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Deliberative democracy within parties

Wolkenstein, Fabio (2016) Deliberative democracy within parties. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Political parties serve a number of vital functions in representative democracies. Connecting citizens to government is perhaps the most important one. This is how parties were traditionally conceived, and it continues to be the main standard according to which their legitimacy as representative institutions is evaluated. In recent times, observers have noted a growing disconnect between citizens and parties. Parties have gradually transformed from agents that mediate between state and civil society to agents of the state. This sits uncomfortably with the ideal of parties as connectors of citizens and government. How can their capacity to perform this function be restored? This thesis seeks to offer a new answer to this question. Its main argument is that to revitalise their capacity to connect citizens and government, parties need to become more internally democratic, and that they need to become more internally democratic in a particular way, namely more internally deliberative. By this is meant that parties need to strengthen channels of communication from the bottom up and avail themselves of their internal deliberative resources: of the partisans on the ground, who deliberate over the demands of their community in local party branches. The theoretical part of the thesis proposes a model—called a “deliberative model of intraparty democracy”—showing how these traditional sites of partisanship can be empowered. The empirical part of the thesis then asks whether such a model can be realised in real-world parties. The main focus is here on the deliberative capacity of organised party members, which is likely the first target of scepticism. I examine three questions, drawing on the findings of a small-scale study of deliberation in party branches in Social Democratic parties in Germany and Austria: (1) Do party branches provide favourable preconditions for deliberation? (2) Are the political discussions in the branches “deliberative”, in the sense that they are marked by respectful exchanges of reasons? (3) When does intra-party deliberation fail? Though mainly indicative, the analysis of the empirical material suggests that party members do possess the deliberative capacity required to realise a deliberative model of intra-party democracy, and that possible deliberative deficiencies can be countervailed using simple institutional fixes. In light of this, the thesis concludes that making parties more internally deliberative in order to reconnect citizens with government is well within reach.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Fabio Wolkenstein
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Sets: Departments > European Institute
Supervisor: White, Jonathan and Innes, Abby

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