Deliberative Democracy and the Role of Philosophy

Following discussions surrounding issues that were addressed between successions of development policies devised by an international community, from structural adjustment policies to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it would be hard to dismiss an overall gradual shift of the focus from the one on mere economic development to the one embracing a more comprehensive development. It is made explicit in SDGs where the interdependence between environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and economic development are well noted. In fact, in “the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability” which was reviewed in Rio+20 in 2012 and preceded the drafting process of SDGs, a vision of “a new political economy” was proposed, urging they international community to recognize market failure and externalities with regard to various social and environmental issues. The tone and the vocabulary of such argument implies a decisive departure from neoliberal perspective to the one familiar to the field of welfare and public economics. However, even if such shift of language is to be adopted in the policy-makings, the problem remains as to by whom and how such policy can be legitimized and said to be better than the others. Should we leave it up to well-educated elites to devise policies according to their specialized knowledge? Isn’t it enough for citizens to continue the business as usual and only intervene periodically through voting to entrust certain people to implement the right policies for them? At least from a theoretical perspective with regard to social choice theory and its impossibility theorems, we know that democratic governance which only relies solely on preferential voting as a method of decision making is inherently unstable, not to mention the actual political stalemates that are observed in a number of democratic societies where the language of interest dominates political discussions. In this respect, David Miller (1992) and Dryzek and List (2003) inform us that deliberative democracy is theoretically able to provide solution in this lieu. In this sense, deliberative democracy is seen as a political system which can facilitate a community to reach an agreement on social choice whether by consensus through deliberation or deliberation in combination with majority voting. However, in consensus oriented discussions on deliberative democracy, it seems that the possibility of the value judgement of individuals being affected in the process of deliberation tends to be overlooked though it may be worthwhile to consider. In this juncture, I would like to think about the role of philosophy with respect to deliberative democracy by highlighting the contribution of Hannah Arendt on the theory of political judgement. I would like to conclude my speech with respect to the implications of UNESCO’s initiatives of philosophy in relation to deliberative democracy and SDGs.