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Democratic Theory and Political Science: A Pragmatic Method of Constructive Engagement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2007

Harvard University


This article develops two conceptual tools to synthesize democratic theory and the empirical study of institutions. The first is a standard to assess conceptions of democracy called pragmatic equilibrium. A conception of democracy is in pragmatic equilibrium just in case the consequences of its institutional prescriptions realize its values well and better than any other feasible institutional arrangements across a wide range of problems and contexts. Pragmatic equilibrium is a kind of Rawlsian reflective equilibrium. The second is a method of practical reasoning about the consequences of alternative institutional choices that brings conceptions of democracy closer to pragmatic equilibrium. These two ideas are then applied to four conceptions of democracy—minimal, aggregative, deliberative, and participatory—and to two governance problems—deciding rules of political structure and minority tyranny—to show how each conception can improve through reflection on the empirical consequences of various institutional arrangements.

© 2007 by the American Political Science Association

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