Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Associations and Democracy*

Joshua Cohena1 and Joel Rogersa2

a1 Philosophy and Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

a2 Law, Political Science, and Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Since the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, normative democratic theory has focused principally on three tasks: refining principles of justice, clarifying the nature of political justification, and exploring the public policies required to ensure a just distribution of education, health care, and other basic resources. Much less attention has been devoted to examining the political institutions and social arrangements that might plausibly implement reasonable political principles. Moreover, the amount of attention paid to issues of organizational and institutional implementation has varied sharply across the different species of normative theory. Neoliberal theorists, concerned chiefly with protecting liberty by taming power, and essentially hostile to the affirmative state, have been far more sensitive to such issues than egalitarian-democratic theorists, who simultaneously embrace classically liberal concerns with choice, egalitarian concerns with the distribution of resources, and a republican emphasis on the values of citizen participation and public debate (we sketch such a conception below in Section I). Neglect of how such values might be implemented has deepened the vulnerability of egalitarian-democratic views to the charge of being unrealistic: “good in theory but not so good in practice.”


* This essay is drawn from a book-in-progress called Associative Democracy: Democratic Renewal Beyond the Mischiefs of Faction. Drafts of the book manuscript have been presented at meetings of the American Political Science Association, Princeton University Political Theory Colloquium, Social Organization Colloquium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Society for Ethical and Legal Philosophy, UCLA Center for History and Social Theory, University of Chicago Colloquium on Constitutionalism, University of Maryland Seminar on Political Theory, PEGS (Political Economy of the Good Society), and CREA (École Polytechnique); drafts have also been presented at the conference on “Post-Liberal Democratic Theory” held at the University of Texas at Austin, and at the “Associations and Democracy” conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We are grateful to participants in those discussions for many useful comments and suggestions, and especially to Bruce Ackerman, Suzanne Berger, Owen Fiss, Charles Sabel, Wolfgang Streeck, and Erik Olin Wright for the same. We also thank the editors of Social Philosophy & Policy for comments on an earlier draft of this essay. A shorter version of this essay will appear in Market Socialism, ed. Pranab Bardhan and John Roemer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).