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The Priority of DemocracyPolitical Consequences of Pragmatism$
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Jack Knight and James Johnson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691151236

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691151236.001.0001

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The Priority of Democracy and the Burden of Justification

The Priority of Democracy and the Burden of Justification

(p.93) Chapter 4 The Priority of Democracy and the Burden of Justification
The Priority of Democracy

Jack Knight

James Johnson

Princeton University Press

This chapter addresses the challenges that social choice theory brings to normative claims about democracy. Social choice theorists commonly critique democratic decision making on the grounds that voting is susceptible to unavoidable pathologies and that insofar as voting is essential to democracy, those pathologies subvert the normative legitimacy of democratic outcomes. Because voting is an essential component of any democratic institutional arrangement in any large, heterogeneous, complex society, the systematic instability and ambiguity that social choice theorists establish raises serious, unavoidable difficulties for some interpretations of democracy. Yet populism and liberalism hardly exhaust the theoretical vantage points from which such findings might be interpreted. Indeed, the chapter offers a reading of social choice theory that suggests an obvious, justifiable response to the putative dilemma fabricated by theorists who insist that the only available options are an impossible populism or an unpalatable liberalism.

Keywords:   social choice theory, democracy, democratic decision making, voting, democratic arrangements, instability, ambiguity, populism, liberalism

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