Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I even say who wrote them. If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online.
Elster. 1986. The market and the forum: Three varieties of political theory. In Foundations of social choice theory, ed. Elster and Aanund Hyland, 103-32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Elster critiques three general approaches to understanding politics: (1) social choice, (2) rational deliberation, and (3) politics as participatory citizenship.
Social choice is a category broadly defined. It includes all the conceptions of politics that view it, essentially, as a means of aggregrating citizens' exogenous preferences into a societal decision. Schmumpeter clearly fits into this category, along with most theories that attempt to equate politics with economics.
Problems with this view, according to Elster:
The main complaint is that politics is not like the market: "The task of politics is not only to eliminate inefficiency [as in markets], but also to create justice--a goal to which the aggregation of political preferences is a quite incongruous means" (since it requires something more than self-interest) (111). In other words, markets create efficiency, but politics should create equity.
Rational deliberation views preferences as endogenous to the political process. Politics is the method by which, through long, rational deliberations, all citizens come to a unanimous decision about what is good for society. At its core, this draws on two premises: (1) public debate requres self-censorship of blatant self-interest (i.e. nobody can openly argue for selfish goals), and (2) as people argue for the public good, they will come to believe in it.
Elster lists seven objections to this line of argument:
Participatory democracy views the by-products of politics as its greatest benefits. Rather than focusing on politics as an instrumental process (by which we come to some solution, as in the two methods above), it is an end unto itself. It is through debate, voting, movements, jury duty, and other activities that we develop self-respect and an understanding of ourselves as citizens. These processes provide us with our greatest education.
Elster has many objections to this third approach. Basically, it puts the cart before the horse. It says, we should debate not for the instrumental purpose of solving a dispute, but for the intrinsic value of the debate--it educates us and makes us more complete as citizens. Yet this argument forgets that if it were not for the immediate need to solve the dispute, these residual effects would never occur. See Elster's major attack on page 124-5, especially at the bottom of 126.
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