Does policy need democracy?

A friend told me this morning that when he was in graduate school in public policy he mentioned to his advisor that he might opt for the concentration in public policy and democracy. His advisor advised him: “Don’t bother.”

“Is that because the school’s offerings in democracy were lame?” I asked. “Or because the idea he thought the idea was lame?”

The latter. Seems the adivsor didn’t see what democracy could possibly have to do with public policy.

This may be true in practice — but certainly not in theory (to turn a phrase of Kant’s).

If we want to take seriously democracy as a regulative idea — and I certainly do — then public policy should be grounded in an idea of democracy, at least if policy is not just for a public but in some way by a public.

Okay, maybe I am naive, the same way I was naive back when I enrolled in policy school, thinking that public policy might be something that actually has democratic, public aspirations. I was quickly disappointed, but my mission ever since has been to set this wrongheaded attitude right. Take that, Walter Lippmann.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

1 comment

  1. My dear friend: I sympathize with you and your quandary about public policy and democracy. I wish more of you would read C.S,Franklyn’s valiant efforts for nearly 14 years at to set straight the many misconceptions about words and notions associated with Democracy, etc. If by democracy you mean where the legitimate voter/Citizens chose representatives for a bicameral legislative body like the U.S. Congress, then it would be best not to confuse today’s word DEMOCRACY with a viable ‘public policy’.
    The word DEMOCRACY does not appear in the U.S.Constitution yet even in Jefferson’s best days, there were ill-informed troublemakers trying to call our government a DEMOCRACY. Every Socialist, Communist and bomb-throwing Bolshevik in the Congress today uses the term DEMOCRACY. Every President uses the term because it has become a warm and fuzzy word simply by indoctrination. The derivation of the word DEMOCRACY is the Greek “demos” which means the “common people” or the profanum vulgus (Latin) for the common herd!
    If I had my way, the word Democracy would be outlawed in the USA because it is not uniformly recognized nor understood! The U.S.A. is a Republic for a very good set of reasons and that is where you should be addressing yourself for clarity. DEMOCRACY exists in too many different hues, colors, sizes and shapes– to such an extent that the word should be outlawed. These are the kinds of things the Bald Eagle Journal has tried to teach its readers because younger generations are being led down the garden path straight into the jaws of Communism! Indeed, the questions you raise are worthy of intelligent debate and objective thinking. That, of course, depends whether I have interpreted your Blog correctly! 73, JayQ

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