Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr Michael Milde


In my thesis, I develop a framework based on John Rawls's Political Liberalism that addresses the question: how is it possible for democratic institutions and their decisions to be legitimate, given that (i) they are supposed to be governed by the "will of the people", but (ii) the people will disagree with each other about what political institutions ought to do about any given issue? Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson advance a deliberative democratic response to this question, which has served as the basis of governments' attempts to "strengthen democracy". They argue that political decisions are justified insofar as they are made in a process that allows citizens to exchange reasons that are respectful and moral. Furthermore, although a binding decision must be made at some point, it should be possible to revisit any decision after a period of time.

I argue that while respectful public discourse about political issues may be desirable in some circumstances, this is inadequate as a basis for guiding and evaluating political decisions, in light of the reasonable disagreement that persists about what political institutions ought to do. Instead, I argue that the legitimacy of political institutions, or their obligatory force over citizens, depends on the extent to which reasonable citizens are sufficiently satisfied with the institutions that govern them, over time. Furthermore, I argue that other indicators besides deliberative democratic discourse may be used to assess how well institutions are meeting the standard of political justification that I develop.