Democratic Dialogue

How is it possible for citizens of various viewpoints to agree on fundamental political questions? This seems even more implausible in an environment that is politically charged with caricatures and inflated demons thus leading to separate camps that are incapable of healthy interaction.

stoutThe unrealistic strategy up to this point has tended to be a multicultural ethos of tolerance and cordiality that overlooks deep commitments and differences in favor of finding lowest-common denominators we can all reasonably agree on; the outcome of which has been managerial proceduralism. Jeffrey Stout hopes for a more radical democracy in line with the tradition of Emerson and Whitman among others. A common thread to his book Democracy and Tradition is that political dialogue in democratic societies requires citizens and politicians to articulate the premises underlying their practical commitments in as much depth and detail as possible so that other parties may evaluate the reasonableness of such arguments and critically evaluate them. If they don’t, Stout correctly observes that “we will remain ignorant of the real reasons that many of our fellow citizens have for reaching some of the ethical and political conclusions they do” (64). This is precisely why freedom of religion and expression should be upheld.

In this way conversation need not begin from “an already-agreed-on, common basis” as was the objective of Enlightenment thought. Instead, by respecting each persons’ dialectical location citizens can comfortably demonstrate the persuasiveness of differing points of view as well as face skeptical objection from the public.

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