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Dworkin, Debate Scholar

October 16, 2007

“I think our politics are in an appalling state, and I doubt that many of you would disagree with that. We don’t have a rational discourse, and the greatest casualty of our dumbed-down politics is the lack of argument.” –Ronald Dworkin, from a transcript published by the Carnegie Council.

Ronald Dworkin is better known as a legal philosopher, but he is also a debate scholar. He wrote a book titled, Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate. In the book, he stresses the need for conservatives and liberals to understand that they are not enemies, but have the same goal: Bettering America.

He goes on to insist that debaters must have at least a few shared principles in order to form discussion. Without a common ground, campaigns become wars. This trend is recognizable if one considers the Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Liberal, Red vs. Blue, grudge-match image that is promoted by the media. Unfortunately for the American constituency, the biggest loser is always rational discourse.

By focusing on their basic commonalities they can transcend petty squabbling. As he puts it, “this will lead to substantive political debate among people who mutually respect each other.”- Ronald Dworkin

Writer for The Guardian, Jonathan Derbyshire criticized Dworkin’s book in his blog:

“He envisages a “partnership” model of democracy, in which public reasoning and debate are placed at the centre of political and policy justification. This deliberative conception functions as a sort of utopian ideal, but since Dworkin is doing political philosophy here and not advocacy, his book is none the worse off for it.” –retrieved 10/16/2007

Derbyshire’s analysis of Dworkin’s book is right on point. Is Democracy Possible Here provides an interesting dialogue about the ramifications of the debate crisis. His solution to the problem is a bit unrealistic.

Can Mike Huckabee and Hilary Clinton bonding over their mutual appreciation of something vague like civil liberty, lead them to a rational debate about abortion?

I doubt it.

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