The Good Society, Vol. 27, No. 1-2


The second part of the volume highlights one of the most ambitious efforts of the past thirty years to answer the question of democracy’s essence while simultaneously designing machinery to give it life. James S. Fishkin is a leading theorist of deliberative democracy: the principle that decisions on public issues or affecting public life should be the product of reasonable, egalitarian debate among citizens rather than the aggregate of unchallenged opinions, and that any true democracy must maintain insti-tutions that facilitate and respond meaningfully to such deliberative pro-cesses.2 For decades, and with increasing frequency over the last ten years, Fishkin has elaborated his theory through a series of on-the-ground, geo-graphically wide-ranging, contextually adaptive experiments in what he calls (and has trademarked as) Deliberative Polling® (DP). Fishkin’s latest book, Democracy When the People Are Thinking: Revitalizing Our Politics Through Public Deliberation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), is an impressively current synthesis of his own decades of thinking and scores of experiments (many run in the past few years) in the deliberativist vein. It is unsurprising that some of the most innovative and influential democratic theorists working today were eager to engage Fishkin’s latest arguments and evidence for DP’s value; it is a boon for readers of The Good Society that they were also eager to present their conclusions in these pages, along with Fishkin’s response. For, in my view, Fishkin’s braiding of empirical and nor-mative analysis with constructive theory and experiment is an almost ideal response to the challenge Peter Levine posed to the Civic Studies field—and partisans of justice and freedom generally—in these pages not so long ago: the challenge of weaving facts and values into concrete yet flexible strategiesfor democratic action.