skip to Main Content

The Forum, the System, and the Polity: Three Varieties of Democratic Theory

Dryzek, John S. The Forum, the System, and the Polity: Three Varieties of Democratic Theory. Political Theory. Published online July 22, 2016, DOI: 10.1177/0090591716659114


The theory of deliberative democracy is here furthered in terms of three images that locate its essence in respectively a single forum, a deliberative system, and an encompassing polity featuring particular integrative norms. The first two are ubiquitous, though contested, the third is stated here. Deliberative theorists need to contemplate how practices that make sense in each image connect to the other two. Forums only make sense when linked in a system that can synthesize very different deliberative virtues (notably, justification, reflection, and inclusion). Any system’s democratic qualities can only be evaluated in terms of the polity. While judgment in terms of the conditions of normative integration in the polity is therefore primary, particular forums can promote deliberative authenticity in a system, and systems enable inclusive application of deliberative ideals. Deployed in this way, the three images help solve internal disputes and respond to critics.

Keywords: democratic theory, deliberative democracy, deliberative system, minipublics, forum, polity

Recent publications

Assessing the effectiveness of orchestrated climate action from five years of summits
Five years of climate action and summitry have taught us valuable lessons. Orchestrators of climate action can positively influence performance by setting minimum requirements for credibility and robustness among the initiatives they engage.
Transforming Biodiversity Governance
Edited by Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Marcel T. J. Kok, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
2021 Annual Report
The Earth System Governance Project seeks to mobilise and advance scholarship at the interface between global environmental change and governance. Discover how by learning more about the project in this summary of 2021!