VOL. 3, NO. 4, PGS. 11–16


Change Through Democratic Deliberation
A conversation with Mark Warren

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Mark Warren is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. He is an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy.

What is deliberation? What is its goal in democratic systems?

Most broadly, deliberation is talk-based politics, where speakers seek to influence one another through argument and persuasion rather than through coercion, economic incentives, authority, or simply by gaining more votes. Decisions made through deliberative processes tend to be better than those made through other means in a number of ways. When people are persuaded by arguments, they see the decisions that follow as inherently legitimate. When people are pushed to examine and justify their interests through deliberation, they have a clearer sense for what they are, and how they relate to the interests of others. So preferences become more stable. And, importantly, deliberative processes produce decisions that are better informed, especially by the knowledge, values, experiences, and perspectives that people bring into deliberative processes.

Can deliberation occur in non-democratic systems? If so, what is its goal in this case?

Yes, deliberative processes can occur in non-democratic systems. The most important case is China, in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is encouraging “deliberative democracy” —xie shang min zhu (协商民主)— but usually limited to local government, and always limited to a specific policy or problem agendas set by the government. The probable aim of the CCP is to control and channel political demand, as well as to learn enough about peoples’ preferences so that policies do not encounter opposition. In this way, the CCP can compensate for the information deficits that are common in authoritarian regimes relative to electoral democracies, as well as keep “harmony” and “social order.” My colleague He Baogang, from Deakin University, and I have been referring to this kind of deliberation as “authoritarian deliberation,” and we are guessing that it is leading to a more resilient, smarter form of authoritarianism in China —one that will reduce, contain, and undermine democratizing forces. Singapore uses similar kinds of deliberative processes.

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