Volume 29, 2013
Civic Virtues, Divided Societies, and Democratic Dilemmas
Melissa A. Mosko
Democracy, Deliberation, and the (So-called) War on Women
Deliberative democratic theory as developed by Jürgen Habermas struggles in its applicability to particular political communities due to its ideality and abstractness. However, philosophers who level this critique against deliberative theory also find in it resources for addressing the legitimacy of live political discourse as it aims towards rationality. This paper takes up the procedural requirement that legitimacy is provided through, as Seyla Benhabib writes, “the free and unconstrained public deliberation of all about matters of common concern.” Using deliberative theory, I develop a test for judging the success and failure of public discourse, and apply this test to political debates in the United States in 2011–2012 concerning women’s lives: the Violence Against Women Act, the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the censuring of two female legislators in Michigan, and the congressional testimony of a fetus in Ohio. A central piece of my argument is that the knowledge produced about women’s interests and about women’s epistemic authority undermines their participation in public discourse, thus challenging the legitimacy of the decisions resulting from these instances of deliberation.