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The Collective Responsibility of Democratic Publics

  • Avia Pasternak (a1)
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1

I should like to thank Paul Gowder, Rob Jubb, Roland Meeks, David Miller, Emre Ozcan, Thomas Pogge, Adina Prada, Debra Satz, Zofia Stemplowska, Peter Stone, Leif Wenar, Stuart White and Steve Winter for their very helpful comments on earlier versions. Special thanks go to Paul Sheehy and to Zofia Stemplowka for illuminating conversations, and to the editor and two anonymous referees of CJP for their constructive reports. Earlier versions of the paper was presented at the Nuffield Political Theory Workshop 2006 and at the ALSP annual Conference at Keele, 2006. Much of my work on this article was conducted while I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Program on Global Justice and the Center on Ethics at Stanford University. I am grateful for the support and the excellent research environment that these centers provided.

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2 Pitkin, HannaThe Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press 1972), 230

3 The discussion is limited to the CMR of a people for policies pursued by its currently elected government. For discussions on the inter-generational transferability of collective responsibility see Miller, DavidNational Responsibility and Global Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007), chapter 6. Thompson, JannaTaking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Injustice (Cambridge: Polity 2002).

4 A comprehensive account of the CMR of a democratic people should also address the question of non-adult citizens and adult citizens who are denied participation in the political process. But in this paper I set these additional challenges to the side.

5 Issacs, T.Collective Moral Responsibility and Collective Intention,’ in Shared Intentions and Collective Responsibility: Midwest Studies in Philosophy Vol. 30, French, P.A. and Wettstein, H. K. eds. (Boston, MA: Blackwell 2006), 64. For a fuller discussion of this critique of the model of individual responsibility see A. Stilz, ‘Collective Responsibility and the State,’ Journal of Political Philosophy (forthcoming).

6 Held, V.Group Responsibility for Ethnic Conflict,’ Journal of Ethics 6 (2002), 160

7 For a general review see Copp, D.What Collectives Are: Agency, Individualism, and Legal Theory,’ Dialogue 23 (1984) 249–69.

8 Stilz, ‘Collective Responsibility,’ 5-6. The distinction was first made in Goodin, R.Apportioning Responsibility,’ Law and Philosophy 6 (1987) 167–85.

9 I discuss this issue at greater length in Pasternak, A.The Distributive Effect of Collective Punishment,’ in Collective Wrongdoing, Vernon, R. and Issacs, T. eds. (l: Cambridge University Press 2011).

10 Of course, BP may have such reparative responsibilities even in the unlikely scenario that it is not to blame for the leak. For example, because it is strictly liable for all its drilling operations. My point here is merely that moral responsibility is one source for task responsibilities such as reparative duties.

11 On ‘we feelings’ in this context see Gilbert, M.Collective Guilt and Collective Guilt Feelings,’ Journal of Ethics 6 (2002) 115–43. Notice that group members should not necessarily feel personally guilty for what the group has done, since they themselves might not be to blame.

12 On personal vicarious shame see Feinberg, J.Collective Responsibility (Another Defence),’ in Collective Responsibility: Five Decades of Debate in Theoretical and Applied Ethics, May, L. and Hoffman, S. (Savage: Rowman & Littlefield 1991), 63–4. I take Feinberg's point that the stronger the identification of group members with the group, the stronger their sense of shame would be.

13 Cf. Kutz, ChristopherComplicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press 2000), 199.

14 As described in French, PeterCollective and Corporate Responsibility (New York: Columbia University Press 1984). And in French, PeterResponsibility Matters (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas 1992). A similar approach is taken for example by: Corlett, A.J.Collective Moral Responsibility,’ Journal of Social Philosophy 32 (2001) 573–84.Erskine, T.Assigning Responsibilities to Institutional Moral Agents: The Case of States and Quasi States,’ Ethics and International Affairs 15 (2001) 6786.Pettit, P.Groups with Minds of Their Own,’ in Socializing Metaphysics: The Nature of Social Reality, Schmitt, F.F. ed. (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2003).

15 French discusses this issue in French, P.Morally Blaming Whole Populations,’ in Philosophy, Morality and International Affairs, Held, V.Morgenbesser, S. and Nagel, T. eds. (New York: Oxford University Press 1974). He specifies the conditions under which populations could potentially be seen as conglomerates, but his position on the matter with regard to real world publics remains ambiguous. Phillip Pettit also rejects the idea the democratic publics are moral agents, since they lack the necessary decision making procedures (Pettit, P.Responsibility Incorporated,’ Ethics 117 [2007], 199).

