Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New Book on Pragmatism and Democracy

The Priority of Democracy
Political Consequences of Pragmatism

by Jack Knight & James Johnson

(Princeton University Press, 2011)

336 pages


What is the primary value of democracy? When should we make decisions democratically and when should we rely on markets? And when should we accept the decisions of unelected officials, such as judges or bureaucrats? Knight and Johnson explore how a commitment to pragmatism should affect our answers to such important questions. They conclude that democracy is a good way of determining how these kinds of decisions should be made--even if what the democratic process determines is that not all decisions should be made democratically. So, for example, the democratically elected U.S. Congress may legitimately remove monetary policy from democratic decision-making by putting it under the control of the Federal Reserve.

Knight and Johnson argue that pragmatism offers an original and compelling justification of democracy in terms of the unique contributions democratic institutions can make to processes of institutional choice. This focus highlights the important role that democracy plays, not in achieving consensus or commonality, but rather in addressing conflicts. Indeed, Knight and Johnson suggest that democratic politics is perhaps best seen less as a way of reaching consensus or agreement than as a way of structuring the terms of persistent disagreement.

Contents [Preview]

1. Preliminaries [pdf]
2. Pragmatism and the Problem of Institutional Design [pdf]
3. The Appeal of Decentralization
4. The Priority of Democracy and the Burden of Justification
5. Reconsidering the Role of Political Argument in Democratic Politics
6. Refining Reflexivity
7. Formal Conditions: Institutionalizing Liberal Guarantees
8. Substantive Conditions: Pragmatism and Effectiveness
9. Conclusion

Jack Knight is Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University. James Johnson is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester.

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