What Should Democracies Know? What Democrats Should Know

By Jane Mansbridge

The looming reality

The reality we all must face is that we are going to need more and more state coercion into the future to solve the free-rider problems created by our growing interdependence and the new need for human provision of resources formerly provided by “nature.”

Coercion is a bad; it means getting someone to do something they would otherwise not do through the threat of sanction and the use of force. State coercion is another bad, particularly as the state grows larger, because it is hard to get under citizen control.

Nevertheless, we are going to need increasing amounts of state coercion into the future. Democrats should therefore be concerned not only with how to resist it but also with how to legitimate it in order to use it well. Increasing inequality and increasing polarization in the US make legitimacy harder and harder to achieve. Just as we have dramatically increasing need for legitimate coercion, the supply of legitimate coercion is shrinking, making every ounce of legitimacy even more precious.

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It’s not about facts. It’s about politics

By David Kennedy

It is common now for elites to decry the advent of “post-truth” politics.  The desire for better mechanisms to root out error and falsehood in political life, or to empower more trustworthy experts, is understandable.   That said, I offer a few qualifications. [1]

Worry about false facts creeping into governance is somewhat of an “inside the establishment” problem.  When we, as rulers and participants in the great global established order worry about the role of, say, “science” in “policy,” we are also congratulating ourselves, our habits and institutions for normally being rational, objective, reasonable, and procedurally sound machinery to identify and implement pragmatic action in the public interest.  As if this – let’s call it “policy” — were normally what government does.

Not rent-seeking or nest feathering; not reinforcing some private interests against others; not reinforcing inequality or consolidating social power while managing dissent; not managing an entertainment spectacle or providing material for allegorical morality tales.  Policy.

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What Should Democracies Know?

By Sheila Jasanoff

Repeatedly over the past few months I’ve heard anguished cries from former students and junior colleagues asking how I might make sense of the strange time we’re in—a time in which so much we’ve valued about the making of robust public knowledge and critical understanding has been tossed overboard as if of no consequence to the conduct of the nation’s politics. How should we, as teachers of future citizens, respond to these calls, and what special obligation do we have as scholars of science and technology, with a professional commitment to understanding the role of facts and truth in society?

The “post-truth,” “alt-fact,” “fake news” era has drawn understandable outrage from thoughtful people. Some, especially in the mainstream media, assume that the line between truth and lies is clear-cut, and can be ascertained through careful fact-checking, as in a recent New York Times editorial on the real costs of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policy. Others, more historically minded and attuned to technological change, have called attention to social media and the ease of propagating claims that have not passed through the costly, messy processes of peer review or validation through experiment.[1] Still others have noted the rise of data as a substitute for tested facts, and how politicians’ reliance on mass measures of electoral sentiment may undermine the cultural habits of deliberation on real-world problems. All these are important arguments, with serious implications for public reason, but none have touched on the role of professors in this period of eroding confidence in the very meaning of evidence, facts, and truth. Yet, if ever there was a time to heed the Delphic mandate “know thyself,” surely for us in the academic business now is that time.

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