16 See for example Bratman, M.Shared Intention,’ Ethics 104 (1993) 93117.Gilbert, MargaretLiving Together: Rationality, Sociality, and Obligation (London: Rowman & Littlefield 1996).May, LarryThe Morality of Groups: Collective Responsibility, Group-Based Harm, and Corporate Rights (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press 1987), ch. 3. Tuomela, R. and Miller, K.We-Intentions,’ Philosophical Studies 53 (1988) 367–89. Peter A. French and Howard K. Wettstein, eds., Shared Intentions and Collective Responsibility.

17 Kutz, Complicity, chapter 3

18 Ibid., 83.

19 Ibid., 111. C.f. May, The Morality of Groups, 33-41.

20 French, Collective and Corporate Responsibility, 29.

21 Sheehy, P.Holding Them Responsible,’ in Shared Intentions and Collective Responsibility, French, P.A. and Wettstein, H. K. eds., 77. I thank I Paul Sheehy for an illuminating conversation on following discussion.

22 Ibid., 78.

23 Ibid., 83.

24 Ibid., 80. Other writers who take the view that groups have moral responsibility without having full moral agency are Held, ‘Group Responsibility for Ethnic Conflict,’ 164; and May, The Morality of Groups, 21-30.

25 Held, V.Can a Random Collection of Individuals Be Morally Responsibleヨ’ in Collective Responsibility, May, L. and Hoffman, S. eds., 94; Kutz, Complicity, 186-9; Sheehy, Holding Them Responsible,’ 83.

26 Kutz, Complicity, 110.

27 Cf. Corlett, ‘Collective Moral Responsibility,’ 576-7.

28 For example, one could plausibly argue that the American public has a ruinous attitude towards the environment or that the Israeli public shares a sceptical attitude towards a peace process with the Palestinians. Sheehy mentions the collective attitudes of the German people prior to the rise of the Nazis in Sheehy, ‘Holding Them Responsible,’ 86.

29 I thank the editor of CJP for this example, and for pressing me to clarify the point.

30 This is a standard account of the relationship between agent and principal. See for example Feinberg, ‘Collective Responsibility (Another Defence),’ 33; May, The Morality of Groups, 47-8.

31 For a similar worry see Corlett, ‘Collective Moral Responsibility.’

32 In cases where the principal lacks such capacities the agent acts as a guardian rather than as representative.

33 I take these relationships to be the most relevant for the modern democratic state. There are other important interpretations of political representation, which I cannot discuss here due to limitations of space. For a general review see Brown, M.Survey Article: Citizens Panels and the Concept of Representation,’ The Journal of Political Philosophy 14 (2006) 203–25.

34 Pitkin, The Concept, 234

35 Gauthier, David P.The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford University Press 1969), 124

36 What support precisely means here can change from one electoral system to another. Generally speaking, I would argue for an inclusive account of political support, which applies also to citizens who vote for a minority party that is likely not to oppose the policies of the elected government; and to citizens who refrain from voting whilst knowing that a certain party is likely to win the elections. The latter are complicit in the collective authorization process through their inaction.

37 This view is usually associated with Thomas Hobbes. For detailed discussion and critique of Hobbes's theory of authorization see Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan, part IV. One modern advocate of the authorization model is Schumpeter (Schumpeter, JosephCapitalism, Socialism and Democracy [New York: Harper and Row 1956]). For critique see Christiano, ThomasThe Rule of the Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1996), 209–11.

38 Pitkin, The Concept, 30. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan, 130-4

39 Pitkin, The Concept, 39

40 Ibid., 116. For similar formulations of the idea of representation see Kuper, AndrewDemocracy Beyond Borders: Justice and Representation in Global Institutions (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004), ch. 3. Plotke, D.Representation Is Democracy,’ Constellations 4 (1997) 1934.Manin, B.Stokes, S.C. and Przeworski, A.Introduction,’ in Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, Manin, BernardStokes, Susan Carol and Przeworski, Adam eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999).

