The Public Interest

Defining democracy up

Philip Selznick

Spring 1995

DELIBERATIVE democracy is moving to the forefront of political theory. This revival of Madisonian doctrine is a welcome response to current degradations of liberty and self-government.  There is nothing new about debased politics or degraded culture, but the technology of mass communication has vastly increased the community’s exposure to coarse messages and mindless opinions. Resisting the current, new voices are raised on behalf of ordered liberty, which was once celebrated but is now in eclipse. Even New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, long a vigorous defender of unbridled speech, has condemned “30-second spot television advertising” because it destroys opponents without contributing to the discussion of ideas. Lewis suggests that restricting such political advertising might be constitutionally acceptable as regulating the “format” rather than the content of speech. He invokes Madison in support of a more deliberative, less populist conception of democracy.

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