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Ashley Woodiwiss

Democracy Agonistes

Why hand-wringing about partisanship is pointless.

Discussed in this essay:

Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton Univ. Press, 1996).

James Bohman, Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity and Democracy, (MIT Press, 1996).

Robert Dahl, On Democracy (Yale Univ. Press, 1999).

Stanley Fish, The Trouble with Principle (Harvard Univ. Press, 1999).

Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement, (Harvard Univ. Press, 1996).

Jeffrey C. Isaac, Democracy in Dark Times (Cornell Univ. Press, 1998).

Stephen Macedo, ed., Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement (Oxford Univ. Press, 1999).

It was an American moment. The defeated candidate made his long-awaited concession speech. The winner was charitable in his contested victory. With the campaign finally at an end, on the evening of December 13, 2000 both the vanquished and victorious now sought to cast out the devil. Said the vanquished: "Partisan rancor must yield to patriotism." And the victor: "It's time to put politics behind us and move beyond the partisanship of the recent past." On that night we heard from both how Americans are "one people, with one history and one shared destiny," and how we must "rise above our house divided." These sentiments were praised by pundits and political leaders alike over the course of the next several days. The entire post-November 7 period of contestation in Florida had been viewed as nothing more than a display of serial partisanship with politicians and commentators attacking each other. Accompanying this had also been a ritual indulging in hand-wringing over whether this situation constituted a crisis for our democracy. With Campaign 2000 it appeared that may be our politics had become, well, too political.

This demon of partisanship has tormented the American political psyche from the time of our founding. It was Madison in Federalist Paper #10 who warned against the "mischiefs of faction," which he considered the disease natural to democratic republics. ...

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