41 The second interpretation of representation adds to the authorization view rather than replaces it, because it is a necessary condition of any viable model of representation that the agent be authorized by the principal. We can of course think of representatives who are appointed by a third party (e.g., a court). However, if the principal does not approve of the appointment we would be hard pressed to argue that the agent represents the principal (except, perhaps, in some legal sense).

42 For early elaborations of both views see Burke, E.The Representative as Trustee,’ and Mill, J.S. ‘The Representative as Agent,’ in Representation, Pitkin, H. ed. (New York: Atherton Press 1969). 43 For rejections of the mandate view on practical grounds see Dahl, R.A.Democracy and Its Critics (New Haven: Yale University Press 1989), 213–20; Plotke, ‘Representation Is Democracy.’

44 Stokes, Manin and Przeworski, Introduction,13

45 See for example Kuper, Democracy Beyond Border, ch. 3.

46 Pitkin, The Concept, 21

47 Ibid.

48 Pitkin herself does not accept this claim. She suggests that from an institutional point of view, responsive representation merely requires free and regular elections and basic democratic institutions (Ibid., 234-5.) However I would argue that if we take seriously the idea that the government should not act against the wishes of the public, we should be able to identify representative systems that do a better job at allowing citizens to express their political wishes outside elections time.

49 As suggested, for example, by various deliberative democracy theorists. See for example J. Cohen, ‘Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy,’ and Miller, D.Deliberative Democracy and Social Choice,’ in Democracy, Estlund, D. ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers 2002).

50 Pitkin, The Concept, chapter 10, especially 231–6. Cf. D., RuncimanThe Paradox of Political Representation,’ The Journal of Philosophy 15 (2007), 33–4.Plotke, Representation Is Democracy,32.

51 Robert Dahl famously refer to such systems as ‘Polyarchies.’ See Dahl, R.A.Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press 1971).

52 Later on I will mention another factor that is relevant at least in the authorization model.

53 Birch, A.H.The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge 2001), 98. Birch is not committed to this view.

54 Granted, the public also contributes to an unjust policy by providing the necessary material resources for its perpetration, and it could be argued that the public can withdraw those material contributions at any moment, and thus end the perpetration of the injustice (e.g. refuse to pay taxes). But in fact, such collective withdrawal of material support of the government is a very risky step, which could lead to disastrous consequences from the point of view of the political community. Therefore it is only in very radical cases will the public have the obligation to incur the costs of political destabilization. For that reason I proceed on the assumption that collective material contributions are (usually) not faulty in themselves, and do not ground collective blame. That is not to say that such material contributions do not ground a collective task-responsibility to remedy the harm they indirectly caused.

55 These conditions are provisional at this stage.

56 I mentioned in section II the ‘mandate model’ as well, but since it is largely irrelevant for modern democratic politics I do not address it in this section.

57 One possible difference between the authorization and the independence model in this respect is that in the independence model, the values, attitudes and beliefs of the public may play a greater role in determining how the government defines the interests of the public. For example, a government may take into account the public's religious sensitivities when it decides what should be the state's approach to the separation between religious and public institutions. In this and similar scenarios it can be said that the public's own beliefs do contribute to the government's policies in a richer sense than in the authorization model.

58 On groups’ moral responsibility in light of omissions and failures to act, see L. May, Sharing Responsibility (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1992), 107-8.

59 Cf. Beitz, C.R.Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1979), 23-4. This duty is made stronger by the fact that the public contributes to the state apparatus and thus enables the execution of whatever policies the government decides upon.

1 I should like to thank Paul Gowder, Rob Jubb, Roland Meeks, David Miller, Emre Ozcan, Thomas Pogge, Adina Prada, Debra Satz, Zofia Stemplowska, Peter Stone, Leif Wenar, Stuart White and Steve Winter for their very helpful comments on earlier versions. Special thanks go to Paul Sheehy and to Zofia Stemplowka for illuminating conversations, and to the editor and two anonymous referees of CJP for their constructive reports. Earlier versions of the paper was presented at the Nuffield Political Theory Workshop 2006 and at the ALSP annual Conference at Keele, 2006. Much of my work on this article was conducted while I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Program on Global Justice and the Center on Ethics at Stanford University. I am grateful for the support and the excellent research environment that these centers provided.

The Collective Responsibility of Democratic Publics

  • Avia Pasternak (a1)

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