22] See Cassirer, Ernest, “Rousseau, Kant and Goethe, Princeton University Press, 1963

[23] See Morrison, Ken, “Marx, Durkheim and Weber”, London, England, Sage, 2006