7th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Girard

Charles Girard

Conversation vs. Oratory. Which Paradigm for Deliberative Democracy?

This paper confronts two possible paradigms for deliberative democracy: conversation, in which interlocutors try to persuade each other, and oratorical speech, in which a small number of speakers address a larger audience. Although the first paradigm has been dominant among deliberative theories and still influences normative accounts of mediated public debate, I argue that a consistent conception of democracy that makes deliberation the main basis for legitimacy needs to favor the second paradigm in order to be relevant to contemporary mass democracies. The conversation paradigm is not relevant to mass media-mediated communication ; the fact of mediation, as well the size of contemporary democracies require to adopt the oratorical speech paradigm. The division of labor between public speakers, charged with the task of representing publicly arguments and opinions that exist within society, and members of the audience, charged with the task of making up their own mind after careful examination of the arguments and opinions they have been exposed too, raises numerous problems for democratic theory. Drawing on analyses by Cass Sunstein, Simone Chambers and Nadia Urbinati, I will address in particular two difficulties : i) the inequalities implied by the asymmetric relationship between speaker and listener ; ii) the role played by rhetoric in political persuasion via communication media.