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The participatory paradox: An egalitarian critique of participatory democracy
journal contributionposted on 02.10.2020 by Phil Parvin
Any type of content formally published in an academic journal, usually following a peer-review process.
Many democratic theorists assume the value and importance of widespread citizen participation. Many even endorse participatory democracy. I offer an original critique of participatory democracy and the assumptions which underpin it. Models of democracy which rely on widespread citizen participation are characterised by a paradox – the Participatory Paradox – which renders them practically unachievable and philosophically unstable. Establishing a participatory democracy would require a profound egalitarian restructuring of liberal democratic states in order to rectify the entrenched inequalities which have concentrated power in the hands of socioeconomic elites and marginalised the poor. But this is no easy task. It would require a vast, complex, and long term programme of social, economic, and political reform which would need to be justified independently of the democratic process. That is, paradoxically, the more that political philosophers foreground the importance of democracy, the more they have to take out of the province of democratic decision-making and impose on the people irrespective of the people’s views on the matter. Taking the Participatory Paradox seriously should lead us to de-emphasise the importance of citizen participation and strengthen representative institutions in order that they can produce democratic outcomes in the absence of widespread citizen participation.
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- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Politics and International Studies