Berkowitz Reviews Dworkin's Book on Democracy

The structure and execution of Ronald Dworkin's arguments in Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate do not support a position in accord with the best in the liberal tradition says Professor Peter Berkowitz in reviewing the book for First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life.

Berkowitz takes exception to Dworkin's characterization of the nation as being sharply divided by radically different political positions from which members of the other party are viewed as enemies and argues against Dworkin's theory that majority decisions may be considered democratic only when they meet certain philosophical tests of reasonableness and morality.

Illiberal liberalism, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, April 1, 2007. By Peter Berkowitz.

"First, he proceeds from a dubious empirical premise. While intellectual and political elites certainly have been sharply divided since election 2000, Dworkin entirely overlooks the wealth of empirical data showing that the larger electorate is not particularly polarized and in many cases is better described as purple than as red or blue. (A good place to start is Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America by Morris Fiorina.) Confusing his anger at the Bush administration with the passions of the American people, Dworkin fails to show his fellow citizens the respect involved in familiarizing himself with their sensibilities and judgments. Unlike Dworkin, who is quite confident that the left-liberal position is almost entirely correct and that the conservative position is almost entirely wrong, for substantial numbers of the electorate, as the 2006 election suggests, a good part of the contest between left and right takes place within their divided souls.

"Second, the larger liberalism that Dworkin seeks to restate tends to come to a different conclusion about what follows from the common ground established by the liberal premise that all human beings are by nature free and equal. Dworkin believes that our shared assumptions about human dignity entail an exclusively left-liberal politics. In contrast, according to the argument that pervades the Federalist--still the authoritative exposition of the principles that inform the Constitution--the partisan spirit is sown in human nature and cannot be squelched without snuffing out liberty. Moreover, argued John Stuart Mill in Considerations on Representative Government, democracy needs both a conservative party and a progressive party, not only because opposition enlivens debate but also because each party embodies a portion of wisdom about the politics on which free, self-governing societies depend.

"Third, Dworkin repeatedly misstates, or omits to mention, his opponents' best arguments. This last is a particularly grievous flaw, since, like his mischaracterization of the electorate, it suggests that Dworkin fails to show the respect for his fellow citizens that his theory demands."