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Friday, February 05, 2016

Power or Participation? Consensus in Political Deliberation

How should we structure our democratic institutions? Do we worry about political power, and so seek to maximize the ways in which political authorities are accountable to the public? Here we might emphasize reciprocity as a core feature of political institutions. Or to maximize the public’s participation in the political process. On the one hand, accountability checks the unbridled power of the political elite. On the other hand, public opinion is likely to be ill-formed or easily manipulated, more the result of passion than reason or knowledge, as Madison worried in Federalist 10? If we are worried about an ill-informed public, then we might promote a form of participation that allows political representatives to discount public opinion, even while maximizing public participation in selecting those representatives or even canvassing opinion.

The debate about political process has become especially important in the policing context. The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing enthusiastically endorsed procedural justice as the best way for the police to build trust and legitimacy within their communities. Procedural justice has been endorsed on the other side of the Atlantic as a means of promoting consensus based policing. Drawing on research from organizations whose members share a common purpose, procedural justice argues that we ought to adopt procedures that encourage participation, and treat the participants respectfully, beneficently, and neutrally.

We might think that fair procedures are ones that guarantee participation, but not influence. What matters is that authorities have a duty to allow participation, and convince participants that they are treated neutrally, respectfully, and as members of the same group, not that authorities must in practice so treat participants. We might think that while a fair procedure does not guarantee participation, it need not preclude it: a participative procedure would be one in which authorities and subordinates see each other as part of the same organization, with the same interests, and so would come to the same conclusions were everyone consulted. What matters most, however, is that the organization generate the right result, and that subordinates comply with that result. Because participative procedures maximize the likelihood of compliance, what matters is participation rather than influence or accountability (what we might call reciprocity). A version of this thesis can be found in Madison’s Federalist 10; and something like it has been described as unitary democracy by Jane Mansbridge. And it seems to be at the heart of procedural justice.

Consensus democracy is compatible with idea that authorities may be, for various reasons, justified in encouraging subordinate participation in the process of decision-making—giving subordinates a voice—while at the same time misrepresenting the amount of influence the subordinates wield in the process. If the goal is to ensure compliance or cooperation, and everyone would agree on the outcome if they were sufficiently well-informed and rational, then it does not undermine the subordinate’s interests in the right result that they are mistaken about the extent of their influence, particularly if they are more likely to reach that result without sanction (and, from the perspective of the authority, without expensive inducement).

But what of dissensus democracy, where there is no right result, or where there is a split authority (such as the tripartite structure of American government) or where the interests of the public conflict in certain ways with the interests of the government? Should we value compliance or cooperation with the authority and so accept as fair those procedures that more effectively produce these effects; or should we instead opt for a process that permits, not just participation, but also reciprocal accountability. That sort of procedure would not only require participation, but also power-sharing, among the members of the organization, or of the community, or of the country.

The debate is an old one, but it has practical urgency in the context of policing. The four-part procedure I described above—participant voice; authority neutrality, respectfulness, and beneficence—are the features of procedural justice which promise to reign in police use-of-force at the same time as more effectively ensuring compliance and cooperation than other methods, baed on inputs like law-abidingness, and outputs like crime reduction or even avoiding criminal sanctions. A core issue is whether compliance and cooperation with the police is a goal that we all share. For example, we have the right to terminate police encounters by walking away and refusing to answer questions; and even if arrested we have the right not to comply by declining to speak during an interrogation. Should we also have the right to challenge the police to justify taking us into custody or searching us by articulating their grounds for doing so? Should the police be dynamically responsive to our facts or reasons or can they ignore our input while still providing for our participation as a way of mollifying us and getting us to comply? Famously, police interrogations follow a two-part process in which the interrogator first determines whether the suspect is guilty or not (the unitary purpose) and then uses various psychological techniques to induce compliance, both at the waiver and at the confession stage of the proceedings. The technique is so powerful, studies show, that some suspects will not only confess, but actually convince themselves that their interrogator was right and they were mistaken about what actually happened.

How structure fair procedures to maximize participant power and participation presents difficult questions. Whatever the answer, procedural justice provides a fascinating account of the way in which the structural features of our interactions with authorities can have important psychological and behavioral consequences, consequences that are of deep democratic significance.

Posted by Eric Miller on February 5, 2016 at 12:24 PM in Criminal Law, Deliberation and voices, Law and Politics | Permalink

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