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