Deliberation is a political approach in which citizens, not just experts or politicians, play an active role in community problem solving and public decision-making. Deliberative democracy, also known as discursive democracy, is a type of democracy in which deliberation plays an important role in decision-making. It incorporates elements of consensus decision-making as well as majority rule. It entails a smaller, more descriptively representative group of people delving deeply into an issue.
Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that genuine deliberation, rather than mere voting, is the primary source of legal legitimacy. It differs from representative democracy in that it centers decisions on conversations, diverse perspectives, and understanding rather than polling and voting. It emphasizes reaching a consensus on public affairs, including decision-making and legislation in the public interest, with universal citizen participation in a pluralistic society.
During deliberation, citizens exchange arguments and consider various claims aimed at securing the public good. Citizens can reach an agreement on what procedure, action, or policy will best serve the public good through this discussion. Deliberation is required for democratic political decisions to be legitimate. Rather than viewing political decisions as the sum of citizens’ preferences, deliberative democracy contends that citizens should make political decisions based on reason and the collection of competing arguments and viewpoints.
While deliberative democracy is commonly viewed as a hybrid of representative democracy and direct democracy, the exact relationship is usually debatable. Some practitioners and theorists use the term to refer to representative bodies whose members authentically and practically deliberate on legislation without unequal power distributions, whereas others use the term exclusively to refer to direct decision-making by lay citizens, as in direct democracy.
The practice of deliberation is central to democracy and community politics. Deliberation brings people together, even those with competing interests, in a way that allows them to make decisions and act in the face of problems or difficult circumstances. Deliberation can also reveal new avenues for action that individuals alone may not have seen before.
Joseph M. Bessette coined the term “deliberative democracy” in his 1980 book Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government. Communication scholars are also particularly interested in deliberative democracy. Indeed, the art of deliberation is the traditional heart of a rhetorical education that dates back to classical Greek and Roman societies. Deliberation is a far cry from the manipulative “non-contradictory” argumentation that characterizes much modern political debate.
Deliberation in democratic processes produces results that secure the public or common good through reason rather than political power. Deliberative democracy is based on an exchange of information and justifications supporting various perspectives on the public good, rather than a competition between competing interests. Citizens should ultimately be swayed by the strength of the better argument rather than by private concerns, biases, or views that are not publicly justifiable to their fellow deliberators.