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Citizens’ Assemblies and Democracy  

Antonin Lacelle-Webster and Mark E. Warren

Even as most citizens of electoral democracies remain strongly committed to democratic values, most electoral democracies are suffering from democratic deficits that are eroding their legitimacy. There are deficits of inclusion, as elected governments often poorly represent those who are less educated or less wealthy or who belong to ethnic, religious, racial, or other minorities. There are deficits of deliberativeness, as governments fail to learn from experts and everyday citizens alike. And, increasingly, there are deficits of collective capacity, often the result of governments that are gridlocked by polarization and unable to marshal the political resources to address tough problems, such as climate change and migration. Democracies do, however, reinvent themselves, often by supplementing the legacy institutions of electoral democracy with innovative ways of deepening democracy. Among the most promising innovations are citizens’ assemblies, a kind of deliberative minipublic comprised of lay citizens selected through near-random methods to represent a broader public. These bodies are typically tasked with learning and deliberating about a problem and providing recommendations. In contrast to sitting legislatures, citizens’ assemblies are typically convened for a single issue or purpose, and they are closely defined in their mandate. As of 2020, there were over 20 cases of citizens’ assemblies, covering a range of issues (e.g., electoral reform, climate change, abortion, and urban planning), enabling some generalization about their capacities and promise. Owing to their high degree of representativeness of ordinary citizens, their capacities to learn and deliberate, and their abilities to break through difficult or gridlocked issues, citizens’ assemblies have considerable promise to address democratic deficits and to deepen democracy when they are carefully inserted into the political ecologies of modern democracies.


Constructivist Perspectives in Crisis Studies  

Bert Spector

Two important perspectives have come to dominate crisis studies. The first most traditional and dominant is what could be termed the crisis management or “crisis as event” perspective. The second more critical approach to crisis studies is the constructivist “crisis as a social construct” perspective. The purpose, structure, and focus of the two approaches differ significantly in virtually every regard. The crisis management perspective assumes a positivist set of assumptions by adopting an objective epistemology and ontology. Crisis is taken to be a concrete, objective thing. Approaching storms, terrorist attacks, global pandemics, financial upheavals, and so on, are all taken to be crises with objectively threatening and urgent characteristics. Starting with an analysis of the crisis event, crisis management analysis considers the response to the event with the ultimate goal of improving reactions to and preparation for future events. Constructivist crisis studies, conversely, participate in a broad post-modernist project that critiques dominant narratives, disputes epistemological certainty and ontological objectivity, and takes cognizance of language “games” and coded messages embedded in discursive acts. Constructivists take an antipositivist ontological position, insisting that the world as people perceive it is a human invention. The emphasis is not on corporeal things or objectively verifiable facts, but rather on the construction of knowledge and the resulting assignment of meaning. The constructivist crisis perspective shifts analytic focus away from the so-called “crisis event,” itself a contested construct, and to the claim that certain contingencies constitute a crisis. The process by which individuals and groups assert a claim of urgency, as well as the interests behind all such claims, comes into focus in a constructivist perspective. Who are the individuals and groups making the claim that a crisis exists, and what are their interests in so doing? In positivist crisis management studies, the event constitutes the independent variable; for constructivist scholars, it is the claim that is the independent variable.


The Ethics of Voting  

James Stacey Taylor

The first question that is often raised in a discussion of the ethics of voting is whether or not there is a duty to vote. The view that there is a duty to vote is supported by two main arguments. The first holds that since the value of democratic governance is high persons should vote to preserve stable democracy. The second is that there is a duty to vote because if nobody voted the effects would be disastrous. The first of these arguments is criticized by Jason Brennan, who holds that since each individual vote will play little to no role in preserving stable democracy nobody has a duty to vote. The second is criticized by Loren Lomasky and Geoffrey Brennan, who argue that it is incomplete unless its supporters can show that democracy needs everyone to vote to continue. The question of whether there is a duty to vote naturally leads to the question of whether it is permissible for persons to vote in their own self-interest. Jason Brennan argues that persons should only (morally) vote for candidates or policies that they are justified in believing would promote the common good. It is unclear, however, what “the common good” consists of. This discussion of the morality of voting in one’s self-interest leads to the question of whether voting for a politician because she has made campaign promises is morally analogous to a voter selling her vote. In discussing this issue it is important to distinguish between the “restricted” defense of markets in votes (that the purchased votes are to be cast in favor of what the buyer is justified in believing is the common good) and the “unrestricted” defense of such a market (that purchased votes can be cast in any way the buyer pleases). Much of this discussion focuses on the morality of unrestricted markets in votes. Christopher Freiman has offered four main arguments in favor of such a market: (1) that it will make both the buyer and the seller better off; (2) that it is required by respect for voter liberty; (3) that it is relevantly similar to other practices that are currently allowed, such as logrolling; and (4) that it would enable electoral outcomes to better express voter preferences. None of these arguments are persuasive. The first is based on illicitly inferring from the claim that persons would voluntarily buy and sell votes if a market were allowed to the claim that they would thereby desire that this market be allowed. The second argument is flawed because if some persons would prefer that a market not be allowed, this could provide a sufficient reason to restrict their liberty by precluding them from selling their votes. The third argument overlooks important disanalogies between votes traded between voters, and votes traded between legislators. The fourth argument is based on the implausible assumption that vote sellers would not misrepresent their political preferences in a market for votes.


Judgment as the Imagination of Futures: Practical Rationality in Decisions on Complex Issues  

Michael J. Mazarr

The field of judgment and decision making has seen an explosion of research and analyses since the 1990s, notably in five closely related fields: Rational choice and its variants, the concept of intuition, “dual process” theories, the “heuristics and biases” literature, and the concept of “naturalistic” decision making. Yet none of these theories captures—by design or because of the limits of the approach—the actual mechanism by which emergent judgment occurs on complex decisions. Such decisions are non-optimizable and guided by multiple and often conflicting objectives and values; their outcomes will flow from the nonlinear interaction of many variables whose causal relationships are poorly understood. As a result, critical assumptions of many classical decision making models cannot be met in such situations, and the default approach relies not so much on calculative decision making as on instinctive judgment. This term implies a mechanism that is less calculative and consequentialist that it is imaginative, creative, and unconscious. Emergent, largely intuitive judgment is the only mechanism appropriate to such complex, nonlinear situations in which both an objective maximization of utilities and an accurate assessment of likely consequences are impossible. The concept of judgment broadly defined, as a form of unconscious, emergent, and imaginative interpretation of facts and events, offers the best model for how decision makers approach non-optimizable situations.


Luhmann and Systems Theory  

Mathias Albert

The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has provided one of the most elaborate theories of society available, as well as numerous works on specific aspects of society. Commonly labeled as “systems theory,” this is but a shorthand description of Luhmann’s theory. In fact, the theory rests on at least three main theoretical pillars. In addition to systems theory, a theory of social evolution and a theory of social differentiation play important roles. The present article introduces these three pillars and describes Luhmann’s theory of politics in this context. It outlines the crucial difference between a theory of politics as part of a theory of society on the one hand, and political theory as a reflective theory within the political system on the other hand. More specifically, it introduces Luhmann’s accounts of the notions of political power, differentiation, the state, political steering, and the self-description of the political system. The contribution concludes with some observations on the fact that Luhmann’s theory has tended to overlook the dimension of international politics, but that his theory provides opportunities to account for it in innovative ways.


Voting Choice and Rational Choice  

Anthony McGann

Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.