Progressivism as communitarian democracy

This article formulates a progressive conception of communitarian democracy which rests upon the distinction between deliberative and dedicated conceptions of community. Deliberative communities seek fallibilistic change through a non-Enlightenment conception of practical reason. According to this pragmatist conception of practical reason, members of deliberative communities jointly attempt to formulate political truth independently of any a priori or non-deliberative standards of the right and the good. By contrast, dedicated communities seek what they regard as the truth about reality and insist upon adhering to those cultural and social givens of their society which express this truth. The distinction between deliberative and dedicated communities is relevant to the debate between liberalism and communitarianism. Rather than viewing this debate as one between those who value community and those who do not, it is better understood as a controversy over the appropriate kind of community. Typically, liberals seek deliberative communities, while communitarians seek dedicated ones. However, a person committed to deliberativism as the method of social change can also regard deliberativism as defining a certain conception of community and the conception of the persons who are its members. Consequently, in this view, almost every serious person is a communitarian, but some people are deliberative communitarians while others are dedicated communitarians. Communitarian democracy is an attempt to describe a deliberative community. Communitarian democrats seek freedom, equality, and solidarity for the purpose of devising joint solutions to social problems. In order to achieve this, communitarian democrats devise a civic discourse shorn of dedicated features, which values each citizen equally as a member of the community. This has implication for at least three conflicts in political and constitutional affairs. Since no irreducibly dedicated premises are possible in this civic discourse, dedicated arguments are impossible without translation into deliberative terms. This implies a particular conclusion to the debate about religion in the public square, namely, that dedicated religious discourse must be translated into its deliberative counterpart, if it has one, before its proponents may use it in public justification. (The article pays close attention to Michael Perry?s work concerning the role of religion in the public square.) Similarly, concerning multicultural conceptions of the right and the good, communitarian democrats can accept only those multicultural conceptions translatable into deliberative discourse. And, finally, communitarian democrats must guard against constitutional atrophy, the process by which initially deliberative structures become dedicated through lack of vigilance, criticism, and challenge. In a communitarian democracy, atrophied deliberative structures may be just as inefficient and unfair as some decidedly dedicated structures and must be similarly avoided.
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