Deliberation, institutions, participation. Disagreements about democracy

Vilhjálmur Árnason

Abstract


In this article, the author clarifies and defends the democratic ideas implied in his analysis of Icelandic politics and political culture before and after the financial collapse. The criticism of two Icelandic scholars, Jón Ólafsson and Birgir Hermannsson, of Árnason’s arguments and his use of Habermas’s normative models of democracy, is evaluated. It is argued that Árnason’s arguments need to be understood in light of the unique circumstances in Icelandic society around the financial collapse and that it is misleading to disconnect them from these circumstances. It is shown how Árnason steadily refers to the criticism in the report of the Special Investigation Commission of the Parliament about how poor governance and political practices were among the causes of the collapse. It is argued that the criticism of Jón Ólafsson and Birgir Hermannsson, that Árnason reduces democracy to public policy and ignores the role of public participation, is rooted in that they ignore this particular context of his reasoning and thus draw misleading conclusions about his views towards democracy. The contention is also traced to a different understanding of the concept of democracy. Árnason rejects the understanding that the central emphasis in democracy should be to increase political participation of the citizens at the cost of emphasizing good governance and strong institutions, which protect democratic values and enable democratic accountability. Finally, ideas about civic engagement in the spirit of deliberative democracy are discussed in light of the threats to informed public opinion and debate in contemporary society.

Keywords


Democracy; deliberative democracy; accountability; institutions; public policy.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13177/irpa.a.2020.16.2.5

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