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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 27, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2021

Seth Mayer
Pages 68-102

Mass Deliberative Democracy and Criminal Justice Reform
Beyond Democratic Communitarian Localism

The American criminal justice system falls far short of democratic ideals. In response, democratic communitarian localism proposes a more decentralized system with a greater emphasis on local control. This approach aims to deconcentrate power and remove bureaucracy, arguing local control would reflect informal cultural life better than our current system. This view fails to adequately address localized domination, however, including in the background culture of society. As a result, it underplays the need for transformative, democratizing change. Rejecting communitarian localism, I defend a mass deliberative democratic approach to criminal justice reform that relies on institutions outside localities to democratize local institutions and background cultural patterns. Nonetheless, local institutions must be empowered to exert democratic control, as well as to influence institutions outside the locality. This process of democratic co-development offers greater hope for political equality, non-domination, and inclusive democratic deliberation about criminal law than democratic communitarian localism.