Democracy as compromise: An alternative to the agonistic vs. epistemic divide

Gustavo Hessmann Dalaqua


The agonistic vs. epistemic dichotomy is fairly widespread in contemporary democratic theory and is endorsed by scholars as outstanding as Luis Felipe Miguel, Chantal Mouffe, and Nadia Urbinati. According to them, the idea that democratic deliberation can work as a rational exchange of arguments that aims at truth is incompatible with the recognition of conflict as a central feature of politics. In other words, the epistemic approach is bound to obliterate the agonistic and conflictive dimension of democracy. This article takes this dichotomized way of thinking to task by reconstructing the association between democracy and compromise made by John Stuart Mill, John Morley, and Hans Kelsen. It concludes that the conceptualization of democracy as compromise offers an alternative to the agonistic vs. epistemic divide that disconcerts a significant part of political philosophy today.

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