I would like to thank Micah and Eric for organizing this group. I would also like to thank Micah for his very careful and insightful summary of Chapter One, “The Value Theory of Democracy.” I’ll take his second question first. Micah is right to say that the value theory rejects a sharp distinction between democracy and liberal rights but that it relocates a tension between democratic procedures and substantive rights within the ideal of democracy. The value theory does not resolve the tension between democracy and substantive rights in the particular sense that it gives neither an absolute weight to either democratic rights or democratic procedure. Ideally, on my view, democratic procedures will affirm democratic outcomes. But non-ideal circumstances will arise where democratic procedures violate democratic rights. I examine such non- ideal cases in chapter seven, which Alon will comment on. I argue there in favor of a balancing approach between democratic substantive rights and democratic procedures when these non-ideal circumstances arise.
So, Micah is right to say that the value theory does not resolve the tension between democratic procedures (as opposed to democracy) and substantive rights. However, if this particular tension is rightly subsumed under a set of core democratic values, the specific problem of constraint, as opposed to the tension between democratic procedures and democratic rights, is resolved. The problem of constraint arises because it is assumed by those who have posed it (Bickel being the most famous), that any account that would limit the outcomes produced by democratic procedures is a constraint on democracy. This assumption is also shared by procedural democrats. However, once we subsume the tension between substantive rights and democratic procedure under an ideal of set of democratic values, the thrust of the objection, namely that any appeal beyond democratic procedure is itself a violation of democracy, is resolved. We should not think apriori that any constraint on democratic procedures is necessarily undemocratic.
Micah also raises a question about epistemic views that avoid comprehensive theories. The most obvious example of such a view is my colleague David Estlund’s. Dave and I were writing our books at the same time and we have often discussed our similarities and differences. I think the tensions between the views are more fruitful than hostile but it is worth pointing to a couple of possible distinctions.
First, because Dave formulates democracy itself in procedural terms, at least for the purposes of his book, he is happy to look beyond democracy for grounding to democratic procedures based on their ability to produce outcomes that meet a procedure independent standard. This procedure independent standard is not comprehensive but it is ultimately grounded in an account of truth and not necessarily in an account of democracy. In contrast, I am concerned to ask whether we should understand the democratic ideal itself in a way that goes beyond the procedural. According to the value theory both the procedure independent standard, the core values, as well the substantive constraints on democratic procedures, namely substantive rights, should be understood as part of an ideal of self-government. This is not incompatible with an account of these standards and limits as true in Estlund’s sense; it’s just not necessarily entailed by Estlund’s view of the truth of these independent standards. I tried to clarify in footnote 23 of this chapter (p. 18) that Dave’s theory avoids a comprehensive doctrine in the way he defines “truth” and I think Micah is right to say that this is likely enough for him to avoid the charge of sectarianism. Yet, Dave’s account does not attempt to resolve the problem of constraint.
Second, there is a difference in how each of us views the role of democratic procedures. It is unclear to me that on Dave’s view there is any value apart from their ability to produce good outcomes to such procedures. Again, this is an issue that will arise again in Chapter Seven, but I read Dave broadly to be in what I call the “pure outcomes” camp.
More generally, I think my own theory could potentially bolster Dave’s epistemic account. If it turns out that democratic procedures have epistemic value, then there is a defense of them not only on the grounds that they are truth promoting but that they tend towards outcomes which are themselves rightly understood as democratic. I don’t rely, however, on an assumption of the epistemic value of democratic procedures in thinking about the way in whether substantive rights alongside democratic procedures are themselves part of an ideal of democracy. So, the theories potentially are compatible but they are not reliant on one another.
I’d also like to thank Jordon as well for his careful attempt to build up procedural precondition theories and I think this is an important line of thinking. Something like Jordon’s suggestion that procedural preconditions are revisable is needed to potentially save this kind of theory and to avoid the kind of internal contradiction I identify. I argue in the next chapter, however, that theorists like Habermas do not seem to go this route. In sum, procedural precondition theories must chose between the kind of theory Jordon raises and an account that posits standards independent of democratic procedures, standards that on my view can themselves be understood to be democratic. I wonder though on Jordon’s view how “soft” he would be willing to make the theory. For instance would he allow free speech rights or the right to vote itself to be jettisoned?