David Kanter


Classical liberalism’s hegemony in the public discourse seems to be based on the fact that it demands and expects so little. Its guiding assumption tell us that people are the same, always and everywhere, and we can get the best by assuming the worst. Let’s just assume humans are simple automatons, it seems to say, and then we can arrive at elegant and simple conclusions about how society works and, more importantly, should work. Humans, then, are rationally self-interested and to get the best outcomes we should let these simple automatons interact in the market. The central point that comes from the deliberative democrats—and that they might do better to elaborate more explicitly—is that to assume simple rational self-interest and thus the impossibility of genuine democratic decision-making is really to miss the point. If we take a more realistic and complex view of human motivation, the deliberative democrats tell us, we recognize that individuals act in all sorts of different ways and are capable of developing and refining new and complex motivations. If the deliberative democrats are willing to acknowledge this important space for conflict and disagreement, what they have recovered from Tocqueville and Mill is an alternative program to Smith’s classical liberalism. What that program needs now are public champions willing and able to present this alternative way of thinking about the social world to members of society. What is needed is a revolution in ideas.



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